The “Cartesian Theater” is Dennett’s famous metaphor for the idea that a homunculus or “little man” watches the screen on which our thoughts appear. However, contrary to much academic teaching and scholarship, Spectator in the Cartesian Theater: Where Theories of Mind Went Wrong since Descartes shows that Descartes was not guilty of this fallacy for which he has been blamed. In his physiological writings neglected by philosophers, Descartes explained that the pseudo-explanation arises not from what is included in our theory of consciousness, but rather from what is missing. We fail to notice that the theory is incomplete because we are intuitively doing part of the explanatory work. That is, we are the spectators in the Cartesian Theater.
With detailed critiques, Peter Slezak shows that Searle’s Chinese Room Argument, Kripke’s theory of proper names, Davidson’s semantics of natural language and Kosslyn’s theory of visual imagery rely on what is intuitively meaningful to us rather than what follows from the theory. Slezak offers a novel solution to the elusive logic of the Cogito argument, showing it to be akin to the Liar Paradox. Since Descartes’ perplexity is our own, this shows how the subjective certainty of consciousness and the mind-body problem can arise for a physical system. An intelligent computer would think that it isn’t one.
Peter Slezak is honorary associate professor of philosophy at the University of New South Wales.
Chapter 1. Dangerous Meditations
Chapter 2. Illusionism and The Phenomenological Fallacy
Chapter 3. What It’s Like: Conscious Experience Itself
Chapter 4. Cogito, Ergo Sum: The Diagonal Deduction
Chapter 5. The Mind’s Eye: Visual Imagery
Chapter 6. In the Chinese Room: Life without meaning
Chapter 7. Meaning: Interpretation or Explanation?
Chapter 8. Proper Names: The Omniscient Observer
Chapter 9. The Theory of Ideas: Fodor’s Guilty Passions
Chapter 10. Descartes’ Neurocomputational Philosophy
Chapter 11. What is Knowledge? The Gettier Problem
Chapter 12. Disjunctivism: The Argument from Illusion (Again)
Chapter 13. Newcomb’s Problem: Demons, Deceivers, and Liars
Slezak’s goal is to explain what qualia are and how they are possible within a materialist framework, that is without resorting to either substance or property dualism. Slezak argues that thinking that the explanation of qualia requires some kind of dualism is the result of a seductive error that can be found in other areas of philosophy, such as a theory of meaning and epistemology, which generates problems in those areas inviting unconvincing solutions. This error is grounded on what Slezak refers to as "the theater error," which comes from Danial Dennett and which supposes that the mind is a screen and there is a little person inside each person watching the show on the screen. But Slezak adds that the exact nature and upshot of the error has been misunderstood. Making such an error is itself just what should be expected if materialism is true. This is a significant study of the mind-body problem, but it also covers ground in the history of philosophy and philosophy of language. It will be useful primarily to scholars working on the mind-body problem and secondarily to those working in other areas. Recommended. Graduate students, researchers, faculty.
With clear and persuasive arguments, Spectator in the Cartesian Theater provides a useful and compelling perspective on longstanding debates in philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, and epistemology. Slezak ties together, under one convenient rubric, a number of philosophical errors now prevalent in these fields, boldly challenging widely held assumptions, and reinterpreting the significance of classic intuition pumps from Searle, Putnam, Gettier, Newcomb, and others. This book is sure to spark controversy and push the conversation in new directions.
In this highly original book Peter Slezak puts his finger on the problem with representationalist theories of mind – they interpose the theorist, that is, ourselves, between mind and world to adjudicate the reference of mental states. He identifies versions of this spectator error in standard treatments of proper names, the Gettier problem, perceptual experience, and other central issues in contemporary philosophy. Spectator in the Cartesian Theater is breathtaking in its scope, yet firmly anchored in the primary literature and carefully argued throughout. Essential reading for anyone working in the philosophies of mind and language.
7/31/23, Theories of Everything with Curt Jaimungal: In this discussion, prominent figure Noam Chomsky refers to the book and to author Peter Slezak.