Biological naturalism

Biological naturalism is a theory about, among other things, the relationship between consciousness and body (i.e. brain), and hence an approach to the mind–body problem. It was first proposed by the philosopher John Searle in 1980 and is defined by two main theses: 1) all mental phenomena from pains, tickles, and itches to the most abstruse thoughts are caused by lower-level neurobiological processes in the brain; and 2) mental phenomena are higher-level features of the brain.

This entails that the brain has the right causal powers to produce intentionality. However, Searle's biological naturalism does not entail that brains and only brains can cause consciousness. Searle is careful to point out that while it appears to be the case that certain brain functions are sufficient for producing conscious states, our current state of neurobiological knowledge prevents us from concluding that they are necessary for producing consciousness. In his own words:

"The fact that brain processes cause consciousness does not imply that only brains can be conscious. The brain is a biological machine, and we might build an artificial machine that was conscious; just as the heart is a machine, and we have built artificial hearts. Because we do not know exactly how the brain does it we are not yet in a position to know how to do it artificially." (Biological Naturalism, 2004)

Brain chrischan
Biological Naturalism states that consciousness is a higher level function of the human brain's physical capabilities.


Searle (2)
John Searle

Searle denies Cartesian dualism, the idea that the mind is a separate kind of substance to the body, as this contradicts our entire understanding of physics, and unlike Descartes, he does not bring God into the problem. Indeed, Searle denies any kind of dualism, the traditional alternative to monism, claiming the distinction is a mistake. He rejects the idea that because the mind is not objectively viewable, it does not fall under the rubric of physics.

Searle believes that consciousness "is a real part of the real world and it cannot be eliminated in favor of, or reduced to, something else"[1] whether that something else is a neurological state of the brain or a computer program. He contends, for example, that the software known as Deep Blue knows nothing about chess. He also believes that consciousness is both a cause of events in the body and a response to events in the body.

On the other hand, Searle doesn't treat consciousness as a ghost in the machine. He treats it, rather, as a state of the brain. The causal interaction of mind and brain can be described thus in naturalistic terms: Events at the micro-level (perhaps at that of individual neurons) cause consciousness. Changes at the macro-level (the whole brain) constitute consciousness. Micro-changes cause and then are impacted by holistic changes, in much the same way that individual football players cause a team (as a whole) to win games, causing the individuals to gain confidence from the knowledge that they are part of a winning team.

He articulates this distinction by pointing out that the common philosophical term 'reducible' is ambiguous. Searle contends that consciousness is "causally reducible" to brain processes without being "ontologically reducible". He hopes that making this distinction will allow him to escape the traditional dilemma between reductive materialism and substance dualism; he affirms the essentially physical nature of the universe by asserting that consciousness is completely caused by and realized in the brain, but also doesn't deny what he takes to be the obvious facts that humans really are conscious, and that conscious states have an essentially first-person nature.

It can be tempting to see the theory as a kind of property dualism, since, in Searle's view, a person's mental properties are categorically different from his or her micro-physical properties. The latter have "third-person ontology" whereas the former have "first-person ontology." Micro-structure is accessible objectively by any number of people, as when several brain surgeons inspect a patient's cerebral hemispheres. But pain or desire or belief are accessible subjectively by the person who has the pain or desire or belief, and no one else has that mode of access. However, Searle holds mental properties to be a species of physical property—ones with first-person ontology. So this sets his view apart from a dualism of physical and non-physical properties. His mental properties are putatively physical.


There have been several criticisms of Searle's idea of biological naturalism.

