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The Nature of the Mind

An introduction          




“This book is excellent, certainly a deserving addition to the existing texts in the philosophy of mind. It is also distinctive both in the topics it covers and in its approach to those topics. " Curtis Brown, Trinity University, USA     


The Nature of the Mind is a comprehensive and lucid introduction to major themes in the philosophy of mind. It carefully explores the conflicting positions that have arisen within the debate and locates the arguments within their context. It is designed for newcomers to the subject and assumes no previous knowledge of the philosophy of mind.


Clearly written and rigorously presented, this book is ideal for use in undergraduate courses in the philosophy of mind.


Main topics covered include:

·                    the problem of other minds

·                    the dualist/physicalist debate

·                    the nature of personal identity and survival

·                    mental-state concepts


The book closes with a number of pointers towards more advanced work in the subject. Study questions and suggestions for further reading are provided at the end of each chapter.


The Nature of the Mind is based on Peter Carruthers’ book, Introducing Persons, also published by Routledge (1986).

Praise for Introducing Persons:

"An unfailingly lucid and succinct introduction to the philosophy of mind, rigorously argued, comprehensive and up-to-dare." TLS

"A few excellent [textbooks] have appeared in recent years. The present book is one of the best." Teaching Philosophy

"This is a very lucid and well organised book. It manages both to be a textbook and to present an original argument." Mind


Peter Carruthers is Professor and Chair of Philosophy at the University of Maryland. His recent books include Phenomenal Consciousness (2000), The Philosophy of Psychology (1999) and Language, Thought and Consciousness (1996).




List of figures




  1. The problem of other minds
    1. The problem
    2. Attempted solutions to the problem
    3. The uniqueness of consciousness
    4. Certainty and meaning

Questions for discussion

Further reading


  1. Strong dualism: body and soul
    1. Developing an argument for dualism
    2. Difficulties for strong dualism
    3. Hume’n bundles
    4. Against the bundle theory


Questions for discussion

Further reading


  1. Identity and the soul
    1. The concept of identity
    2. Soul identity over time
    3. Soul identification at a time
    4. The argument for dualism reconsidered


Questions for discussion

Further reading


  1. Rationalism, Empiricism, and the soul
    1. Rationalism versus Empiricism
    2. Should we be Empiricists?
    3. The empirical evidence for the soul
    4. Alternative explanations


Questions for discussion

Further reading


  1. The case for physicalism
    1. Arguments for mind-brain identity
    2. Ramifications: types, tokens and other minds
    3. Difficulties for mind-brain identity
    4. The necessity of identity


Questions for discussion

Further reading


  1. After-life for physicalists
    1. Resurrection
    2. Reincarnation
    3. Double difficulties or secondary survival?
    4. Limits of individual survival


Questions for discussion

Further reading


  1. The case for theory-theory
    1. From Cartesian conception to philosophical functionalism

2. Theory-theory and its opponents

3. Developing the theory: theorizing versus innateness

4. The problem of other minds revisited

Questions for discussion

Further reading


8.   Problems and prospects

            1. Artificial minds

            2. Free will

            3. Intentionality

            4. Consciousness


Questions for discussion

Further reading






This book is about the fundamental nature of ourselves, and the metaphysical character of our minds. (Metaphysical questions are questions concerning the most general structure of reality.) Many people throughout the course of human history, across all human cultures, have believed themselves to be distinct from their physical bodies, and have used this belief to ground a hope for some form of life after death. They have believed that they themselves are non-physical spirits or souls, who are connected with a particular body during life somewhat as a captain is connected with his ship – it is via the effects of the world upon that body that the self is caused to undergo experiences of the world, and it is via the effects of its intentions and decisions upon that body that the self is able to move about in, and have an effect upon, the world in turn. And such people have hoped that when they die, they themselves (i.e. their souls) will continue to exist, perhaps subject to other forms of experience and other capacities for agency.

            Such beliefs are no longer popular amongst philosophers. Few are now prepared to defend a dualism of soul and body. Most are now physicalists of one sort or another, believing that both the self and its mental states are physical in nature. In consequence, it is common for introductory books on philosophy of mind to deal quite briskly with the dualist position, moving swiftly on to physicalism, functionalism, and issues of contemporary debate. In consequence, many students of the subject feel short-changed, I believe. They think that their initial beliefs have not been taken sufficiently seriously, and they feel bullied into accepting the physicalist framework. Although I, too, am a physicalist, I shall take dualism extremely seriously in this book. I present, and carefully analyze and discuss, the strongest arguments in support of a dualism of self and body, as well as displaying the latter’s major weaknesses. And the various objections and obstacles to physicalism, too, are carefully analyzed in turn.

            The book begins, however, with a discussion of the traditional problem of other minds. The question is: how do I know that the people around me are subject to thoughts and feelings, and how do I know what they are thinking or feeling on particular occasions? Various proposed solutions to the problem are discussed and criticized, and the assumptions which give rise to the problem are isolated and defended. One of these assumptions is metaphysical, namely the belief that conscious states are quite unlike anything else that we find in the natural world. At the end of the chapter the problem of other minds remains, to be unpicked gradually in later chapters of the book.

