What is the relationship between the mind and the brain? Monists believe that there is only one substance or property in the Universe, be it physical (Materialists) or mental (Idealists). But Du
One of the controlling questions for today's show is whether a reasonably well-informed, scientifically minded person can still believe in dualism in the 21st Century? Or is dualism really just a relic of the philosophical past?
Certainly, there's almost no rational grounds for currently believing in old-fashioned Cartesian Dualism of the mind and body. According to that form of dualism, the mind and body were two metaphysically distinct substances -- with the body being extended in space and the mind being an immaterial somewhat, with no extension, no location.
Cartesian dualism is unsustainable for many, many reasons. It's bad enough that it makes a mystery of mind-body interaction. But it also makes a mystery of the mind itself. Descartes believed that the mind was an indivisible simple, that it could not be broken down into an organized collection of interacting parts. But the mind obviously has a vast diversity of its possible states. It can think a potential infinity of thoughts. It can perceive and feel. And it's perceptions and feelings come with a vast variety of intrinsic qualitative characters. How could such infinite diversity subsist in a simple indivisible thing, with no internal structure of organized parts?
Though Cartesian Substance dualism is dead. Other forms of dualism live on. Many philosophers of mind are property dualists. The property dualist grants that there is only one class of "stuff" in the world -- material stuff. But the property dualist insists that there are (at least) two kinds of properties that the one kind of stuff can have -- mental properties and physical properties. The property dualist insists that mental properties aren't identical with any physical properties.
But property dualism isn't nearly as radical as Cartesian substance dualism -- or at least it need not be. That's because property dualist often argue that although mental properties don't reduce to and are not identical with physical properties nonetheless they in some sense "depend" on physical properties. If you fix all the physical properties of a thing, some property dualist think, then you will have fixed all of its mental properties as well. The technical term for this kind of relation is 'supervenience.' If mental properties supervene on physical properties, that still gives us a form of dualism, but a pretty mild one.
What about stronger forms of dualism that deny that mental properties even supervene on physical properties? Does anybody believe in that any more? Could a rational, informed, scientifically minded person believe in such a thing?
THe perhaps surprising answer is yes. SOme very scientifically minded, very rational thinkers do believe in a form of dualism that denies that mental even supervenes on the physical. We'll hear from one such thinker briefly today, during the report from our Roving Philosophical Reporter. I won't tell you who that is just yet. You'll have tune in and hear for yourself.
But I will say that consciousness is the last refuge of the contemporary dualist. That's because conscious experiences seem to have properties that cannot be explained by our best current physical, biological, and psychological theories. In particular, our conscious experiences have intrinsic qualitative characters. These qualitative characters are essential features of those experiences. And there exists a pretty powerful argument to the effect that the intrinsic qualitative characters of our experiences couldn't possibly be (fully) explained by physics, biology, or psychology. I'm sure we'll go into that argument at some point on the air, so i won't repeat it here.
What I'd instead like you to do is join the discussion. Leave a comment on this blog entry about dualism. Share your thoughts with us and with the world. If it's a particularly apt or insightful comment, we'll try to get it in on the air.