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A brief inspection into Australian Materialism:

By christianshadbolt May 26, 2014 1853 Words
A brief inspection into Australian Materialism:

The views of the Australian materialists on the identification of the mind and the body, simply stated, are that states and processes of the mind are identical to states and processes of the brain. Henceforth these philosophers (for the purpose of this article I will be referring in particular to Smart and Armstrong’s views on the matter) assume the position that all processes of the mind and experiences are due to physical reactions occurring in the brain and that these physical processes can account for the mental states that one may encounter. Smart’s takes a Materialist stance regarding the identification of the mind and body, and a more scientific one at that, believing that everything can be explained in terms of physics and that man is simply a configuration of particles (Smart, 142, 1959). It’s his scientific view, a view which denotes that science be the chief mediator in explaining those events surrounding us, that leads to the rejection of the idea of the mind. Armstrong likewise takes the view that the mind and brain are a singular unit and the brain’s neurological activities can accommodate all experiences that are said to be of the mind. It is his view, much the same as Smart’s that mental states are in fact states of the brain and ‘the mind is simply the brain’ (Smart, 73, 1959)

Smart’s identity theory simply claims that sensations are brain processes. As mentioned above the materialist perspective adopted by Smart urges us to see identity theory like any other common theoretical identification in science. While smart understands that it is difficult for science to articulate events such as sensations he believes that as essentially everything can be described through science, it is “frankly unbelievable” (Armstrong, 142, 1968) that an explanation of sensations cannot be deductively reached through science. Smart, makes a clear distinction in his explanation of sensations as brain processes and that is, that it is not his hypothesis that sensations, or “reports of sensations such as “aches”, mean the same as brain process X (where X is a brain process)(Smart, 144, 1959). More specifically he elaborates an ache is a report of a process that happens “to be a brain process” (Smart, 144, 1959). These sensations statement that we experience, such as aches and pains, or his preferred example of a orange after image are thus merely reports of something occurring and that something is in fact a brain process. When a person says ‘I see a yellowish-orange after-image’ (Smart, 141, 1959) he is saying something like this: "There is something going on which is like what is going on when I have my eyes open, am awake, and there is an orange illuminated in good light in front of me" (Smart, 149, 1959). In explaining his theory on identity, Smart explores a range of objections to his Physicalist theory of the mind and the body, the more decisive and intriguing of which will be explored later in the paper. According to Smart, there is no conceivable experiment which could decide between materialism and dualism, the statement “sensations are brain processes,”(Smart, 144, 1959) therefore, is not a straight-out scientific hypothesis, but should be adopted on other grounds. It is thus, Occam’s razor which comes to be Smart’s chief determinant in his belief that sensations are, in fact, brain processes (Smart, 142, 1959). The rule states that if we are faced with two explanations that seem to explain certain situation, and be able to predict it, equally well, we should favour the simplest of the two as the most probable (Baker and Alan, 2010). Smart explains that there is no “cogent philosophical arguments”(Smart, 156, 1959) which force us into accepting dualism and he believes that it forces one to believe a large number of irreducible psychological laws “that have to be taken on trust”(Smart, 156, 1959) and because of the equality in argument between materialism and dualism thus the simpler argument must be adopted and that is in his belief that the mind and brain are essentially one. In Armstrong’s work; A Materialist of the Mind, Armstrong expresses a version of the mind and brain identification theory which adopts a more scientific view that humans are nothing more than physic-chemical mechanisms and thus adopts the perspective that we can give a complete account of man in purely physical-chemical terms (Armstrong, 78, 1968), he declares that the task for philosophy is to work out an account of the mind which is compatible with this view. It is in this sense a highly relevant argument to Smart’s in regards to identity theory. In expressing central state materialism, Armstrong acknowledges that; as to the inner working of the brain and thus the “nature of these inner states” (Armstrong, 75, 1968) it is a matter of “high-level scientific speculation” and it will be essentially though science that the argument ill be decided.

