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Review of  Controversies and the Metaphysics of Mind

Reviewer: Pierre-Yves Modicom
Book Title: Controversies and the Metaphysics of Mind
Book Author: Yaron M. Senderowicz
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Issue Number: 22.550

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AUTHOR: Senderowicz, Yaron M.
TITLE: Controversies and the Metaphysics of Mind
SERIES TITLE: Controversies 8
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins Publishing Company
YEAR: 2010

Pierre-Yves Modicom, Université Paris IV –Sorbonne / Ecole Normale Supérieure.


The main aim of Senderowicz's book is to establish a pragmatic typology of
controversies and of their contribution to the advancement of knowledge in their
domain. The framework advocated here is supposed to take into account the
dialogical structure of a controversy at a given time (synchronically), but also
to describe the mechanism of scientific and epistemic progress (diachronically).
This new framework is derived from Kant's examination of the ''antinomies of Pure
Reason''. A second characteristic placing this work within the scope of Kant's
philosophy is the topic chosen by Senderowicz, who does not study here the
structure of controversies in general, but focuses on their role and specificity
in the field of metaphysics, namely of contemporary analytical metaphysics of
mind. Hence, the pragmatic study of controversies relevant for discourse
analysis is intertwined with a more metatheoretical reflection on the
epistemological status of metaphysics, as well as with an attempt to make the
case for the concept of epistemic progress in this domain. The study is defined
by Senderowicz himself as ''a modified Kantian account of metaphysics combined
with issues pertaining to the pragmatics of controversies'' (p. 11).


The first part of the book, entitled ''Outline of a theory of metaphysical
controversies'', is devoted to presenting the framework Senderowicz proposes, its
roots in the Kantian philosophy of knowledge and the specific concepts required
for dealing with metaphysics in particular.

In Chapter 1, after a brief summary of the Antithetic of Pure Reason and of the
method used by Kant to describe and resolve metaphysical controversies by
identifying and questioning the underlying presumptions of the positions at
stake, Senderowicz modifies Kant's thesis on two crucial points: first,
metaphysical and scientific (or logical) knowledge are now supposed to be in a
continuum except for the kind of proof they require, so that secondly, progress
is no longer excluded in this field, whereas Kant describes metaphysical
controversies as a perpetual fight between the same positions throughout history.

The pragmatic and discourse analytical framework itself is exposed in chapter 2.
Controversies are defined as dialogues between ''metaphysical positions'' induced
by ''intuitions'' which are later on said to ''motivate assertions that have
propositional content'' (p. 60) without having a precise propositional content
themselves. It seems that intuitions are not pragmatically or historically
determined, therefore playing the role Kant assigns to metaphysical positions.
The latter concept is used by Senderowicz to describe the competing assertions
with their propositional content and polemical and pragmatic embeddedness. The
major question for the shaping and the evolution of the controversy is namely
whether the two contenders recognize their respective opponent's thesis as a
''relevant alternative'' or not. A relevant alternative is a position involved in
a controversy which is accepted by the contenders as plausible and therefore as
a thesis one has to address if one wishes to defend a credible competing
position. Thus, choosing whether (and under which status) a position has to be
addressed is now supposed to be the base of the ''epistemic relevance'' of

Chapter three is devoted to the specificities of metaphysics, such as the role
of intuitions, which have to cohere with science but are nevertheless different
from scientific claims, because the needed evidence is to be provided by thought
experiments and ideal cases rather than by empirical methods. More relevant for
linguistics and discourse analysis is the typology of the ''conflicts of
intuitions'' sketched by Senderowicz along the lines of the previous
observations, from the refusal of one contender to qualify his opponent as a
relevant alternative up to the Kantian case where a participant takes two
antinomic positions into account at the same level and then has to make way for
''significant epistemic changes'' (p. 75). Other types are the reinterpretation of
the examined ideal cases and the mere call for deeper explanations. In the scope
of these attempts to resolve a controversy, especially when they involve at
least the partial acceptance of the alternative and then an effort solve the
problem positively, new hypotheses are often coined, which may then give birth
to a new controversy embedded in the first one, creating what the author calls a
''chain of controversies''. Finally, Senderowicz gives his account of progress in
metaphysics: ''Progress […] does not involve changes in the 'general acceptance'
of a statement or a theory but rather […] in the general acceptance that a given
proposition enjoys the status of a 'relevant alternative''' (p. 76). Relevant
alternatives are said to ''effectively transform the horizon of real possibility''
(ibid.). Epistemic progress is thus defined as a matter of pragmatic status.

