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Descartes introduces the view that mind and body are distinct substances. Explain the view and the reasoning that leads him to it. Is substance dualism a defensible decision in the light of contemporary brain science?

Papers should be about 900 words long (no fewer than 800 and no more than 1000). Both the expository and the evaluative parts of the question ought to be answered. You should take our readings and discussion into account when writing your paper. 

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Philosophy 101, Summer Semester 2021

Handout #3

Paul Churchland, Dualism


1. Substance Dualism

· Mind as a distinctive non-physical thing

· Descartes: two kinds of substance make up reality

· Matter (spatially extended)

· Mind/thinking (not spatially extended)

· Mind causally interacts with body

· Reasons:

· Introspection

· Language/mathematical reasoning

· Problems:

· How is causal interaction possible?

· Matter is not usefully conceived as having spatial extension as its core characteristic

2. Popular Dualism

· Mind is literally ‘in’ the body

· Mind/body interaction to be understood as exchange of energy

· Mind might survive death of body

3. Property Dualism

· Mind is a not a substance

· Brain has specific set of properties possessed by no other physical object

· Mental properties not reducible to physical properties

· Different versions

· Epiphenomenalism:

· Mental phenomena emerge when growing brain passes certain level of complexity

· Mental phenomena have no causal power

· Actions exhaustively determined by physical events

· Motivation: conflicting demands of

· Scientifically informed view of brain

· Introspective evidence

· Interactionist property dualism

· Mental properties do have causal power

Arguments in Favour of Dualism

1. Religious belief

· Immortality

· But: not compatible with scientific evidence

· Social forces as determinants of religious belief

2. Argument from introspection

· Apprehension not of neural network, but of thoughts, desires, sensations, etc.

· But: maybe our faculty of introspection not sophisticated enough

· Consider senses

3. Argument from irreducibility

· No physical science capable of accounting for subjective character of experience

· But: consider mathematical skills of computers; computer languages

Arguments against Dualism

1. Ockham’s Razor

· Don’t multiply entities beyond explanatory necessity

2. Explanatory advantage

· Much knowledge about the brain already in place

· Microchemistry, processing of sensory information, neurology

· By contrast: no detailed theory of ‘mind stuff’ available

· Argument from neural dependence: reason, emotion, and consciousness can be shown to be heavily influenced by brain activity

· i.e. drugs, neural damage, caffeine

· Argument from evolution

· Mechanism of evolutionary development

· Occasional blind variation in types of reproducing creatures

· Selective survival of some of these types due to reproductive advantage enjoyed by individuals of those types

· Human species and all of its features are the wholly physical outcome of a purely physical process

· ‘We are creatures of matter’

Philosophy 101, Summer Semester 2021

Handout #1

René Descartes, Meditations

First Meditation

· Fundamental question: what beliefs may we take to be indubitably true?

· Suggestion: since it will be an endless task to scrutinize all of one’s beliefs individually, Descartes will challenge the ‘principles upon which all (his) former opinions were based’

· One such principle states that sensory information yields true beliefs

· Yet it is obvious that our senses can deceive us

· Consider dreams: the dreamer represents things that are not currently present

· Things represented in dreams, though imagined, resemble things we experience in our waking life

· Maybe ‘very simple and general things’ exist, of which the mind makes use to imagine more complex individual things?

· Laws of geometry and arithmetic may constitute such general truths

· But there is no certainty that they do

· Presupposition: existence of an ‘evil demon’ who is intent on deceiving the reasoner

· Is there anything left whose existence we have reason not to doubt?

Second Meditation

· I cannot take it for granted that I have a body

· But I cannot doubt that I exist: otherwise I could not be deceived

· ‘I am, I exist, is necessarily true, every time I express it or conceive of it in my mind’

· But what am I?

· A thinking thing: a thing that doubts, perceives, affirms, denies, wills, etc.

· It is certain that it seems to me that I see light: I am hence a perceiving thing

· How does perception work?

· Example of the wax: ‘the perception of it…is not an act of sight…., but only an intuition of the mind’

· It follows from the fact that I (think I) see that I am

· Since perception of external act is a mental (and not a physical) event, knowledge of one’s own mind is obtained more easily than any other kind of knowledge

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