To What Question Is Physicalism Supposed to Be an Answer?
Tim Crane (Central European University)

September 11, 2021, 4:30am - 6:00am

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National Research Institute for Science Policy (NRISP)

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The debate about the content and plausibility of physicalism continues in contemporary philosophy, despite the obscurity of the notion of physicalism itself and the difficulty in deciding what would decide the issue. In this talk I focus on a different issue: what question is it that physicalism is trying to answer? It can look as if the traditional debate — dualism versus physicalism — is a choice between ideas that no-one really believes, and ideas that no-one really understands. If the debate is about the category of substance, then it is about an idea no-one really believes; and if it is about the necessary determination by the microphysical, then it is about an idea no-one really understands. By contrast with this tradition, I identify two different sources of the question of physicalism in recent debate: the place of the mind in the world as conceived by physics, and the relationship between mental capacities and the brain. These are very different problems, but both are called the ‘mind-body problem’ today. I argue that the first is based on controversial assumptions, and the second, while important, does not require physicalism as a solution.

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