Part 2 is devoted to a case study: the chain of controversy caused by Jackson's
(1982) ''knowledge argument''.

Chapter four presents the origins of this controversy in Kripke's criticism of
the identity theory regarding rigid names (including states like pain) and their
a posteriori descriptions or definitions, thus making the case for a kind of
dualism. This idea was later defended, among others, by Jackson (1982) with his
theory of ''epiphenomenal qualia'', dealing with ''the way it is to feel like other
people'' when they know or feel things, which is supposed to be positive
knowledge, yet epistemically irreducible to physical laws. Senderowicz
highlights how the very text of Jackson itself is primarily motivated by
controversial purposes and henceforth embedded in a dialogical context.

Chapter five exposes two kinds of reaction to Jackson's position: Whereas Paul
Churchland (1985) accepts addressing Jackson's theory as a relevant alternative
but criticizes logical flaws in the argument and the evaluation of its
consequences, Daniel Dennett (1991) does not enter a direct dialogue with
Jackson but demonstratively turns to another audience (cognitive scientists) in
order to undermine the status of Jackson's position.

Chapter six is devoted to a new controversy within the scope of the first one:
the polemic on the ''explanatory gap'' between epistemic and ontological
knowability, a concept which emerged out of the ''two-dimensional semantics''
coined by David Chalmers to counter Churchland's criticism. Once again, the
position is not recognized as a relevant alternative by its main opponents.

Part three deals with the controversies regarding ''Personal identity and
revisionary metaphysics''.

In chapter seven, Senderowicz shows that the protagonists of this controversy
within analytic philosophy did not primarily resort to the numerous works of
previous philosophers on this highly disputed topic, but reactivated the old
positions related to metaphysical intuitions principally out of the very frame
of the controversy, be it the questions raised by some participants or the
objections to their own previous theories. This controversy is all the more
interesting because the participants do consider the positions of their
contenders as relevant alternatives having to be addressed. The specific problem
of erroneous remembrance or thought experiments involving brain
transplantations are therefore addressed as relevant for the more general topic
of the controversy and can be traced as common threads in whole chain of
controversies explained in detail throughout Chapter 8.

Chapter 9 focuses on the attempts to resolve the antinomy within the frame of
so-called ''revisionary metaphysics.'' All those theories question the real
significance of concepts used by both conflicting sides, including the notion of
self-identity itself or the role accorded to a few thought experiments. This
chapter closes with a Kant-like attempt by Wiggins (1980) to close the
controversy by proposing consequent conceptual change and evaluating the
relevance of common underlying presumptions of the previous contenders.


This book undoubtedly represents a considerable attempt to develop tools for the
history of philosophy and will probably be addressed as such by Senderowicz's
fellow philosophers: for instance, the question of the link between such a
theory of philosophical progress through conflicts of alternatives and the
Hegelian dialectical framework would have deserved more than the mere 11 lines
devoted to it on page 10. Moreover, the two case studies are also valuable
introductions to modern analytic philosophy of mind and could be read as such by
people wanting to discover this set of problems. Epistemologists working on
controversies should also be interested in this general framework. But as
Senderowicz brilliantly shows when addressing Daniel Dennett's response to
Jackson, defending a position is also a question of choosing your audience, and
it seems that this book is mainly concerned with philosophers, more than with
linguists or discourse analysts, as suggested by the absence of entries such as
''audience'', ''dialogue'' or ''pragmatics'' in the index, although these concepts
play a major role in Senderowicz's theory and would have been most appealing for
many linguists. Such an editorial choice is quite surprising, since the book is
published in Benjamins' series ''Controversies'', which is mainly devoted to
argumentation theory in the pragma-dialectical framework that manifestly
inspires Senderowicz. Yet, the pragmatic roots of the theory are not really put
forward, except for more argumentation-theoretical works by Dascal (1998 and

This book is nevertheless of great interest for people involved in linguistic
subfields such as pragmatics and discourse analysis, as it illustrates the
vitality of argumentation theory and makes the case for more interdisciplinary
work between philosophers, discourse and argumentation analysts and linguists.
Indeed, the concept of relevant alternative advocated by Senderowicz should lead
to more intensive discussion between argumentation theorists, linguists
representing more traditional pragmatics, rhetoricians, and maybe also
sociologists of science, since the question of whether a position is recognized
as a relevant alternative in an academic dialogue is directly related to
problems of strategic maneuvering in a dialogical context. For instance, a
comparison with pragmatics (especially conversational analysis or even common
ground management) regarding the role of contextual factors, underlying
presumptions and background knowledge would probably be very fruitful.

