Theory of Mind: Daniel Dennett vs. Thomas Nagel

Topics: Philosophy of mind, Mind, Consciousness Pages: 5 (1972 words) Published: January 6, 2013
Theory of Mind: Thomas Nagel and Daniel Dennett
The mind-body problem consists of two very different theories; Dualism and materialism. These are two theories that are on opposite sides of the spectrum and I will compare not only their ideas, but also the ways in which they coincide and oppose each other. From these two theories, I agree with materialism since I believe our consciousness and “life” consists of nothing more than the physical mind.

Dualism is the assumption that mental phenomena are both non-physical and physical, consisting of a physical body and a non-physical mind. A famous dualist was Thomas Nagel, whom attributed the consciousness of the mind to physical and non-physical properties. Thomas Nagel believed that dualism was the correct theory of life due to the fact that the consciousness of mind is too complex to have arisen through solely physical means. In his publication titled What is it like to be a bat? Nagel builds on his dualistic view of life and emphasizes how any purely physical explanation for the consciousness of mind, if existent, is in the distant intellectual future. Nagel believes that we have absolutely no conception of how a physical explanation for the mind-problem would be, and therefore strengthens his dualistic viewpoint of the mind. As stated in What is it like to be bat?, however, there are some restrictions as to whether an organism can be considered conscious, as described in the following statement “But fundamentally an organism has conscious mental states if and only if there is something that it is like to be that organism -- something it is like for the organism.” (Nagel 2). Nagel calls this the subjective character of experience and goes on to say that this idea is basically the opposite of the materialistic view since it is not captured by any reductive analyses. Nagel affirms that the subjective character exists and uses this as a form of discrediting materialism since the subjective character is not analyzed in the materialistic viewpoint which from Nagel’s viewpoint, is a sign of the incompleteness of the theory of materialism. Nagel further illustrates his idea of the subjective character by providing the example of being a bat. He states that it is impossible to imagine ourselves as a bat since our imagination is limited by our own personal experiences and that the most we could possibly imagine of our lives as bats would be how we can behave as bat or, in other words, how a human would feel as a bat, instead of how a bat feels as a bat. As said in What is it like to be a bat? “In the case of experience on the other hand, the connection with a particular point of view seems much closer. It is difficult to understand what could be meant by the objective character of an experience, apart from the particular point of view from which its subject apprehends it.” (Nagel 6) This point exemplifies the validity of the subjective character of experience and further evidence of dualism, since there is currently no form in which the specific point of view, a vital part of an organism’s subjective character of experience, can be explained through physical means and therefore, with our present intellectual limitations, the only plausible conclusion is to say that the consciousness of an individual is a combination of physical and non-physical identities. Nagel’s views on the theory of mind can be explained as dualistic in nature although he uses exotic arguments to justify his position. As I have stated above, Nagel commonly uses the subjective character of a bat and our inability to experience this character as a means of further proving that dualism is most possible the correct choice. Nagel also believes that in virtually all subjects of the mind, having an objective view allows you to see the bigger picture and, therefore, have a more precise and accurate understanding of that specific subject. An exception to this rule, however, is experience, since the actual specific...
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