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Materialism in philosophy of mind

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Identity theory

In the context of the philosophy of mind, psychophysical identity designates the assumed logical equivalence between expressions or descriptions pertaining to the vocabulary of psychology and concepts pertaining to the vocabulary of the physical and natural sciences. In its simplest formulation, the psychophysical identity thesis asserts that mental states are nothing more than physical states of the brain. Psychophysical identity can be established either a priori by means of an analysis of the content of mental concepts, as logical behaviorism does, or on the basis of scientific discoveries having established a term-to-term correspondence between mental states or events and brain states or processes. In the first case the identity will be defended by logical arguments, in the second case it will come from a metaphysical – in this case materialist – conception of the world.

The identity of types of mental states or processes to types of brain states or processes is commonly referred to as “type-type identity“. “Type” in this context means a property or set of properties capable of entering into a definition and characterizing a certain state or event. When the identity between two types of states is posited, the same substance and the same properties are denoted. It is therefore not at the level of the properties but only at the level of the meaning of the expressions used to describe them that the two types of states appear distinct. For example, the types “water” and “H₂O” are identical because they denote the same type of substance, but these expressions differ in meaning and describe different aspects of reality: water is commonly described as an odorless liquid substance and transparent which flows, wets, etc., while H₂O is attributed with atomic characteristics which are not directly observable. Similarly, mental concepts differ from physical concepts not because they designate different entities and properties but because they differ in meaning.

The type-level psychophysical identity relationship requires that a type of mental state or process, e.g. “the belief that the Sun is a star”, is identical to a type of physical state or process at the brain level. , such as “the activation of nerve fibers X of brain area Y”. This identity relationship can be generalized to all aspects of the mind, although historically type identity theory was first concerned with subjective aspects of consciousness, such as colors or the sensation of pain. . The generalization of the identity thesis at the level of type justifies not only the reduction of mental processes to cerebral processes but also the reduction of psychology itself to the physical typology of brain sciences. We then speak of reductionist materialism and mind/brain identity theory to qualify this position. The operation of reduction justified by this form of materialism consists in replacing term by term the “mental” and subjective vocabulary of common-sense psychology by the vocabulary of the natural sciences, in particular by that of the neurosciences. The conceptual breakdown of common sense psychology is therefore retained, for both practical (notably clinical and therapeutic) and gnoseological (in order to “explain” mental states) purposes.

However, the possibility that the same mental states, such as fear or hunger, are physically realized in multiple ways across animal species, especially when dealing with very different species, suggests that psychophysical identity is limited to individual “occurrences” of events taking place in the brain and does not hold for types of brain states. It is then the thesis of the identity of types that is called into question in favor of that of the identity of occurrences (token-token identity), which identifies occurrences of mental events with occurrences of physical events ( of the brain). This thesis constitutes a weaker and more flexible version of materialism than that of the identity of types, since it only requires the identification of occurrences of events. The occurrence of an event is its individual realization in space and time. When two different propositions describe an event occurring in the same place and at the same time, they describe the same occurrence of the event: there is therefore identity at the level of the occurrence. The thesis of the identity of occurrences is still widely shared today within the functionalist movement.

Eliminative materialism

Phrenology(Many views based on a “naive theory” of the mind have now been abandoned or refuted, such as phrenology.)

Eliminative materialism, or more simply eliminativism, is in philosophy of mind the position according to which there are nothing but physical states, and according to which mental states are not physical states, so they do not exist. The belief in the existence of such states would be an erroneous conception of the human which would be implicitly admitted by the psychology of common sense (folk psychology). Eliminativism was advanced by leading philosophers, such as Paul Feyerabend or Richard Rorty in the 1960s, and more recently by Paul and Patricia Churchland, as well as Daniel Dennett regarding qualia and subjective aspects of consciousness. It is a radical response to the mind-body problem since it is based on the elimination of the very notion of mind. In this sense, it is opposed to panpsychism, which generalizes the notion.

Proponents of eliminativism accept arguments that aim to show that it is impossible to reduce mental concepts (or at least some of them) to physical concepts. However, they draw the following conclusion: mental concepts must be eliminated from any theory relating to human behavior, as they are from physical theories. Indeed, if a reduction of these concepts does not prove possible, it is because they refer to nothing and must be abandoned. Such an approach is nevertheless compatible with the acceptance of the intentional concepts of ordinary psychology as useful instruments for the prediction of human behavior. However, in its radical form, eliminativism bets that future science will provide us with a method of prediction that can do without these concepts.

According to eliminativism, the notion of mind on which common-sense psychology is based is not simply insufficient to explain human behavior and the nature of cognitive activities, it is in itself erroneous. It is the whole framework of common-sense psychology which then constitutes a false and misleading conception of the causes of human action and cognition. Therefore, we cannot hope to solve the mind-body problem by seeking to reduce mental concepts to physical ones. Since the former do not refer to anything in nature, no term-to-term correspondence can be established between them and physical concepts. The inter-theoretical reduction promoted by reductionism is therefore doomed to failure. We should therefore not expect mature neurosciences to solve the mind-body problem, but only to dissolve it by replacing the old theoretical framework in which it arose.

(Includes texts from Wikipedia translated and adapted by Nicolae Sfetcu)

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