These days, neuroscience seems to have a monopoly on the mind. Flip to the science section of an established newspaper or magazine, and you’ll likely see the most alluring headlines describing the latest neural findings. So, now that powerful methods of neuroimaging can delve deeper into the structure of the brain than ever before, is there anything that we don’t know about the mind? Well, yes. Apart from stating that it is a manifestation of the brain, science doesn’t offer much to explain what the mind is. In an unfortunate turn for neuroscience, no amount of brain scanning will reveal that, either.
It is at this sort of juncture that science passes the baton to philosophy. Over the past few weeks, we’ve brought you two introductory philosophy courses (Critical Reasoning for Beginners and A Romp Through Ethics for Complete Beginners) by Oxford University’s Marianne Talbot.
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Today, we bring you another of Talbot’s excellent philosophical primers: A Romp Through the Philosophy of Mind. The five-part lecture series begins with a discussion of René Descartes’ dualism, which comprises the idea that the mind is non-physical and is therefore distinct from the body. The course then moves through an exposition of Identity Theory, according to which all of our mental states are merely manifestations of an analogous set of brain processes. Once Talbot outlines the drawbacks to each of these theories, she explains the views of several other phenomenological camps, including the epiphenomenalists, who see mental states as real but not physical, and eliminativists, who do not think that mental states are real at all. She then promptly proceeds to upend these conceptions of the mind. As with all of Talbot’s previous courses, this one is highly recommended.
A Romp Through the Philosophy of Mind is currently available on the University of Oxford website in both audio and video formats, and also on iTunesU. (See the lectures above.) You can find it listed in our collection of Free Online Philosophy Courses, alongside classes like Contemporary Issues in Philosophy of Mind & Cognition, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, and Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenology of Perception. They're all part of our collection, 1200 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.