Philosophy of Mind: A Comprehensive Introduction

May 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

JAWORSKI, William. Philosophy of Mind: A Comprehensive Introduction. Hoboken, New Jersey : Wiley-Blackwell, 2011

At the most general level, theories about the nature of the mind can be separated into three categories: (i) monistic theories; (ii) dualistic theories and (iii) non-standard theories. Let’s look at each category in more detail.

1. Monistic Theories
The philosophy of mind is motivated primarily by the desire to resolve a number of mind-body problems. I’ll look at these in a future post. For now, all that needs to be known is that these problems generally concern the appropriate relation between our understanding of the physical world of scientific description and our understanding of the mental world of first-person description. Monistic theories propose that the distinction between the physical and mental worlds is ultimately illusory: they are both, fundamentally, made up of the same kind of stuff. But what kind of stuff? There are three theories to contend with:

Idealism : This theory maintains that everything is ultimately mental. That our supposition of an external physical world is merely the result of an elaborate way of describing subjective mental experiences.

Neutral Monism : This theory maintains that everything is ultimately made up of a neutral substance that is neither physical nor mental. But this substance can be described in physical or mental terms.

Physicalism : This theory maintains that everything is ultimately physical. That our subjective mental experiences can ultimately be redescribed in physicalistic terms.

Of these three, it is physicalism that has been subjected to the most refinement in the past 50 years or so. Thus we are forced to further distinguish between a number of physicalist theories:

Eliminative Physicalism : This theory maintains that a complete physicalist theory of reality will ultimately eliminate the need to refer to the mental. Our mentalistic vocabulary is just a folk theory that needs to be replaced.

Reductive Physicalism : This theory maintains that mental facts are ultimately reducible to physical facts, but this does not mean all reference to the mental is somehow redundant or unimportant. There are two subdivisions within this theory (actually there are even more, but there’s no need to get too fine-grained when you’re starting out):

  • (a) Behaviourism : mental facts are reducible to facts about behaviour;
  • (b) Identity Theory : mental facts are reducible to facts about the brain.

Non-reductive Physicalism : This theory maintains that although everything could ultimately be described by physics, the special sciences (psychology, sociology etc.) have descriptive and explanatory interests that cannot be fulfilled by physics. These interests are satisfied by the use of mentalistic descriptions. There are three sub-divisions within this category of physicalism:

  • (a) Realisation Physicalism: Mental phenomena are realised by physical phenomena. Indeed, they can be realised by multiple kinds of physical phenomena.
  • (b) Supervenience Physicalism: Mental phenomena supervene upon physical phenomena.
  • (c) Anomalous Monism: All events are describable in physical terms; but some events are also describable in mental terms. The psychological explanations that use these mental terms are, however, not law-like (a – nomos, without law).

 The descriptions of these different positions are exceptionally brief. As a result, it might be difficult to fully appreciate the distinctions between some of them.

2. Dualistic Theories
Dualistic theories adopt the same basic tagline: the distinction between the mental and the physical is real. Where they disagree is over the precise nature of that distinction:

Substance Dualism : This theory maintains that there are ultimately two kinds of stuff: mental stuff and physical stuff. Our minds, obviously, are made up of the former, not the latter.

Dual Attribute Theory : This theory maintains that there is ultimately only one kind of stuff but some of this stuff exemplifies irreducible mental properties that are not captured by physical explanations. This position is sometimes referred to as “property dualism” but Jaworski prefers the dual-attribute moniker for reasons presented in his chapter on this theory (mainly, because substance dualism is also committed to a kind of property dualism).

As was the case with physicalism, most of the philosophical action has been associated with one of these theories over the past 50 years or so. The theory in question is Dual Attributism, which can be broken down in the following manner:

Organismic DAT : This version of dual attributivism maintains that the kinds of entities displaying mental attributes are physical organisms. This theory can, in turn, be split in two:

  • (a) Emergentism: This theory maintains that mental properties emerge from or are caused by physical phenomena and that these mental properties can play an actual role in physical reality.
  • (b) Epiphenomenalism: This theory maintains that mental properties emerge from or are caused by physical phenomena, but that these mental properties play no causal role in physical reality.

 Non-organismic DAT : This version of dual attributivism maintains that the kinds of entities displaying mental attributes might have some physical components, but are not organismic. This is a somewhat obscure position and is similar to substance dualism.

3. Non-Standard Theories
Finally, we come to non-standard theories. These theories reject one or more of the key assumptions upon which the standard theories are premised. Three such theories are mentioned by Jaworski.

Instrumentalism : This theory rejects the realist assumption of the standard theories. According to this assumption the mental predicates we use are intended to pick out objects, events and states of affairs in the external world. Instrumentalism rejects this by maintaining that these predicates are merely tools used to predict human behaviour.

