All posts by Donald Kirkwood Avant

The Mind-Body Problem

Although there are several theories of dualism, they all encompass the central idea that nature of conscious intelligence dwells in something nonphysical. This nonphysical location of the nature of conscious intelligence will forever be beyond the reach of most sciences. Complex and arguably problematic, dualism has come to be one of the most dominant theories of mind amongst the public and most of the world for much of Western History. The question is, which theory of mind is correct? Do they explain how the mental state is related to the physical world and our behavior?

What distinguishes dualism apart from other theories of mind and the nature of conscious intelligence is that it defines each mind as a, “distinct nonphysical thing, an individual ‘packages’ of nonphysical substance, a thing whose identity is independent of any body to which it may be temporarily ‘attached’” (Churchland). On this account, one can argue that the substance dualists’ definition of mind theory is predominantly negative. However there are positive accounts that do prevail, the most highly acclaimed being that of the philosopher Rene Descartes. Descartes theorized that reality is made up of two kinds of substance, one that is extended in space and another that cannot be accounted for in terms of the mechanics of matter. This second substance and way of thinking known as Cartesian dualism proposed by Descartes has no special extension or position. Contrarily, it is centered on the activity of thinking. In other words, this non-spatial thinking substance separate from your material body has a systematic casual interaction with the body. These casual connections to your body are what make the body distinct to the individual. However, if the non spatial thinking substance has no connection to matter, how can it have any casual affect on the body which is grounded in matter substance? Such difficulties with Cartesian dualism caused the consideration of a less radical form of dualism, popular dualism. “This is the theory that a person is literally a ‘ghost in a machine’, where the machine is the human body, and the ghost is a spiritual substance” (Churchland). This theory does not run into the same problems as Cartesian dualism because the mind is in contact with the brain, this exchange of energy that defines this casual contact however has yet to be understood by scientists. This view of dualism is particularly favorable because it agrees with the laws of conservation of momentum, which are widely established, as well as leads to the question of whether or not the mind could survive the death of the body. Unfortunately, we do not have much evidence to support this idea.

An altogether different theory of the mind is property dualism which states that, “there is no substance to be dealt with here beyond the physical brain, the brain has a special set of properties possessed by no other kind of physical object” (Churhcland). In other words, it is the special set of properties that are non-physical that are distinguishable of conscious intelligence. Property dualism consists of epiphenomenalism, which states that mental phenomena are not a part of the physical phenomena of the brain. Furthermore, mental phenomenon is caused by physical activities in the bran but in return do not have any casual effects on the brain itself. Does this prove that there is a concurrence between volitions and actions? Due to the epiphenomenalist radical position on mental properties, a more widely accepted view of dualism known as integrationist property dualism was theorized which differs from property dualism in that mental properties do have casual effects on the brain and behavior. Contrary to property dualism, one’s behavior and choices can be attributed to one’s desires and volitions. Dualists argue that mental states and properties are irreducible and novel properties, meaning they are, “beyond prediction or explanation by physical science”(Churchland). One problematic issue with dualism is its basic stance on the irreducibility of mental properties. If we assume that mental properties are emergent, then shouldn’t a physical account of them be possible? Many dualists ten to favor one claim or the other, however some support a further view know as elemental-property dualism that compares mental properties to that of electromagnetic properties. If irreducibility is one of dualism’s most basic claims yet it presents us with numerous questions and issues, why should we accept it? Why would someone be a dualist?

Although complex and filled with questions of credibility, there are many arguments that support as well as refute the belief in dualism. First, most world religions in a way support dualism in that they believe in an immortal soul and contemplate the purpose of Man in the universe. Further supportive cases are the argument from introspection and the argument from irreducibility. A prominent refutation of Dualism however is known as the Problem of Other Minds. In order to believe that there are other minds than our own, we observe the behaviors of the other organisms. This is problematic however because we only know that mental states cause our own behaviors. “Hence, if dualism is true, we cannot know that other people have minds at all. But common sense tells us that others do have minds. Since common sense can be trust, dualism is false” (Calef). The problem of other minds can be used to support alternative mental state theories such as behaviorism or functionalism. This complicates our understanding of dualism even further because we are presented with many supporting as well as counter arguments to dualism and its theories on the nature of conscious intelligence. Due to its complexity and highly problematic nature, should we accept dualism as truth, or disregard it altogether and search for an alternative solution to the mind-body problem?

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The Problem of Induction

Inductive inference is a type of method that many scientists use to arrive at general claims from premises and observed samples. Historically however, philosophers such as David Hume have argued that inductive reasoning is unjustified and problematic in many ways. Pritchard explores this idea known as “the problem of induction” in Chapter 10.

An example of an observation is: Every observed emu has been flightless. Therefore the inductive inference would be: All Emus are flightless. Before Humes created his argument, this inference would seem justifiable so long as the observation was made in a range of cases that represented it. Humes however brings to question, “… how we could be sure that the regularities that are observed within a representative sample should increase the likelihood that the unrestricted generalization is true” (Pritchard 102). This proves that in order to defend that an inductive inference is justifiable, one must use yet another inductive claim. The epistemic support for inductive inferences is circular. From this, we conclude that there can be no non-circular justification for inductive inferences. This dilemma is known as the problem of induction and leaves us with the issue of whether we can justify inductive reasoning considering the fact Humes has presented us with the problem of induction. Do we conclude that induction needs no justification? Do we side with epistemic internalists who believe one must always have supporting grounds?

