History of the Mind-Body Problem

History of the Mind-Body Problem

History of the Mind-Body Problem

History of the Mind-Body Problem


History of the Mind-Body Problem is a collection of new essays by leading contributors on the various concerns that have given rise to and informed the mind-body problem in philosophy.The essays in this stellar collection discuss famous philosophers such as Aristotle, Aquinas and Descartes and cover the subjects of the origins of the qualia and intentionality.



Herbert Feigl once described the mind-body problem as 'a cluster of intricate puzzles - some scientific, some epistemological … some semantical and some pragmatic'. Reflection on the current debate on the mind-body problem would seem to support Feigl's judgement: although most writers on the subject testify to the importance of the problem, many offer very different interpretations of what the problem is. For some, the problem is fundamentally a causal problem, a problem about the causal interaction between mental phenomena and the body. For others, the problem is an explanatory one: what kind of explanation can be given of mental phenomena, consistent with the conception of the world given to us by contemporary science? In particular, the distinctive characteristics of the mind, intentionality and consciousness, are features of which (it is claimed) current science has no adequate account, and in the case of consciousness at least, the problems in giving such an account are sometimes taken to be insuperable.

These different conceptions of the problem tend to be accompanied by different conceptions of the cause of the problem: for some, the problem arises because of the assumption that mind and body are distinct (essentially, dualism). This assumption then demands that we explain how mental causation is possible, if mind and body are distinct things. But on other views, the problem arises from fundamentally physicalist assumptions. It is because we think that the world is completely physical in nature, that we find it hard to understand how mental phenomena (specifically subjectivity and consciousness) fit into the world so conceived. Here physicalism, the view that the world is fundamentally physical, is not the solution to the mind-body problem, but part of what poses the problem.

Further disagreement emerges about the extent of our present understanding of the problem, and the extent to which any progress has been made. Thomas Nagel is well-known for his pessimism on this score, and has said that a solution to the mind-body problem 'will alter our conception of the universe as radically as anything has to date'. Others think not only

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