Hylomorphism : This theory rejects the mental-physical distinction-thesis that is assumed by the standard theory. According to this thesis, there really are two vocabularies used to describe and explain human behaviour. Monistic theories may think the two can be reduced to one, and dualist theories may think they cannot, but they both agree that the vocabularies exist. Hylomorphism does not. It maintains that their is a unique vocabulary for describing and explaining human behaviour. One interesting feature of Jaworski’s book is his defence of the claim that hylomorphism is a distinct theory.

Mind-body Pessimism : This theory rejects the optimism underlying the standard theories. That optimism encourages proponents of the standard theories to believe that their theory can give a satisfactory account of mind-body relations. This theory maintains that we may forever by cognitively closed-off from such a satisfactory account.


May 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

Pluralism is a term used in philosophy, meaning “doctrine of multiplicity”, often used in opposition to monism (“doctrine of unity”) and dualism (“doctrine of duality”). The term has different meanings in metaphysics and epistemology. In metaphysics, pluralism is a doctrine that many basic substances make up reality, while monism holds existence to be a single substance, often either matter (materialism) or mind (idealism), and dualism believes two substances, such as matter and mind, to be necessary. In epistemology, pluralism is the position that there is not one consistent set of truths about the world, but rather many. Often this is associated with pragmatism and conceptual and cultural relativism.


May 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

Monism is a point of view within metaphysics which argues that the variety of existing things in the universe are reducible to one substance or reality and therefore that the fundamental character of the universe is unity. Contrasting with this point of view is dualism which asserts that there are two ultimately irreconcilable substances or realities (with consciousness and/or mind on the one hand and matter on the other) or pluralism which asserts any number of fundamental substances or realities more than two. Monisms may be theologically syncretic by proposing that there is one god who has many manifestations in the diverse religious traditions.

Max Velmans

May 28, 2012 § 1 Comment

Velmans, Max (1990). “CONSCIOUSNESS, BRAIN AND THE PHYSICAL WORLD” Philosophical Psychology 3,(1), 1990, 77-99.

Figure 2. A Dualist model of the causal sequence in visual perception. Light rays from a cat (as-perceived by an Experimenter) impinge on the Subject’s eye. Impulses travelling up the optic nerve produce a neural representation of the cat within S’s central nervous system. CNS activity, in turn, has a causal influence on S’s mind, resulting in a percept of a cat. It is central to this model that the percept (of a cat) in the mind of S is quite separate both from the neural representation (of a cat) in S’s brain and the cat (as-perceived by E) out-there in the world.

Figure 3. A Reductionist model of the causal sequence in visual perception. Light rays from a cat (as-perceived by an Experimenter) impinge on the subjects eye. Impulses travelling up the optic nerve produce a neural representation of the cat within S’s central nervous system. This CNS activity is subjectively experienced as a percept of a cat (in the mind of S) but neurophysiological discoveries will show this subjective experience to be nothing more than a state of or function of S’s brain.

Figure 4. A Reflexive model of the causal sequence in visual perception. Light rays from a cat (as-perceived by an Experimenter) impinge on the Subject�s eye. Impulses travelling up the central nervous system produce a neural representation of the cat within S’s central nervous system. Information within this neural representation is incorporated within an ‘experiential model’ of the cat produced by the brain in the form of a cat as-perceived by S. This is ‘projected’ by the brain to the judged location of the initiating stimulus, out-there in the world. As in the Dualist and Reductionist models the the neural representation of a cat in S’s brain is separate from the cat (as-perceived by E) out there in the world. Contrary to these models, however, S’s percept of a cat and the cat as-perceived (by S) are one and the same. Indeed what S experiences is similar to what E experiences, viz. a cat out there in the world, but viewed from S’s perspective rather than from the perspective of E.


Velmans, Max . “Reflexive Monism “, Journal of Consciousness Studies, 2008.

A dualist model of perception

A reductionist model of perception

A reflexive model of perception

mind-body dualism

May 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

In philosophy of mind, dualism is the assumption that mental phenomena are, in some respects non-physical, or that the mind and body are distinct. Thus, it encompasses a set of views about the relationship between mind and matter, and is contrasted with other positions, such as physicalism, in the mind–body problem.

On oppose souvent, de façon caricaturale, l’idéalisme de Platon au prétendu matérialisme d’Aristote (celui-ci défend plutôt un hylémorphisme), comme en témoigne le geste de chacun des deux philosophes dans ce détail d’une fresque du peintre Raphaël (vers 1510).

Aristotle shared Plato’s view of multiple souls, (ψυχή psychí) and further elaborated a hierarchical arrangement, corresponding to the distinctive functions of plants, animals and people: a nutritive soul of growth and metabolism, that all three share, a perceptive soul of pain, pleasure and desire, that only animals and people share, and the faculty of reason, that is unique to people only. In this view, a soul is the hylomorphic form of a viable organism, wherein each level of the hierarchy formally supervenes upon the substance of the preceding level. Thus, for Aristotle, all three souls perish when the living organism dies. For Plato however, the soul was not dependent on the physical body, he believed in metempsychosis, the migration of the soul to a new physical body.