Jerry Fodor suggests that Searle gives us no account at all of exactly why he believes that a biochemistry like, or similar to, that of the human brain is indispensable for intentionality. Fodor thinks that it seems much more plausible to suppose that it is the way in which an organism (or any other system for that matter) is connected to its environment that is indispensable in the explanation of intentionality. It is easier to see "how the fact that my thought is causally connected to a tree might bear on its being a thought about a tree. But it's hard to imagine how the fact that (to put it crudely) my thought is made out of hydrocarbons could matter, except on the unlikely hypothesis that only hydrocarbons can be causally connected to trees in the way that brains are." [2]

John Haugeland takes on the central notion of some set of special "right causal powers" that Searle attributes to the biochemistry of the human brain. He asks us to imagine a concrete situation in which the "right" causal powers are those that our neurons have to reciprocally stimulate one another. In this case, silicon-based alien life forms can be intelligent just in case they have these "right" causal powers; i.e. they possess neurons with synaptics connections that have the power to reciprocally stimulate each other. Then we can take any speaker of the Chinese language and cover his neurons in some sort of wrapper which prevents them from being influenced by neurotransmitters and, hence, from having the right causal powers. At this point, "Searle's demon" (an English speaking nanobot, perhaps) sees what is happening and intervenes: he sees through the covering and determines which neurons would have been stimulated and which not and proceeds to stimulate the appropriate neurons and shut down the others himself. The experimental subject's behavior is unaffected. He continues to speak perfect Chinese as before the operation but now the causal powers of his neurotransmitters have been replaced by someone who does not understand the Chinese language. The point is generalizable: for any causal powers, it will always be possible to hypothetically replace them with some sort of Searlian demon which will carry out the operations mechanically. His conclusion is that Searle's is necessarily a dualistic view of the nature of causal powers, "not intrinsically connected with the actual powers of physical objects." [3]

Searle himself actually does not rule out the possibility for alternate arrangements of matter bringing forth consciousness other than biological brains. He also disputes that Biological naturalism is dualistic in nature in a brief essay entitled "Why I Am Not a Property Dualist".

See also


  1. ^ John R. Searle: Thinking about the Real World by Dirk Franken, Attila Karakus, and Jan G. Michel [1]
  2. ^ Fodor, Jerry. (1980) "Searle On What Only Brains Can Do". Behavioral and Brain Sciences. vol. 3. pp. 217–219
  3. ^ Haugeland, John. (1980) "Artificial Intelligence". Behavioral and Brain Sciences. vol. 3. pp. 219–224.
  • John R. Searle, Biological Naturalism.
  • John R. Searle, Consciousness
  • John R. Searle, Why I Am Not a Property Dualist
  • John R. Searle, The Mystery of Consciousness (London: Granta Publications, 1998).
  • John R. Searle, The Rediscovery of the Mind (Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1994).
  • John R. Searle, Mind: A Brief Introduction (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004).

External links

Anomalous monism

Anomalous monism is a philosophical thesis about the mind–body relationship. It was first proposed by Donald Davidson in his 1970 paper "Mental Events". The theory is twofold and states that mental events are identical with physical events, and that the mental is anomalous, i.e. under their mental descriptions, relationships between these mental events are not describable by strict physical laws. Hence, Davidson proposes an identity theory of mind without the reductive bridge laws associated with the type-identity theory. Since the publication of his paper, Davidson has refined his thesis and both critics and supporters of anomalous monism have come up with their own characterizations of the thesis, many of which appear to differ from Davidson's.

Chinese room

The Chinese room argument holds that an executing program cannot be a "mind", "understanding" or "consciousness", regardless of how intelligently or human-like the program may make the computer behave. The argument was first presented by philosopher John Searle in his paper, "Minds, Brains, and Programs", published in Behavioral and Brain Sciences in 1980. It has been widely discussed in the years since. The centerpiece of the argument is a thought experiment known as the Chinese room.The argument is directed against the philosophical positions of functionalism and computationalism, which hold that the mind may be viewed as an information-processing system operating on formal symbols. Specifically, the argument is intended to refute a position Searle calls strong AI: "The appropriately programmed computer with the right inputs and outputs would thereby have a mind in exactly the same sense human beings have minds."Although it was originally presented in reaction to the statements of artificial intelligence (AI) researchers, it is not an argument against the goals of AI research, because it does not limit the amount of intelligence a machine can display. The argument applies only to digital computers running programs and does not apply to machines in general.

