Wikipedia 10K Redux by Reagle from Starling archive. Bugs abound!!!
It’s possible to do a great deal of philosophy without talking about human beings at all. We can talk about the existence of physical objects, space and time, the problem of substance, the problem of universals, change and identity, what numbers are, and a great many other topics without having to discuss what human beings are. And we could, without talking about human beings, explore an area which is important, but which I haven’t even mentioned until now, namely the philosophy of biology. The philosophy of biology looks for a definition of "life," in the sense of being alive, and tries to come to grips with some of the fundamental properties of living beings, such as proper functioning. Now, I think it’s very useful to regard human beings as, first and foremost, living beings with a certain number of natural systems which have their proper functioning. We have a respiratory system, for example the proper functioning of which allows our bodies to get the oxygen we need in order to survive. Similarly with our circulatory system, or digestive system, and so forth. Well, the nervous system, including our brain and nerves is, of course, a natural system just like our respiratory system, with a proper function (or rather, a whole very complex set of proper functions). Our nervous system is incredibly complex and highly developed. In fact it is so highly developed that many people think that the mind is something quite over and above the mere human brain and nervous system. But is the mind really something quite over and above the brain and nervous system? Well, in this chapter, we’re going to discuss that question. As I said, it is possible to do a lot of philosophy without talking about human beings. But probably most of philosophy does in some way depend on questions about human nature and the human situation. And the human mind is of course fundamental to human nature. So, a great deal of the rest of philosophy ultimately rests on questions about the human mind. Thus, if we do want to talk about the rest of philosophy, practically the first topic that we have to take up, is the nature of the human mind. So this is going to be a chapter about some of the most important topics in the philosophy of mind. Before I explain those specific topics, I am going to try to explain in general what the philosophy of mind is, and introduce some terminology. Let me begin with a definition of the field: Philosophy of mind is the philosophical study of the nature of the mind, MentalEvent''''s, MentalFunctions, and ConsciousNess. So the philosophy of mind is concerned with the nature of the mind. Some of questions asked in the philosophy of mind are simply what the mind is, what mental events are, what each type of cognitive process involves, and what consciousness is. I think you can understand that each of these involve some very hard questions. I want to talk fairly briefly about each of these questions. The first question is: What is the mind? As I said, I’ve already given you a short introduction to this question when I explained how the problem of substance can be applied to the mind. Is the mind nothing more than a series of particular thoughts, feelings, and so forth, or is it something over and above those particular thoughts, feelings, and so forth? But when we ask that really we’re doing nothing but asking what the relation is between the mind and mental events. In other words, we could simply restate the question in terms of mental events, like this: Is the mind nothing more than a series of mental events, or is it something over and above the mental events that we say occur "in" it? This isn’t a question we are going to try to answer. But of course there are other questions we could ask about what the mind is. For example, is the mind something different from physical bodies? Suppose you think that the mind is a substance of some sort -- a mental substance. You might still ask: Is there some way to explain what the mind, this mental substance, is, in terms of physical substance? Or will you maintain that the mind is something totally different from physical bodies, and that you can’t explain what the one is in terms of the other at all? All right, that’s one question. But what if we don’t think that the mind is some mysterious substance, and that there are only mental events, and that the mind is no more than a series of mental events? Well, we can still ask the last question, about the relation between mind and body, a different way. And this other way of putting it is probably better. We can put it in terms of the relation between MentalEvents and PhysicalEvents. We can ask: Are mental events totally different from physical events, so that you can’t explain what mental events are in terms of physical events; or are mental events somehow explainable as being the same as physical events? For example, when I feel a pain, a mental event is occurring; now is that pain even possibly the same as something that occurs in my brain, such as the firing of some special group of neurons? Now this question we will examine. I’ll explain the problem more completely later on; the problem is called "TheMindBodyProblem." I am sure this is confusing, because there are a lot of questions being asked here! Well so far I’ve presented several different questions that the philosophy of mind asks: What is the mind, a substance or just a series of mental events? Is the mind somehow reducible to, or explainable in terms of, the body? Are mental events somehow reducible to, or explainable in terms of, physical events? Each of these questions are ways of interpreting the more ambiguous questions we started with, such as, "What is the mind?" and "What are mental events?" Now what about questions about the different cognitive processes? Of course we might ask what cognitive processes in general are supposed to be. You know, we’d be asking what distinguishes a cognitive process from any other kind of process. That is another way of putting the mind-body problem. But let’s ignore that for now. We can also ask a series of more specialized questions, about each individual cognitive process. Take perception as an example. Philosophers ask what is going on when we perceive something -- when we see, hear, taste, touch, and so on. But philosophers aren’t interested in the particular mechanisms that allow us to see -- for example, they aren’t interested in the shape of the eye, or how the optical nerve carries information to the brain. They are interested in even more basic sort of stuff. They ask: Do we perceive physical objects directly with our senses, or do we form mental images of some sort, which we use to represent physical objects and their properties? Don’t worry if you don’t understand that question; we’re going to be discussing it at length next time, when we talk about the philosophy of perception. Really, the philosophy of perception is all about how our minds come in contact with the world outside our minds. Then as I’m sure you can imagine, there are a lot of questions that can be asked about other mental functions, such as memory, forming concepts, reasoning, the emotions, and so on. Needless to say, we don’t even have time to formulate the questions, let alone consider answers to them. But there is one other cognitive process that I want to mention now, because we are going to be spending a day on it, namely, the will, or volition. When we choose to do something we are using our wills, or engaging in volition. There is, of course, one special and very difficult question that philosophers ask about this process, namely, is the will free? If I decide to walk across the room, that seems to be entirely up to me; I could have chosen otherwise. But if the universe is determined, and especially if my will really is after all just a physical process, then it certainly does seem as though I didn’t have control over everything that led up to my deciding to walk across the room. So was I free or wasn’t I? That’s the question we’ll take up next week, when we discuss the problem of free will and determinism. Finally, there are questions about consciousness. What is it? We say that there is something it’s like to be watching a baby. When we look at a baby we’re conscious of the baby. Is there some way to explain what makes a mental event, like looking at a baby, conscious? Well, what could we explain consciousness in terms of? If in terms of some physical process, then we face the same old mind-body question in yet another form: Can consciousness be reduced to, explained in terms of, mere physical processes? Some people have said, vociferously, definitely not. How could a hunk of grey matter in your brain be the same as the awareness of a pain? Awareness is a totally different kind of thing from grey matter in your skull. So they say. But again, that’s only one question that can be asked about consciousness. There are other questions.