PHIL2206 Philosophy of Mind
Week 2: Introduction

Minds and mental phenomena

  1. In this course we are interested in minds and mental phenomena.
  2. Some things have a mind: you and I do, and perhaps also (in order of decreasing liklihood) animals, zombies, robots, computers, and thermometers. We are interested in whatever it is that something has when it has a mind.
  3. Some things exhibit mental phenomena:

    We are interested in all of these phenomena. Note that they are a very diverse bunch: some are states (to be in pain is to be in a certain state), some are events (calculations are events), some are processes (planning a party is a process), and some are properties (it is a property of me that I know the capital of Rhode Island).

Philosophical questions

  1. We are interested in philosophical questions about minds and mental phenomena. These contrast with the questions typically asked by others who study minds and mental phenomena: psychologists, cognitive scientists, and neuroscientists.
  2. Here is a typical philosophical question: Do thermometers have minds?

    This is not the sort of question a scientist can answer. We don't need to learn more about thermometers and how they work - the question would remain even if we knew all of that. What we need to learn about is what it is to have a mind - what it is that we are looking for.

    This is something that we might be able to do from an armchair (contentious), perhaps because it is a matter of learning about our concept MIND (contentious), or about what we mean by the word 'mind' (contentious).

  3. Some of the interesting philosophical questions about minds and mental phenomena are epistemological: How can we get knowledge of other people's minds? Do we have privileged knowledge of our own minds? How do some mental processes (e.g. perceiving, learning) help us gain knowledge? But we will be more interested in certain metaphysical questions.

Four metaphysical questions

  1. Question: What is it to have a mind? What is the difference between us and rocks in virtue of which we have a mind and they don't? This is one of our main questions. Here are the views that we will be considering:
  2. Question: What is it for a phenomenon to be a mental phenomenon? That is: What is it that all mental phenomena have in common, in virtue of which they are mental phenomena? Or: What is the mark of the mental? Here are some possibilities discussed by Kim:
  3. Question: How are mental phenomena related to minds? Here are some thoughts:
  4. Question: How are minds and mental phenomena related to physical things and physical phenomena? This is the mind-body problem, another one of our main questions.

Four things to be accounted for

  1. Some mental phenomena (e.g. pains, itches, and tickles) have a phenomenal character, or a qualitative feel, or a raw feel, or a quale - there is something it is like to exhibit those phenomena. Such phenomena, or perhaps things which exhibit these phenomena, or perhaps things which experience these phenomena, are said to be phenomenally conscious. (Do all mental phenomena have a phenomenal character?) Accounting for this is a problem for physicalism: how can systems of physical particles give rise to qualitative feels?
  2. Some mental phenomena have aboutness. My belief that Sacramento is the capital of California is about Sacramento. It is sometimes said that this belief has content (its content is that Sacramento is the capital of California), or is intentional. Accounting for this is a problem for physicalism: how can a system of physical particles be about something?
  3. Mental phenomena can cause and be caused by physical phenomena, in particular brain phenomena:

    Accounting for this is a problem for substance dualism and property dualism: how can anything which is non-physical causally interact with something which is physical?

  4. Mental phenomena seem to supervene upon (be determined by) physical phenomena: there can be no difference in mental phenomena without a difference in physical phenomena. Here are a couple of ways to precisify this idea:

    Strong supervenience entails supervenience (proof?). What about the other way around?

    Supervenience is just a claim about covariance, so in this respect it is quite weak. Observe that mathematical properties supervene on physical properties. Also observe that supervenience is compatible with substance dualism. But it might entail that there can be at most one kind of Cartesian mind: any two Cartesian minds are alike in all physical properties (they have none), so they are alike in all mental properties, so they are alike in all properties. This might render Cartesian dualism implausible, and push us towards physicalism.