Sunday, 24 June 2012

Introduction to Philosophy of Mind: I - The Key Problems in the Philosophy of Mind

This post will the be the first post in what I hope will become a 10 post introduction to the Philosophy of Mind. The Philosophy of Mind is probably one of the most exciting areas of current philosophical research and is of great interest to many. Philosophy of Mind is also one of the areas of Philosophy that pays the closest attention to developments in physical sciences. Today, I hope to clearly set out some of the key questions in the philosophy of mind which are still hotly debated about today. 

The Mind-Body Problem 
Possibly the oldest problem in the philosophy of mind. The Mind-Body problem was first raised by the early modern philosopher Rene Descartes who famously declared himself to be a primarily a thinking thing. The Mind-Body problem is concerned with what the relationship between the physical body and the mind. This is primarily a ontological question (ontology is concerned with what exists) - how many kinds of substance does the world contain? We appear to have a special place in the physical world as it appears that we have rich mental life which is not shared by many other things including inanimate objects and certain animals. What is the relation between our rich mental life and the physical world, does the mental emerge from the physical or is there interaction between the physical and the mental. In recent times many unversed in philosophy seem to consider the mind to be simply equivalent to the physical brain, but the Mind-Body problem is still hotly debated within Philosophy. 

The Problem of Consciousness 
Related to the Mind-Body problem is the problem of Consciousness. This area of the philosophy of mind consists of several key questions about the nature of Consciousness. Namely, what exactly is consciousness? How and why are we Conscious? Are there different kinds or levels of Consciousness, do dogs for example experience a lower level consciousness? The questions surrounding the problem of consciousness are part epistemic (related to knowledge and the scope of knowledge); for example is it problematic that it appears that I can know my own metal states by introspection but I cannot know yours through the same method. The problem is also partly ontological with some struggling to see how Consciousness fits in with the physical world doubting whether consciousness can arise from physically closed world. 

The Problem of Intentionality 
In my opinion the most dry of the hotly debated issues within the Philosophy of Mind, this is the problem of representation. How can it be that a mental state is capable of representing another kind of thing such as a belief or state of affairs in the world. Again there seems the overarching problem facing the whole of Philosophy of Mind of how a physical event like a brain state for instance can represent a belief or instance of thinking. How can my brain state B1 represent the belief that Glasgow is North of London. What does it mean to have beliefs and desires? A number of different solutions have been offered in response to this question, none seem completely satisfactory. 

The Problem of Qualitative States 
This relates to the fact that our Conscious states seem to have a particular conscious feel, for example when I eat a hotdog there is something what it is like to have that particular experience. Namely experience has a particular qualitative feel. This has raised significant problems for Physicalism as some Philosophers have suggested that no purely physical explanation could account for this qualitative part of conscious experience. But this seems to raise a problem concerning what exactly are these qualia (Qualitative feel) are. Some such as Daniel Dennett have contended that Qualia don't really exist in the fundamental sense that we believe. But this kind of view seems highly counter intuitive as it appears we have an incorrigible believe that experience such Qualitative states. The problem of Qualia seems to be a threat to those who hope to explain the Mind in purely physical terms and therefore is a very hotly debated issue.

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