Wednesday, 5 July 2017

The Philosophy of Mind-Body Relationship

Philosophy of Mind 
Edward Feser 
Oneworld Publications, (Revised edition, 2006) 

Edward Feser’s Philosophy of Mind offers a detailed treatment of various approaches that are central to mind-body relationship. Feser’s focus is on making a case for the dualist and hylomorphic theories of the mind, but he also sheds light on the materialist positions. Being a Thomist, he is a dualist—he rejects Cartesian dualism and is in favor of Thomistic Dualism.

In the book’s nine chapters, Feser explores topics such as perception, materialism, qualia, consciousness, thought, intentionality, and reason. He conducts an interesting survey of the work of thinkers like Daniel Dennett, John Searle, Jerry Fodor, and Paul Churchland. He answers the critical questions such as—“Can computers think”; “Is mind a software”—and shows that a computer or software is not the right analogy for the human brain or mind.

Feser develops his major arguments for Thomistic Dualism in chapter 8, “Persons”. Thomistic Dualism is a form of hylomorphism, which states that a concrete substance is a composite of “matter” and “form,” and it can only be understood as such. But Feser differentiates the hylomorphism of Aristotle and Aquinas from the hylomorphic doctrines preached by the materialists and the Cartesian dualists.

He points out that “In the classical hylomorphism of Aristotle and Aquinas, a full explanation of a material substance involves identifying at least four irreducible causal components: its material cause, its formal cause, its final cause, and its efficient cause.”

Further, he writes:

“Materialism and Cartesian dualism alike eliminate formal and final causes from the explanation of material things, replacing the classical hylomorphic conception of material substances as inherently purposive composites of matter and form with a conception of them as collections of particles or the like devoid of either intrinsic purpose or objective, irreducible form, and explicable entirely in terms of efficient causation.”

In the hylomorphic view, just as the form of thing is not that thing, the material of a thing is also not that thing. A thing comes into existence only when the material and the form come together. In case of a living thing, the form is the soul, and a person is essentially a composite of the body and the soul. However, in principle, the soul is capable surviving the destruction of the body in Thomistic hylomorphism.

To give a general flavor of the book’s arguments, here’s a summary of the seven key problems in mind-body relationship which according to Feser are solved by Thomistic Dualism:

1. Thomistic Dualism suggests a possible solution to the problem of how the soul and the body interact with each other and thereby it takes care of the most important objection to dualism.

2. It solves the problem of re-identification because when the body and soul are so close, a body won’t be a body without the presence of its soul. In the hylomorphic view, the soul won’t be a soul unless it is conjoined to its body, and a soul is necessarily always the soul of a particular body that it is, or was, the soul of.

3. Cartesian dualism seems open to the objection that if the mind is independent of the brain, then a brain damage should not impair mental functioning. But in Thomistic dualism, the brain and mind are as close as the form and material in a thing, and this implies that the mind cannot be immune to an injury to the brain.

4. Thomistic dualism offers a solution to the problem of other minds. According to hylomorphism, someone’s body will not be a body at all if it has no soul, and in particular it will not be that person’s body if it does not have that person’s soul. Therefore there is clarity about how we can know that a specific mind is present when the body is present.

5. Thomistic dualism undermines the materialist argument related to someone’s body being duplicated molecule by molecule. According to the Thomistic model, the new body won’t count as a living body as long as it does not have a rational soul.

6. According to Descartes, the soul is outside space but not in time, whereas the materialists argue that whatever is in time must also be in space. Thomistic dualism avoids this problem because as the soul is in a sense a fundamental part of the matter (the body), it cannot be said to be completely outside the space.

7. For Descartes, consciousness is of the essence of an immaterial substance; it thus becomes mysterious how such a substance, and the self it is identical with, could ever become unconscious (as we surely sometimes do). But in the Thomistic view this problem is nullified because a soul, being the form of the body, does not cease to exist when the person it is the soul of becomes unconscious. 


Feser suggests that the hylomorphist view of the soul as the form of the human body provides the best possible support to the idea that mind identifies with the organizational structure of the brain.

Philosophy of Mind is an important book for enabling the reader to understand the major arguments of various theories on mind-body relationship.  However, we do not find conclusive arguments in favor of any theory in the book’s pages, and that is because the final word yet to be said on this subject. The philosophy of mind is still a work in progress. 

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