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Mental Substances1

Abstract

Philosophers of mind typically conduct their discussions in terms of mental events, mental processes, mental properties, mental states—but rarely in terms of minds themselves. Sometimes this neglect is explicity acknowledged. Donald Davidson, for example, writes that ‘there are no such things as minds, but people have mental properties, which is to say that certain psychological predicates are true of them. These properties are constantly changing, and such changes are mental events’. Hilary Putnam agrees, though for somewhat different reasons:

The view I have long defended is that the mind is not a thing, talk of our minds is talk of World-involving capabilities that we have and activities that we engage in. As Dewey succinctly put it, ‘Mind is primarily a verb. It denotes all the ways in which we deal consciously and expressly with the situation in which we find ourseleves. Unfortunately, an influential manner of thinking has changed modes of action into an underlying substance that performs the activities in question. It has treated mind as an independent entity which attends, purposes, cares and remembers’. But the traditional view, by treating mental states as states of the ‘underlying substance’, makes them properties of something ‘inside’, and, if one is a materialist philosopher, that means properties of our brains. So the next problem naturally seems to be: ‘Which neurological properties of our brains do these mental properties “reduce” to?’ For how could our brains have properties that aren't neurological? And this is how materialist philosphers saw the problem until the advent of such new alternatives in the philosophy of mind and philosophy of language as Functionalism and Semantic Externalism.

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Gary Hoffman and Joshua Rosenkrantz , Substance: its Nature and Existence (London: Routledge1996)

David Papineau , Thinking about Consciousness (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002)

Barry Loewer , ‘From physics to physicalism’ in Physicalism and its Discontents, Barry Loewer and Carl Gillet (eds.) (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press2001)

Peter Simons , ‘Farewell to substance: a differentiated leave-takingRatio New Series 11 (1998), 253–252

P. F. Strawson , Individuals (London: Methuen, 1959)

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Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplements
  • ISSN: 1358-2461
  • EISSN: 1755-3555
  • URL: /core/journals/royal-institute-of-philosophy-supplements
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