Dmitry Volkov (businessman)

Dmitry Volkov (Russian: Дмитрий Борисович Волков, born 9 July 1976, Moscow) is a Russian entrepreneur, investor, philosopher, contemporary art collector, actor and philanthropist. He took part in various international M&A and private equity transactions in e-commerce. He is a co-founder of the Moscow Center for Consciousness Studies, the patron of the Tretyakov State Gallery Foundation and the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art (since 2016), the President of Stewardship Foundation Arsenal Contemporary Art Museum.

In 1998, Volkov co-founded Social Discovery Ventures.

Emergent materialism

In the philosophy of mind, emergent (or emergentist) materialism is a theory which asserts that the mind is an irreducible existent in some sense, albeit not in the sense of being an ontological simple, and that the study of mental phenomena is independent of other sciences. It primarily maintains that the human mind's evolution is a product of material nature and that it cannot exist without material basis.


Hylozoism is the philosophical point of view that matter is in some sense alive. The concept dates back at least as far as the Milesian school of pre-Socratic philosophers. The term was introduced to English by Ralph Cudworth in 1678.

Index of philosophy of mind articles

This is a list of philosophy of mind articles.

Alan Turing

Alexius Meinong

Anomalous monism

Anthony Kenny

Arnold Geulincx

Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness

Australian materialism

Baruch Spinoza

Biological naturalism

Brain in a vat

C. D. Broad

Chinese room



Consciousness Explained

Critical realism (philosophy of perception)

Daniel Dennett

David Hartley (philosopher)

David Kellogg Lewis

David Malet Armstrong

Direct realism

Direction of fit

Disquisitions relating to Matter and Spirit

Donald Davidson (philosopher)

Dream argument

Dualism (philosophy of mind)

Duration (Bergson)

Edmund Husserl

Eliminative materialism

Embodied philosophy

Emergent materialism

Evil demon

Exclusion principle (philosophy)

Frank Cameron Jackson

Fred Dretske

Functionalism (philosophy of mind)

G. E. M. Anscombe

Georg Henrik von Wright

George Edward Moore

Gilbert Harman

Gilbert Ryle

Gottfried Leibniz

Hard problem of consciousness

Henri Bergson

Hilary Putnam



Indefinite monism


Internalism and externalism

Intuition pump

J. J. C. Smart

Jaegwon Kim

Jerry Fodor

John Perry (philosopher)

John Searle

Karl Popper

Kendall Walton

Kenneth Allen Taylor

Ludwig Wittgenstein

Mad pain and Martian pain

Mental property

Methodological solipsism

Michael Tye (philosopher)


Mind-body dichotomy


Multiple Drafts Model

Multiple realizability

Naming and Necessity

Naïve realism


Neutral monism

Noam Chomsky

Parallelism (philosophy)

Personal identity


Philosophy of artificial intelligence

Philosophy of mind

Philosophy of perception


Pluralism (philosophy)

Privileged access

Problem of other minds

Property dualism

Psychological nominalism


Reflexive monism

René Descartes

Representational theory of mind

Richard Rorty

Ron McClamrock

Self (philosophy)

Society of Mind


Stephen Stich

Subjective idealism


Sydney Shoemaker

Tad Schmaltz

The Concept of Mind

The Meaning of Meaning

Thomas Nagel

Turing test

Type physicalism

Unconscious mind

Wilfrid Sellars

William Hirstein

William James

Interactionism (philosophy of mind)

Interactionism or interactionist dualism is the theory in the philosophy of mind which holds that matter and mind are two distinct and independent substances that exert causal effects on one another. It is one type of dualism, traditionally a type of substance dualism though more recently also sometimes a form of property dualism.

John Searle

John Rogers Searle (; born 31 July 1932) is an American philosopher. He is currently Willis S. and Marion Slusser Professor Emeritus of the Philosophy of Mind and Language and Professor of the Graduate School at the University of California, Berkeley. Widely noted for his contributions to the philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, and social philosophy, he began teaching at UC Berkeley in 1959.

