If anyone is interested in the development and emergence of modern philosophical problems, do yourself a favour and read EA Burtt’s “The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Physical Science”. It’s a classic and well worth the read.
You can download it here.
One particular philosophical problem that arose in the past 2-3 centuries is the mind/body problem. It is quite fascinating how it emerged.
Renee Descartes is considered by many as the father of modern philosophy. With him came the mind/body problem. Before Descartes, during the middle ages, nature was described in terms of substance vs accident (quantity, quality, relation), essence vs existence, matter and form (prime matter and substantial form) etc. Change was described in terms of potentiality being reduced to actuality and causality had a far richer meaning as it was described in terms of formal, material, efficient and final causes. During the scientific revolution, these Aristotelian categories were replaced with time, space, mass, force, energy etc. Reality was divided into primary and secondary qualities and change was described in terms of motions of particles.
Kepler reached a conception of causality that was different from the Aristotelian causes. To him, causality was the underlying harmony that is discoverable in the observed facts of reality and they must “always be in the nature of underlying mathematical harmonies” (it resembled the formal causes of Aristotle). According to Kepler, the real world is quantitative, with the differences being described in numbers only. Knowledge to him was mathematical and quantity was the fundamental feature of things.
Galileo devoted himself to study bodies in motion. Causality for Galileo was explained in terms of forces that are expressible in terms of matter in motion. “Matter” to Galileo was “infinitely small indivisible atoms” with only mathematical qualities. These were regarded as primary qualities. Galileo differentiated between primary and secondary qualities. To him, the universe was one “vast self-contained mathematical machine” that consisted only of matter in motion in space and time. Man’s thoughts, feelings and purposes became secondary qualities as some secondary effect as a result of the mathematical motions of matter. These secondary qualities were also seen as subjective.
The dualism of Descartes followed from this view. Descartes viewed the universe as some mechanical machine and this lead him to his metaphysics of two mutually independent existing entities or substances. Like Galileo, Descartes distinguished between primary and secondary qualities. Primary qualities existed in physical bodies as they really are in reality and were described in terms of matter, motion, space and time and would continue to exist independently of any thought; “Res extensa”. Secondary qualities on the other hand belonged to the realm of the mind, such as thinking, willing, perception, imagining, feeling etc.; “Res cognito”. This realm according to Descartes has no physical or mathematically describable extension. To him, these secondary qualities (feeling of sadness, blueness, happiness, pain etc.) do not exist outside our minds and are only caused by motions of matter in our bodies. The true universe of Descartes essentially existed of two secondary substances with God being the only pure, primary substance. These two secondary substances according to him consisted out of the vast mathematical machine extended in space and the other substance consisting of thinking souls, spirits as well as secondary qualities. The mind/body problem arose out of a mechanical view of the universe.
Needless to say, this idea came with enourmous problems. How do these two substances interact (Interaction problem)? How do you know that one substance from one realm constantly interacts with the same body all the time (The problem of personal identity). How do you know substances from the different realms exchanges true knowledge between the realms (the problem of knowledge - epistemological problems)? Like Galileo and Kepler, Descartes appealed to God as an answer to these questions. According to Descartes, “God has made the world of matter such that the pure mathematical concepts intuited by mind are forever applicable to it”.
A mechanical view of the world necessarily leads to the mind/body problem. The mechanical view of the universe was largely an invention of the scientific revolution. One way to solve the mind/body problem it is to deny that the mind and mental phenomena exists, leading to eliminative materialism. Another way is to deny the existence of bodies (or matter), leading to idealism. Yet another way to deal with the problem is to view matter itself as in some sense conscious, leading to either neutral monism or panpsychism.
How can the philosophical puzzles of a mechanical view of reality be solved without resorting to the above solutions… eliminative materialism, idealism, dualism (Cartesian or otherwise) or monism/panpsychism? Should the mechanical view be kept or discarded? What other views are there anyway?