What Constitutes the Mind‐Body Problem?

Colin McGinn

in Consciousness and its Objects

Published in print March 2004 | ISBN: 9780199267606
Published online January 2005 | e-ISBN: 9780191601798 | DOI:
What Constitutes the Mind‐Body Problem?

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The source and nature of the mind-body problem – the problem of relating consciousness and the brain – is diagnosed. With Russell’s distinction between knowledge by description and knowledge by acquaintance in mind, McGinn suggests that our knowledge of the essence of consciousness is acquired by acquaintance, and that this justifiably produces our sense of the problem. Since knowledge by acquaintance is complete but not reducible to propositional knowledge, it may be that our knowledge of consciousness gives us insight into its essence which cannot be formulated propositionally: we know the nature of consciousness but cannot say what it is in the form of truths about consciousness. It is further argued that the properties of consciousness, which make it problematically related to the brain – its subjectivity and intentionality, its being essentially reflective and known infallibly – are consequential rather than intrinsic aspects of the nature of consciousness. It is explained how the fact that we know by this form of introspective self-consciousness that there is a mind-body problem means that we shall be unable in principle to solve the problem with our current cognitive faculties (‘mysterianism’).

Keywords: consciousness; knowledge by acquaintance; knowledge by description; mind-body problem; mysterianism; Russell

Chapter.  7916 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Mind

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