PHIL 255: Philosophy of Mind

Week 1

1a, Introduction

Introduction to course

Books: Graham + Churchland

Assignments: Exams, essay, class participation (discussion).

Daily: group discussions + 1-minute essays.

Background: how many have had philosophy, psychology?

Introduction to philosophy

Areas of philosophy:

Logic: reasoning

How do we think?

Metaphysics: what exists


Epistemology: knowledge

Knowledge of other minds

Ethics: right & wrong

View of mind -> view of freedom, responsibility

Philosophy differs from science:

Key question: can the study of mind be fully scientific?

Argument forms in philosophy:

1. Deduction (logical proof):

E.g. If there is life after death, then dualism is true.

There is life after death.

Therefore, dualism is true.

This is an example of modus ponens, which has the form:

If p then q; p; therefore q.

Note also modus tollens: If p then q; not-q; therefore not-p.

2. Inductive generalization (argument from examples to rules):

E.g. Everyone who has ever lived a long time has died.

Therefore, everyone eventually dies.

3. Inference to the best explanation. (choosing an explanatory hypothesis).

E.g. People report life after death experiences.

The best explanation of these reports is that people survive death.

Therefore, there is life after death.

Structure of inference to the best explanation:

The competing hypotheses are H1, H2 ...

The available evidence is E1, E2, ...

Hypothesis H1 is a better explanation of the evidence than the other hypotheses, because:

Therefore, we are justified in believing H1.

4. Thought experiments.

E.g. Descartes: I can imagine myself without a body, but I can't imagine myself not thinking. So I am essentially a thing that thinks, and my body is inessential.

E.g. Frank Jackson's argument that there are facts about color experience that cannot be known by physical experience (Graham, ch. 1).

1b, Death and identity

Positions in the philosophy of mind (preliminary list):

1. Materialism: mind=brain. Only matter exists.

2. Dualism: person = mind + body. There are two kinds of substance.

3. Idealism: world=mind. Only mind exists.

Why do people believe in life after death?

1. Tradition

2. Evidence

3. Wishful thinking.

4. Other reasons?

What is the best evidence of life after death?

1. Reports of after-death experiences.

2. Seances.

3. Miracles

4. Scripture.

Alternative explanations of after-death experiences?

1. People survive death.

2. Freudian projection: hope for survival.

3. Physical trauma.

4. Endorphin release.

5. Expectations based on reports.

Expectations not so universal as experiences.

Seances and miracles often fraudulent or delusional.

Problems with dualism:


1. How does the mind hear things after death?

2. How do mind and body interact?

Personal identity:

What makes a person after death the same as before death, if there is no body? Can personal identity be purely mental?

Cf. Star Trek transporters. Does the same person come out who went in?

Contrast Christian and Hindu views of life after death: on Hindu view, there is the same soul, but a totally different mind reincarnated.

Is immortality desirable?

Phil 255

Computational Epistemology Laboratory.

Paul Thagard

This page updated Sept. 12, 2005