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Descartes, Flanagan and Moody

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[opening paragraph]: A funny thing happened to Cartesian dualism on the way to the twenty-first century. After three hundred-odd years the irreconcilable dualism between ‘mind’ and ‘matter’ is still with us but, especially since the 1950s it has undergone a startling change. Matter has gotten fatter while mind is hard to find. I refer in particular to the domain of thought which has been transferred from res cogitans to res extensa in the guise of the computational brain. For Descartes, the body was an automaton motivated by purely material forces to which the thinking mind was completely inessential (although having a tenuous spiritual connection to it through the pineal gland). Now, however, the thinking mind has become the neural processor which is part of the same automaton. The only vestige of res cogitans which remains is sentience (Cartesian sentire), i.e. conscious awareness. Thought is represented in sentience by what might be called ‘thought experience’, i.e. the wispy but cognitively irrelevant stuff that takes place behind our foreheads. The rest of consciousness is made up of such things as sights, sounds, smells, tastes, elations, depressions, agonies and ecstasies -- our qualia. Some cognitive scientists deny we have qualia; they say we only seem to have them. But even those who admit we have them are increasingly inclined to follow their famous French predecessor and declare consciousness irrelevant to physical information processing. The latest doctrine of this persuasion is conscious inessentialism which is defined by Owen Flanagan as the view that ‘for any intelligent activity i, performed in any cognitive domain d, even if we do i with conscious accompaniments, i can in principle be done without these conscious accompaniments’. (Flanagan, 1992; quoted in Flanagan, 1995, p. 313.)

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Rock Wharf, PO Box 2, Falmouth, Jamaica.

Publication date: 1995-04-01

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