Reductive physicalist accounts of the mind fail to fully explain the nature of mental states. Discuss.

Authors Avatar by thomasrobinson01hotmailcouk (student)


‘Reductive physicalist accounts of the mind fail to fully explain the nature of mental states.’ Discuss. (50 marks)

Reductive Physicalist attempt to fully reduce the mind into a physical brain – the ‘internal content’ of the mind being fully explicable in terms of physical properties. By nature of mental states, we mean such arguments and theories as privacy of the mental, qualia, intentionality and mental physical causation. As we will see, all such problems can be explained and reduced via a reductive physicalist outlook.

Substance Dualism fails to offer an argument in favour of a coherent argument in favour of a separate mind and mind, due to problems such as neural dependency – the argument goes that why should biological and neurological changes in the brain affect a non-physical mind –  expressed through examples such as a person drinking alcohol. The results on  a person after drinking alcohol, slowed reactions, higher tolerance of pain, points to the mind and brain being one and the same. Substance Dualism thus fails to provide a solution.

Physiological Behaviourists hold that all behaviour, even very complex behaviour, can be fully explained in stimulus-response terms. The given model is a simple reflex: you sit on a chair in a relaxed position legs crossed, a doctor taps your knee and it bobs in the characteristic way. Here, a bit of behaviour – your knee bobbing – is a response to an external stimulus – your knee being tapped. Thus, human behaviour can be fully explained via a set of stimuli and responses. Behaviour depends upon conditioned responses to said stimuli.

Take BF Skinner and his pigeons. By Skinner feeding (stimulus) the pigeons in a certain way, he managed to get them to walk in a figure of eight (response). All mental states are thus fully reduced to/described in terms of actual or potential pain behaviour is the conclusion. Potential behaviour needs to be taken into account as we all have beliefs, and would act in a certain way on them.

Behaviourists furthermore claim that all learning/mental stats/behaviour can be fully explained in terms of simple associative mechanisms. Thus, ultimately, via a huge range of actual and potential behaviour, it would be possible to study and understand the mind through biology, psychology, neurology and behavioural psychology.

Join now!

This view dismisses any notion of there being a private mind; pain is quite simply pain behaviour. This is observable via the, for example, gritting of your friends teeth when they have stubbed their toe or via biological changes in the body: the heart rate increasing for example. Similarly, we may be dispositioned not to show any outward signs of pain at all. This is still pain behaviour, since that disposition not to show pain was dispositioned in itself. Moreover, there are many dispositions that enter into the behaviourist equation depending on the circumstances.

What is a belief then? ...

This is a preview of the whole essay