The Philosophy of the Mind one of the forms that the problem of the mind-body relationship has taken . In other words, it is one of the areas of study of philosophy that deals with the relationship between mental processes and the body (the brain in particular), and therefore, the link between mind and behavior.
Under this area are grouped a set of works that add different proposals to the question of what is the mind, which has also led them to reflect on the relationship between mental processes and the processes that occur within the brain.
Origins and object of study of the Philosophy of the Mind
The concepts studied by the Philosophy of the Mind have been essential to modern philosophy and have many of their antecedents in classical philosophy. However, it is from the second half of the 20th century that they have gained fundamental importance, especially from the rise of the cognitive sciences and the computer sciences.
Already from the first half of the 20th century, the Philosophy of the Mind appeared as a specialized branch within the same philosophy, whose content was especially around “the mental” (perception, intentions, representations). At that time “the mind” was already a fairly widespread and naturalised concept, even in the language of everyday life.
To give an example, thanks to this extension, many practices could be legitimized and developed, ranging from the development of research, theories and cognitive therapies, to the development of alternative practices using the concept of “mind” and its contents, to also develop theories and ways of intervening on this mind.
But it happened that, in the middle of the 20th century, the problem of studying the Philosophy of Mind became more acute, because cognitive psychology and computer science had a parallel boom, especially related to the development of artificial intelligence systems, and also because of the advances in neurosciences.
Some questions were even added to the discussion about whether animals have minds or not, and whether computers have minds or not . Without losing validity or legitimacy, “the mind” and its processes (perceptions, sensations, desires, intentions, etc.), ceased to be a precise term to become rather a vague concept worth discussing.
Finally, after the 1980s, a time when neuroscience reached an even greater boom, on a par with increasingly sophisticated computer systems that promised to imitate the set of neural networks in the human brain, the Philosophy of Mind became an area of study with special relevance. With this, the sciences of the 21st century begin with a new object of study in the center: the brain.
The mind or the brain?
As we have seen, the discussion about what constitutes us as human beings, and about concepts related to this, such as decision, intentions, reason, responsibility, freedom, will, among others, have been the object of philosophical discussion for a long time.
From the above question naturally derives multiple questions, which have to do with the intentional content of our mental states, with beliefs or desires. In turn, it follows how these states of mind are included, or not, in our behavior and actions.
For example, what determines our actions? is one of the key questions for the Philosophy of the Mind, and from there different answers have emerged. On the one hand, it may be that actions are provoked by the individual intentions of people, which reduces them to being the consequence of a mental state, which also means that there are physical processes that cannot be explained by means of physical or natural laws, and therefore these physical processes should be disregarded.
Or, it may be that actions are caused and determined simply by a set of physical processes, so that everything that has to do with “the mental” can be explained through physical laws that are not modified by intentions, but by physical-chemical laws such as those suggested by neuroscience.
As we can see, the answers to these questions vary according to the position taken by each author and each reader, so it would be difficult to speak of a single answer, but of different versions that may be useful for thinking and acting on some things, and not others.
From cognitive science to neuroscience?
Consequently, the Philosophy of Mind, and more specifically the cognitive sciences, have become a set of interdisciplinary theoretical approaches. In fact, recently the very concept of Philosophy of Mind has started to be transformed into that of Neurophilosophy, or Philosophy of Neurosciences, where some of the more traditional concepts of cognitive psychology, such as cognitive processes or consciousness, have started to be absorbed for study.
As is to be expected, the above has had repercussions not only on the theoretical development of the sciences of cognition and behaviour , but has even influenced discussions that have to do with bioethics, and without going too far we can see its influence on the current trend of using the prefix “neuro” to legitimise, and even make marketable, a series of practices that range from business marketing to interventions in psychological crises.
Sanguineti, J.J. (2008). Philosophy of the Mind. Published in June 2008 in Philosophica, Online Philosophical Encyclopedia. Retrieved April 25, 2018. Available at https://s3.amazonaws.com/academia.edu.documents/31512350/Voz_Filosofia_Mente.pdf?AWSAccessKeyId=AKIAIWOWYYGZ2Y53UL3A&Expires=1524651624&Signature=5x8xwT%2FqnbXAbYm1DBcvokYJqTk%3D&response-content-disposition=inline%3B%20filename%3DFilosofia_de_la_mente._Voz_de_Diccionari.pdf
Moya, C. (2004). Philosophy of the Mind. PUV: University of Valencia
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. (1999). The Philosophy of Neuroscience. Retrieved April 25, 2018. Available at https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/neuroscience/
Kim, J. (1996). Philosophy of Mind. Routledge Taylor & Francis: England