Nagel and Descartes on Consciousness in Defense to Dualism

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Have you ever wondered if it was possible to actually know another person’s or even another animal’s conscious state? This question has sparked numerous discussions and debates which basically summarizes the idea of consciousness. What is consciousness? By checking Oxford Dictionary of English and to directly quote the definition, the literal meaning of consciousness is “the state of being aware of and responsive to one’s surrounding”. Basically, it is a person’s awareness and how they see the world. It is sort of the first person perspective of a human being. Due to this, each and every one of us has a conscious state because we see, understand and interpret our surroundings, or in general, the world in our own ways. To comprehend and grasp the idea of consciousness is such a complicated process because the topic is open to countless different discussions and interpretations. In particular, there are two philosophers in this term paper that were introduced to help support my ideas and opinions regarding consciousness and its relationship to dualism. These philosophers are the following: Thomas Nagel and René Descartes. These philosophers are compared to one another that helped me formulate an opinion regarding the topic. Another important key concept that is vital in expounding consciousness is dualism. Based on Scott Calef’s interpretation, he stated that it focuses on mind and matter and their differences. Through this, in my own understanding, dualism is basically an idea that helps philosophers to understand and compare the mental and physical world.

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To begin, the first philosopher that will be thoroughly discussed is Thomas Nagel. One of his famous works entitled “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” in my opinion explains the ideas of consciousness in an in depth manner. All living organisms have a conscious mental state or experience, therefore, there is something is it like to that organism. By reading his work, I was able to understand and formulate an understanding or conclusion on what it means to have consciousness. Just like his book title, I will relate my understanding to the life of a bat. Basically, all scientists and science teachers would explain that bats lived in caves, would sleep upside down and could fly. Through this, we then know that this is how these living organism slived in their everyday lives, but we never actually know how it feels like to live in a cave, sleep upside down and to fly. To further expound my idea, I believe that us human beings can only perceive and interpret one another in third person perspective, but we may not actually know and exactly know the first person perspective. In my opinion, it is impossible to know someone’s conscious state completely and precisely. To add, in relation to Nagel’s ideas, I strongly believe that if any living organism has consciousness or is aware of their surroundings, then there is a feeling on how it is like to be that living organism, but it may never be shared nor one hundred percent be known of their perspective unless you are that living organism.

The second and last philosopher that will be discussed and talked about is René Descartes. Through all the class discussions, I can safely explain and expound a brief background of his beliefs which is he doubted every single thing. He believed that by doing so and by doubting everything is to think. Another idea that will be introduced is the mind-body problem. This concept first originated from his ideas. Based on my own understanding, to summarize his mind-body problem idea, he said that the mind and body are distinct and very different from one another. Furthermore, based on the ideas of The Information Philosopher, the mind is a spiritual thing while on the other hand the body is physical. Additionally, I believe that the way René Descartes perceived this idea is that he saw that the mind is where people’s thoughts are located, this is something that people can keep to themselves without the fear of it being uncontrollably exposed to the outside world. This is because people are in control of their thoughts or basically everything that is going on inside their heads. Because of this idea, Descartes believed that these thoughts can help influence the physical world. For him, the physical world is something that cannot be controlled or in other words uncontrollable, and therefore cannot be controlled by people. There are consequences and events that people unknowingly experience out of the blue because the fate of the physical world is untouchable. Although, he believed that the mind is a powerful thing because it is free from the physical world. Therefore, I concluded that our thoughts can influence our actions that can help change the outcomes that externally happen in the physical world.

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