Patricia Churchland responds crisply to Colin McGinn in the New York Review of Books. (Colin McGinn. You’d think he’d go quiet for awhile, wouldn’t you, to let people’s memories fade.)
Other scientific disciplines are also extremely important in understanding the nature of the mind: genetics, ethology, anthropology, and linguistics. Philosophy can play a role too, when the philosopher sees it is rewarding to get out of the armchair. Some philosophers, such as Chris Eliasmith, for example, have truly made progress in computationally modeling how the brain represents the world.
Nevertheless, there are nostalgic philosophers who whinge on about saving the purity of the discipline from philosophers like me and Chris Eliasmith and Owen Flanagan and Dan Dennett. What do the purists, like McGinn, object to? It is that their lovely a priori discipline, where they just talk to each other and maybe cobble together a thought experiment or two, is being sullied by…data. Their sterile construal of philosophy is not one that would be recognized by the great philosophers in the tradition, such as Aristotle or Hume or Kant.
I get the feeling she doesn’t have a lot of patience for the salvation of disciplinary purity.
The view for which McGinn is known is a jejune prediction, namely that science cannot ever solve the problem of how the brain produces consciousness. On what does he base his prediction? Flimsy stuff. First, he is pretty sure our brain is not up to the job. Why not? Try this: a blind man does not experience color, and he will not do so even when we explain the brain mechanisms of experiencing color. Added to which, McGinn says that he cannot begin to imagine what it is like to be a bat, or how conscious experience might be scientifically explained (his brain not being up to the job, as he insists). This cognitive inadequacy he deems to have universal epistemological significance.
McGinn of course doesn’t see it that way, and says so, but I enjoyed Churchland more. (Misandry!)