PHIL 255: Philosophy of Mind, Week 4


Thursday, Oct. 13: Class will be held in ES1 132.

Thursday, Oct. 27: The exam will be written in other classrooms: watch for announcements.

4a, Rational Action

Rational action - what is it?

How to make decisions

Intuition: go with your "gut feeling"?

Calculation: evaluate costs and benefits of different actions.

Rational decision making

Synthesis: make an intuitive, emotional judgment based on consideration of alternative actions and the extent to which they accomplish your goals.

What makes an action rational?

Rational = the best decision based on all available information.

What are good reasons? Goals.

Are reasons causes? Do we have free will, or are our actions caused?

Are people always rational?

What makes an action irrational?

Does not accomplish your goals.

Weakness of the will (incontinence)

Weakness of will is acting against our best conscious judgment. E.g. "I can't believe I ate the whole thing."

We act according to our reasons, so how can there be an action that goes against reason? Weakness of the will is impossible.

Explanation: We have multiple goals, and unconsciously some get priority that we would not choose to give them. E.g. intense cravings caused by presence of tempting stimulus.

Oscar Wilde: I can resist anything except temptation.

Your unconscious goals may lead you to be weak-willed about something that you think you should do based on your conscious goals.

Where do goals come from? See theory of deliberative coherence.

Altruism - can we be unselfish?

Egoism: everyone pursues own self-interest. This can be both a descriptive claim (how people are) and a prescriptive claim (how people ought to be).

Foundation for morality: everyone acts alone? Social contract theory assumes that everyone acts individually and chooses to cooperate out of self-interest.

Arguments for egoism

1. Ownership: I act based on my reasons, so my motivations are selfish.

Reply: no, my reasons can concern the welfare of others.

2. Satisfaction: When people appear to act for others, it is only because they get personal satisfaction out of it.

Reply: There are many instances (e.g. war heroes) where people act for others independent of their own satisfaction.

3. Baby faced: Children are born selfish, and don't get any better.

Reply: Even young children can display empathy and altruism.

Conclusion: altruism is possible (except for psychopaths) and morally and socially desirable.

4b, Mind & Brain


Three theses:

1. Identification: mind=matter

2. Explanation: behavior is to be explained by neurophysiology

3. Exclusion: humans have no non-physical properties, e.g. free will.

Justification of materialism:

1. Simplicity: matter, not matter + soul

2. Unified conception of the world

3. Expel superstition

4. Mind can be studied by physical science.

Objections to materialism.

Leibniz's law: x=y iff for any property P, x has P iff y has P.

So, if mind has some non-material property, it is not = matter.

1. Mind and body known in different ways.

Reply: aspectual. E.g. know that Mary Ciccone is from Michigan, cousin of Rick Ciccone. Not know that she is Madonna.

2. Intentionality: mental states have aboutness (see Searle's argument against artificial intelligence)


Intentionality is not physical pointing:

Materialist reply: physical states can possess intentionality.

1. Resemblance: mental states resemble the world.

But aboutness is asymmetrical.

And aboutness does not require similarity, e.g. with words.

And are there physical pictures in the brain?

2. Causal analysis: x is about y because y causes x.

But this view has problems with misrepresentation and aspectual character of intentionality.

Is this really a puzzle? Can computers misrepresent?


Phil 255

Computational Epistemology Laboratory.

Paul Thagard

This page updated October 3, 2005