Surveys the central themes in philosophy of mind and places them in a historical and contemporary context intended to engage first-time readers in the field. It focuses on debates about the status and character of the mind and its seemingly subjective nature in an apparently more objective world. Join the discussion for this and other books in the Introduction to Philosophy open textbook series!
Introduction to the Book:
The main questions in the philosophy of mind are derived from puzzles involving trying to develop a coherent theory of the nature and functions of the mind. Beginning with the nature of the mind, they include: Are minds separate from bodies or is the mind really just the body? If the mind is immaterial and the body material, how do they interact? How can this fit in with science? If the mind is just the body, then how is consciousness explained? How can we have experiences or free will to think and act? How can we explain the special relationship we seem to have with knowing our own mental states?
There are two major views in the philosophy of mind that arise from trying to describe the nature of our minds. One claims that our minds are different in nature and separate from our bodies and the other claims that our minds really are just physical, or a part of our bodies and the rest of the purely physical world. These mark the two extremes. The first is called “substance dualism” or “Cartesian dualism” after René Descartes, who originated the primary arguments and the general view. The other is called “physicalism” and was in the modern era associated most with Thomas Hobbes. Both philosophers were trying to make sense of the mind within the modern context of science within the latter part of the seventeenth century. Philosophy of mind was not yet a separate discipline and fell under metaphysics as these philosophers studied it, but this time period, called the modern period, marks the beginning of what we consider now to be investigations into the philosophy of mind. It was a period of great scientific advancement and marked the beginning of the discipline of psychology, as well.
Whereas substance or Cartesian dualism has a difficult time making sense in a scientific context, eliminative or reductive physicalism—which completely reduces or eliminates the mind to matter—has a difficult time making sense of the functions of our mind. Substance or Cartesian dualism (Chapter 1) and reductive or eliminative physicalism (Chapter 2) are two extremes in the philosophy of mind. These two theories have been largely replaced by views that are more compromising in nature within the past century when philosophy of mind as a discipline of its own dramatically burgeoned. The different theories can be arranged roughly on a continuum, starting with the most reductive to the least reductive theory: eliminative physicalism, eliminative behaviorism, type identity theory (Chapter 2), functionalism (Chapter 3), token identity theory (also often under the name property dualism; Chapter 4) and substance dualism (Chapter 1).
The more inner the mental phenomenon is, the more difficulty the physicalist theories will have making sense of it. For this reason, the philosophy of mind must attempt to make sense of inner states that appear subjective, whether of a feeling or of a thinking nature (Chapter 5). Theories about the status of such inner states and how our minds interact with the world involve discussions about diverse topics such as the nature of consciousness (Chapter 6), mental concepts (Chapter 7), and freedom of the will (Chapter 8).