The Philosophy Resource

Teaching resources for philosophy students and teachers

What is a mind?

Question

What is a mind?

Answer

It’s important to realise that a mind isn’t obviously a thing (like a handbag, a hammer, or a head). Creatures with minds are simply creatures with mental/psychological states: beliefs, desires, fears, hopes, dreams, pains, emotions, and so on.

Click on the drop down boxes to the right find out what different philosophers have thought about the mind:

Mind Map

Anti-Realism

We talk as if people have beliefs, desires, fears, hopes, intentions, and so on, but that’s just because it’s good enough for practical purposes. Strictly speaking, there are no such things.

Realism

People really do have beliefs, desires, fears, hopes, intentions, and so on. It’s useful to talk as if they do because they really do.

Substance dualism

A person has an immaterial mind that interacts with the material world by animating an unconscious body.

Substance monism

The universe is not divided into two distinct realms – the mental realm and the physical realm. Idealism and materialism are both kinds of substance monism.

Idealism

There is no distinction between the mental realm and the physical realm – what appear to be physical objects like tables and brains are really just ideas.

Materialism

People really have beliefs, desires, fears, hopes, intentions, and so on, but not because they have an immaterial mind. People are entirely composed of physical matter.

Reductive materialism

A full account of the mind can be given ultimately by physics, since mental properties such as beliefs and desires are really just physical properties. Logical behaviourism and the mind-brain identity theory are forms of reductive materialism.

Logical behaviourism

This is a form of reductive materialism. To have a mind is just to behave in certain ways. Being in pain is just being disposed to wince, cry, seek help, and so on. Pain doesn’t cause you to wince – the wincing just is part of being in pain.

Mind-brain identity theory

Mental properties are just properties of the brain.

Non-reductive materialism

Our bodies have physical properties, such as weight and height, and also mental properties such as beliefs and desires. There is no purely physical account of mental properties even though we are composed of physical matter.

Token-identity theory

Every time you have a belief, that belief is in fact just a brain-state. Two people in the same overall brain-state will have exactly the same beliefs, desires, fears, hopes, intentions and so on.

Materialism without physicalism

People are entirely composed of physical matter, but mental properties are not identical to properties of the brain, and mental states are not identical to brain-states. Two people in the same overall brain-state might have different beliefs, desires, fears, hopes and intentions because their mental states are about different things in the world.

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