Philosophy 3

Summer 2015 Session A

Number Title Instructor Days/time Room
3 The Nature of Mind Andrews MTuWTh 12-2 156 Dwinelle

When we focus on certain facts about ourselves, e.g. that we bleed and sneeze and have to eat, it is easy to think of ourselves as purely physical beings. This is because sneezing, bleeding and eating are all able to be understood as purely physical processes. When we think of ourselves this way we understand ourselves as, in a certain sense, 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. In short 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, as a bunch of atoms banging around in the void. How could pain just be a bunch of atoms banging around? How could the joy I feel be a purely physical process? When we focus on our mental lives it becomes extremely puzzling how we could be purely physical in nature.

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?