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Is the mind-body relationship mysterious?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 August 2019


Why do some philosophers (Nagel, McGinn, Chomsky), despite all we know about evolution and embryology, think that consciousness makes the mind-body relation a problem still unsolved and perhaps insoluble by those with human brains? They ask how consciousness arises in matter, not in living organisms, whereas non-philosophers ask how far down the ladder of life it extends and when it arises in individuals of sentient and intelligent species. They desire the privacy of Locke's closet, furnished with phenomenological properties; and besides replacing Aristotle's ‘folk’ conception of causation by Hume's, they mathematicise physical explanation in line with Newton's First Law of Motion. Non-philosophers operate with ‘vague’ concepts of life, sentience and intelligence which allow them to treat these things as truly and naturally emergent. Machines that perform intelligent tasks are no more conscious of the reasons for their movements than actors performing them on the stage.

Research Article
Copyright © The Royal Institute of Philosophy 2019 

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I am grateful to Noam Chomsky for clarifying to me (private communication) his position on this question, and to Anthony O'Hear for comments on an early version of this paper.


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