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Home » Current Theories of Consciousness » Consciousness Through the Minds of Philosophers: Dualism

Consciousness Through the Minds of Philosophers: Dualism

Exploring the true nature of consciousness has plagued the minds of philosophers and scientists alike for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. If you study consciousness, however, you already have a philosophical view on consciousness perhaps without knowing it. A view you might hold is dualism: that a conscious mental state is something non-physical at least in some way. Specific dualist theories may differ on the amount of the non-physical, depending on your view of what….

Dualism; a brief history

Historically, intelligence and thought was considered something non-materialistic and unknowable in the physical – something akin to the soul. This emphasis on the mind rather than the body orginates with Plato, who believed the world to be made of several elements including the most important of all, the ephemeral. The ephemeral made the world intelligible, performing roles or concepts, and contributing to the idea of the immortality of the soul. Contributing towards Plato’s views of metaphysics, and ultimately a great deal in science itself, one problem with this view, however, was that Plato had no real suggestions for what bound the soul, responsible for what makes us ourselves, to any given body.

Next came Aristotle, who disregarded the forms Plato believed in, instead proposing the soul is a form in the body and very much a part of its nature.Because this seems to make the soul into a property of the body, it led many interpreters, both ancient and modern, to interpret his theory as materialistic. The interpretation of Aristotle’s philosophy of mind—and, indeed, of his whole doctrine of form—remains as live an issue today as it was immediately after his death (Robinson 1983 and 1991; Nussbaum 1984; Rorty and Nussbaum, eds, 1992). Nevertheless, the text makes it clear that Aristotle believed that the intellect, though part of the soul, differs from other faculties in not having a bodily organ.

Modern dualism theories owe their existence to Descartes, who was a substance dualist in that he believed there were two kinds of substance: matter and mind. The matter (a body) could tend to itself on its own, but was often interfered with or altered by the mind. The main uncertainty Descartes and his contemporaries faced was where the interaction between mind and matter, then, took place. Some concluded that mind-body interactions were the work of God.

The main crisis in the history of dualism occurred with the growth in the emphasis of mechanics in science. The body is a machine, and the brain a computer, making consciousness a materialistic thing; that is to say, something resulting in the physical mind. This is, to some extent, the main battlefield between religious believers and neuroscientists when we now consider religious experiences in the brain. Dualists may consider an experience to be non-physical and neuroscientific proof simply hard evidence of the divine. Materialists may consider the neuroscientific evidence to show that religion is created in the brain, by neurons and axons and the need for belief.

Dualism theories

From the history of dualism, we may see there are several theories within the area that are quite disparate from each other. Two particular theories are:
1. Substance dualism holds that both physical and non-physical substances
2. Property dualism maintains that within reality there exist dual aspects, both the physical and the qualitative. Within this area there are an incredible number of sub theories, such as fundemental property dualism which regards conscious mental states as basic components of reality right beside gravity, and electromagnetic charge, and other physical properties.

The battlefield

When it comes to the question of consciousness as a physical or non-physical object, the reason dualism appeals to many is that consciousness does not seem like a physical process or the result of mechanics when we are experiencing it. Desire, pain, perception, and emotion, seem of a higher order than other senses and so traditionally consciousness has been treated as unique. It is what makes us human, some believe, and thus it must be more than simple neurochemical signals in the brain.
Historically, dualism also has a strong link to the immortal soul and so appears from a religious point of view. The conscious mind cannot be physical, to some, because it is what persists eternally and means there is life even after death.


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