As an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, Searle was secretary of "Students against Joseph McCarthy". He received all his university degrees, BA, MA, and DPhil, from the University of Oxford, where he held his first faculty positions. Later, at UC Berkeley, he became the first tenured professor to join the 1964–1965 Free Speech Movement. In the late 1980s, Searle challenged the restrictions of Berkeley's 1980 rent stabilization ordinance. Following what came to be known as the California Supreme Court's "Searle Decision" of 1990, Berkeley changed its rent control policy, leading to large rent increases between 1991 and 1994.

In 2000 Searle received the Jean Nicod Prize; in 2004, the National Humanities Medal; and in 2006, the Mind & Brain Prize. Searle's early work on speech acts, influenced by J. L. Austin and Ludwig Wittgenstein, helped establish his reputation. His notable concepts include the "Chinese room" argument against "strong" artificial intelligence. In March 2017, Searle was accused of sexual assault.

Language of thought hypothesis

The language of thought hypothesis (LOTH), sometimes known as thought ordered mental expression (TOME), is a view in linguistics, philosophy of mind and cognitive science, forwarded by American philosopher Jerry Fodor. It describes the nature of thought as possessing "language-like" or compositional structure (sometimes known as mentalese). On this view, simple concepts combine in systematic ways (akin to the rules of grammar in language) to build thoughts. In its most basic form, the theory states that thought, like language, has syntax.

Using empirical data drawn from linguistics and cognitive science to describe mental representation from a philosophical vantage-point, the hypothesis states that thinking takes place in a language of thought (LOT): cognition and cognitive processes are only 'remotely plausible' when expressed as a system of representations that is "tokened" by a linguistic or semantic structure and operated upon by means of a combinatorial syntax. Linguistic tokens used in mental language describe elementary concepts which are operated upon by logical rules establishing causal connections to allow for complex thought. Syntax as well as semantics have a causal effect on the properties of this system of mental representations.

These mental representations are not present in the brain in the same way as symbols are present on paper; rather, the LOT is supposed to exist at the cognitive level, the level of thoughts and concepts. The LOTH has wide-ranging significance for a number of domains in cognitive science. It relies on a version of functionalist materialism, which holds that mental representations are actualized and modified by the individual holding the propositional attitude, and it challenges eliminative materialism and connectionism. It implies a strongly rationalist model of cognition in which many of the fundamentals of cognition are innate.

Meaning of life

The meaning of life, or the answer to the question "What is the meaning of life?", pertains to the significance of living or existence in general. Many other related questions include: "Why are we here?", "What is life all about?", or "What is the purpose of existence?" There have been a large number of proposed answers to these questions from many different cultural and ideological backgrounds. The search for life's meaning has produced much philosophical, scientific, theological, and metaphysical speculation throughout history. Different people and cultures believe different things for the answer to this question.

The meaning of life as we perceive it is derived from philosophical and religious contemplation of, and scientific inquiries about existence, social ties, consciousness, and happiness. Many other issues are also involved, such as symbolic meaning, ontology, value, purpose, ethics, good and evil, free will, the existence of one or multiple gods, conceptions of God, the soul, and the afterlife. Scientific contributions focus primarily on describing related empirical facts about the universe, exploring the context and parameters concerning the "how" of life. Science also studies and can provide recommendations for the pursuit of well-being and a related conception of morality. An alternative, humanistic approach poses the question, "What is the meaning of my life?"

