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Scientific Materialism and the Identity Theory1

  • Norman Malcolm (a1)

My main topic will be, roughly speaking, the claim that mental events or conscious experiences or inner experiences are brain processes. I hasten to say, however, that I am not going to talk about “mental events” or “conscious experiences” or “inner experiences.” These expressions are almost exclusively philosophers terms, and I am not sure that I have got the hang of any of them. Philosophers are not in agreement in their use of these terms. One philosopher will say, for example, that a pain in the foot is a mental event, whereas another will say that a pain in the foot certainly is not a mental event.

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2 Smart, op. cit., p. 657.

3 Smart J. J. C. “Sensations and Brain Processes” The Philosphical Review April 1959; repubublished The Philosophy of Mind ed V. C. Chappell Prentice Hall 1962. Page references will be to the latter.

4 Mr. Place U. T., in his article “Is Consciousness A Brain Process?” (The Philosophy of Mind, Chappell V. C., ed., Prentice-Hall 1962) also defends the identity theory. An example that he uses to illustrate the sense of identity in which, according to him, “consciousness” could turn out to be a brain process is this: “A cloud is a mass of water droplets or other particles in suspension” (loc. cit., pp. 103 and 105). I believe that Place would not be ready to hold that this is a genuine identity, as contrasted with a systematic and/or causal correlation, if he did not assume that in the very same region of space occupied by a cloud there is, at the very same time, a mass of particles in suspension.

5 “Materialism,” loc. cit., p. 654.

6 Mr. Shaffer Jerome proposes an ingenious solution to our problem (“Could Mental Sates Be Brain Processes?”, The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. LVIII, No. 26: December 21, 1961). He allows that at present we do not attach any meaning to a bodily location of thoughts. As he puts it, we have no “rules” for asserting or denying that a particular thought occurred in a certain part of the body. But why could we not adopt a rule, he asks? Supposing that there was discovered to be a one-to-one correspondence between thoughts and brain processes, we could stipulate that a thought is located where the corresponding brain process is located. Nothing would then stand in the way of saying that thoughts are identical with those brain processes! Although filled with admiration for this philosophieal technique, I disagree with Shaffer when he says (ibid., p. 818) tha t the adopted convention for the location of thoughts would not have to be merely an elliptical way of speaking of the location of the corresponding brain processes. Considering the origin of the convention, how could t i amount to anything else?

7 Investigations, Sec. 584.

8 It is easy to commit a fallacy here. The circumstances that I have mentioned are conceptually necessary for the occurrence of my thought. If the identity theory were true it would not follow that they were conceptually necessary for the occurrence of the brain process tha t is identical with that thought. But it would follow that those circumstances were necessary for the occurrence of the brain process in the sense that the brain process would not have occurred i n the absence of those circumstances.

9 “Materialism,” loc. cit., p. 651.

10 “Sensations and Brain Processes,” loc. cit., p. 161.

11 I believe this argument is pretty similar to a point made by J. T. Stevenson, in his “Sensations and Brain Processes: A Reply to Smart J. J. C., “The Philosophical Review, October 1960, p. 507. Smart's view, roughly speaking, is that unless sensations are identical with brain processes they are “nomological danglers.” Stevenson's retort is that by insisting that sensations are identical with brain processes we have not got rid of any nomological danglers. He says: “Indeed, on Smart's thesis it turns out that brain processes are danglers, for now brain processes have all those properties that made sensations danglers.”

12 Smart, “Sensations and Brain Processes,” loc. cit., p. 164.

13 “Materialism,” loc. cit., pp. 659–660.

14 Cf. Wittgenstein, Investigations, sections 281 and 283.

1 This paper was read at the Sixtieth Annua Meeting of the American Philosophical Association, Eastern Division. It is a reply to Professor J.J.C. Smart's essay, “Materialism”, published in The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. LX, No. 22: October, 1963.

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Dialogue: Canadian Philosophical Review / Revue canadienne de philosophie
  • ISSN: 0012-2173
  • EISSN: 1759-0949
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