All posts by Alana Weinstock

The Failure of Dualism to Adhere to Today’s Scientific Empiricism

In  J.J.C Smart’s “Sensations and Brain Processes”, he explores the relationship between the mind and body, specifically delving into the shortcomings of the theory of Dualism. As we learned last week by reading Churchland, Dualism distinguishes the mind from the body, categorizing consciousness as unable to be investigated by empirical science. Within this school of thought are a variety of sub-theories such Substance Dualism, Popular Dualism, and Property Dualism. Smart however, asserts that “there are no philosophical arguments which compel us to be dualists” (Smart 143). In other words, Smart fails to see the logical reasoning behind Dualism, and instead proposes his Identity Theory of the Mind. Under this school of thought, while there is a slight distinction between mental states and brain processes, there are no non-physical properties. Although the physical properties may be vague or difficult to comprehend, they are still all physical properties.

In his attack on Churchland’s notion of Dualism, Smart states: “[the idea] that everything should be explicable in terms of physics except the occurrence of sensations seems to me to be frankly unbelievable” (Smart 142). Smart does not see why sensations should be granted such scientific leniency. His Identity Theory of Mind highlights the failure of Dualists to explain why sensations are not subjected to the same logical scientific expectations.

However, Smart does spend considerable time grappling with the notion of sensations. He uses the example of pain to ultimately highlight the nuances between a mental state and a brain process. An ache is a “report of a brain process”, but it is not the same as the sensation of feeling pain (Smart 144). Thus, his thesis does not state that a sensation can be directly translated into a brain process, but does explain that the two are inextricably correlated. Sensations and mental states can exist, just as by-products of specific brain processes.

When I initially reach Churchland, I found myself siding with the Dualists. Specifically, I identified with the notion of Popular Dualism, which envisions the mind as a “ghost in a machine”. Yet, this week when I read Smart’s attack on Dualism my opinions began to shift. Churchland’s account of Dualism was initially compelling enough to allow me to overlook information and experiences I have obtained in Psychology and Neuroscience classes. I realized I had been swept up in the rhetoric of Churchland’s Dualism and had forgotten the scientific basis behind Smart’s objection’s to Dualism. Every day, more and more current research reveals biological connections behind mental processes that we as a society have always struggled to pinpoint with empiricism. Thus, I find myself siding with Smart. However, as I was reading these two pieces I began to ponder the role of religion in this discussion. As a self-described unreligious individual, how is my perception of my mind/body/spirit connection potentially skewed from that of someone who has grown up religious? I would be interested to hear from peers with religious experiences to see if they believe their opinions on Dualism have been shaped by their religion.

An Attack on Skepticism

In this week’s reading, G.E. Moore explores the concept of certainty in a direct attack on skepticism. He begins his argument with the supposition: “I know for certain that I am standing up” (Moore 361). Using this claim as an example, he goes on to highlight the fallacy of the justified true belief account of knowledge, suggesting it is impossible to establish true sureness over the supposition that one knows for certain when they are standing up. Moving broader, he offers that if one can never know for certain that they are standing up, they also can never truly know that they are conscious and not dreaming. As we human beings define our vitality by our ability to be self-aware, he essentially throws our entire existence into question.

As Moore further blurs the lines between dreams and reality, uncertainty and certainty, he proves that these concepts may not actually exist as the purely dichotomous entities that we usually assume. Instead, it is entirely possible that we can be deceived by “the evidence of our senses” (Moore 363). He states: “For if it is not certain that I am not dreaming, it is not certain that I even have the evidence of my senses that I am standing up” (Moore 363). In other words, if one lacks definitive evidence that they are not dreaming, that uncertainty can be extended over any supposition such as whether or not one is actually standing up.

Although this destruction of certainty would seem to upset and disturb most people (perhaps even send a philosophy student to the hospital), Moore handles this notion with relative tranquility. He accepts that we may never know anything for certain yet remains comfortable with the idea that it is highly unlikely that we are all constantly in a dream-like state. By looking at the matter from a quasi-probabilistic perspective, rather than an emotional one, Moore is able to withhold passing judgments and is more successful in dismissing skepticism.

If everyone lived as a skeptic, constantly refuting the idea of any truths including a “real world”, there would simply be no motivation or accountability. Moore would agree that while it is important to grapple with the notion of certainty, attempts to absolutely destroy it are neither productive nor factual-based. Trying to prove that one is not conscious is just as fruitless as searching for conclusive evidence that one is in fact dreaming. As frustrating as that notion may seem at first, Moore accepts it with relative ease and perhaps we all should too in order to survive in this uncertain world.


(I found this cartoon to be a perfect illustration of the frustrating and redundant nature of skepticism that Moore touches on)