|Introduction to Philosophy of the Mind
In this course we will be looking at the relation of psychological states, such as desires or memories, to the physical world. There are five units in the course: Foundations (Dualism, Behaviorism and Central-State Materialism) Personal Identity Functionalism Consciousness Causation The books required for the course are: David Chalmers (ed.), Philosophy of Mind: Classical and Contemporary Readings (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002). John Perry (ed.), Personal Identity (Berkeley and Los Angeles, University of California Press 1975).
What is the mind? Are mental states, such as beliefs and desires, memories and hopes, characteristics of a non-physical substance, or are they configurations of the physical world? And if we think that mental states are entirely physical, should we think of them as relating to the ways in which a person tends to behave, or are they rather states of the person’s brain? We shall begin the course by looking at these fundamental questions about the nature of the psychological. What is a person? Is a person merely a biological entity, and the identity of a person just the identity of a physical thing? Do psychological states enter into the identity of the self, or can we explain the continued existence of the self in terms that do not appeal to psychological states? And what is the importance of personal identity? Recently some theorists have argued that we should give it much less weight than we seem to ordinarily; we will look at those arguments. One of the most powerful ideas in contemporary philosophy of mind is functionalism, the idea that the character of a mental state is constituted by its potential for causal relations with other mental states and with behavior. In the third unit we look at the strengths and limitations of this idea. One limitation of functionalism is its trouble in providing an analysis of consciousness. What is the relation between conscious experience and the brain? Is consciousness something over and above the ordinary biological functioning of the brain, or can it somehow be explained in biological terms? We will try to identify the aspects of conscious experience that make it difficult to explain this characteristic of the mental life in physicalist terms. In one way or another, throughout this course we will be going over the relation of the psychological life to the physical. Finally, we will look at how psychological states can be said to have causes and effects. Do we in fact ordinarily take it that psychological states do have causes and effects? And can they do so, if the whole causal story of the world can be told entirely in terms of physics?
Previously taught: SP04.