Metaphysics and the Philosophy of the Mind

Dr Adam Stewart-Wallace

MetaphysicsMetaphysics is the philosophical study of what there is and what it is like. The dominant view today is naturalism of one form or another—the view that the natural sciences give the pre-eminent taxonomy of the world. This raises the question: what is the place of mind in nature? How are we to reconcile our view of ourselves as thinking things with our view of ourselves as natural creatures?

We will start by asking how mental activity might causally engage with physical objects. In other words: how do our thoughts, decisions, and feelings make any difference to what our bodies do, and how does the condition of our bodies affect them in turn? This problem is canonically associated with Descartes, and it is generally thought to have undermined his dualistic account of the relation of the human soul to the animal body. We’ll look at contemporary variants of this problem, and how it informs naturalistic treatments of the mind. We’ll also look at other idiosyncratic features of the mental that are difficult to reconcile with a scientific construal of ourselves. These include the felt character of experience, the perspectival location of one’s own consciousness and the necessary unity of the mind.

Answering these questions will require tackling problems in fundamental metaphysics, regarding for example the nature of causation, existence and explanation. The course will thus serve as an exercise both in the philosophy of mind and general metaphysics. We will address some of the most profound questions in the history of philosophy, as well as taking in some of its most remarkable and recent landmarks.

Questions will include

  •  Is everything physical?
  • Do your decisions cause your actions?
  • Could you survive your bodily death?
  • Do only you know what you are really thinking?
  • What makes my mind mine and yours yours?
  • Is your mind identical to your brain?
  • What is it like to be a bat?
  • Could a computer understand English?
  • Could a Martian feel pain?
  • What is the relation of philosophy to natural science?

Intended Audience

Undergraduate-level students with or without a background in philosophy. All key concepts will be explained, and it is the express intention of this course to give participants an informed introduction to Metaphysics and the Philosophy of Mind which they can then develop with regard to academic philosophy or other disciplines.

Previous Knowledge

No previous knowledge is required.

Transferable Knowledge and Skills

The course will develop critical thinking, reading, and writing skills.