Mind and consciousnessby AC Grayling / June 20, 1996 / Leave a comment
Published in June 1996 issue of Prospect Magazine
Plato and other thinkers of antiquity were not much interested in mind. They were interested in “the soul,” conceived as a non-material composite of reason, passion and appetite. Plato wished to demonstrate in his Phaedo and Phaedrus that the soul is immortal, and that ethical perfection consists in the harmony of its parts.
Scientific interest in mind qua organ of thought owes itself to René Descartes, who argued in his Meditations (1641) that mind is thinking substance and matter extended substance or space. This dualism looks plausible because mental and material properties seem exclusive; we do not describe thoughts as having, say, colour or weight. But dualism involves a difficulty that stumped Descartes: how, if mind and matter are so different, can they interact?
The intractability of this problem led his successors to abandon dualism. There can be only one kind of substance, they said, either mental (idealism) or material (materialism). Idealism is a minority view; its most famous exponent is Bishop Berkeley in Principles of Human Knowledge (1710). Materialism is the dominant thesis; it says that however we understand minds, they must fit into our theories about the physical world.