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Title: An apology for materialism
Author: Renton, Alistair
ISNI:       0000 0004 2728 9561
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2000
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It is natural to suppose that mental and physical properties are importantly distinct. Yet whatever this difference is, it has to be compatible with interaction between the mind and the body. Satisfaction of these desiderata leads to a paradox. If you make the mind strongly separate from the body, then there is the problem of bringing them together. If you unite them, then there is the problem of preserving their distinctiveness. It is the aim of this thesis to resolve the paradox. From the outset, it is assumed that the nature of interaction is most satisfactorily explained by an account of mental properties in monistic terms. For reasons for space, the arguments of Materialism are concentrated upon at the exposure of Idealism. Three strategies are examined, and found wanting. First, an instance of a non-reductive account provided by Davidson's 'Anomalous Monism'. Here, mental properties seem to be left with no role in influencing behaviour. Second, a review of reductionist accounts, ranging from Identity Theories to Representationalism. Criticism focuses upon the failure of reductionism to explain the connection between the function of a conscious state and its particular character. A Materialist treats mental states as if they were part of the physical universe. This implies that the nature of these states may be understood through scientific investigation, in the same manner as all other phenomena. The third strategy is to deny the above implication: that is, deny the assertion that, by existing, all aspects of an object are thereby knowable. The ideas of Colin McGinn are discussed as an example of this position. Since his arguments are equally suitable for non-Materialist purposes, they do not constitute an exclusively Materialist solution to the above paradox. This thesis offers an alternative way of pursuing the above strategy. It argues that the relation between mental states and our ways of understanding phenomena, is such that we should not expect our theories about the nature of 'mind' and the 'physical world' to employ the same terms. These properties appear distinct, not because they are different substances, but because they occupy different sides of the ‘process of understanding’ - ‘thing understood’ relationship. For convenience, this position is referred to as ‘Agnostic Materialism’. As interaction between the mind and the body is compatible with the mind having no influence upon our behaviour, it is incumbent upon the thesis to defend Materialism against the claim that mental properties are epiphenomenal. This is achieved by teasing out two ways in which such properties are considered inert: either because the workings of the mind are independent of the body; or because the mind’s processes are irrelevant to those of the body. The first claim is seen arise from the difficulty of seeing the mind as part of the physical world - a difficulty removed by the arguments in the previous paragraph. The second claim gains plausibility through a mistaken adherence to certain models of scientific explanation.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: philosophy ; Agnostic Materialism ; mental properties ; physical properties ; paradox ; Materialism ; Idealism ; interaction between the mind and the body ; scientific explanation