Philosophy of Mind 101: The Inquiry on Mind and Body
This 101 series enucleates the topics of the inquiries on philosophy of mind and cognitive science from a critical perspective. It covers the topics of behaviourism, mind-body identity, functionalism and computationalism theories thoroughly; and brings more recent concepts, methodologies, and the theories to the light. Throughout the series, these theories are going to be critically analysed. This elaboration and the critical analysis is planned to help the reader to have an understanding and comprehension of the mental world, concepts and processes, and different approaches to this realm. What the mind is, how it works, why it works as it seems, and what it could be if there is a purpose to the mind are the main concerns of this series. Questions regarding how one understands the world around them amazed thinkers throughout history. This series will take the reader to a journey of different theories and perspectives regarding the mind and mental beings.
'Philosophy of Mind 101' will be mainly divided into the following chapters of the content:
Philosophy of Mind 101: The Inquiry on Mind and Body
Philosophy of Mind 101: What is the Function of the Mind?
Philosophy of Mind 101: Are You A Computing Machine?
Philosophy of Mind 101: "We"; Do We Exist?
Philosophy of Mind 101: Co-operation and Cultural Cognition
Philosophy of Mind 101: Inquiries & Conceptual Theories of Mind
Philosophy of Mind 101: The Inquiry on Mind and Body
As an introduction, this essay is going to demonstrate the main branches of discussion in the field of cognitive science. There have been different approaches about human cognition and mind-body problem by different thinkers. They are going to be laid out, explained, and approached critically throughout this 101 series. There are three main branches of thought concerning philosophy of mind and these approaches could be classified as how they recognize mental and material existence. These branches divide and then different approaches develop regarding how closely they are related to these three. One of them is the idealist approach, which regards the world as part of the mental process, or it is a reflection of the ideal objects. While this approach is accepted through many teachings of religions, philosophies and non-Western thought, and also solipsist approaches, it does not find a place in the scientific approach (Willmann, 1910).
In this series the other two branches are going to be presented regarding how the scientific approach to mental and material processes developed. Two main branches of the inquiries of cognition take their root in the ontological discussions that are relating to the existence of the mind and the physical world around us, and what kind of a relation there can be between these realms. One of the two main branches is the dualist approach which posits a dichotomy of existence of the mind and the body. The other main branch is the materialist approach which regards the mind or the mental processes as parts of material existence and processes. The thinkers of the latter and the former have laid out conflicting theories regarding cognition. Hence, there have been criticisms of the dualist side by the materialist side, and defenses of the dualist side for these criticisms. These conflicts reflect the picture of the scientific approach to the mind and cognition. This first episode of the series focuses on mind-body problem and behaviourism, a materialistic approach to the mind-body problem. After explaining these approaches, this essay is going to lay out a critical perspective regarding these approaches.
Firstly, the approach that regards mind and body as distinct and of different realms is the approach of René Descartes that is referred to as mind-body dualism. The problem regarding mind and body is emphasized by René Descartes. Simply put, if the mind and the body consist of different substances, how they are related and how they interact through the lifetime of the person involves mystery. According to Descartes, mind and body are substantially distinct, and processes regarding mind are in the mental realm which is the metaphysical realm (Descartes, 2008). The body is a corporeal thing that exists in the physical realm. Throughout the life of the person, these two substances interact in an intermingled manner. Descartes comes to an understanding of these two in that they are distinct substances with his methodology of clear and distinct understanding. Descartes, in his arguments, displays this method as it demonstrates that something exists and the knowledge and the understanding of it is true if one is aware of the thing clearly and distinctly. Descartes comes up with this method by questioning everything as there is an evil deceiver that distorts everything that Descartes directs his cognition towards. Hence, everything but the fact that he is a being that thinks, when put into doubt, fails. Therefore, he deduces that there is only one infallible thing, if everything is doubtable, and it is the fact that he thinks. Thus, Descartes says “cogito ergo sum” which means “I think, therefore I am.”.
Then, Descartes deduces that he can be sure of the truth of the knowledge of other things that he clearly and distinctly perceives, because he can be sure of the knowledge of himself as he is clearly and distinctly aware of him being a thinking thing. This method creates the base within/for knowledge in this method of thought. On the other hand, if one puts God instead of the evil deceiver in this equation, then they can get the solid proof for knowledge of something and its existence. According to Descartes, God exists because it has to be existing to be the omniscient being. Also, Descartes claims that he has clear and distinct knowledge of God as the almighty and all-powerful being (Descartes, 2008). As follows, Descartes claims his certainty of the outer world that he cognizes is truth because it comes from God. This is also how Descartes splits from idealism, and he posits a dualist perspective as he claims that he exists as the mind which is the thinking thing and the body that he is aware of its corporeal existence. The substantial difference is the difference between the modes of existence. There are different modes of existence as distinct things are different from each other because they are substantially different (Descartes, 2008). For example, a book is not a mode of a bookshelf, and a bookshelf is not a mode of a book, however they both are modes of trees. According to Descartes, the mind and the body are not modes of each other. Therefore, they are distinct substances (Descartes, 2008).
