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Mind and Body Essay Sample

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Mind and Body Essay Sample


Monism is a philosophical worldview in which all of reality can be reduced to one “thing” or “substance.” This view is opposed to dualism and pluralism. In all of these philosophical views, this article uses the word “substance” in a technical sense to mean essence, or its “thing-ishness;” in other words, something in which properties adhere.

Many of the early pre-Socratic philosophers tried to understand the underlying nature of the reality that surrounded them. They wanted to determine what everything could be reduced to. For Thales (624-546 BC), the first principle of everything – that from which everything is derived – was water. For Anaximenes (585-528 BC) it was air. Two more well known monists, Heraclitus (535-475 BC) and Parmenides (fl. early 5th century BC), attempted to ground reality in becoming (flux) and being (permanence) respectively. Heraclitus observed that all around him was in constant flux (or change); therefore, all reality was becoming – things changing from one form into another. His classic example was the observation that one can never step into the same river twice because the water is in constant motion. Parmenides, taking the opposite route of Heraclitus, said that ultimate reality can only reside in that which is unchanging; for him, that was absolute being. Materialism

In philosophy, the theory of materialism holds that the only thing that exists is matter or energy; that all things are composed of material and all phenomena are the result of material interactions. In other words, matter is the only substance, and reality is identical with the actually occurring states of energy and matter. To many philosophers, ‘materialism’ is synonymous with ‘physicalism’. Materialists have historically held that everything is made of matter, while physics has more recently shown that gravity, for example, is not made of matter in the traditional sense of “‘an inert, senseless substance, in which extension, figure, and motion do actually subsist’… So it is tempting to use ‘physicalism’ to distance oneself from what seems a historically important but no longer scientifically relevant thesis of materialism, and related to this, to emphasize a connection to physics and the physical sciences.”[1] Therefore much of the generally philosophical discussion below on materialism may be relevant to physicalism.


In philosophy, idealism is the group of philosophies which assert that reality, or reality as we can know it, is fundamentally mental, mentally constructed, or otherwise immaterial. Epistemologically, idealism manifests as a skepticism about the possibility of knowing any mind-independent thing. In a sociological sense, idealism emphasizes how human ideas—especially beliefs and values—shape society. As an ontological doctrine, idealism goes further, asserting that all entities are composed of mind or spirit. Idealism thus rejects physicalist and dualist theories that fail to ascribe priority to the mind. The earliest extant arguments that the world of experience is grounded in the mental derive from India and Greece. The Hindu idealists in India and the Greek Neoplatonists gave panentheistic arguments for an all-pervading consciousness as the ground or true nature of reality. In contrast, theYogācāra school, which arose within Mahayana Buddhism in India in the 4th century CE, based its “mind-only” idealism to a greater extent onphenomenological analyses of personal experience.

This turn toward the subjective anticipated empiricists such as George Berkeley, who revived idealism in 18th-century Europe by employing skeptical arguments against materialism. Beginning with Immanuel Kant, German idealists such as G. W. F. Hegel, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, and Arthur Schopenhauer dominated 19th-century philosophy. This tradition, which emphasized the mental or “ideal” character of all phenomena, birthed idealistic and subjectivist schools ranging from British idealism to phenomenalism to existentialism. The historical influence of this branch of idealism remains central even to the schools that rejected its metaphysical assumptions, such as Marxism, pragmatism, and positivism. Neutral Monism

The philosophy of mind adopted by Russell in his middle period was neutral monism, which denies that there is any irreducible difference between the mental and the physical and tries to construct both the mental world and the physical world out of components which are in themselves neither mental nor physical but neutral. He adopted this theory because he believed that there was no other way of solving the problems that beset his earlier dualism (see Russell’s philosophy of mind: dualism). The book in which he developed the theory, The Analysis of Mind (1921), is an unusual one. The version of neutral monism defended in it is qualified in several ways and it is enriched with ideas drawn from his reading of contemporary works onbehaviourism and depth psychology. The result is not entirely consistent, but it is interesting and vital especially where it is least consistent.

The aim of neutral monism is to show that the difference between the physical and the mental is not a difference of components but only a difference in the way in which the components are put together. An analogy can be found in the difference between the division of a country’s population into groups living in different areas and its division into the categories used by tax collectors. In both cases the same human material is used, and the difference lies in the method of selection.

Similarly, according to neutral monism appearances are grouped in one way to form physical objects and in another way to form minds. In order to get a physical object, you take all the appearances that radiate outwards from its position in physical space. In order to get a mind, you take all the appearances that start from surrounding objects and converge on its position in physical space. The difference is based on the distinction between output and input. However, a physical object is not the separate source of its output of appearances, but only the group of all the appearances sent out, and similarly a mind is not the separate recipient of its input of appearances, but only the group of all the appearances received.


Whilst Cartesian dualism argues that there is a two-way interaction between mental and physical substances, not all forms of dualism agree. Epiphenomenalism argues that mental events are caused by – or are a by-product of – physical events, but that the interaction is one-way: mental events cannot affect physical ones. The analogy often used is that of the smoke that comes from a factory which is a by-product of its running, but does not actually affect its running.

One of the curious side effects of this theory is that it implies that decision making is not a mental event. Apart from flying in the face of most common sense attitudes, this consequence throws up a further problem: how are decisions made? Is decision making a bodily process? If so, what difference is there between epiphenomenalism and certain forms of materialism? Epiphenomenalism is often confused with materialism but this is in fact a misunderstanding. The reason for this is the way in which the theory classes mental events as secondary, leading to the view that physical events are primary. While this may be true, what most people miss is the fact that mental events are said to be caused by physical events. This being so, mental events cannot be identical with events, just as smoke cannot be identical with the fire which causes it.

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