Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Mind-body problem roundup

For readers who might be interested, I thought it would be useful to gather together in one place links to various posts on the mind-body problem and other issues in the philosophy of mind.  Like much of what you’ll find on this blog, these posts develop and apply ideas and arguments stated more fully in my various books and articles.  Naturally, I address various issues in the philosophy of mind at length in my book Philosophy of Mind, of which you can find a detailed table of contents here.  (The cover illustration by Andrzej Klimowski you see to the left is from the first edition.)  You will find my most recent and detailed exposition of the Aristotelian-Thomistic (A-T) approach to issues in the philosophy of mind in chapter 4 of Aquinas.  There is a lot of material on the mind-body problem to be found in The Last Superstition, especially in various sections of the last three chapters.  And there is also relevant material to be found in Locke, in the chapter I contributed to my edited volume The Cambridge Companion to Hayek, and in various academic articles.

On to the posts.  For an account of what the mind-body problem is, how the A-T tradition tends to approach it, and how that approach differs from that of most contemporary philosophers of mind, see:

Zombies: A Shopper’s Guide

As those posts indicate, from an A-T point of view the incorporeality of the human mind has fundamentally to do not with qualia or even intentionality per se, but rather with the intellect's capacity for forming abstract concepts.  I develop and defend James Ross's version of the argument for the immateriality of the intellect in my American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly article “Kripke, Ross, and the Immaterial Aspects of Thought.” I have discussed and defended the argument further in a series of blog posts:

The crucial difference between intellect on the one hand and sensation and imagiantion on the other is a major theme of the A-T approach to the mind, and is discussed here:
It is widely assumed that materialist explanations have succeeded in every other area of inquiry, that it is only a matter of time before the mind also succumbs to such explanation, and that progress in neuroscience supports this judgment.  I maintain that none of these claims is true and that the contemporary presumption in favor of materialism rests on various philosophical confusions, sleight of hand, and historical ignorance.  I develop the theme in general terms in the following posts:

I address the specific claim that the findings of modern neuroscience vindicate materialism in these posts:

“Against ‘neurobabble’” 

Reading Rosenberg, Part VIII [on pseudo-explanations in neuroscience]
Much of what contemporary materialist philosophers have to say in criticism of dualism rests on egregious distortions and/or ignorance of what dualist philosophers have actually said.  A good example of this tendency is provided by the work of Paul Churchland, as I have demonstrated at length in a series of posts:

I discuss a number of arguments in favor of dualism in another series of posts:

Discussions of the ideas and arguments of some historically influential anti-materialist thinkers can be found here:

Problems with Cartesian forms of dualism (which I reject) are discussed in the following posts:

 "Two, four, six, eight!  Who do you reincarnate?"

Discussion and defense of Thomistic or hylemorphic dualism (which I endorse) can be found in the following posts: 

How to animate a corpse [on Cartesian versus Aristotelian conceptions of the soul] 

Was Aquinas a dualist?

Averroism and cloud computing

Discussion of issues surrounding intentionality can be found in several posts:

"Coyne on intentionality"

A lengthy discussion of qualia and Frank Jackson’s knowledge argument can be found here:

Criticism of eliminative materialism can be found in a series of posts on Alex Rosenberg:

“Misinformation campaign” 

Reading Rosenberg, Part IX [on eliminative materialism in Rosenberg’s The Atheist’s Guide to Reality]

The ideas of various contemporary philosophers of mind and other writers on the mind are considered in the following:

Reading Rosenberg, Part X [on the discussion of Thomas Nagel’s “bat” argument and related arguments in Alex Rosenberg’s The Atheist’s Guide to Reality] 

Body movin’, mind thinkin’ [on Quine’s behaviorism]

Da Ya Think I’m Sphexy? [on Dennett, Hofstadter, and Sphex]

“Kurzweil’s Phantasms” [review in First Things of How to Create a Mind by Ray Kurzweil]

Finally, links to various posts on scientism (which is closely related to materialism) can be found here.


  1. Ed, could you do a post explaining the four causes of a thing?
    I'm reading your book Aquinas, which I really like, but I'm a bit confused with the four causes.

    You said: there are Material, Formal, Efficient and Final.

    You said the Efficient and Final go hand in hand like Material and Formal.
    But how? If the Efficient cause of a rubber ball is a factory that made that ball and the Final cause is (let's say) to provide enjoyment to a little boy; how are those 2 related? How exactly does one point to or is directed towards the other?

    It seemed like you started to say cause and effect relationships are Efficient cause and Final cause relationships.

