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Philosophy of Mind

Ancient and MedievalAncient Greek And Roman Views, Medieval Views, Bibliography

The mind is a modern notion. But like many modern notions, it did not emerge from nowhere. What contemporary philosophers mean when they talk about the mind is part of a long tradition, stretching back through the Middle Ages to Greek and Roman antiquity.

The mind in its modern sense is best understood in opposition to the body, the extended, flesh-and-blood entity that it seems to inhabit and move at will. It was René Descartes (1596–1650) who popularized the idea that humans are two things, mind and body, and who argued further that the mind is a completely separable and immaterial substance capable of surviving the death of the body. The influence of Cartesian dualism can be seen in the fact that even in the twenty-first century, competing viewpoints tend to be defined in terms of it.

Although dualism in its strongest form originated with Descartes, there are some similarities with earlier accounts. Descartes might even have been inspired by them. Unfortunately, this has proved to be a stumbling block for many modern scholars, who, because their thinking has been shaped by the Cartesian paradigm, cannot help but see earlier philosophers as proto-Cartesians or read their works as contributing to the solution of Cartesian problems. While this makes for interesting reading, it does a disservice to ancient and medieval authors because it refuses to understand what they were trying to do on its own terms. But Descartes's agenda differs from Plato's, which is different again from that of Aristotle, Epicurus, Chrysippus, Plotinus, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and John Buridan.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Philosophy of Mind - Early Ideas to Planck length