Gualtiero kindly gave me an account here, so I am left with the problem of what to post.  A brief introduction.  I have a background in analytic philosophy, first in the philosophy of perception, mostly studying nineteenth century theories of perception and consciousness, and then in philosophy of language, focusing particularly on medieval theories of language, and to some extent medieval theories of intentionality and consciousness.  I recently completed a translation of an early work by Duns Scotus with Jack Zupko of Winnipeg university.

I am not sure what the medieval word for ‘consciousness’ would be.  They wrote in Latin, and the word ‘conscious’ derives from the Latin ‘conscio’, which does mean to be conscious, but in the general sense of joint knowledge, being privy to some fact etc.  It is closely related to ‘conscientia’, which means something like our word ‘conscience’.  Augustine says Nulla enim definitionum illarum timenda est, cum bene sibi conscius est animus, using the word ‘conscius’, but what he probably means by ‘bene sibi conscius est animus’ is that the soul (or mind) has a good conscience.  This reminds me of the distinction between ‘mind’ and ‘soul’ which the scholastic philosophers were careful to draw, and I wonder if the modern ‘consciousness’ means something like what they meant by ‘soul’.  We tend to avoid ‘soul’, of course, perhaps because of the religious implications.
The medievals also frequently used the word ‘intellectus’ which translates loosely as ‘understanding’, but can also be translated as ‘concept’ or ‘conception’.  
Anyway, enough rambling. To bring me up to date from the medieval period and the early nineteenth century where I got stuck, could the readers of this blog give me a few signposts about some very general questions.  What are the current ‘canonical problems’ in the philosophy of mind?  Who are the main writers in this area?  Do we distinguish the philosophy of mind from sciences like pychology, psychiatry, neuroscience and so on?

One Comment

  1. Very, very briefly:

    To answer your last question first, yes, people draw a distinction between the philosophy of mind and the hard sciences, or at least some people do (see below). My own take on the situation is that for most of the 20th century, uttering the work “consciousness” would get you denied tenure. The orthodoxy of reductive materialism and its bedfellow, behaviorism, ruled academia. In the last few decades, however, there has been a thaw. The central divide these days is between the A team and the B team (not my terms).

    Daniel Dennett (Consciousness Explained, 1991 is his great book) is captain of the A team. These are the reductive materialists, who think that science, as currently conceived, is sufficient to answer all coherent questions about minds, and the more we discover about neurons, the more “philosophical” questions will melt away and be shown to be (merely) scientific questions. They like to point out that the phenomenon of life was once thought to be mysterious and fundamental, but eventually turned out to be (merely) a question of very fancy Darwinian engineering.

    David Chalmers (The Conscious Mind, 1996) is the captain of the B team. These people are often called dualists, although they rarely call themselves that. Let’s call them qualophiles. They generally like science as far as it goes, but think that it can never, in principle, explain consciousness. They are compelled, with varying degrees of distaste, to take positions that are either overtly spooky and mysterious, or have some potentially spooky and mysterious implications. They are greatly impressed with “qualia” the raw feels of consciousness (hence the label “qualophiles”). Their gateway drug is the question, “what is it like to see red?”

    I myself am a qualophile, solidly on the B team. I expand on all of this and attempt to justify my positions here:


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