The Body Problem and Other Foundational Issues in the Metaphysics of Mind

Dissertation, The University of Chicago (2000)
Abstract
My dissertation focuses on the foundations of the mind-body problem: how we should think about the physical world, what the role of science is in arriving at a solution to the problem, and whether it is possible to answer metaphysical questions about the mind while admitting epistemic defeat. ;Many philosophers argue that the mind is physical, but few spend much time explaining what counts as being physical. This, I argue, is a mistake: if the mind-body problem is the problem of explaining how the mind could be physical, we should have some understanding of what it means to be physical. In other words, in order to solve the mind-body problem, we must also solve the body problem. Surprisingly enough, however, a solution to the body problem is not forthcoming. ;Where, then, does this leave the mind-body problem? One might think that the impossibility of solving the body problem dissolves mind-body problem entirely. This, I argue, is not the case. Rather, the most troubling aspect of the mind-body problem does not dissolve in light of our inability to solve the body problem. For regardless of whether we understand what it means to be physical, we can still ask whether mentality is a fundamental feature of the world. Thus I propose that rather than thinking of the mind-body problem as the problem of finding a place for mentality in a fundamentally physical world, we should think of it as the problem of finding a place for mentality in a world that is, at its most fundamental level, entirely nonmental. The crux of the mind-body problem, then, is whether mentality is fundamental. ;Finally, I argue that it is difficult to justify ontological-conclusions about the mind while holding that we will never understand the mind. A number of philosophers think that while we cannot explain how the mind is physical we can know that it is physical, nonetheless. I argue that given a commitment to the inexplicability of the mind, arguments for ontological physicalism are not persuasive and conclude that physicalists must strive to understand the mind. Anything less amounts to giving up
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