Neutral monism

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In the philosophy of mind, neutral monism is the view that the mental and the physical are two ways of organizing or describing the same elements, which are themselves "neutral", that is, neither physical nor mental. [1] This view denies that the mental and the physical are two fundamentally different things. Rather, neutral monism claims the universe consists of only one kind of stuff, in the form of neutral elements that are in themselves neither mental nor physical.

Philosophy of mind Branch of philosophy concerned with the nature of the mind

Philosophy of mind is a branch of philosophy that studies the ontology, nature, and relationship of the mind to the body. The mind–body problem is a paradigm issue in philosophy of mind, although other issues are addressed, such as the hard problem of consciousness, and the nature of particular mental states. Aspects of the mind that are studied include mental events, mental functions, mental properties, consciousness, the ontology of the mind, the nature of thought, and the relationship of the mind to the body.



A diagram with neutral monism compared to Cartesian dualism, physicalism and idealism. Dualism-vs-Monism.png
A diagram with neutral monism compared to Cartesian dualism, physicalism and idealism.

Neutral monism about the mind–body relationship is described by C. D. Broad in one of his earlier works, The Mind and Its Place in Nature. Broad's list of possible views about the mind-body problem, which became known simply as "Broad's famous list of 1925" (see chapter XIV of Broad's book, [2] ) states the basis of what this theory had been and was to become. Some examples of philosophers who are seen to have a neutral monist view are Baruch Spinoza, David Hume, Ernst Mach, Richard Avenarius, Kenneth Sayre, Joseph Petzoldt and Jonathan Westphal. There are few self-proclaimed neutral monists. Most who are regarded as of this view were classified as such after their deaths.

Mind–body problem open question in philosophy of how abstract minds interact with physical bodies

The mind–body problem is an unsolved problem concerning the relationship between thought and consciousness in the human mind, and the brain as part of the physical body. It is distinct from the question of how mind and body function chemically and physiologically since that question presupposes an interactionist account of mind-body relations. This question arises when mind and body are considered as distinct, based on the premise that the mind and the body are fundamentally different in nature.

C. D. Broad English philosopher

Charlie Dunbar Broad, usually cited as C. D. Broad, was an English epistemologist, historian of philosophy, philosopher of science, moral philosopher, and writer on the philosophical aspects of psychical research. He was known for his thorough and dispassionate examinations of arguments in such works as Scientific Thought, published in 1923, The Mind and Its Place in Nature, published in 1925, and An Examination of McTaggart's Philosophy, published in 1933.

Baruch Spinoza Dutch philosopher

Baruch Spinoza was a Jewish-Dutch philosopher of Portuguese Sephardi origin. One of the early thinkers of the Enlightenment and modern biblical criticism, including modern conceptions of the self and the universe, he came to be considered one of the great rationalists of 17th-century philosophy. Inspired by the groundbreaking ideas of René Descartes, Spinoza became a leading philosophical figure of the Dutch Golden Age. Spinoza's given name, which means "Blessed", varies among different languages. In Hebrew, it is written ברוך שפינוזה. His Portuguese name is Benedito "Bento" de Espinosa or d'Espinosa. In his Latin works, he used Latin: Benedictus de Spinoza.

Earlier, William James had propounded the notion in his essay "Does Consciousness Exist?" in 1904 (reprinted in Essays in Radical Empiricism in 1912). [3] Whately Carington in his book Matter, Mind, and Meaning (1949) advocated a form of neutral monism. He held that mind and matter both consist of the same kind of components known as "cognita" or sense data. [4] [5] [6] Russian psychologist Boris Sidis also appears to have adhered to some form of neutral monism. [7]

William James American philosopher, psychologist, and pragmatist

William James was an American philosopher and psychologist, and the first educator to offer a psychology course in the United States. James was a leading thinker of the late nineteenth century, one of the most influential U.S. philosophers, and has been labeled the "Father of American psychology".

Consciousness state or quality of awareness or of being aware of an external object or something within oneself

Consciousness is the state or quality of awareness or of being aware of an external object or something within oneself. It has been defined variously in terms of sentience, awareness, qualia, subjectivity, the ability to experience or to feel, wakefulness, having a sense of selfhood or soul, the fact that there is something "that it is like" to "have" or "be" it, and the executive control system of the mind. Despite the difficulty in definition, many philosophers believe that there is a broadly shared underlying intuition about what consciousness is. As Max Velmans and Susan Schneider wrote in The Blackwell Companion to Consciousness: "Anything that we are aware of at a given moment forms part of our consciousness, making conscious experience at once the most familiar and most mysterious aspect of our lives." You become aware that your actions have an effect on other people.

Whately Carington British parapsychologist

Walter Whately Carington was a British parapsychologist. His name, originally Walter Whately Smith, was changed in 1933.

According to Stephen Stich and Ted Warfield, neutral monism has not been a popular view in philosophy as it is difficult to develop or understand the nature of the neutral elements. [8]

Stephen Stich American philosopher

Stephen P. Stich is a professor of Philosophy and Cognitive Science at Rutgers University, as well as an Honorary Professor in Philosophy at the University of Sheffield. Stich's main philosophical interests are in the philosophy of mind, epistemology, and moral psychology. His 1983 book, From Folk Psychology to Cognitive Science: The Case Against Belief, received much attention as he argued for a form of eliminative materialism about the mind. He changed his mind, in later years, as indicated in his 1996 book Deconstructing the Mind.

