मुख पृष्ठ » Philosophy for All » A Philosophical Study of the Concept of Mind (Synopsis)

A Philosophical Study of the Concept of Mind (Synopsis)

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अप्रैल 2008
सोम मंगल बुध गुरु शुक्र शनि रवि
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The concept of mind has baffled philosophers more than non-philosophers. In everyday language we use words as mind, brain, consciousness etc. But we are not confused over their use. According to some, minds are spiritual entities that temporarily reside in bodies entering at conception or birth and departing on death. They believe that death is simply the departure of body’s spirit. Others imagine the relations between minds and bodies to be more intimate. Minds are not entities. Some empiricists deny the existence of mind. Some behaviorists contend that mind is nothing but certain forms of behavior. But the conception of mind has not come to a final point.

             In western tradition first of all, Plato introduced mind as soul. In his views on soul, he was influenced by the Orphic religion and mysticism of Pythagoras. Aristotle, a student of Plato, provided the major alternative to the platonic conception of the soul. He rejected the idea of the soul as an entity separate from the body and took the soul to be the structure and functioning of the body itself, or as he put it, the “form” of the living human body. Since one cannot have the form without the body, which has that form, the soul cannot exist disembodied. In the modern times, relation of mind and body was highlighted by Descartes.

            In his famous work, Meditations, Descartes attempts to show once and for all that mind and matter are two distinct, separate and independent substances. Matter, he concludes, is extensive, inert subject to mechanical laws, having no desire, purpose or power of spontaneous motion. It is only on such a view as this that the impressive body of modern physics from Newton to the middle of the nineteenth century, was built. The mind on the other hand was for Descartes a substance with no extension, whose essential nature is to think. By ‘Thinking’ Descartes meant all of those activities which we commonly associate with the mental, namely desiring, feeling, judging, willing and so on. The soul is unique, dynamic rather than inert, teleological rather than mechanical, and non-spatial. Then the problem arises ‘How the both substances interact?’ The answer given by Descartes is in the form of theory of interaction. According to this theory mind and body affects one another via pineal gland. Descartes theory of interaction is open to the following difficulties:

(i)     How can the formless soul live in the pineal gland?

(ii)    If mind and body are to distinct substances then how do they interact?

(iii)      Descartes’ theory further defines the notion conservation of energy. It cannot be argued that bodily actions cause mental actions and vice versa.

            Despite the difficulties in the Cartesian theory of interaction, modern scientist accepts the existence of such interaction and they are even prepared to argue in favor of this theory. Descartes represents the tradition of Rationalists. After his theory, there are so many other theories arising like occasionalism, parallelism etc.

             In the traditions of British Empiricism, Hume developed his empirical theory to its extreme limit. He was complete empiricist, who refused to allow credit to any element, which could not be in the category of sense experience. This attitude he maintained towards not only the matter but mind also. He refused the existence of mind.

             According to Hume, such various elements in our mind as the flow of thought, sensation, imagination, feeling, desire, volition etc. are distinct and independent of each other. Although we definitely experience these elements yet we do not sense presence of any element, which unites them, and therefore, it is difficult to substantiate the existence of any mind. In Hume’s opinion, mind is like the stage of a theatre on which thoughts and ideas come in a procession. All such thought are transitory and temporary. The only reason for suspecting the existence of mind is that the rapidity of their change which an illusion. Some philosophers have argued that if there is no soul then what is it that experiences thought   and other mental entities. Hume refutes this argument by stating that thought can experience itself and no mind is required for any such purpose.

            Hume would hold that the use of such words as I, me and mine is due to the exigencies of language and that such words do not reveal a metaphysical “self”. What is meant by self, according to Hume, is simply the totality of experiences and nothing more. These experiences in large part are conditioned and organised by principles of association, such as contiguity, and resemblance. Thus the sound of thunder always has been associate with the sight of lightening, so that whenever I see lightening, I at the same time anticipate the sound of thunder. Such principles account for the general organization of experiences and what is called ‘I’ or ‘me’. Such organized experiences are dominated by principles of order.

For Hume’s rejection of metaphysical self it may also be argued that mind cannot be known as object and memory cannot be explained in the absence of a permanent self. Hume also fails to explain homogeneity and proximity in experience. Hence, he cannot explain the process of knowing. It is quite obvious from the above discussion that Hume’s account of self is open to serious metaphysical and linguistic difficulties, which may invalidiate it.

            Dealing with the traditional mind-body problem in The Concept of Mind, Ryle sharply criticized Cartesian dualism, arguing that adequate descriptions of human behavior need never refer to anything but the operations of human bodies. This form of philosophical behaviorism becomes a standard view among ordinary language philosophers for several decades.

            Ryle’s positive thesis, which assigns mentalist talk to what regards as the correct category of the mind is the talk about the way in which we behave. Ryle’s solution for the category-mistake is that the group of words like “mind”, “thought”, “pain”, etc. is connected with human behavior. A thought or a mind is no more a mysterious, ghostly thing. There are some problems with Ryle’s behaviorism: Isn’t there a difference between being in pain and acting as if you are in pain? Can’t you feel pain without showing it? Do I not know whether I am in pain without having to observe my own behavior?  The Concept of Mind is a second-order commentary on first-order talk about minds.

            The main objective of this study is to evaluate these three views and arrive at a position, which could do philosophical justice to the concept of mind without involving difficulties like Cartesian interactionism or Humian reductionism of mind to fleeting impressions. We would see the problem of mind as a linguistic problem rather than a metaphysical one. The mind is a complex thing including first a group of cognitive tendencies, second a system of adaptive processes which we call behavior, and third consciousness. The mental words will remain in our ordinary-language, but we need not go beyond them and search for entities they are referring to.

Chapter Details:

Chapter I :  Introduction

Chapter II : The Problem of Mind and Body in Rene Descartes

Chapter III: Hume’s View of Mind

Chapter IV: Ryle on Category-Mistake

Chapter V: Ryle’s Philosophical Behaviorism

Chapter VI: Problem of Mind in a Linguistic Perspective

ChapterVII: Conclusion

 NOTE: This synopsis is presented for the registration requirment of Ph.D.

Last Modified: 29-06-2009


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