Soul, mind & body C/B grade summary notes


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Plato’s dualism

  • Plato is a dualist – the view that the mind/soul and the body are different types of thing/existence.
  • Plato thinks the world of forms is the real world and this physical world, including our body, is not the real world.
  • So, really we are a soul, not a body.
  • Plato’s argument from recollection – we have ideas of perfect things – like a perfect circle or perfect justice – but we have never seen a perfect circle or perfect goodness.
  • So, we must have got these ideas from the world of forms – where there are perfect forms of circles and goodness.
  • So, there must be a part of us – our soul – which was in the world of forms before we were born.

Critique of the argument from recollection

  • Arguably there is no such thing as perfect goodness – what someone thinks is good depends on their culture.
  • Perfect goodness will mean different things to different people.
  • So, there cannot be a perfect form of goodness – so his argument for the soul fails. 

Aristotle’s view of the soul

  • Aristotle is a materialist – thinks only one type of thing exists – material/physical things. 
  • But he still believes in a soul as part of our material body – the soul is the ‘form’ of the body.
  • The soul is what gives our body rational thought.
  • It’s not a separate thing to our body – it is the form of our physical body.
  • Stamp in wax analogy – the body is like wax and the soul is like the imprint in wax left by the stamp. 
  • The imprint is not a separate unique thing itself – it is just the form the wax has. Same goes for the soul.

Modern science’s rejection of formal causation

  • Modern scientists would reject Aristotle’s theory. They would say the body is just material structure – there it has no ‘form’.
  • Rational thought is just caused by brain processes, we don’t need the idea of form, so we don’t need the idea of a soul.

Descartes’ substance dualism

  • Descartes is a substance dualist. A substance is a type of existence that cannot be broken down into anything else.
  • He thinks the soul is our conscious mind. The mind (mental substance) is a different type of substance to the body (physical substance).
  • His arguments for this claim that the mind does not seem like a physical thing.
  • Physical things can be divided, but the mind cannot be divided. The mind doesn’t really have a location.
  • So, the mind cannot be a physical thing.

Responses to Descartes

  • The interaction problem – if the mind and body are such separate types of thing – how come they are able to interact with each other? When I have a desire to move my arm, my arm then moves. It looks like my mind caused my body to move – but how can a non-physical thing causally affect a physical thing?

Ryle’s category mistake critique of Descartes

  • Ryle is a materialist who doesn’t believe a soul exists and thinks there isn’t anything non-physical about the mind.
  • Ryle criticises Descartes’ theory by calling it the theory of the ‘ghost in the machine’.
  • Descartes argument is that because the mind is not a physical thing, it must be a non-physical thing.
  • However – Ryle says Descartes has not realised that there’s another option.
  • The mind might not be a thing at all…
  • Descartes has made a ‘category mistake’. He has put the mind in the category of ‘things’ when it might not be in that category.
  • Ryle illustrates this with someone being shown round a university who says they have seen the physics building and the biology building etc, but now they want to be shown the university! This person has made a category mistake – they haven’t realised that the term ‘university’ belongs to the category of ‘collection of buildings’ rather than ‘individual building’.

Critique of Ryle

  • Ryle is saying that the mind is not really a ‘thing’ – it’s not in the category of ‘things’ – but this doesn’t feel right, my mind does feel like a thing.

Dawkins’ scientific rejection of the soul and metaphorical view of it

  • Dawkins is a materialist and scientist 
  • He argues that our current scientific view of what we are is that we are merely material physical beings composed of DNA. That is there is scientific evidence for, so we shouldn’t believe in anything supernatural as a soul. 
  • He said that there are two types of soul – one is valid (metaphorical) and one is invalid (literal).
  • Soul 1 is the view that the soul is a real thing separate from our body, which Dawkins does not agree with due to lack of evidence. 
  • Soul 2 is a metaphorical idea of the soul, as a metaphor for the deep part of our mind and personally where the essence of our humanity is. 
  • For example, someone who doesn’t believe in a soul might say “I felt that in my soul” or “Hitler was a soulless person”. They are just using the term ‘soul’ metaphorically for our deep important human feelings, not for some non-physical part of soul 1. Dawkins thinks that everything about us, including our minds and consciousness, is nothing more than biological processes in our body and brain. 
  • It’s not valid to think the soul ‘literally’ exists, it’s only valid to use the word metaphorically to describe deep human feelings.

Chalmers as a response to Dawkins (criticises Dawkins) 

  • He distinguishes between ‘the easy problem of consciousness’ and ‘the hard problem of consciousness’ 
  • The ‘easy problem of consciousness’ means figuring out which brain process is responsible for which mental process such as memory, perception or emotion. 
  • The ‘hard problem of consciousness’ refers to what brain process is responsible for consciousness itself. 
  • Chalmers says that neuroscience has helped with solving the easy problem of consciousness but it hasn’t even begun to explain the hard problem of consciousness. 
  • So, scientists like Dawkins can’t claim to know that consciousness is just a physical bodily thing, since science doesn’t currently have a scientific explanation of consciousness.