Bertrand Russell

In 1921, Bertrand Russell adopted a similar position to that of William James. [9] Russell quotes from James's essay "Does 'consciousness' exist?" as follows:

Bertrand Russell British philosopher, mathematician, historian, writer, and activist

Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell, was a British philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, writer, essayist, social critic, political activist, and Nobel laureate. At various points in his life, Russell considered himself a liberal, a socialist and a pacifist, although he also confessed that his sceptical nature had led him to feel that he had "never been any of these things, in any profound sense." Russell was born in Monmouthshire into one of the most prominent aristocratic families in the United Kingdom.

"My thesis is," [James] says, "that if we start with the supposition that there is only one primal stuff or material in the world, a stuff of which everything is composed, and if we call that stuff 'pure experience,' then knowing can easily be explained as a particular sort of relation towards one another into which portions of pure experience may enter. The relation itself is a part of pure experience; one of its 'terms' becomes the subject or bearer of the knowledge, the knower, the other becomes the object known (p. 4)." [10]

Russell summarizes this notion as follows:

James's view is that the raw material out of which the world is built up is not of two sorts, one matter and the other mind, but that it is arranged in different patterns by its inter-relations, and that some arrangements may be called mental, while others may be called physical. [11]

Russell observes that the same view of "consciousness" is set forth in James's succeeding essay, "A World of Pure Experience" (ib., pp. 39–91). [12] In addition to the role of James, Russell observes the role of two American Realists:

the American realists [...] Professor R. B. Perry of Harvard and Mr. Edwin B. Holt [...] have derived a strong impulsion from James, but have more interest than he had in logic and mathematics and the abstract part of philosophy. They speak of "neutral" entities as the stuff out of which both mind and matter are constructed. Thus Holt says: "... perhaps the least dangerous name is neutral-stuff." [13]

Russell goes on to agree with James and in part with the "American realists":

My own belief – for which the reasons will appear in subsequent lectures – is that James is right in rejecting consciousness as an entity, and that the American realists are partly right, though not wholly, in considering that both mind and matter are composed of a neutral-stuff which, in isolation is neither mental nor material. [14]

David Chalmers

David Chalmers [15] considers the consciousness of rocks as well as thermostats, although he eschews the notion that rocks are conscious:

I do not think it is strictly accurate to say that rocks (for example) have experiences . . . although rocks may have experiences associated with them. ... Personally, I am much more confident of naturalistic dualism than I am of panpsychism. The latter issue seems to be very much open. But I hope to have said enough to show that we ought to take the possibility of some sort of panpsychism seriously: there seem to be no knockdown arguments against the view, and there are various positive reasons why one might embrace it. (Chalmers 1996:299)

In his 2002 "Consciousness and its Place in Nature", Chalmers carefully considers neutral monism and panpsychism, variants of what he calls "Type-F Monism". [16] He admits that:

The type-F view is admittedly speculative and it can sound strange at first hearing. Many find it extremely counterintuitive to suppose that fundamental physical systems have phenomenal properties: e.g. that there is something it is like to be an electron. [16]

See also

References and notes

  1. Craig, Edward. (1998). Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Routledge. p. 816. ISBN   0415-07310-3
  2. Broad, C. D (1925) The Mind and Its Place in Nature. London: Kegan Paul.
  3. James, William. (1912). Essays in Radical Empiricism. New York: Longmans, Green, and Co.
  4. Broad, C. D. (1950). Matter, Mind, and Meaning by W. Whately Carington. Philosophy. Vol. 25, No. 94. pp. 275–277.
  5. Grenell, R. G. (1953). Matter, Mind and Meaning by Whately Carington. The Quarterly Review of Biology. Vol. 28, No. 4. pp. 404–405.
  6. Oakeshott, Michael; O'Sullivan, Luke. (2007). The Concept of a Philosophical Jurisprudence: Essays and Reviews 1926–51. Imprint Academic. p. 286. ISBN   978-1845401801 "The doctrine that Mr Carington comes to favour is a form of Neutral Monism: the common constituents of mind and matter are sense-data or cognita. In themselves these cognita are neither mental nor material."
  7. Sidis, Boris (1914). Foundations of Normal and Abnormal Psychology, retrieved 02/03/19.
  8. Stich, Stephen; Warfield, Ted. (2003). The Blackwell Guide to Philosophy of Mind. Blackwell Publishing. pp. 20-21. ISBN   0-631-21774-6
  9. Russell, Bertrand. (1921). The Analysis of Mind. London, G. Allen & Unwin; New York, Macmillan.
  10. r.e. "(p. 4)" see next footnotes about source of James's quote. The James quote appears at Russell 1921:10.
  11. Russell 1921:10
  12. Russell 1921:10. The ibid refers to footnote #5 on Russell 1921:9 with regards to the quotes from James derived from Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Methods 's," vol. i, 1904. Reprinted in "Essays in Radical Empiricism" (Longmans, Green & Co., 1912), pp. 1–38.
  13. Russell 1921:10–11
  14. Russell 1921:11
  15. Chalmers 1996: 293-301 "Is Experience Ubiquitous?" which includes subsections What is it like to be a thermostat?, Whither pansychism?, and Constraining the double-aspect principle.
  16. 1 2 Chalmers 2002: 264-267


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