The question of the audience the contenders address is also crucial, especially
when it is related to the process of constituting the metaphysical position, and
would therefore deserve further analysis. As Senderowicz notices (p. 32), if
intuitions might not be pragmatically biased, positions are constructed in the
framework of a dialogue or of a controversy, i.e. they are embedded in a
propositional and pragmatic context. The re-emergence of old schemes on identity
and bodily continuity without any other cuing than the controversy in part 3 is
an example for this embeddedness, which is perfectly illustrated in the study.
Senderowicz presents the history of positions as ''a history of their status as
relevant alternatives'' (p. 11); in other words as a problem of pragmatic
acceptance in a conversational context, and claims on the other hand (following
other work in the domain of pragma-dialectics) that one of the decisive ways to
shift the burden of proof for the defender of a proposition is to highlight its
pragmatic value, which Senderowicz defines as utility. Thus, explaining that
''the attribution of degrees of weight is inherently connected to the interest
that one has in the controversy, that is, to what one believes to be important''
(p. 31), the author definitely insists upon the role of the image the speaker
has of what his or her audience believes to be important. This decisive
importance of taking into account what one supposes to be the stance of the
audience is explicitly dealt with on p. 104, when discussing Dennett's
contribution to the debate about the knowledge argument. In other words, the
typology of the controversy itself, the attempts to resolve it and the positions
used are all at least partially determined by the supposed shared knowledge and
values, as well as by strategic maneuvering. That no specific chapter is devoted
to this thread of topics, for which there is also no keyword in the index, might
be quite frustrating for the reader, but through the frequent allusions and the
very concept of ''relevant alternative'', Senderowicz already makes the case for a
more audience-oriented approach compared with most of the studies collected in
the important volume edited by van Eemeren and Garssen (2008), where the
question of the audience is mostly latent, excepting the contribution by A. C.

In a more general way, this study is a new demonstration of the advantages of
pragmatic models for the structural study of discourse and argumentation, and
will certainly deliver material for the discussion between pragma-dialectic and
rhetorical approaches to controversies. The huge amount of possibilities opened
by such frameworks and the precision of Senderowicz's in-depth case studies
should encourage people interested in the study of controversies to follow this
way and combine these tools with their own disciplinary background. Even though
this book's original linguistic contribution beyond van Eemeren and
Grootendorst's (2004) and the 2008 collection is restricted to a systematic
definition of the concept of relevant alternative, it is nevertheless original
and promising enough to be recommended as a very stimulating lecture and as a
valuable attempt to bridge the gaps between several subfields and disciplines
concerned with rational discourse.


Churchland, Paul. 1985: Reduction, Qualia and the direct introspection of brain
states. Journal of Philosophy 82 (1): 8-28

Dascal, Marcelo. 1998: Types of Polemics and types of polemical moves; in
Cmejrková, Svetla, Hoffmannová, Jana, Müllerová, Olga and Svetlá, Jindra (eds.):
Dialogue Analysis VI (Proceedings of the 20th World Congress of Philosophy --
Philosophy of Science), Vol. 10, 159-192; Philadelphia: Philosophers Index Inc.

Dennett, Daniel. 1991: Consciousness explained. London: Penguin.

Jackson, Frank. 1982: Epiphenomenal Qualia. Philosophical Quarterly 32 (127):

van Eemeren, Frans H. & Grootendorst, Rob. 2004: A systematic theory of
argumentation: The pragma-dialectical approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University

Van Eemeren, Frans H. and Garssen, Bart (eds.). 2008: Controversy and
Confrontation. Amsterdam / Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing
(=Controversies, 6)

Wiggins, David. 1980: Sameness and Substance. Oxford: Blackwell.

Pierre-Yves Modicom is a graduate student in Paris. After a Bachelor in Germanic Studies from U. Paris-Sorbonne, he currently studies German and Philosophy at the Ecole Normale Supérieure and Linguistics at Paris-Sorbonne.