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- Are you just a complicated physical object? If not, are you a mind? If so, what are minds? What exactly is the relationship between the mind and the body? Are you a mind with a body or a body with a mind? You are looking out of your body now. Does that mean you are your body or does it mean you are inside your body, or neither? Could we be immaterial souls which survive our bodily death, or has that been ruled out by modern science? Are you your brain? How, if at all, is grey matter connected to our innermost thoughts and emotions?
- It is one of our peculiarities that we do not know what we are1. The most fundamental problem we face in finding out what we are2 is the mind—body problem: the problem of stating correctly what the relation is between mental and physical, or between the mind and the body. Philosophy is the attempt to solve philosophical problems and this book is about what certain outstanding philosophers of the Western intellectual tradition have said in order to try to solve the mind—body problem.
- The book is divided into eight chapters, each dealing with a different solution to the mind—body problem. Some philosophers think that you and I are just complicated physical objects. Some philosophers think you and I are immortal souls. Some think we have both mental and physical characteristics. Others again think we are fundamentally neither mental nor physical. Some philosophers are inspired by religion, others by the natural sciences, others again by sheer puzzlement about ourselves and the universe.
- Necessarily, a book of this kind is selective. I have set aside issues in philosophy of mind, philosophy of psychology, cognitive science and artificial intelligence which do not bear directly on the mind—body problem. Instead I concentrate on the attempts of philosophers to solve the metaphysical question of whether human beings, such as you and I, are just highly complicated physical objects or something more. Also, if space had permitted I would have discussed the views of many more philosophers than those presented here. However, all the main solutions to the mind-body problem in the Western philosophical tradition are portrayed and in the last chapter I offer a new one.
- The word 'theories' in the title of the book is used broadly, to benote any answer to the questions of the nature of the mind and its relation to the body that may be sustained by argument. While I may suggest criticisms of the theories as I explain them, I mainly reserve judgement until the final chapter. I shall be well satisfied if the reader finds plausibility in theories that are incompatible with his or her own assumptions. Part of the value of philosophy lies in the discovery that world-pictures radically different from one's own are eminently plausible.
- I am grateful to my colleagues in the Department of Philosophy, in the University of Edinburgh for providing such an intellectually stimulating work-place, and I thank in particular Willie Charlton, Vincent Hope, Peter Lewis, Geoffrey Madell and Stig Rasmussen for useful conversations. Versions of the last chapter were read to philosophical audiences at the University of Edinburgh and at Fort Lewis College, Colorado. I thank them for their responses. I have discussed the mind—body problem with many people in Scotland and the United States but I thank in particular Graham Bird, William Coe, Dugald Owen, Reyes Garcia, Byron Dare, Joanna Swanson and John Thomas. None of them is necessarily to be taken as agreeing with the theses of this book.
Stephen Priest, October 1990
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