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The Mind–Body Problem after Fifty Years

  • Jaegwon Kim


It was about half a century ago that the mind–body problem, which like much else in serious metaphysics had been moribund for several decades, was resurrected as a mainstream philosophical problem. The first impetus came from Gilbert Ryle's The Concept of Mind, published in 1948, and Wittgenstein's well-known, if not well-understood, reflections on the nature of mentality and mental language, especially in his Philosophical Investigations which appeared in 1953. The primary concerns of Ryle and Wittgenstein, however, focused on the logic of mental discourse rather than the metaphysical issue of how our mentality is related to our bodily nature. In fact, Ryle and Wittgenstein would have regarded, each for different reasons, the metaphysical problem of the mind-body relation as arising out of deplorable linguistic confusions and not amenable to intelligible discussion. There was C. D. Broad's earlier and much neglected classic, The Mind and Its Place in Nature, which appeared in 1925, but this work, although robustly metaphysical, failed to connect with, and shape, the mind–body debate in the second half of this century.



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1 Place, U. T., ‘Is Consciousness a Brain Process?’, British Journal of Psychology 47/1 (1956), 4450. There were even earlier modern statements of the identity approach: e.g. Alexander, Samuel, Space, Time, and Deity (London: Macmillan, 1920), vol. II, p. 9, where he says, ‘The mental process and its neural process are one and the same existence, not two existences’; the psychologist Edwin, G. Boring states, ‘If we were to find a perfect correlation between sensation A and neural process a, a precise correlation which we had reason to believe never failed, we should then identify A and a ⃛ it is scientifically more useful to consider that all psychological data are of the same kind and that consciousness is a physiological event’ (The Physical Dimensions of Consciousness (New York: Dover reprint, 1963), p. 14). Boring's book was first published in 1933.

2 Smart, J. J. C., ‘Sensations and Brain Processes’, PhilosphicalReview 68 (1959), 141–56. Herbert Feigl, ‘The “Mental” and the “Physical”’, in Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science, vol. II, eds. Feigl, Herbert, Grover Maxewell and Michael Scriven (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1958).

3 In ‘Psychological Predicates’ first published in 1968 and later reprinted with a new title, ‘The Nature of Mental States’, in Putnam, Hilary, Collected Papers II (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975).

4 See, e.g., Pylyshyn, Zenon, Computation and Cognition (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1985).

5 The first philosophical use of this term, roughly in its current sense, that I know of occurs in Putnam's, Hilary ‘Minds and Machines’, in Dimensions of Mind, ed. Hook, Sydney (New York: New York University Press, 1960).

6 In his ‘Antireductionism Slaps Back’, forthcoming in Philosophical Perspectives, 1997.

7 In addition to a number of recent journal titles, the signs of the return of emergentism include a recent collection of new essays on emergence, Emergence or Reduction? ed. Beckermann, A., Flohr, H. and Kim, J. (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1992), two volumes of essays on emergence being prepared in Europe as of this writing, and the 1997 Oberlin Philosophy Colloquium on the topic ‘Reductionism and Emergence’.

8 See e.g., Searle, John R., The Rediscovery of the Mind (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1992).

9 E.g., Varela, Francisco, Thompson, Evan and Rosch, Eleanor, The Embodied Mind (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1993). See especially Part IV entitled ‘Varieties of Emergence’.

10 Mind—body supervenience is not excluded even by Cartesian substance dualism. See my ‘Supervenience for Multiple Domains’, reprinted in supervenience and Mind (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1993).

11 On the need for explaining supervenience relations see Horgan, Terence, ‘Supervenience and Cosmic Hermeneutics’, Southern Journal of Philosophy 22 (1984), Supplement, 19–38, and Horgan, Terence and Timmons, Mark, ‘Troubles on Moral Twin Earth: Moral Queerness Revisited’, Synthese 92 (1992), 221–60.

