Tim Thornton sent the following response to Neil Levy's review. (Published August 18, 2008)
I am grateful to Neil Levy for engaging with the underlying philosophical themes of my book even if not with the details of its arguments.
To take one example of this lack, Levy ascribes to me the argument that since 'we live in a space of reasons, a non-normative account of mental illness cannot be given'. This is merely a caricature of the discussion of chapter 1 which turns on the question of whether biological functions can be used to reduce the normative notions particular to illness, especially mental illness. Having, it seems, more faith than I have in evolutionary theory to defend reductionism, Levy must disagree with my conclusions but it is a pity he has not engaged more closely with the arguments.
In order to set up one of his two challenges, he ascribes to me the same kind of brisk dismissal of reductionist accounts of meaning: 'since we live in the space of reasons we cannot give accounts of significance according to which they are built up from non-significant elements'. But again this ignores my actual arguments, [eg the 5 page discussion ibid: 129-133] (against what I concede in the text is still a live research project [ibid: 129]) which look, inter alia, to the problems reductionists have answering the 'disjunction problem' or showing how causal theories of reference are of the right form to explain intentionality.
Levy likewise merely parodies my argument for moral particularism. I cannot claim originality for this line of thought (I cite John McDowell) but the argument [ibid: 68-71] starts from the prima facie appearance that such value judgments cannot be codified and then considers why this appearance is often disregarded in philosophy. The discussion of codified judgments is meant to challenge a deep-seated prejudice about rationality which can blind us also to the nature of uncodified judgments. Thus when Levy ascribes to me the view that arithmetic also is uncodifiable he simply ignores the text itself which says:
Thus even in the case of a judgement that can be codified – by the axioms of Peano arithmetic, for example – the principle itself has to be applied through a kind of practical judgement. Whatever principles can be used to encode such practice their application relies on practical judgements which are not themselves codified. Wittgenstein's discussion should undermine the prejudice that wherever there is a rational judgement it must be encoded in a principle, since principles themselves cannot govern judgement unaided. Without the prejudice, however, there is no reason to doubt the appearance that value judgements are made without a close framework of principles. [ibid: 71]
Levy suggests that the main target of my book is 'an entire metaphysics and philosophy of mind' rather than an engagement with particular views within philosophy of psychiatry. Whilst he is right that I oppose reductionism, his description is again an unhelpful way of presenting the way the general and particular inform each other. To take just one area, my discussions of the different accounts of delusion offered by Jaspers, Maher, Frith, Sass, Campbell, Davies and Bolton and Hill turn on the particular details of their theories and models. There can be no one size fits all response. The overall argument for a relaxed (non-reductive) naturalism emerges out of piecemeal discussion of key authors and key issues within the philosophy of psychiatry.
This is not the place to attempt to resolve the longstanding debate about the prospects of reductionist naturalism but let me suggest a way to respond to Levy's remaining challenge. He asks how we could have evolved to grasp real values, worrying that 'If there are values independent of us, we have no reason to think that what we take to be values actually are'. If, however, one takes seriously the idea of values as genuine features of the world then there might well turn out to be an evolutionary account of grasp of them. (Since we have no wish to explain values in other, eg evolutionary, terms, this issue is not pressing for non-reductionist, relaxed naturalists. Reductionists face a bigger challenge.) But if so it had better not eliminate the potential gap between being right and merely seeming right that characterizes any judgment that aims to track real features of the world. Levy's skeptical worry is both under motivated and misplaced.
In addition to misrepresenting my book, I fear Levy also misrepresents the abilities of those with an interest in the philosophy of mental health and psychiatry. My ten years' experience of teaching psychiatrists, mental health nurses and service users, with a passionate interest in the fundamental issues surrounding mental healthcare but without a philosophy background, has in turn taught me that such students thrive by getting stuck into the complexities of the real debates and real figures, from Jaspers to EBM. Understanding my little book should be no problem at all, to them at least.
© 2008 Tim Thornton
Tim Thornton, Professor of Philosophy and Mental Health, The Centre for Ethnicity and Health, University of Central Lancashire, UK
Neil Levy sent the following response to Tim Thornton's reply to his review. (Published August 18, 2008)
Tim Thornton's chief complaint against me is that I have not engaged with the details of his arguments. On this point, he is entirely right: I haven't. Were I to try to do so, in any way that would not be vulnerable to his charge, I would devote an entire, relatively lengthy, paper to just one of his many claims with which I take issue: the codifiability thesis, or the claim that intentionality cannot be given a reductive account, or the essential normativity of illness, and so on. I did not attempt to do his arguments justice, because a book review is not the forum in which to undertake such an enterprise. Instead, I aimed to give an overview of the book. I took myself to achieve the following goals: give the (potential) reader some sense of the flavor of the book, outline the ways in which it is distinctive, and hint at the burden that it must shoulder to make its non-reductive case in the current physicalist climate. I did not say, and I do not now say, that Thornton's position is clearly wrong, or that his arguments are failures. I pointed to what I took to be difficulties in the view. The accusation that I ascribe to him 'brisk dismissals' of views, and not detailed arguments, seems to me out of place: given that the context is a book review the reader would, I take it, assume that I merely sketch the author's position, not do it justice.
So I agree that I have not done the book justice, inasmuch as I have only given brief and inadequate sketches of the views presented. I deny only that I could reasonably be expected to do more in the context. Thornton's other substantive charge against me is that my worry that his non-reductive moral realism being difficult to square with an evolutionary account of the emergence of morality is 'under motivated and misplaced'. Here again I think the complaint ignores the context; I could not hope to adequately motivate the problem in the space of a book review. Were I to do so, I would refer the reader to Sharon Street's well-known 'Darwinian dilemma'; Street presents compelling arguments for the claim that the supposition that evolution has brought us to track independently existing moral properties is far less plausible than the more parsimonious hypothesis, according to which the tracking mechanism is also a constituting mechanism.
The disagreements I have with Thornton go deep. They reflect disagreements about fundamental issues in metaphysics, mind and morality. In this forum, neither of us can hope to do any more than indicate our sense of where the characteristic strengths and weaknesses of each other's positions lie. What I hope these deep disagreements do not conceal is my sense that his work is important. I think it is important not because it is likely to succeed in its aim – though I do not rule out that possibility entirely – but because the reductive program needs sensitive and robust critics, and sustained arguments like those on display in Thornton's book, if it is to succeed in its aims. What I think we both share, among other things, is the belief that we can best hope to discover truths by pursuing these issues in dialogue and debate.
© 2008 Neil Levy