Philosophy 3

Summer 2019 Session D

Number Title Instructor Days/time Room
3 The Nature of Mind Bradley MTuWTh 12-2 220 Wheeler

When we focus on certain facts about ourselves, e.g. that we bleed, sneeze and digest, it is easy to think of ourselves as purely physical beings. This is because sneezing, bleeding and digestion are all able to be understood as purely physical processes. When we think of ourselves this way we come out as ultimately the same as the tables, chairs and other things able to be purchased at Ikea: we are just hunks of matter.

Other things that we do resist this sort of understanding. We feel pain, we see the light change from green to red and decide to bring the car to a stop, we have pangs of sadness, of anxiety and of jubilation. We have a conscious mental life the variety and quality of which is difficult to put in to words. From this perspective it is very difficult to see ourselves as merely hunks of matter. This is because it seems incredible that our conscious lives, our pains, thoughts, emotions and so on, are just a bunch of atoms banging around in the void of space. How could that be? Thus, when we think about ourselves in terms of our conscious mental lives it becomes very difficult to think of ourselves as purely physical beings.

Here is the question we will ask in this course: can we acknowledge the fact that we have a conscious mental life within a theoretical understanding of ourselves according to which we are purely physical in nature? Another way of asking this question is: what is the relation between the mind and the physical world? Is the mind a part of the physical world? Is our mental life just another physical process like digestion? Or is it rather that the mind is non-physical in nature and hence that it cannot be accounted for in physical terms?

In asking these questions about the nature of the mind we will also be concerned with questions pertaining to our knowledge of the mind. How do we know what is going on in the minds of other people? Can we even know that other people have minds? What about non-human animals? Do they have minds? Can we be sure? Do we even know that other humans have minds? And how do you know about your own mind?