Armstrong describes “the conception of a mental state as a state of the person apt for producing certain sorts of behavior.” (Smart, 91, 1968) as nothing more than physical occurrences. This view correlates with his answer to the question, what in fact is the intrinsic nature of these (mental) causes? He answers this by stating that they are physical states of the central nervous system. In keeping with his scientific perspective Armstrong draws on the DNA molecule as evidence for his hypothesis of the mind as the brain. In invoking the scientific precedent whereby DNA molecules were found to perform the causal role in the transmission of heritable characteristics in genes. He thus seeks to convince his audience, on the basis that in fact genes are DNA molecules, that science may eventually find the causal role between the brain and physic-chemical states of the brain and mental states (Armstrong, 90, 1968). In a sense this example mirrors Smarts, whereby he explains that in fact lightning is identical to an electrical discharge; water is identical to H2O, so while we now know that DNA molecules are identical to genes these are all cases in which our common-sense framework has been reduced to a new conceptual framework, the case he believes will eventually come about with the mind and brain (Smart, 145, 1959). As with any interpretation, especially, philosophical ones there are objections and the Materialists interpretation of the body and mind is in no way different. A key objection raised and defended, but not fully so, by Smart is that even if sensations are brain processes, still, they have peculiar mental properties, and these properties are not just physical properties and by the very merits of objections one and two he states “the qualities of sensations are over and above the qualities of brain processes” (Smart, 148, 1959). Smart seeks to reply to this problem by analyzing mental concepts in a way that does not make any commitment to whether the conceived states are physical or non-physical. In seeking to discredit the objection he seeks to explain that these events, that these mental concepts, that may not have been available via scientific description as topic-neutral. He once again relies upon the Morning Star example as a means of defence (Smart, 146, 1959). While it is not that the Morning Star has distinctive properties compared with the Evening Star, an individual may not know that the properties they ascribe to the Morning Star also apply to the Evening Star they may even insist they are distinct properties. Similarly, one might think sensations have properties which neurological states lack, like being subjectively felt thus it is better to construe what people say in topic-neutral terms: When a person says they see a yellow after-image, we should not take them to be referring yellow to an after-image, we should take them to be saying something is occurring which is like what occurs when she sees yellow (Smart, 141, 1959). This leaves open the possibility what is occurring (when she sees yellow) is neurological so we do not commit to the existence of non- neurological properties. In addition to this Smart uses his prime example that one may have an orangish-visual experience therefore there is something going on in "me which is like what is going on when, for example, my eyes are open an I am looking at an orange object" (Smart, 149, 1959). Firstly, Smart analyses sensations in terms of what the normal stimulus is and secondly a similarity between ones present experience and the experience one has when stimulated in that normal way. It is Smart's view that all orangish visual experiences will all be similar because they are brain processes of the same neurological type (Smart, 149, 1959). Unfortunately this too leaves open the dualists account for the process through means of an immaterial process and this too is something for science to explain, however Smart relies ones again on Occam’s razor as a means of defence, in that he takes the simplest route to the answer as truth (Smart, 156, 1959). This account for the objection too relies his ability to report that one thing “is like another without being able to state the respect in which it is like”(Smart, 150, 1959) and it is Smart’s inability to fully account for this which leaves his defence lacking.

The Australian Materialists in question certainly bring up a strong argument for the stance on the identity theory, with which they assume. The strict mind and brain correlation they assume is highly merited, however, the lack of scientific research and abilities in there time meant their arguments could only go so far. Their arguments stem from a scientific standpoint well ahead of their years. While those sensory outputs such as aches can be ascribed to physical processes in the brain, Materialism still has problems describing those psychological phenomena such as thoughts, beliefs, desires and intentions. A thought experiment conducted personally illustrates my view on the Materialists mind and brain concept. If I were to set up a computer with sensory pads surrounding it completely and programmed the device to scream “ouch” or “stop” (of coarse, both the act of screaming – can a computer scream, or the words used are irrelevant, however, I find personification an interesting concept in this experiment) when it’s hit with such force as to coarse it damage; is it experiencing pain? The answer to which is no. While the hitting of it may coarse damage the purely physical composition of the computer will not allow it to experience pain, or at least not in the sense relevant to humans. These physical processes can be recreated in the brain, as physical functions we now know to enable us to feel pain, the problem there lies in our experiences of things such as hope and ambition and until the day computer can be taught to experience such things or scientists can depict the neural frameworks of these experiences the dualist contention must be taken seriously.

The Ethics of Killing:Problems at theMargins of Life, Jeff McMahan ,OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS

Baker, Alan, "Simplicity", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2010 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = .

Sensations and Brain Processes
Author(s): J. J. C. Smart
Source: The Philosophical Review, Vol. 68, No. 2 (Apr., 1959), pp. 141-156

David M. Armstrong (1968). A Materialist Theory of the Mind

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