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An Introduction to Philosophy
Lecture 03: Philosophy of Mind

James Mooney
Open Studies
The University of Edinburgh

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  1. 1. An Introduction to Philosophy: 03 © James Mooney 2012
  2. 2. Philosophy of Mind As we saw in our last session, if there is one thing of which we can be certain it is the contents of our own minds. However, there is a great deal of debate concerning the nature of our minds. –  Is the mind separate from the body? –  How do mental phenomena interact with the physical world? –  Can our conscious states be explained in terms of physical states and events in the body? –  Is it possible that artificial intelligence could give rise to consciousness? –  Am I my mind or my body? These and related questions make up the philosophy of mind.
  3. 3. The Mind/ Body Problem The mind/ body problem is as old as philosophy itself.  Usually, people fall into one of two camps: 1.  Materialism/ Physicalism: materialists believe that there is essentially one kind of thing in the world - matter.  As such, everything - including our thoughts, feelings, and conscious experience in general - can be reduced to no more than the function of neurons firing in our brain (or whatever science tells us happens in there).  2.  Dualism: dualists believe in the existence two fundamental ‘substances’ - matter and mind.  Mind, they argue, is non- physical.  Today, the vast majority of philosophers advocate some form of materialism and support for dualism is, sadly, waning.
  4. 4. Plato and the origins of Dualism •  Theory of Forms •  Tripartite account of the ‘Soul’ – Reason – Spirit – Appetite •  Transmigration/ metempsychosis •  Innatism
  5. 5. Dualism •  René Descartes was one of the leading proponents of dualism.  In his Meditations he famously stated that what we are, essentially, is thinking things.  As such, mind is distinct from body.  •  However, if mind and body are distinct we are left with a significant problem: •  The problem of causal interaction Dualism simply doesn’t fit with the modern scientific view of the universe.  How can it be that something non-physical (the mind) can interact with something physical (the body)?  This contravenes the laws that govern causality. It is for reasons such as these that materialists have lampooned the idea of ‘the ghost in the machine’ (Gilbert Ryle). 
  6. 6. •  One way to avoid the problem is toMonism reject dualism and adopt a monist approach. •  Monism claims that there is only one type of substance in the world, either mental (Idealism) or physical (Materialism). •  George Berkeley (1685-1783, pictured left) famously took the Idealist path, claiming, much to the annoyance of Samuel Johnson (below), that reality consists of nothing more than minds and their ideas. Esse est percepi I refute it thus
  7. 7. Materialism •  Materialism fits neatly with our modern science.  •  The universe, as we know it, (including our brains and bodies) is made up of matter. •  Science can explain a great deal about the brain and how it operates; neuroscientists can measure the brain activity that accompanies our conscious experience and can point to examples of brain damage which limit or alter this experience.  •  All in all, there are many reasons to opt for materialism; however, there are also some unfortunate consequences.
  8. 8. Problems with Materialism •  The Problem of Free Will –  If we are just complex material machines (physical objects in a physical universe) then the laws of physics - including the law of causality - apply to us as much as anything else (Determinism).  This entails that human free will is just an illusion. [We will be covering this topic in more depth later.] •  The Puzzle of Consciousness –  Mental states are unique in terms of their intentionality (‘aboutness’) and subjectivity. (How) can the world of conscious experience be explained in terms of the objective physical world? –  The subjective quality of our mental existence has prompted a great many arguments from contemporary philosophers unhappy with physicalists’ attempts to reduce the mental world to that of the physical (reductionism). –  The problem, they state is that no reductive/ physicalist account of the mind can explain ‘qualia’ (the what-it-is-like-to-have-ness of our mental states).
  9. 9. ‘What is it like to be a bat?’ “… imagine that one has webbing on one’s arms, which enables one to fly around at dusk and dawn catching insects in one’s mouth; that one has very poor vision, and perceives the surrounding world by a system of reflected high- frequency sound signals; and that one spends the day hanging upside down by one’s feet in an attic. In so far as I can imagine this (which is not very far), it tells me only what it would be like for me to behave as a bat behaves. But that is not the question. I want to know what it is like for a bat to be a bat.” Thomas Nagel, ‘What is it like to be a bat?’ (1974)
  10. 10. Mary’s Room “Mary is a brilliant scientistwho is, for whatever reason,forced to investigate the worldfrom a black and white roomvia a black and whitetelevision monitor. Shespecializes in theneurophysiology of vision andacquires, let us suppose, all thephysical information there isto obtain about what goes onwhen we see ripe tomatoes, orthe sky, and use terms like‘red’, ‘blue’, and so on. She discovers, for example, just which wavelength combinations from the sky stimulate theretina, and exactly how this produces via the central nervous system the contraction of the vocalcords and expulsion of air from the lungs that results in the uttering of the sentence ‘The sky isblue’. [...] What will happen when Mary is released from her black and white room or is given acolor television monitor? Will she learn anything or not?” Frank Jackson, ‘Epiphenomenal Qualia’ (1982) or ‘What Mary didn’t know’ (1986)
  11. 11. Turing Test CanAlan Turing (1950) machines think? Chinese Room John Searle (1980)
  12. 12. The Ship of Theseus Personal IdentityWhat ensures my survival over time? • The Bodily Criterion • The Brain Criterion • The Psychological Criterion John Locke
  13. 13. Psychological Continuity “Personal identity consists not in the John Locke, identity of substance, Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689) but... in the identity of consciousness” Bundle Theory David Hume, A Treatise on Human Nature (1740)
  14. 14. Details James Mooney Open Studies The University of Edinburgh @film_philosophy