Since scientists are prone to use inductive reasoning, is the problem of Induction merely a something we can live with? Popper suggests that, “we don’t in fact make use of inductive inferences all that often” (103). Popper presents us with falsification, an alternative method for proceeding deductively through the problem of induction. Simply put, we must create generalizations then seek to refute them by finding evidence that counters the generalization. Is falsification a useful way to avoid the problem of induction? Philosophers argue that although falsification may temporarily solve the problem of induction, it suggest that in fact we don’t know much about scientific knowledge and we don’t know that many generalizations are indeed false.

Another solution to the problem of induction is Pragmatism. If we assume there is no justification for induction and we don’t employ induction and believe it is rational, we won’t have many true beliefs in this world. Pritchard states, “If we do use induction, at least we have the chance to form lots of true beliefs about the world through our inductive inferences” (107). This is the pragmatic response to the problem of induction. We face a choice between either using induction to gain true beliefs, or believing it is not justifiable and losing all potential true beliefs about the world.

Falsification and Pragmatism leave us with a choice to make in take for defining and justifying induction. Do we side with Humes, Popper, or one of the numerous other philosophers who believe they have arrived at solutions for the problem of induction? Vickers argues, “In recent times inductive methods have fissioned and multiplied, to an extent that attempting to define induction would be more difficult than rewarding… it is safe to say that in the absence of further assumptions this problem is and should be insoluble.” (Vickers). In other words, attempting to justify induction further complicates the problem because it raises even more questions. This leads us to the conclusion that the problem of induction is merely something we must live with in order for us to continue our scientific studies and the search for true beliefs in our world.

Outside source: Vickers, John, “The Problem of Induction”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>.


How Do We Define Knowledge?

How do we define Knowledge? This is a fundamental question that epistemologists debate and have formed numerous arguments towards. In Chapter 3, Pritchard suggest that the task to define knowledge is centered on the problem of criterion. The problem of criterion proposes two claims, the first being, “I can only identify instances of knowledge provided I already know what the criteria for knowledge are” (Pritchard 20). The second claim is “I can only know what the criteria for knowledge are provided I am already able to identify instances of knowledge” (Pritchard 21). As epistemologists, these claims give us two options. We can either assume we know the criteria for knowledge and use them to identify cases of knowledge (methodism), or we can assume that we can identify cases of knowledge and deduce the criteria for knowledge from similarities between these cases (particularism). These two methods counter each other and split epistemologists into separate beliefs about how to go about finding a definition for knowledge.

Although Pritchard stresses in Chapter 3 the importance of justification for one’s belief, he also states that matters are not that straightforward. This is due to the work of Edmund Gettier, who throws a wrench in the classical theory of knowledge. Pritchard presents us with an example where John reads the correct time from a stopped clock. In the case, John meets the conditions for the classical theory of knowledge; however, John’s JTB is based on luck. Gettier therefore argues that there is a fault in the JTB definition of knowledge due to the fact that luck can sometimes still sneak in. According to Gettier, John would not have knowledge.

Naturally, Gettier’s counter-examples to the classical theory of knowledge caused uproar in the philosophy/epistemology community. In response, epistemologists have attempted to narrow the gap between JTB and knowledge, “… a natural idea is to amend one’s analysis of knowledge by including an explicit ‘anti-luck’ condition” (Ichikawa). One major concern is the factor of presuppositions in Gettier’s work. Can we say that you have knowledge if one has a justified true belief and none of the presuppositions are false? Pritchard explains, “… it is difficult to spell out this idea of a presupposition such that it is strong enough to deal with Gettier cases and yet not so strong that it prevents us from having most of the knowledge what we think we have” (26).  The complex question of what defines as a presupposition is raised. D. M. Armstrong argues that, “Gettier’s examples are defective because they rely on the false principle that false propositions can justify one’s belief in other propositions” (Feldman 68). Between these opposing beliefs, there is a middle ground where we must have an understanding of presuppositions so that Gettier cases hold, yet non-Gettier cases are not affected by this understanding.

So have we found a method yet that will help us arrive at a definition for knowledge? For every theory of how to begin defining knowledge that has been presented to us thus far, we have been given counter-examples. Pritchard presents us with methodism and particularism and Gettier finds problems with the JTB account of knowledge that Feldman then goes on to counter. Feldman writes, “If his evidence is true, or only if he knows it to be true, there are still counter-examples to the justified true belief analysis of knowledge of the Gettier sort” (69). As Pritchard concludes at the end of this chapter, we do not have a clear method that gives us a generally acknowledged unambiguous definition for knowledge.  The question is, with so many opposing methods and counter-examples, will we ever?

Outside Source: Ichikawa, Jonathan Jenkins and Steup, Matthias, “The Analysis of Knowledge”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>.