The philosophy of mind is, in short, the area of philosophy that asks questions about the mind.
Much of the work that goes on within the philosophy of mind is metaphysical, in that it concerns how things are, in the very broadest sense. As we saw early on, the four traditional areas of philosophy are logic, ethics, epistemology and…
metaphysics (df.): the area of philosophy that attempts to answer questions about existence and reality, especially questions about what kinds of thing exist; metaphysical questions include: “Does God exist?” “Does the soul exist?” “What is the relationship between the mind and the body?” “Do human beings have free will?”
The most basic metaphysical question is: what is there? Metaphysics is not concerned to find very specific answers to such questions. For example, it is not looking for answers like: “There are 25 desks in this room; there is water on Mars; there is a recess in the Michael Vick trial.” It is not even concerned with more general, but still specific, answers: “there are desks; there is water; there are trial recesses.”
Rather, metaphysics is concerned with the most general sorts of answer to this question: there is matter, there are qualities, there are kinds.
The word “ontology” is used to refer to a list of the things (or types of thing) that have being, i.e., of the things (or types of thing) that there are. For example, one philosopher may have an ontology that includes only physical objects and characteristics (such a philosopher believes that the only things there are, are physical objects and characteristics—this is called materialism); another may have an ontology consisting of physical objects, non-physical minds, and God (such a philosopher thus believes the only things there are, are physical objects, non-physical minds, and God).
But sometimes “ontology” is used to refer, not to a list of fundamental types of thing, but to the branch of metaphysics that tries to come up with such a list. In this sense, ontology itself is an area of metaphysics. Some people use the terms “ontology” and “metaphysics” interchangeably.
[4.1.] The Mind/Body Problem & A Menu of Positions.
One of the central problems within the philosophy of mind is a metaphysical problem. It is known as the mind/body problem:
What is the relationship between the mental and the physical? I have a mind, which contains various beliefs, desires, sensations, and emotions. I also have a brain; this physical thing is a structured piece of tissue containing an intricate web of neurons. Are the mind and the brain one and the same thing? Are my beliefs, desires, emotions, and sensations identical with physical things found in my brain? Or are the mind and the brain different objects? Perhaps the mind isn’t a physical thing at all. (Sober 256)
So the problem is to explain the relationship between:
any experience or mental state, such as:
This is a problem within metaphysics, since it is a question about how things are and what kinds of thing exist.
Over the next few lectures, we will consider some of the most prominent attempts to answer this question:
· Cartesian Dualism
· Logical Behaviorism
· the Identity Theory
[4.1.1.] A Summary of Cartesian Dualism.
In Meditations II and VI, Descartes argues for
Cartesian Dualism (df.): the mind and the body are two totally different things, capable of existing separately.
Descartes held that
· the mind is essentially something that thinks;
· the body is essentially something that is extended in space; but
· despite being separate things, the mind and body can interact:
e.g., desire to move
e.g., stepping on a nail
[4.1.2.] A Summary of Logical Behaviorism.
logical behaviorism (df.): our talk about beliefs, desires, pains, etc. is not talk about inner states or episodes, either ghostly or physical, but instead about actual and potential patterns of behavior; for example, the sentence “S wants (believes, feels) …” means that S is disposed to act in such and such a way.
· This is not so much a theory of what mental states are as much as a theory about how best to understand the vocabulary we use to talk about them
Think about our ordinary understanding of the word “soluble.” The sentence “This sugar cube is soluble” does not refer to some hidden, inner property of the sugar cube. Rather, it means something like this:
· If the sugar cube were put in unsaturated water, it would dissolve.
This is a claim about how the sugar cube would react if placed in some specific circumstance.
According to logical behaviorism, the language we use to talk about the mind works in much the same way as words like “soluble.” The sentence “Amy wants to take a trip to London” does not refer to an inner psychological state of Amy, nor does it refer to a state of her brain. Rather, what it really means is something like this:
· If asked whether that is what she wants, she would say yes.
· If given brochures about trips to London and brochures about trips to Paris, she would peruse the London brochures first.
· If given a plane ticket to London, she would use it.
[4.1.3.] A Summary of the Identity Theory.
· philosophers who have defended this view include U.T. Place and J.J.C. Smart.
The identity theory is a form of materialism about the mind:
materialism (df.): only physical objects and characteristics exist; nothing non-physical exists.
(Cartesian Dualism rejects materialism, because it says that non-physical things, namely minds, exist.)
Claim (ii) amounts to saying that all of a person’s mental states/events are actually physical states/events. A sensation of pain, your belief that Atlanta is the capital of Georgia, your desire to have Mexican for dinner, are all identical with some physical state of your nervous system. The claim is not that mental states/events cause physical states/events; it is that they are one and the same thing.
We use different vocabularies to talk about the mind and about the brain…
· we describe our mental states using terms like “believe” and “feel” and “sense”; we talk about “anger” and “fear” and “joy”;
· and we describe our brains and nervous systems using words like “neuron” and “neurotransmitter” and “neural network.”
But these two different vocabularies are really describing the exact same part of the word. It is analogous to the way we now use the vocabulary of chemistry and the vocabulary of ordinary speech to describe the same components of the world in different ways, e.g., when we use “H2O” and “water” to refer to one and the same substance.
According to the Identity Theory, what makes a type of brain state identical with a type of mental state are the physical characteristics of the brain state. For example, what makes
brain state type BSbp
(firing of fibers in the somatosensory cortex)
mental state type
are the physical characteristics of BSbp. BSbp is the sensation of burning pain just because of its physical characteristics.
So if two people do not have BSbp in common—if each of their brains is not exhibiting brain state type BSbp, they will not feel the same kind of pain.
[4.1.4.] A Summary of Functionalism.
functionalism (df.): (i) the mind and the brain are one and the same object, but (ii) mental properties are not exactly the same thing as physical properties, because mental properties are multiply realizable.
· Philosophers who have defended this theory (at one time or other) include Hilary Putnam and Jerry Fodor.
Like the Identity Theory, functionalism is a form of materialism.
But unlike the Identity Theory, functionalism claims that what makes a particular brain state the specific mental state it is is not its physical characteristics, but instead the causal relations that it stands in with three things:
(a) environmental effects on the body;
(b) the body’s physical behavior; and
(c) other mental states.
Suppose that you feel pain that results from some bodily injury, and that as a result of that pain, you engage in a number of different behaviors:
(a) bodily damage à
(b) à wincing
à nursing of the wounded area
(c) à distress
à reasoning aimed at relief
Any state that plays this functional role—that results from (a) and causes (b) and (c), is a pain… no matter what the physical properties are of the physical system in which all of these states occur.
In this way, mental states are analogous to a mousetrap:
· Whether or not something is a mousetrap doesn’t depend on what it is made from. It only depends on what it does, the causal relations it stands in, the function it performs.
· Whether or not something is a pain doesn’t depend on what it is made from (carbon, silicon, raisins)… it only depends on what it does, the causal relations it stands in, the function it performs.
Stopping point for Tuesday June 22. For next time, read Meditation VI (pp.235-45); and ch.19 & ch.20.
This page last updated 6/22/2010.
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