The Mind-Body Problem: Metaphysics of Mind

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Though the contemporary form of the substance of the connections between material and mental aspects of human beings appeared in the 17th century, especially in the writings of Descartes, I do not think that any philosopher would contest Nagel’s decision that there is no usually established explanation to the metaphysical deadlock occasioned by the seeming unfeasibility of wedding material and mentalist concepts into a solitary articulate structure. Nevertheless, the issue was famously devised as a dualism by Descartes in terms of a metaphysics of substances and properties this metaphysical framework can and has sustained a variety of ways of dealing with the seeming incompatibility of the material and the mental.

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Descartes is, obviously, the philosopher that is regarded to devote the most time to matters of mind and body. There are two substances which he: Mind and Matter. Each substance has a defining attribute. In the case of Mind, the important quality is Thought. In the case of Matter, the important feature is spatial Expansion. It is significant to mention that for Descartes, substances can have nothing in common; otherwise, they would not be basically dissimilar objects. The mind-body issue appears out of this view of matters, as if mind and body have nothing in common, then in what way they are capable o interact? It is regarded as a matter of interaction.

If the ordinary world is fundamentally separated into the mental and the physical such that the physical is comprehensive in space and the mental is not, and if the scenery of causality is such that causes and effects must have an essential connection and be of a comparable type, then mind/body interactionism of the Cartesian sort is perceptibly unsound. Perhaps the first important attempt to deal with this contradiction in Descartes is that known as occasionalism.

God is the one and only true cause. Not only is there no influence of mind on body or of body on mind, there is no causality operative at all except insofar as God, the one true cause, intervenes to produce the regularities that occur in experience. Thus, for example, when a person wills to move a finger, that serves as the occasion for God to move the finger; when an object suddenly appears in a person’s field of view, that serves as the occasion for God to produce a visual perception in the person’s mind.

Lots of contemporary philosophers have refused the idea that mind and matter are dissimilar by nature, but many remain realists about the mind. In other words, it has become gradually more difficult to sketch a firm, reducible identity between brain and the mind. In reply, lots of theories have been enhanced to protect the exclusive features of the mind while shunning the substance dualism espoused by Descartes. These theories include combinations and varieties of the following: functionalism, non-reductive physicalism, emergentism and property dualism.

It is worth mentioning out that despite being ruled by an ideal of physicalism, most philosophers have come to recognize the distinctive aspects of the mind as, in some way, irreducible. Some of these characteristic features include experiential qualities, planned content, exclusive causal powers, and the unity of awareness and the normative content of emotional states.

According to Nagel, one version of the relations between brains and persons (as he denotes) has figured importantly in conversations of the restrictive situations for personal individuality. Brains are offered to be transplanted between human bodies, and the effect on personhood observed in all sorts of thought researches. However, these contemporary fairy tales are very different from Locke’s version of the daydream, since it is the centre of consciousness that is relocated, not the brain when Prince and Cobbler switch minds (centers of conscious) and bodies. But the primary relations supposed to hold among brains and Persons is either taken to be more or less like that between brains and bodies or not addressed at all. However, it is far from obvious that the brain/person relation is to be taken for granted. Both are ‘individuals’ in the metaphysical sense that is substances capable of reidentification. However, persons have a location in interpersonal networks consisting of such moral relationships as obligations, rights, duties and so on, networks in which brains as cognitive organs do not, any more than pocket calculators do.

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Thus, the position of the soul from the point of view of occasionalism denotes, that soul is the primary element of the mind-body tandem, as the soul here plays the chief role, as it is closer to God. Yet the soul can rule bodily movements through its will. Consequently, the soul has moral rather than physical force. In Clauberg’s view, known as occasionallism, bodies do not cause or create the soul but provide the “occasion” for it to function creatively. The harmonious interaction of body and soul depends on the providence.

As for the issues of body, there is no real connection between one body and another, between one mind and another. In a word, no created thing can act upon another by an activity which is its own.

The criticism of the notion of occasionallism may be found in any opposing theory, such as, for example, dualism. It denotes that mind and matter are two ontologically dissimilar categories. In particular, mind-body dualism claims that neither the mind nor matter can be reduced to each other in any way, and thus is opposed to materialism in general, and reductive materialism in particular. Mind-body dualism can exist as substance dualism which claims that the mind and the body are composed of a distinct substance, and as property dualism which claims that there may not be a distinction in substance, but that mental and physical properties are still categorically distinct, and not reducible to each other. Critics have asked what brain state is equal to the feeling of a color. If we experience a grey sky, does it mean the brain state is grey also? That hardly makes sense. Furthermore, other animals can experience the same grey sky but their brains are not identical to ours. Which brain state is the experience identical to? The response to the critics are those that independently on our religious believes, it seems hard to consider that every example of interaction should be accredited to a phenomenon, so this idea has lost much credibility. However, some historians believe it may help to explain why science arose in those cultures that disallowed it, since the search for laws in nature is somewhat confused by God inquisitive all the time, while a belief that He set the whole lot in motion and subsequently left it all alone could hearten us to wonder what railings it is functioning on.

It is necessary to add, that the occasionalists’ negative argument, that no essential relations could be exposed among ordinary events, echoed convinced disputes of Nicholas of Autrecourt in the fourteenth century, and were afterward taken up by David Hume in the eighteenth. Hume, though, stopped short when it came to the optimistic side of the theory, where God was called upon to reinstate such connections, complaining that ‘we are got into fairy land our line is too short to understand such enormous chasms.’ Instead, Hume felt that the only place to find compulsory correlations was in the slanted involvements of ideas within the mind itself. George Berkeley was also enthused by the occasionalists, and he decided with them that no competent power could be credited to bodies. For Berkeley, bodies just existed as notions in percipient minds, and all such thoughts were, as he put it, ‘visibly inactive’. In contrast, every simple matter had the authority to create changes in itself. The delusion of transient competent reasoning, for Leibniz, arose out of the pre-stated harmony among the changes produced immanently within dissimilar matters.


Philip A. Pecorino Introduction To Philosophy Online Textbook Queensborough Community College, CUNY.

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