Mind-Body Problem

some notes on the mind-body problem for the core module of IB philosophy 

  • Created by: Holliee
  • Created on: 01-03-12 19:34


What is the Mind?

  • Self-consciousness, thoughts, opinions, interpretations of our environment
  • 'spiritual' element of a human
  • seperate from the physical brain

"The element of a person that enables them to be aware of the world and theri experiences, to think and, to feel; the faculty of conscious thought"

Oxford English Dictionary

Ontology- that status that of something as an existing thing

Dualism- the view that human have two parts, a physical body and a non-physical mind

Materialism-the view that humans have a material body only

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Some see the mind as identical to the brain, whilst other see mind and brain as separate. Note that some dualist philosophers use the terms 'mind' and 'soul' interchangeably. 


  • If we accept that the mind is non-physical it opens up possibility for the existence of the supernatural or God
  • If we reject the idea of a non-physical mind, it implies that humans are purely physical beings
  • If we accept that the mind is a material thing, then theoretically it would be possible to create a robot that could think in the same way as a human  
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  • Dualism is the idea that a human being consists of a physical body and (non-physical) mind, soul or spirit.
  • The ways in which we use language seem to reflect a dualistic way of thinking; e.g. "I have ten fingers", the fingers are possessions of the mind. 
  • Also, we can imagine ourselves being removed from our own bodies, or 'our' minds in other bodies; this can be seen in books and films such as 'Freaky Friday'

Analysis of Dualism

  • just because the language we use seems to reflect dualist thinking, it does not follow that dualism is correct

Therefore, just because we may talk of ourselves as being separate from our bodies, it doesn't mean that we actually are

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Rene Descartes and Dualism

Descartes is on of the prominent dualists. The proposed several arguments in favour of the idea that the mind and body are distinct from one another. 

Mind-only humans have minds, animals follow instincts like machines

-it is our rich inner mental life that makes us human

-the non-physical mind interacts with the body in that pineal gland


  • we are thinking beings and we are able to question our existence for the existence of the mind
  • if our minds didnt exist, there woukd be no one/nothing asking the question
  • we could doubt the existence of the material objects, because our senses could deceive us, but we cannot doubt that we think
  • "I think therefore I am"
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Rene Descartes and Dualism


"There is a vast difference between the mind and the body,... in that the body is always divisible, while is mind is completely indivisible"

  • Physical things can be divided up into smaller sections whereas you cannot divide a thought

Therefore, he concludes that thoughts are non-physical and take place in a non-physical mind


  • Our bodies and other physical objects have 'extension'-they can be located in space-but thoughts dont have extension as they can't be located in space

For example: it makes sense to claim the maths book is on the table 3m away but it does not make sense to say your thought is 3cm behind your left eye

Therefore, he concludes thoughts are non-physical

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If there are any mistakes or there is something that I missed, let me know so I fix it or add it in


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