Philosophy of Mind
I began teaching Philosophy of Mind out of necessity, but enjoyed it a lot. I developed this course mostly while teaching in Sheffield. I haven’t had an opportunity to teach it since, but I continued developing the outline and the overall theme.
My course begins by presenting the students with some philosophical puzzles at the heart of the philosophy of mind – consciousness, qualia and mental causation – and refer back to them in my development of the various positions in the philosophy of mind. Consciousness appears to require that the mind is such a special thing that it can’t be merely physical. At the same time, conscious creatures respond to and act in a physical environment, but if the mind stands in causal relations with the physical word, how can it not be physical?
As such, the course centres around a classic issue in the philosophy of mind, the mind-body problem, but as many philosophical views arise from independent motivations and considerations, I use the mind-body problem to set the scene and as a foil rather than as providing the foundation for the philosophy of mind. I give the course a personal bent by making use of a bit of logic here and there. I think it’s import to use formal methods, to remind students why they are learning logic, but anything I do in the course could be followed by students who haven’t done a logic course.
Logic is particularly relevant in my treatment of Descartes. I think it gives me a line of motivating Descartes’ Dualism, which is often derided for its problems with the interaction of the mental and the material realms, by motivating the view from first principles and purely logical reasoning, in particular on the basis of Leibniz’ Law. This ties it to modern discussions like Kripke’s. I place Descartes’ view in the context of his scientific outlook, which makes it more plausible and substantial than some of the treatments I’ve come across.
Moving on to a diametrically opposed view, the Mind-Brain Identity Thesis, I present functionalism as a synthesis between the two. In my treatment of the computational theory of the mind, I give a light, but technically sound, introduction to Gödel’s theorems and discuss their potential relevance to the philosophy of mind.
Each of these positions illustrate the pull in opposite directions exerted from the philosophical puzzles surrounding consciousness, which suggests some conceptual clarification is in order. I spend some time discussing the mark of the mental, the feature that distinguishes mental from non-mental states. As none of the proposed options for the mark of the mental is particularly successful, the discussion naturally leads to the possibility that our conception of the mind is radically mistaken. Maybe we should eliminate it at least from scientific discourse, just as mistaken views of the past have been eliminated in the light of progress.
Finally, I’ll discuss the view that the intentionality or the directedness of mental state is their characteristic feature and an account of the mind as emerging from, but not reducible to, physical phenomena. Even though faced with difficulties, like any other view, it strikes me as the most interesting and most promising approach.
I have written extensive lecture notes for this course, more extensive than what I could in fact cover in a term. They expand on points I find particularly intriguing and give students some additional guidance through further aspects of the topic and further reading. Eventually, I might turn these lecture notes into a book on philosophy of mind directed at undergraduates or a general readership. For now, the fruits of my labours have culminated in the Study Guide Philosophy of Mind for the University of London International Programme.
I have yet to add something about philosophy and pumpkins to the lecture notes.