I have been teaching philosophy at the University of Milan for two years
'What Is Mind? No Matter! What Is Matter? Never mind!' An Introduction to Philosophy of Mind (Fall 2016-17; Fall 2017-18)
Course description: What is 'the mind'? And how (if at all) is it related to brain, body and the material world? How is it that something capable of thinking and experiencing emotions, sensations, pleasure and pain 'pops out' of inert matter, which does not seem to be capable of thinking or experiencing emotions, sensations, pleasure and pain?
Even though the mind is something quite familiar to us, over the last centuries philosophers have struggled to find a satisfying answer to basic questions (like the ones mentioned above). Some strong intuitions seem to suggest that mind and body are different kinds of things. Consider the way we talk - for instance, the very fact that our ordinary language itself contrasts mind with body (or matter). Apparently, this already suggests that mind and body, mind and matter, are really distinct. But, if so, it seems quite hard to tell what is the mind's place in nature. For the scientific description of natural phenomena does not really seem to leave any room open for anything immaterial. So, it looks like we have a dilemma in front of us. On one hand, if we follow our intuitions, and keep mind and body separated, then we seem to be forced to deny that the mind is a natural phenomenon - but if mind is not a natural phenomenon, what could it be? On the other hand, if we stick to what our best science tells us, we get the prima facie intractable problem of finding mind's place in nature.
In this course, we will see how the two horns of this dilemma are not in such a great opposition as it might look at first sight. In particular, we will survey some classic arguments and strategies in support of physicalism, i.e., the view that mind is nothing but matter and, thus, just another physical phenomenon. Moreover, we will consider how those arguments and strategies have been called into question by anti-physicalist philosophers. More precisely, we will discuss the so-called 'hard problem' of consciousness and will see how and why it is supposed to be the biggest challenge for physicalism (and, more generally, for contemporary science).
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