    That throwing a brick at a window (Efficient cause) has the effect of breaking the window (Final cause). That much I get.

    But in the 4 causes of a thing (a red rubber ball) are the Efficient cause of that ball and the Final cause of that ball in that same kind of relationship?

    Or making a knife.
    The Efficient being the people who made the knife and let's say the Final is that knife cutting a steak.
    I don't get the cause and effect relationship for Efficient cause and Final cause for some thing.

    I hope that makes some sense.

    Trouble understanding how efficient causes and final causes for something (say a rubber ball) are in a relationship similar to a cause and effect relationship.

  2. One could get a pretty good education in A/T philosophy just by reading your posts and books. I am amazed at the depth and breadth of your erudition.

  3. It seemed like you started to say cause and effect relationships are Efficient cause and Final cause relationships.

    I'm sure Ed can add more, but this is essentially right: final causation is the selection of this effect rather than some other effect for the efficient cause (there has to be an explanation, for instance, why we are making red rubber balls rather than, say, blue birdbaths). That's why the final cause is called the 'cause of causes': it's the explanation for why the efficient cause has this result rather than some other. Ultimately the explanation for how the two are related is that given in the Fifth Way, but it's worth keeping in mind that any sort of direction or orientation or action that's not purely a matter of accident or chance is just what it is for something to have a final cause.

    One thing I'm not sure you're doing from your examples is keeping in mind that both efficient causes and final causes (and, indeed, the other two as well) can form a nested series. So, for instance, the final cause of cutting steak in the making of steak knives is pretty far down the way (so to speak) in the series of final causes; except for chance happenings, every thing that occurs in the making of a knife would have a final cause.

  4. That really helps.

    The 4 causes on their own made sense.
    But then when "cause and effect" was brought into the picture it threw me off a bit.
    I get what "cause and effect" relationships are; but them coupled with the terminology for "Efficient" and "Final" causes were muddying the water for me.
    I was getting how they were all related.

  5. On a related topic, is there a formal philosophical difference between "mind" and "soul"? If so, are there any good links out there which might explain this difference? I've seen the two used as synonyms before, and then again I've seen "mind" used as a synonym for "the intellect" (as distinct from the will). Yet again, I've seen the mind mentioned as distinct from the spirit (which would presumably include the soul), as for example in Robert P George's "Clash of Orthodoxies," in which he refers to the human person as "dynamic unity of body, mind, and spirit." The picture which I've developed is that the mind the the environment/medium/faculty (I don't know a good word to use as an analogy here) in/by/through which the intellect and the will work together, interact, etc. As such, it would be distinct from the soul--and from the intellect--but would be a part (or power, or faculty) of the soul. Is this a coherent definition for the mind? Or is it generally treated by philosophers as being the same as the soul?

  6. Glad you brought up the four causes. One example that confuses me, an example Prof. Feser uses in Aquinas, where he states, paraphrasing, the Moon's final cause is going the earth.

    This doesn't make sense to me because it appears the moon's orbiting around the earth is just the result of earth's gravitational impression into the space-time fabric which causes the moon to rotate around the earth. Given this, I'm not sure how the moon's orbiting is a final cause

    I must be misunderstanding something..?

  7. To the first Anon:

    Another way in which Material and Formal vs. Efficient and Final causes are related is that the first two are intrinsic, whereas the latter two are extrinsic. The first two are related because they are both within the being of which they are the cause. The latter two are related because they are both outside of the thing of which they are the cause.

  8. Maestro:

    Another way in which Material and Formal vs. Efficient and Final causes are related is that the first two are intrinsic, whereas the latter two are extrinsic.

    Not necessarily: the soul, for example, is at once the formal, efficient, and final cause of the living body, and it is not extrinsic thereto. See De Anima, 415b 9-12.


    If you have an argument for your position, give it. If you don't, go away.

  9. Maestro:

    “Another way in which Material and Formal vs. Efficient and Final causes are related is that the first two are intrinsic, whereas the latter two are extrinsic.”

    This is absolutely correct.


    “Not necessarily: the soul, for example, is at once the formal, efficient, and final cause of the living body, and it is not extrinsic thereto. See De Anima, 415b 9-12.”

    This is completely wrong.

    Insofar as the soul is the form of the body it is merely the formal cause and is intrinsic to the composite of form and matter. The soul as final cause is extrinsic and is simply the cause of the process of generation of the composite, as the end toward which that process is directed. Moreover, the soul is emphatically NOT the efficient cause of the living body; for the efficient cause is nothing else than the process of generation itself.