            Chapter 2 then turns to concentrate on matters metaphysical. It first develops and defends a purported proof of the existence of the soul, before replying to some of the traditional criticisms of body / soul dualism. One of the assumptions of the proof is that thoughts require a thinker (and more generally that mental states require a subject or self). This assumption is challenged by the so-called ‘bundle theory’ of the self, which forms the topic of the second half of the chapter. The bundle theory is argued to be untenable, leaving the argument for the existence of the soul still standing.

            Chapter 3 then investigates the identity-conditions for a non-physical soul or self. It asks what would fundamentally make it the case that an earlier and a later soul are different stages in the existence of the very same self. And it asks what fundamentally makes it the case that different souls are distinct from one another at one and the same time. This latter question builds into a purported proof of the non-existence of the soul, arguing that the available criteria for individuating souls would conflict with our considered beliefs about the distinctness of different selves. Accordingly, we have a paradox: a seeming-proof (from chapter 2) of the existence of the soul; and now a seeming-proof of its non-existence. The final section of the chapter revisits the argument of chapter 2, and succeeds in discovering a non-obvious fallacy within it.

            Chapter 4 locates the arguments from the previous two chapters within the Rationalist tradition in philosophy, in that they attempt to generate knowledge of substantive matters of fact (such as the existence or non-existence of non-physical souls) through the use of reason alone, unaided by experience. The contrasting Empiricist tradition is explained and defended. And then in the second half of the chapter the alleged empirical evidence for the existence of the soul is examined and discussed (including near-death experiences, remembrance of past lives, and messages from the spirit-world). The upshot is that neither Rationalism nor Empiricism supports the existence of the soul.

            Chapter 5 then develops the main (empirical) arguments for physicalism, which is the doctrine that both selves and their mental states are physical in character. Distinctions between different versions of physicalism are drawn, and a partial solution to the problem of other minds is arrived at. But then the second half of the chapter is concerned to examine the myriad objections which have been mounted against physicalism, arguing that none is obviously successful.

            Chapter 6 confronts the main non-philosophical argument for the existence of the soul, namely that belief in life after death – grounded in some form of religious faith – requires it. The chapter argues, on the contrary, that physicalism is consistent with after-life through resurrection of the body, and also with various forms of reincarnation, before arguing that we should conceptualize our own survival in terms that don’t require identity. The upshot, then, by this stage of the book, is that there are no convincing arguments against physicalism or for the existence of the soul, whereas there exist powerful arguments for physicalism; which leaves physicalism as the most rationally believable metaphysical position overall.

            Chapter 7 then returns to the question of how we conceptualize mental states, challenging another assumption made in chapter 1, namely that the meaning of mental terms is exhausted by a capacity to recognize the ‘feel’ of the corresponding mental state. This assumption is criticized, before the reader is taken through a brisk tour of behaviorism and functionalism, finally lighting on so-called ‘theory-theory’ as the most plausible account. (Theory-theorists hold that mentalistic concepts are embedded in a substantive theory of the causal workings of the mind.) Reasons are adduced for thinking that the theory in question is innate, before this idea is put to work in generating a finally satisfying solution to the problem of other minds.

            In conclusion, in chapter 8, various outstanding problems and prospects for physicalism are briefly outlined and discussed. The chapter is intended to provide a pointer towards more advanced work in the subject. Topics discussed include artificial intelligence, free will, the prospects for reductive theories of intentionality (or the content of beliefs and desires) and consciousness.

            Although this book is designed as an introduction to issues in the philosophy of mind, it is not an introduction to philosophy. On the contrary, it presupposes some familiarity with philosophical methods, and with some of the basic philosophical concepts, such as valid / invalid, logically possible / impossible, and so on. While I do try to explain any such terminology briefly on the first occasion of use (see the concept box below for some initial examples), students new to the subject should probably take a little time working with one or another of the many excellent philosophical dictionaries and encyclopedias whenever a concept which is new to them first occurs.


Insert box ‘Some philosophical terminology’ about here


            I should also emphasize that the book ‘warms up’ a good deal as it goes along, and that readers are likely to find the chapters in the middle and later part of the book more intuitive and appealing than those at the beginning. This is largely a result of the Rationalist framework which governs the arguments of the opening chapters, making them seem somewhat dry and narrowly philosophical. Purported proofs from reason alone are apt to seem less interesting than discussions of empirical evidence – and rightly so if, as I believe, Empiricism is the correct framework within which to conduct enquiry. I can only urge the reader to be patient, and to give each of the arguments careful consideration on its own merits.

            Each chapter closes with some questions for discussion, and with some suggestions for further reading. Many of the latter are classic books and articles, which any student of the subject should be acquainted with; but I do also include some contemporary readings (especially in later chapters); and whenever I refer to an author in the text, a relevant item is always then included amongst the suggested readings.

            Philosophy of mind is one of the most vibrant and exciting areas of contemporary philosophical research. Indeed, it has been the growth area of the subject over the last couple of decades, and many people now regard it as the very ‘core’ of philosophy – in something like the way that philosophy of language used to be regarded as central to philosophy in the 1960s and 70s. I hope that readers working through this book will go away ‘fired up’, wanting to do further work in philosophy of mind and philosophy of psychology. In any case, and above all else: enjoy!