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Three Basic Theories in the Philosophy of Mind

“Imagine that you are standing in your kitchen, feeling a bit hungry, wishing you had something sweet yet nutritious. You see a bowl of fruit, spy a red, round, delectable-looking apple; perhaps you catch a brief scent of the apple and the orange next to it. After a moment’s reflection, you think that the apple will serve your purposes nicely and reach to pick it up. This simple scene, which occurs in countless variations at countless times, incorporates much that is at the heart of philosophy of mind.” (Crumley, Jack S.: Problems in Mind: Readings in Contemporary Philosophy of Mind. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company, 2000, page 1)

The nature of mind, consciousness, subjective experience and mental content is what philosophy of mind is all about.

The three commonly mentioned theories regarding the nature of the mind are dualism, property dualism and physicalism.

René Descartes

Substance dualism is the view that consciousness can’t be reduced to purely physical substance, but is dependant on non-material substance. Therefore, the mind and the body are not seen as identical. This theory is often closely associated with the 17th century philosopher René Descartes. He posits that we can be completely sure of our own existence and that we shouldn’t doubt it. Put simply – cogito ergo sum – I think, therefore I am. On the other hand, our senses are fallible and we shouldn’t trust them with such ease. We can doubt them. If we accept that things are indentical if and only if they share the same attributes, then we can conclude that the body isn’t identical with the mind. Why? Because we can’t doubt our mind existing, but we can doubt the existence of our bodies. Obviously, they don’t share the same attributes, so they can’t be identical. Another thing Descartes pointed out was that matter can’t think and that the mental doesn’t have extension in space. Dualism is criticzed because it doens’t account for the interaction between the non-physical substance and the body. It is not clear how something absolutely non-physical affects something absolutely physical.

Property Dualism

Another form of dualism is property dualism, the view that there is only one substance, commonly physical, but two kinds of properties relating to that substance. Those properties are usually seen as mental and physical properties. They are distinct and can’t be reduced or identified as one another. Property dualism can be seen as middle ground between dualism and physicalism, since it posits that only one substance exists and that humans don’t have a transcendent part. Such a view is also supported in physicalism. The difference is that property dualists still recognize mental properties as irreducible to matter, which is a view more oriented towards dualism. Property dualism is often criticized for not adequately explaining the connection between mental and physical properties and for lack of research.

Neurons

Physicalism is the view that only physical substance exists and its properties. The brain is the source of feelings, thoughts, intention – consciousness in general. Such view is very common among modern scientists and philosophers. They believe that science will eventually explain away all problems regarding the nature of the mind. Physicalism is often attacked for being reductive and for ignoring problems, rather than solving them.

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What is your view on consciousness? Is it dependant on the brain or is it partially or completely non-physical?

Feel free to leave a comment, so we can discuss! 🙂