12 The layered model as such of course does not need to posit a bottom level; it is consistent with an infinitely descending series of levels.

13 In his work on vision David Marr famously distinguishes three levelsof analysis: the computational, the algorithmic and the implementational. See his Vision (New York: Freeman Press, 1982). The emergentists, early in this century, appear to have been first to give an explicit formulation of the layered model; see, e.g., Morgan, C. Lloyd, Emergent Evolution (London: Williams and Norgate, 1923). For a particularly clear and useful statement of the model, see Oppenheim, Paul and Putnam, Hilary, ‘Unity of Science as a Working Hypothesis’, Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science, vol. II, ed. Maxwell, Feigl and Scriven, .

14 Andrew Melnyk writes: ‘Indeed, it seems to be a little-known law governing the behavior of contemporary philosophers that whenever they profess faith in any form of materialism or physicalism they must make it absolutely clear that they are, of course, in no way endorsing anything as unsophisticated, reactionary, and generally intolerable as reductionism’, in Two Cheers for Reductionism: Or, the Dim Prospects for Non-Reductive Materialism’, Philosophy of Science 62 (1995), 370–88. According to Melnyk there are only two reductionists left on the scene; he says, ‘The law holds ceteris paribus; for example, it does not apply if your name is Jaegwon Kim or Patricia Churchland’.

15 See The Structure of Science (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1961), chapter 11. The model had been developed in Nagel‘s earlier papers published during the 1950s.

16 See Fodor, J. A., ‘Special Sciences (or The Disunity of Science as a Working Hypothesis)’, Synthese 28 (1974), 97115.

17 The ideas involved here go back to Lewis, David, ‘An Argument for the Identity Theory’, Journal of Philosophy 63 (1966), 1725 and Armstrong's, David argument for central-state materialism in his A Materialist Theory of Mind (New York: Humanities Press, 1968). See also Gulick, Robert Van, ‘Nonreductive Materialism and the Nature of Intertheoretical Constraint’, in Emergence or Reduction? ed. Flohr, Beckermann and Kim, , and Levine, Joseph, ‘On Leaving What It Is Like’, in Consciousness, ed. Glyn W. Humphreys and Martin Davies (Oxford: Blackwell, 1993). Relevant also are Chalmers, David’ discussion of ‘reductive explanation’ in The Conscious Mind (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), and Jackson's, Frank views on the role of conceptual analysis in metaphysics, in, e.g., ‘Armchair Metaphysics’, in Philosophy in Mind, ed. Hawthorne, J. O'Leary and Michael, M. (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1993).

18 The notion of a second-order property in the present sense is due to Putnam, Hilary, ‘On Properties’, in Essays in Honor of Carl G. Hempel, ed. Rescher, N. et al. (Dordrecht: Reidel, 1969). It's interesting to note that although the inventor of functionalism also introduced the concept of a second-order property, which is tailor-made for a perspicuous explanation of ‘realization’, no functionalist, to my knowledge, took advantage of it until Ned Block did so in his ‘Can the Mind Change the World?’, in Mcaning and Method, ed. Boolos, George (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990).

19 I argue that such properties are not inductively projectible in ‘Multiple Realization and the Metaphysics of Reduction’, in Supervenience and Mind (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993).

20 See Putnam, Hilary, Representation and Reality (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1988); Searle, The Rediscovery of the Mind.

21 I believe others (perhaps Shoemaker and Block) have made a similar observation.

22 A position like this is explicitly defended by David Chalmers in The Conscious Mind.

23 This position on qualia and reductionism bears close similarity to the positions defended by a number of philosophers - in particular, Joseph Levine, Frank Jackson, David Chalmers and perhaps Ned Block.

24 I believe the irreducibility leads to causal impotence tout court, but a detailed argument must await another occasion.

25 This way of putting it was suggested by David Chalmers in conversation.

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Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplements
  • ISSN: 1358-2461
  • EISSN: 1755-3555
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