Kant’s Perspectival Solution to the Mind-Body Problem

Or, Why Eliminative Materialists must be Kantians

in Culture and Dialogue
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Kant’s Critical philosophy solves Descartes’ mind-body problem, replacing the dualism of the “physical influx” theory he defended in his early career. Kant’s solution, like all Critical theories, is “perspectival,” acknowledging deep truth in both opposing extremes. Minds are not separate from bodies, but a manifestation of them, each viewed from a different perspective. Kant’s transcendental conditions of knowledge portray the mind not as creating the physical world, but as necessarily structuring our knowledge of objects with a set of unconscious assumptions; yet our pre-conscious (pre-mental) encounter with an assumed spatio-temporal, causal nexus is entirely physical. Hence, today’s “eliminative materialism” and “folk psychology” are both ways of considering this age-old issue, neither being an exclusive explanation. A Kantian solution to this version of the mind-body problem is: eliminative materialism is good science; but only folk psychologists can consistently be eliminative materialists. Indeed, the mind-body problem exemplifies a feature of all cultural situations: dialogue between opposing perspectives is required for understanding as such to arise.

  • 3

    ChurchlandNeurophilosophy316; she readily admits however that “the brain . . . may be more complicated than it is smart” (374).

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  • 4

    Larissa MacFarquhar“How to be Good,” The New Yorker (September 5 2011): 42-53; quote from page 44.

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  • 9

    Henry E. AllisonKant’s Transcendental Idealism: An Interpretation and Defense (New Haven: Yale University Press1983). For a critique of Allison’s position see Kenneth R. Westphal “Freedom and the Distinction Between Phenomena and Noumena: Is Allison’s View Methodological Metaphysical or Equivocal?” Journal of Philosophical Research 26 (2001): 593-622.

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  • 13

    See especially Susan Meld ShellThe Embodiment of Reason: Kant on Spirit Generation and Community (Chicago: Chicago University Press1995). Svare Body and Practice in Kant 3n lists several other key authors who have also emphasized the importance of embodiment for Kant.

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  • 17

    KantDreams369. Only when these “boundary-stones” are “securely fixed” (369) Kant assures us will metaphysics finally become “that which it is far from being at the moment . . . namely the companion of wisdom.”

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  • 21

    Matthew S. Rukgaber“ ‘The Key to Transcendental Philosophy’: Space, Time and the Body in Kant,” Kant-Studien 100 (2009): 166-186; quoting from pages 167 and 166.

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  • 22

    Ibid.172. Cf. note 18 above.

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  • 24

    Ibid.174 and 178.

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    Ibid.176-177. This “framing of all possible experience” (177) he adds is “an ideal projection tied to the formal structure of our perspective.”

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    Ibid.183. In this final (unfinished) work Kant was to some extent responding to Schelling (184) in the sense that he posits “a deep connection between the materiality of the subject and the materiality of nature.”

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