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Mind and Body the Generational OutlookResearch Paper

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Mind and Body in History

Mind-Body Dualism in History

Most philosophers in history from Plato to Descartes assumed the existence of dualism between the mind and body, and the physical and spiritual worlds. They made a distinction between the basically rational and logical faculties of the mind over and above instincts and emotions. Other philosophers and psychologists like Nietzsche and Freud and the Romantics put far more emphasis on the emotional and irrational side of the mind, but for Plato and Aristotle, only women, slaves, peasants and the lower orders in general were guided by passions, feelings and desires (Lehrer, 2009, p. xiv). In contrast, the materialistic and atomistic view existed from the very beginnings of Western philosophy, but not as the majority position even among intellectual and scientific elites before the 18th and 19th Centuries. For materialists, being is the physical world that is visible to the senses, or at least can be comprehended through science and mathematics. This has not the case for idealists like Plato, of course, who regarded this type of being as of relatively minor importance compared to eternal and unchanging truths, as did Augustine and most of the Christian philosophers and theologians. Only with the Renaissance, Scientific Revolution and Enlightenment did the materialist position gain ground, along with the emphasis on empiricism, sense perceptions and the denial of innate ideas found in David Hume and John Locke. With the scientists, philosophers and economists of the 19th Century, such as Herbert Spencer, Karl Marx and Charles Darwin, the materialist position became dominant.

Classical Greek Origins

According to Plato, Socrates and Aristotle, all materialists who attempted to find a single cause for all natural and physical reality, without reference to a god or divinity were wrong. By present-day standards, Anaximander's concept of a natural force that orders the universe is most plausible, even if he never had a name for it. Socrates regards philosophy as a spiritual quest and an activity of the soul's longing and desire for God, while he disdains money, power, sex and fame that most mortals strive for all their lives. His task is to elevate that conversation and steer it away from mere worldly concerns about the purely sexual side of love and beauty into the spiritual and transcendent levels. He guides the youths in this direction by describing his own encounter with a wise woman named Diotima when he was their age. According to her love should not simply be and erotic desire for the beautiful bodies and material things of the world, all of which were temporary and transitory. Instead, the highest form of love is that of wisdom and truth, which were eternal, and the love of the immortal soul in seeking after God (Gil 1999).

The Middle Ages: Christian Idealism and Anti-Materilaism

Although he wrote at the end of the Roman Empire, Augustine was the most important theological and philosophical influence in the Middle Ages, and he placed far more emphasis of God, the immortal soul and eternal life in heaven or hell than the body and the physical universe. Science in the modern sense did not exist for Augustine, or indeed for any of his contemporaries, nor were the events of the material universe and the physical-temporal bodies located within it of any great importance to him. Nor was his purpose in writing the Confessions to explain the natural world, but rather to uphold the Truth (in the sense of absolute and eternal Truth as revealed by God) of the Bible and Christianity against its opponents, particularly the Manichean dualists. Augustine had no interest in the natural world in and of itself, or even any real curiosity about nature except as it turns the mind to reflection about the enteral nature of God and the soul (Confessions, 10.6). He rejects the pride, lust and vanity of the material world, including the pride that philosophers took on their wisdom and learning, in favor of following the example of Christ (10.42).

Augustine did agree with early Christian polemicists like Irenaeus of Lyons, who attacked the Gnostics for these ideas that the creator God was false, the material world was evil or that Jesus did not have a physical body. Tertullian blamed Gnostic 'heresy' on the influence of Plato, Zeno, Stoicism and other elements of Greek philosophy, especially in their belief that Jesus had no physical body and the material world was inferior and evil. He noted that Paul had also warned about the dangers of Athenian influence on Christianity, although ironically Tertullian was also condemned as a heretic (King 33). Augustine's duty as a Christian bishop was to direct their thoughts, emotions and desires away from physicality to the "divine mysteries that are cloaked in human language" (Wills, p. 121). Even for medieval philosophers like Thomas Aquinas, who were aware of ancient philosophy and science to a limited degree, this matters of faith and the immortal soul were of the highest importance, although he also offered logical proofs for the existence of God, such as the First Cause, Designer and Prime Mover of the universe. Since the medieval era was one of faith and spirituality, though, science did not advance much further than the ancient knowledge of Aristotle and Ptolemy, which as became dogmas of the Catholic Church, not subject to question.

The Renaissance and Scientific Revolution

Humanism and individualism were probably the most important idea of the Renaissance although it was always difficult to define. Mainly it meant a revival and rediscovery an ancient Greek and Roman science, philosophy, literature and art that had been lost and forgotten during the Middle Ages. From the viewpoint of Renaissance thinkers like Petrach, the medieval era was one of darkness and superstition while the ancient civilizations were superior in every way. All of this lost knowledge had been rediscovered during the Crusades and other contacts with the Muslim countries, along with more advanced ideas on medicine, mathematics, astronomy and the use of Arabic-Indian numbers. In the 16th Century, for example, Copernicus and other philosophers rediscovered the ancient Greek idea that the earth moved around the sun, which contradicted other ancient philosophers like Ptolemy and Aristotle. In the end, the new science and mathematics of the Renaissance proved that Copernicus was correct, although the Catholic Church attempted to suppress this idea. It raised too many troubling questions that the Church could not answer, such as whether there were other earths and alien civilizations out in space, and if so, had God appeared to them or sent Jesus to die for their sins (Nauert 2006).

Descartes asserts that all humans had both a body and mind (soul) and that the mind was eternal while the body was subject to physical and material laws. Thus the universe was divided between the mind and matter, and the physical world could be explained by mathematical and scientific laws. Hobbes, Locke and other political and philosophical theorists of the 17th Century were also influenced by the new scientific thought of Descartes, Galileo and William Harvey to one degree or another, and had to incorporate them into philosophy. In Meditation Three, Descartes concurs with Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas that God is the First Cause and Prime Mover in nature, but he preferred to concentrate on physical, material and efficient causes (Descartes 1996).

The 18th and 19th Centuries: Empiricism, Darwinism and Materialism

Empiricists like John Locke, Thomas Hobbes and David Hume insisted that human beings had no innate ideas but only information from sense impressions, which is why metaphysics appears to be incomprehensible. They dismissed the entire question of idealism, mind-body dualism, and the existence of the soul as irrelevant. As Hume put it in his Enquiry on Human Understanding, simple ideas are processed through mental faculties like the imagination to form complex ones, but they only exist because of "the materials afforded us by the senses and experience" (Hume, p 11.). All ideas are connected by association, a principle that he considered his most important contribution to philosophy, and three of the mental faculties or functions that occurred under this category were resemblance, contiguity and cause and effect. Causation was the most powerful mental function of all only the only one that is "beyond the evidence of our memory and senses" (Hume, p. 22) for Hume, association was as vital to philosophy and psychology as Newton's laws of gravity were to physics, and it made a true science of human nature possible.

For 19th Century Darwinists, Marxists and materialist philosophers, the mind-body problem became much less of a factor since they rejected idealist or religious premises about humanity, society and the origins of the universe. They assumed that the physical-material body and universe are all that exist, in fact, and that human beings were products of their genetics and environment, while ideas about God and the soul were only sociological or anthropological issues. Herbert Spencer and August Comte agreed with Karl Marx that historical change was evolutionary and progressive, with each stage of civilization higher than the… [END OF PREVIEW]

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