Reason Mind and Body Term Paper

Pages: 5 (1640 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Black Studies - Philosophy

Reason Mind Body

The philosophers of ancient Greece were the first western thinkers to develop the notion of reason, and specifically, to investigate how far reason can take human beings in their search for understanding of the world and themselves. Essentially, reason refers to logic or rational thinking; it stems from the idea that every characteristic of the world that we experience today was brought about by some event or sequence of events. In other words, philosophers introduced the concept of causality, and used this to infer how aspects of the universe interact. Reason is the primary tool of philosophers, and yet, many philosophers have differed in their opinions concerning how reason should be employed, and particularly how far reason is capable of taking us. These varying beliefs -- namely, philosophers' perspectives on reason -- tell us a great deal about the most centrally held premises from which all of their arguments spring forth. The Plato/Socratic approach to reasoning reveals the limitations of philosophy as a rigorous science but maintains the belief that some things are knowable and valuable. Standing in stark contrast to this method is Rene Descartes, who holds that philosophy can be attacked in a manner analogous to mathematics; and like mathematics, definite and undeniable solutions can be derived. Regardless of the differences between these two examples, both agree that man does possess some level of responsibility to those around him as well as to a number of abstract principles that govern his actions.

The Socratic Method is particularly interesting in that it, unlike most philosophical discourses, seeks to debase beliefs rather than build them up. Instead of offering a linear argument as to the nature of virtue, for example, Socrates -- and subsequently Plato -- begins with commonly held notions and analyzes them in an effort to debunk them. Philosophical reflection, to them, must first begin with a better understanding of our ignorance. Consequently, the reader of Plato's works is presented with a truly unique approach to philosophy that is based upon conversation and self-reflection. At the beginning of "Apology" Socrates introduces his style of argumentation when he says, "From me you will hear the whole truth, though not, by Zeus, gentlemen, expressed in embroidered and stylized phrases like theirs [his accusers], but things spoken at random and expressed in the first words that come to mind, for I put my trust in the justice of what I say, and let none of you expect anything else." (Cahn 29). Accordingly, Plato's writings take a character on a journey through their personally held beliefs, as Socrates endeavors to help them arrive at a conclusion that he has already reached -- consequently the reader is taken on this journey as well. One of the goals of this method, clearly, is to question many of the notions that most people tend to take for granted. Generally, Socrates and Plato venture to "demonstrate that uncritically accepted opinions about philosophically important matters could lead to logical catastrophe." (Cahn 1).

Descartes, on the other hand, is not particularly interested in analyzing commonly held notions, but instead, in generating fundamental principles about the word from the ground up. Essentially, Descartes' belief in rational thought to reveal the truths of existence stemmed from his confidence in mathematics: "At the center of his thought lies the view that each science is the branch of one unified science of the world, a science based on mathematics." (Cahn 343). Doubtlessly, during his time mathematics and physics seemed to be one and the same; Descartes most interesting contribution to this notion was the idea that the language of math could be useful in far more branches of science than just physics. The beauty of math to provide clear and undeniable solutions to seemingly complicated problems appealed to Descartes to such an extent that he believed this property was applicable to philosophy as well.

A difficulty with rational thought, however, became apparent when philosophers attempted to investigate the properties of human consciousness, and how they relate to the physical human body. Again, Descartes was at the center of this debate; he formulated the notion of Cartesian dualism, which attempted to define the mind and body as separate entities and address the particulars of how they interact. Doubtlessly, for people like Descartes -- and in general, physicists and mathematicians of his time -- it was important that objects be clearly differentiable from one another. It should not be surprising, therefore, that many people are drawn to this sort of outlook concerning the separate nature of the mind and the body. but, later philosophers argued that all objects are given names and definitions because it is convenient and practical for people to do so, not necessarily because there is any inherent distinction between them independent of our own interpretations.

The post-war period saw a surge of philosophers seeking to dethrone dualism and out of these arguments notions of behaviorism, materialism, and functionalism were born (Feinberg, 318). Fundamentally, the argument was that there was no true distinction between the mind and the body, and in fact, the physical aspects of the body were the mind. Writers like Paul.M Churchland argued that since the distinction between the two is arbitrary, the rational basis for separating them is severely lacking (Churchland, 25). However, other philosophers -- Frank Jackson for example -- reasoned that materialists necessarily have difficulty accounting for and physically quantifying qualia, and therefore, the notion that the mind and body are separate may still retain some validity (Jackson, 4).

Another fundamental philosophical debate pits the lofty concept of free will against determinism. Free will stands as the one principle of the universe that mankind, seemingly, has any control over. It is essential to human society because it allocates the responsibility for action upon the individual. Accordingly, it is central to religion, justice, and our perceptions of reality. If humans have the ability to choose between right and wrong, moral and immoral actions, then it implies that existence itself may possess some meaning; otherwise, if all of our actions and thoughts are predetermined, then our existence is somehow diminished in its significance.

Numerous philosophers have fallen on both sides of the debate. Paul Holbach made a forceful argument in favor of determinism and wrote, "All that passes in him [man]; all that is done by him; as well as all that happens in nature, or that is attributed to her, is derived from necessary laws, and which produce necessary effects from whence necessarily flow others." (Holbach,165) B.F. Skinner affirmed this belief and wrote that such arguments "have formulated the task in such a way that they cannot now accept the fact that all control is exerted by the environment and proceed to the design of better environments rather than better men." (Skinner, 9). However, more recent philosophers like Walter T. Stace have presented cases that fuse both seemingly contradictory notions together; thus, maintaining the basic principle than man is in control of his own actions (Stace, 244).

Philosophers have also debated the elemental nature of reality. The concept of reality is particularly difficult to define by virtue of the fact that it encompasses everything that the individual experiences and knows, and everything that has been arrived at by mankind through the process of deductive reasoning. "Phenomenology is the study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point-of-view. The central structure of an experience is its intentionality, its being directed toward something, as it is an experience of or about some object." (Stanford, 2003). This in one view that favors the unique individual perception over some abstract encompassing view of reality, and it can be seen as a revolt from Hegel's ideas concerning reality. Hegel believed that there was no objective reality independent of thought -- thought determined the nature of objects.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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