You are on page 1of 4

Reed 1

Tyler Reed
Professor Walchak
PHI 2010 (01M)
October 26, 2018
The Philosophical Debate of Mind and Body

One of the longest ongoing conundrums in the philosophical world is the battle between

the mind and the body. For the longest time, most people believed that there was a distinct

difference between the mind, or spirit if you will, and the body. This philosophical concept is

widely known as Interactionist dualism. Over time however, new philosophies have put this idea

on the hot seat, challenging it on all sides. As science has progressed so has our understanding of

the brain, biologically. Leading many to take a new position that the mind and the body are but

the same, this theory is commonly known as the Identity theory. Two other theories have also

become well known, Eliminative Materialism, which is the idea that the common understanding

of the mind is false and many mental states that people believe are wrong. The other theory being

Functionalism, the idea that the mind operates more like a machine produced by the relations of

parts. Within this essay I will detail all four major mind-body theories, while also comparing and

contrasting each of them, finally I will explain which theory I believe is the most logical.

The oldest mind-body theory is Interactionist Dualism, dating all the way back to the

seventeenth century. Rene Descartes, a French rationalist philosopher proposed this theory in

Meditation IV, a philosophical study published by himself. Descartes believed that because he

had a consciousness that he could use that as an opening point to his argument. Descartes stated,

“It is certain that I (that is, my mind, by which I am) is entirely and truly distinct from my body,

and may exist without it” (qtd. In Solomon et al. 323). Descartes believed that physical matter

had spatial extension but not feelings and thought and vice versa for the mind. He expressed
Reed 2

clearly however, that the mind and body work together and coexist. Defining Interactionist

Dualism as the theory that the mind and the body are separate but also in harmony.

Another prominent theory, the Identity theory, is the most acclaimed objection to

Interactionist Dualism. The Identity theory takes the mind and the body and instead of stating

that they are two separate coexisting entities, states that they are in fact one in the same. The

greatest argument that the identity theory has over Interactionist Dualism is that it agrees with the

latest scientific research. This theory doesn’t deny that people have thoughts and feelings but

believes that they are an extension of matter, or more specifically chemical and physical

reactions within our brain. The Identity theory is a simple way to answer the mind-body debate

with logic and science.

One of the more complex theories for the mind-body theory, Eliminative Materialism,

takes a different yet similar approach to that of the Identity theory. Eliminative Materialism is the

idea that humanity’s understanding of the mind is completely wrong, and that many mental states

do not even exist if they cannot be explained by science. Some examples of eliminated mental

states would be belief, desire, and the soul, because they can’t be examined and defined by

science. A large part of Eliminative Materialism is the belief that science will never be able to

find a scientific basis for various mental states. This is also a relatively new theory discovered in

the 1960s-1970s by Paul and Patricia Churchland. Eliminative Materialism is cynical in nature, it

questions everything and takes a very empirical route to answering the mind-body theory.

The final mind-body theory and the most complex one, is Functionalism. Functionalism

takes everything people believe about their feelings and thoughts and throws it on its head. First

and foremost, Functionalism has the idea that our brain might not even have anything to do with

the cognitive abilities we have. Solomon puts this in perspective when talking about
Reed 3

functionalism, “In another few decades it may in fact be possible, according to the most

optimistic functionalists, to build a human mind out of computer parts” (Solomon et al. 351).

Functionalism is the idea that our minds are not created by our brain, but by the relations of

parts. Functionalism agrees with science and almost leans on it for support, however it still

offers a new perspective and theory to explain the mind-body problem.

Given my understanding of the mind-body theories explained in this essay, one

comparison stuck out the most to me. Interactionist Dualism, sticks out like a sore thumb

compared to the Identity Theory, Eliminative Materialism, and Functionalism. Not only is it the

only theory that explicitly separates the mind and the body as two entities, it also completely

ignores all scientific and empirical evidence that would suggest the contrary. Two reasons that I

believe led to this mind-body philosophy are timing and religion. Descartes published his ideas

for Interactionist Dualism in the seventeenth century, which at the time did not have much of

science-based culture. Also, Descartes was deeply religious and any notion that the mind and

body were one in the same would directly contradict his religious beliefs. I also noticed that the

Identity theory and Eliminative Materialism share some similarities. Both theories believe that

the mind and the body are the same thing, the only difference is that an eliminativist would argue

that many concepts that we correlate with the mind don’t in fact exist.

Out of all the theories, one stands out to me as the most logical explanation to explain the

mind-body problem, the Identity theory. The Identity theory claims one thing that none of the

other theories do, the theory not only states that the mind and body are the same, but it also uses

scientific evidence to justify its claims. Interactionist Dualism fails to use any sort of evidence

that agrees with science and the current understanding of the human anatomy. While Eliminative

Materialism does claim that the mind and the body are the same thing, it also claims that many
Reed 4

emotions and feelings we have are not real, which I cannot logically support. Functionalism

offers an interesting perspective and I cannot rule it out entirely since a lot will be dictated by

future advances in the biological field. But it fails nonetheless to provide sufficient evidence to

back its claim. Therefore, the Identity Theory provides the most logically sound argument.

Although mankind has yet to find any decisive answer to the mind-body problem, we

have discovered multiple theories that could help figure out where the truth lies. All four mind-

body theories discussed offered their own unique answers to one of humanity’s hardest questions

to answer. I believe that out of all of them that the Identity theory offers the best explanation so

far. But in all reality only time and scientific advances will reward humanity with an answer.