Mind-Body Problem, The Soul And The Consciousness Dissertation Samples
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Philosophers have long debated about the mind-body problem and the role of the soul and the consciousness in this problem. It was Aristotle who first attempted to explain this problem in his work ‘De Anima,’ wherein he endeavored to convince the reader about the relationship between the mind and the body, through theories that he introduced as well as through theories in vogue in those times. In his article, Thomas Nagel talks about the roles that consciousness and reduction play in complicating the mind-body problem. This essay will begin by reflecting on the aspects of consciousness and reductionism as per Nagel’s view and will proceed to examine Aristotle’s view of the soul and in doing so will draw a comparative analysis of both Nagel and Aristotle’s view. Further, the essay will also provide a brief analysis of Aristotle’s account of the sensory faculties and his concept of ‘object of sense.’
View of Thomas Nagel
In his paper, Thomas Nagel primarily analyses the mind-body problem. In doing so, he recognizes the fact that it is consciousness that plays a prime role in the mind-body problem and at the same time poses obstacles in the problem itself. Nagel puts this very concisely as follows, “Without consciousness the mind-body problem would be much less interesting. With consciousness, it seems hopeless.” (1) One can understand the central role of consciousness in the mind-body problem since it is consciousness that poses an obstacle, but its absence reduces the mind-body problem to a state where it is not even worthy of study. Therefore, consciousness is extremely important since it is one of the prime aspects that govern the mind-body equation and its absence essentially leads to a collapse of this equation. The author laments that many philosophers attempt to explain the problem to an extent through the use of reductionism, which does not solve the problem. The reason, he claims, behind most philosophers attempting to use reductionism is to reduce unfamiliar concepts to familiar ones, but this does not work since the problem at hand does not have similar analogies. In fact Nagel claims that “..no currently available concept of reduction is applicable to it.” (1) Therefore, in one stroke Nagel sets aside all philosophical models that use reductionism to address the mind-body issue.
In Nagel’s view reductionism as a philosophy does not work in case of the mind-body problem. He feels this is especially true for the present models of reductionism are not designed to take into account abstract features of the mind-body equation such as consciousness and experience (be it subjective or objective experience). (1) For instance, subjective experiences are not easily analyzable since these cannot be easily captured by recent methods of reductive thought. Since reductionist programs must be based on analysis of the problem to be reduced, any deficiency in the same will pose a false problem leading to an incorrect and, sometimes, implausible conclusion. (Nagel 2) This effectively means that if reductionist programs do not capture the elements of subjective and objective experiences combined with one’s consciousness (level of development), the resulting solution will be erroneous in nature. One can understand, as a result, that reduction can only succeed when subjective viewpoints are dropped from the reduction analyses, but that would effectively mean that a large aspect of the consciousness would get shunted out of the analysis. Therefore, to a very large extent, conscious experience (both subjective and objective) interferes in the mind-body problem rendering the concept of reductionism as a philosophical approach completely futile.
Aristotle – Concept of the Soul
In his work ‘De Anima,’ Aristotle preliminarily describes the soul as the principle of all living things. (Aristotle 74) In a sense, as a result, the soul makes life possible. According to Aristotle, the mind was enclosed within the soul which was more divine than the rest of the soul. Further, Aristotle believed that the soul had attributes and different kinds of beings had different kinds of soul. (94) If a living entity has a soul, it can perform specific actions depending on the type of soul that the entity possesses and, therefore, different souls enable various living entities to perform varied actions. Therefore, Aristotle divides all living entities using the criteria of the nature of their soul, particularly the attributes of the individual soul, mainly the mind within the soul. Such a categorization helps in the effective division of various living entities based on the soul and the mind within the soul. Further, Aristotle felt that amongst living beings, human beings were at the top of the pyramid and had the most complex souls.
As a result, one cannot describe the soul on a standalone basis. Instead, one is better off describing the activities performed by the soul so that one can deduce the particular category that the soul belongs. Further, the soul does not change or age, while the body does and, therefore, in a sense, the soul is perfect while the body is imperfect as per Aristotle. Lastly, Aristotle also describes the soul as subject to death since its demise occurs at the precise moment that the body dies. As a result, the soul cannot survive independently, but the mind within the soul does survive and reaches the Divine upon death. (97) As stated earlier, since the soul has specific attributes and belongs to a specific body, one can also understand that the soul can never exist without the body. Likewise, objects or bodies that exist without a soul are classified as Aristotle as inanimate and those with souls as animate.
Difference in Nagel and Aristotle’s conception
While both Nagel and Aristotle attempt to solve the same problem, there lie some essential differences in their viewpoints, which this essay will proceed to highlight. The fundamental difference in the viewpoint of Nagel and Aristotle arises in the conception of the consciousness. The conception of consciousness as well as the subjective and objective experiences that a human being experiences form the core of Nagel’s thought. These are also the points that affect the outcome of the mind-body problem since it prevents an effective application of the concept of philosophical reduction to the question at hand.