Considering them as different substances conflicts with the assumption of the positivist scientific method that every phenomenon can be explained through modes of materiality. Thus, behaviouralists, as any materialist, consider minds as a mode of physicality. With the assumption of any non-material mode of mind does not exist, materialists try to explain the nature, the working, and the processes of minds via the methods of positive sciences. Although the approach of Descartes gave way to significant epistemological development in Western philosophy, the dualist approach has been attacked and criticized by materialistic approaches. Although materialists disagree on many topics, materialism and dualism have engaged in the conflicts around the debates of philosophy of mind. The conflicts are around the questions whether the minds exist, and if they do what they consist of, and how they are related to corporeal, physical things. One of the approaches to the cognition process is the rather materialistic behaviourism approach. It suggests that human cognition is a kind of behaviour that depends on the historicity of the individual and it is reflexive as any other animal behaviour (Heil, 2019). Behaviourism takes mind as a complex set of behaviours which are reflections to the history of the individual. Hence, they think that mind does not exist as a mental or metaphysical entity, but it is a physical entity that is a bodily function. According to this approach, we misrecognize this bodily function by recognizing it as distinct from body. It is a behavioural function of the body, and it is a reflexive function as all our behaviours.
In historicity, dualism provides the scientific approach with an epistemological tool. This tool is the tool that takes the necessity of the duality of approaches to the inquiries of scientific methods and theorems. From a subjective point of view, Descartes sets out the scheme of ensuring the knowledge for the things that are doubted. The signs of the Cartesian method of inquiry can be seen in the scientific method as the hypotheses are put forth and tested whether the claims are true. For an hypotheses to become a theory, it needs to be tested to be infallible. In Cartesian method, the hypotheses are claimed to the point that no other possibility of doubt is left in a subjective manner. Also, the knowledge is tested and doubted for infallibility for the outer material world to the point of existence of God with the claim that God is not a deceiver and does not deceive Descartes. However, it is an infallible because God can be deceiving one, as it is omnipotent and for the purposes of testing the individual (Descartes, 2008). These two branches of pursuit of certainty reflect that the scientific method needs the theory and the practice hand in hand. However, for the inquiry of mind Descartes falls into a slippery slope of having a clear and distinct awareness of something is the only necessity for the certainty of the knowledge of that thing, following his thought process. Because Descartes claims that he has a clear and distinct understanding of the mind as a thinking being so that the mind must be an independent substance, he falls into the slippery slope of the assumption being correct. On the other hand, considering the approach of behaviourism, for the scientific inquiry of mind, it is favourable since it works as a way of linkage between ongoing mental processes and material processes of the body. Although this linkage is beneficial, the behaviourist approach is reductionist in the way that it claims the mind is only bodily processes, because reducing the mind to merely bodily processes involve reducing the human-beings into the mechanical or biological machines, and it is fallible in explaining a theory of consciousness (Chalmers, 1997). Studies on cognition as a human behaviour are carried out in detail. These studies have the weight of the name science, and they work on the fields of neuroscience and psychiatry, and also the sensation part of the cognition is potently linked with this part of the work. However, considering the philosophy of mind there comes up different questions regarding consciousness, because how the mind functions and how can an experiencing thing exist through mind are different parts of the inquiry.
To conclude, behaviourism is a materialist approach to the mind-body problem. It takes mind as a complex set of behaviours which are reflections to the history of the individual. Therefore behaviourists think that mind does not exist as a mental or metaphysical entity, but it is a physical entity that is a bodily function. According to this approach, we misrecognize this bodily function by recognizing it as distinct from body. It is a behavioural function of the body, and it is a reflexive function as all our behaviours. This approach has enabled the development of the sciences regarding human cognition. As strong as it is in determining the relations of mental processes with the bodily functions, it is weak because it cannot encompass how such an experiencing entity can form because it disregards mental existence. Reduction of human minds to biological mechanisms neglects the part of mental material. Both dualist exert and scientific efforts complete each other. As the behaviourist account disregards the existence of the mental substance, it also brings forth this disposition is a misconception. Regarding the dualism of Descartes presents the mind and the body as distinct substances. While doing this, Descartes unintentionally puts forth the method of doubt and the roots of finding whether the means and the results of scientific inquiries are true or reliable. Throughout this essay, mind-body problem and its function in the inquiry of mind are demonstrated thoroughly, and how it is related to the other approaches is elaborated. The issues concerning behaviourism and how it is related to the other inquiries in cognitive sciences and philosophy of mind are going to be elaborated in the next chapter of this series. Regarding these relations, the topic of whether taking the mind as merely a behaviour or something that developed with a function is going to be the most emphasized area of discussion.
Chalmers, D. J. (1997, November 27). The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory (Philosophy of Mind) (Revised ed.). Oxford University Press.
Descartes, R., & Moriarty, M. (2008, July 6). Meditations on First Philosophy: with Selections from the Objections and Replies (Oxford World’s Classics) (1st ed.). Oxford University Press.
Heil, J. (2019, September 17). Philosophy of Mind: A Contemporary Introduction (Routledge Contemporary Introductions to Philosophy) (4th ed.). Routledge.
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Willmann, O. (1910). Idealism. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved October 11, 2022 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07634a.htm
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