René Descartes’s illustration of dualism. Inputs are passed on by the sensory organs to the epiphysis in the brain and from there to the immaterial spirit

Another one of Descartes’ illustrations. The fire displaces the skin, which pulls a tiny thread, which opens a pore in the ventricle (F) allowing the “animal spirit” to flow through a hollow tube, which inflates the muscle of the leg, causing the foot to withdraw.

Dualism is closely associated with the philosophy of René Descartes (1641), which holds that the mind is a nonphysical substance. Descartes clearly identified the mind with consciousness and self-awareness and distinguished this from the brain as the seat of intelligence. Hence, he was the first to formulate the mind–body problem in the form in which it exists today. Dualism is contrasted with various kinds of monism, including phenomenalism. Substance dualism is contrasted with all forms of materialism, but property dualism may be considered a form of emergent materialism or non-reductive physicalism in some sense. This article discusses the various forms of dualism and the arguments which have been made both for and against this thesis.

Four varieties of dualist causal interaction. The arrows indicate the direction of the interactions.

En philosophie, le dualisme se réfère à une vision de la relation matière-esprit fondée sur l’affirmation que les phénomènes mentaux possèdent des caractéristiques qui sortent du champ de la physique. Ces idées apparaissent pour la première fois dans la philosophie occidentale avec les écrits de Platon et Aristote, qui affirment, pour différentes raisons, que l’« intelligence » de l’homme (une faculté de l’esprit ou de l’âme) ne peut pas être assimilée ni expliquée par son corps matériel. Cependant, le premier emploi du terme dans cette acception ne date que de la première moitié du XVIIIème siècle et apparaît sous la plume de Christian Wolff (1670-1754).

La version la plus connue du dualisme a été formalisée en 1641 par René Descartes qui a soutenu que l’esprit était une substance immatérielle. Descartes fut le premier à assimiler clairement l’esprit à la conscience, et à le distinguer du cerveau, qui est selon lui le support de l’intelligence. Ainsi, il a été le premier à formuler le problème corps/esprit de la façon dont il est présenté aujourd’hui. De nos jours, le dualisme est opposé à des formes variées de monismes, parmi lesquelles le physicalisme et le phénoménisme. Le dualisme de substance s’oppose à toutes les formes de matérialisme, tandis que le dualisme de propriétés peut être considéré comme une forme de matérialisme émergentiste, et serait alors opposé à un matérialisme non-émergentiste.

embodied cognition

May 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

In philosophy, the embodied mind thesis holds that the nature of the human mind is largely determined by the form of the human body. Philosophers, psychologists, cognitive scientists and artificial intelligence researchers who study embodied cognition and the embodied mind argue that all aspects of cognition are shaped by aspects of the body. The aspects of cognition include high level mental constructs (such as concepts and categories) and human performance on various cognitive tasks (such as reasoning or judgement). The aspects of the body include the motor system, the perceptual system, the body’s interactions with the environment (situatedness) and the ontological assumptions about the world that are built into the body and the brain. The embodied mind thesis is opposed to other theories of cognition such as cognitivism, computationalism and Cartesian dualism. The idea has roots in Kant and 20th century continental philosophy (such as Merleau-Ponty). The modern version depends on insights drawn from recent research in psychology, linguistics, cognitive science, artificial intelligence, robotics and neurobiology. Embodied cognition is a topic of research in social and cognitive psychology, covering issues such as social interaction and decision-making. Embodied cognition reflects the argument that the motor system influences our cognition, just as the mind influences bodily actions. For example, when participants hold a pencil in their teeth engaging the muscles of a smile, they comprehend pleasant sentences faster than unpleasant ones. And it works in reverse: holding a pencil in their teeth to engage the muscles of a frown increases the time it takes to comprehend pleasant sentences. George Lakoff (a cognitive scientist and linguist) and his collaborators (including Mark Johnson, Mark Turner, and Rafael E. Núñez) have written a series of books promoting and expanding the thesis based on discoveries in cognitive science, such as conceptual metaphor and image schema. Robotics researchers such as Rodney Brooks, Hans Moravec and Rolf Pfeifer have argued that true artificial intelligence can only be achieved by machines that have sensory and motor skills and are connected to the world through a body. The insights of these robotics researchers have in turn inspired philosophers like Andy Clark and Horst Hendriks-Jansen. Neuroscientists Gerald Edelman, António Damásio and others have outlined the connection between the body, individual structures in the brain and aspects of the mind such as consciousness, emotion, self-awareness and will. Biology has also inspired Gregory Bateson, Humberto Maturana, Francisco Varela, Eleanor Rosch and Evan Thompson to develop a closely related version of the idea, which they call enactivism. The motor theory of speech perception proposed by Alvin Liberman and colleagues at the Haskins Laboratories argues that the identification of words is embodied in perception of the bodily movements by which spoken words are made.

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