In his work, nowhere does Nagel mention the concept of a soul that forms the central aspect of Aristotle’s work. In its place, Nagel prefers the use of one’s consciousness that encompasses the soul and mind aspects as conceived by Aristotle. However, Aristotle considers the mind which is a part of the soul to perceive experiences and it is the type of the soul that enables the subject to gain that experience. Therefore, Aristotle only remotely considers the subjective experiences that one undergoes in life, but does not consider the objective experiences as much.
Also, Aristotle considers the soul to have a hierarchy wherein various parts of the soul are at different hierarchal levels, while Nagel considers the human consciousness to be unified in nature. Further, as far as the mind-body problem is concerned Aristotle feels that the soul can be destroyed due to old age, while Nagel’s viewpoint is that consciousness can never be completely destroyed except upon death.
In sum, both Nagel and Aristotle’s views are differentiated in their conception of the aspects of consciousness, the degree to which both consider subjective as well as objective experiences. In addition, Aristotle considers the existence of a material soul that has a death and has no interest in the concept of consciousness, while Nagel prefers to deal with the existence of human consciousness which is not a material aspect, but is rather an intrinsic quality of the mind.
Aristotle’s concept of the sensory faculties
On a basic level, Aristotle defines the senses as something through which one can draw the experiences of taste, touch, smell, hearing and sight. The perceptive faculty, as per Aristotle, arises when one or more of the senses are used by a subject to perceive sense-objects. In such a case, Aristotle further classifies sense-objects as common, special and incidental. In each of these cases, the sense would perceive if a given object could be classified into one of the three categories. Therefore, the presence of a sense-object becomes necessary for a subject’s perception to act. At this point, it would be essential to consider and evaluate each sense.
As per Aristotle, the sense of sight is largely dependent on light since it is light that dispels darkness and reveals the various colors. (110) Although, he does recognize and talks about certain objects that reveal themselves to the human eye in the absence of light, he says that it is light itself that reveals the true nature of that object. Therefore, in a way, light acts as a medium between the sense and the object and in most cases the sense of sight (the eye) cannot distinguish between objects in complete darkness. The twin facets of potentiality and actuality play an important role in the analysis of Sight as viewed by Aristotle.
In a similar manner, the aspects of potentiality and actuality also play a key role in the sense of hearing. In this case, sound plays a pivotal role since most objects known to man produce sound in the event of a blow to the object or in specialized cases the human voice which is voluntary. (112) However, there are also some objects like cotton, wool or living beings such as fish that produce no sound. Therefore, he classifies sound as having a meaning or sound that has no meaning. The drawback of this analysis, much like the analysis on sight, is that Aristotle does not consider the problems of intentionality nor does he examine the effects of sounds with or without meaning. In a way, he simply classifies them into categories.
When it comes to the sense of smell, Aristotle feels that the human sense of smell is worse than most animals and, therefore, extremely weak. (115) He also considers the sense of smell to be in a different category as compared to the sensory organs of sight and hearing. He considers smell to be a dry sense organ compared to the other sense organs and feels that as a comparable sense organ, the taste is a far better developed sense organs in humans compared to smell.
As a result, Aristotle classifies taste as a much stronger sense and similar to touch on most aspects. (117) The sense of taste is strong since it gives the subject an instant perception of the object. Similar to sight and hearing, taste too can fluctuate between objects having taste and those that are tasteless. Hence, in that aspect, the sense of taste is similar to the senses of sight and hearing. However, the most important aspect of the sense organ of taste is that it needs just exactly the right amount of moisture to work in an optimum manner. (117) In cases when the tongue is too dry or is excessively moist, the tongue fails to perceive taste, even if the taste of the particular object is strong. Based on the various available flavors, Aristotle feels that the faculty of taste is highly appropriate, and the taste-object is that which makes it so in actuality. (118)
Of the sense organs, Aristotle agrees that the sense of touch is the most important one. This is especially true since an absence of this sense organ would put the very existence of animals at stake. Moreover, unlike the four other senses, the sense of touch has no characteristic organ that perceives the characteristic of touch. (119) This makes the sense of touch extremely unique as compared to the other sense organs. Through a detailed analysis Aristotle arrives at the fact that the sense of touch must be felt through the skin, thus classifying the skin as the main sense organ as far as touch is concerned.
In sum, Aristotle classifies the faculties of hearing, sight and smell as somewhat similar. On the other hand, although he classifies taste and touch as somewhat similar, he agrees that it is a touch that is fundamentally required for animals (including humans) to survive.
Aristotle. De Anima (On the Soul). Trans. Hugh Lawson-Tancred. New York: Penguin Group, 1986. Pdf File.
Nagel, Thomas. “What is it like to be a bat?” The Philosophical Review LXXXIII (1974). 1 – 9. PDF File.
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