  10. Question:

    Are Thomists libertarians with respect to free will, or compatibilists?

  11. Ed,

    I share Charles R. Cherry's sentiments("I am amazed at the depth and breadth of your erudition.")

    Your superb books and blog have opened up a new world for me.

    Thank you for showing the truth and beauty of Thomism with such clarity.

    Please keep it up. I'll buy/read anything you write, and I recommend your work to anyone who will listen. A humble suggestion: an entire book on Thomistic dualism would be a delight!


  12. Great Roundup!

    I still have to read all your posts on the Mind-Body problem and this post really helps :)

    I still have to read your 'Philosophy of the Mind', which I am looking forward to since I enjoyed your witty 'The Last Superstition' and I think you did an excelent job in explaining Thomas Aquinas in 'Aquinas'.


    At certain trolls: sure Feser promotes his books... but so does everybody else.

    Look at the shameful attempts of Hawking to promote his book by blasting religion (think quite unworthy of a man such as S. Hawking)

    Besides there is nothing inherently wrong in promoting your own work.

    I'd add that Feser's books are worth buying, at least 'Aquinas' and 'The Last Superstition' (I did not read the others yet).

    If more people would read 'Aquinas' (and understand it a bit) there would be far less trolls in the blogosphere :)

  13. PS:

    Prof. Feser I'd like to know what you think about the theories of bicamerality proposed by Julian Jaynes

  14. Anonymous:

    >> This doesn't make sense to me because it appears the moon's orbiting around the earth is just the result of earth's gravitational impression into the space-time fabric which causes the moon to rotate around the earth. Given this, I'm not sure how the moon's orbiting is a final cause.

    That is a good point.

    I think that a Thomist could reply that the series of causal events that ultimately results in the end of the series (i.e. the telos) is part of a complex causal system. Again, the telos is just the end result of complex interactions within that causal system, and basically means that given that arrangement, you get this outcome as a result, but the telos is not necessarily within any single substance in the causal sequence. That means that the telos is not present within the moon itself as a goal to which it aspires, but rather the telos is the end result of the total physical system itself.

    Personally, I hate calling it a final “cause”, because it results in an equivocation that causes paradox and confusion. A cause necessarily must occur either before (or simultaneous with) an effect, and so the formal, efficient and material causes would all count as “causes”. However, the final “cause” occurs at the end of the causal sequence, and thus is not a genuine cause at all. But it is a part of the explanation, and the confusion between causes and reasons results in the paradox of how the final cause, which occurs at the end of the causal sequence, must be present at the beginning of the causal sequence somehow, being a “cause” after all. And that results in the drive to postulate some intellect that has the goal in mind at the beginning, analogous to how a human craftsman makes an artifact. But again, it all due to equivocation and confusion.

  15. Hello all,

    I'll write up a post on the four causes, and address the moon example there too. (Briefly, the moon example was merely intended as a simple illustration to make the point that final causality need not involve anything like biological function. Strictly speaking, though, the moon's orbit is not a reflection of its final causality qua moon but rather qua massive object. It has no essential connection to the earth per se.)

    Charles and Mike,

    Thanks for your very kind words!

  16. Dr Feser, I'm excited to read your expounded explanation of the moon example visa via final cause. Your books have been very revealing to me, and am very happy you are willing to interact with we who still have questions after having read said books.

    dguller, I sometimes think that the final cause may better named the "purpose".

  17. The mind-body problem arises from an intuition that, somehow, the mind is fundamentally different than matter. If that is the case, then at least two questions immediately arise.

  18. I'm not sure if you'll notice this comment Dr Feser, but I finished "Aquinas" at the start of June. I immediately ordered and read "Locke"; before I had finished "Locke" I had ordered "The Last Superstition".
    For the first time in my life I felt the persuasive power of Thomism.
    I won't say that I have been converted to this way of thinking - but I will say that you have identified what is distinctive about modern philosophy, and that you have examined it's foundation and demonstrated that there are cracks in the edifice.

    You have also shown that contemporary modes of thought were not inevitable, and that they are not rationally inescapable.

    John Tosh argues that history provides the modern world with a rich intellectual and experential resource, which allows us to see radically different answers to practical problems and to conceive alternatives to modern prejudices and biases. Your "trilogy" of books on modern thought provides a substantive resource for anyone seeking to understand our past, or anyone searching for answers to the moral and religious crises of the modern world.

    Graham Veale

  19. I agree with my fellow posters: Great roundup! This is enough food for thought for some time. I am looking forword to your next book about natural law ethics, Dr Feser!