Mind–body dualism

Mind–body dualism, or mind–body duality, is a view in the philosophy of mind that mental phenomena are, in some respects, non-physical, or that the mind and body are distinct and separable. Thus, it encompasses a set of views about the relationship between mind and matter, and between subject and object, and is contrasted with other positions, such as physicalism and enactivism, in the mind–body problem.Aristotle shared Plato's view of multiple souls and further elaborated a hierarchical arrangement, corresponding to the distinctive functions of plants, animals, and people: a nutritive soul of growth and metabolism that all three share; a perceptive soul of pain, pleasure, and desire that only people and other animals share; and the faculty of reason that is unique to people only. In this view, a soul is the hylomorphic form of a viable organism, wherein each level of the hierarchy formally supervenes upon the substance of the preceding level. Thus, for Aristotle, all three souls perish when the living organism dies. For Plato however, the soul was not dependent on the physical body; he believed in metempsychosis, the migration of the soul to a new physical body.Dualism is closely associated with the thought of René Descartes (1641), which holds that the mind is a nonphysical—and therefore, non-spatial—substance. Descartes clearly identified the mind with consciousness and self-awareness and distinguished this from the brain as the seat of intelligence. Hence, he was the first to formulate the mind–body problem in the form in which it exists today. Dualism is contrasted with various kinds of monism. Substance dualism is contrasted with all forms of materialism, but property dualism may be considered a form of emergent materialism or non-reductive physicalism in some sense.

Moscow Center for Consciousness Studies

The Moscow Center for Consciousness Studies (MCCS) – a philosophical organization, which conducts and coordinates domestic and international research on consciousness, the mind-body problem, free will and moral responsibility.

Outline of philosophy

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to philosophy:

Philosophy – study of general and fundamental problems concerning matters such as existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. It is distinguished from other ways of addressing fundamental questions (such as mysticism, myth, or religion) by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational argument. The word "Philosophy" comes from the Greek philosophia (φιλοσοφία), which literally means "love of wisdom".

Philosophical zombie

The philosophical zombie or p-zombie argument is a thought experiment in philosophy of mind and philosophy of perception that imagines a being that, if it could conceivably exist, logically disproves the idea that physical stuff is all that is required to explain consciousness. Such a zombie would be indistinguishable from a normal human being but lack conscious experience, qualia, or sentience. For example, if a philosophical zombie were poked with a sharp object it would not inwardly feel any pain, yet it would outwardly behave exactly as if it did feel pain. The argument sometimes takes the form of hypothesizing a zombie world, indistinguishable from our world, but lacking first person experiences in any of the beings of that world.

Philosophical zombie arguments are used in support of mind-body dualism against forms of physicalism such as materialism, behaviorism and functionalism. It is an argument against the idea that the "hard problem of consciousness" (accounting for subjective, intrinsic, first person, what-it's-like-ness) could be answered by purely physical means. Proponents of the argument, such as philosopher David Chalmers, argue that since a zombie is defined as physiologically indistinguishable from human beings, even its logical possibility would be a sound refutation of physicalism, because it would establish the existence of conscious experience as a further fact. However, physicalists like Daniel Dennett counter that philosophical zombies are logically incoherent and thus impossible.

Philosophy of mind

Philosophy of mind is a branch of philosophy that studies the ontology, nature, and relationship of the mind to the body. The mind–body problem is a paradigm issue in philosophy of mind, although other issues are addressed, such as the hard problem of consciousness, and the nature of particular mental states. Aspects of the mind that are studied include mental events, mental functions, mental properties, consciousness, the ontology of the mind, the nature of thought, and the relationship of the mind to the body.

Dualism and monism are the two central schools of thought on the mind–body problem, although nuanced views have arisen that do not fit one or the other category neatly. Dualism finds its entry into Western philosophy thanks to René Descartes in the 17th century. Substance dualists like Descartes argue that the mind is an independently existing substance, whereas property dualists maintain that the mind is a group of independent properties that emerge from and cannot be reduced to the brain, but that it is not a distinct substance.Monism is the position that mind and body are not ontologically distinct entities (independent substances). This view was first advocated in Western philosophy by Parmenides in the 5th century BCE and was later espoused by the 17th-century rationalist Baruch Spinoza. Physicalists argue that only entities postulated by physical theory exist, and that mental processes will eventually be explained in terms of these entities as physical theory continues to evolve. Physicalists maintain various positions on the prospects of reducing mental properties to physical properties (many of whom adopt compatible forms of property dualism), and the ontological status of such mental properties remains unclear. Idealists maintain that the mind is all that exists and that the external world is either mental itself, or an illusion created by the mind. Neutral monists such as Ernst Mach and William James argue that events in the world can be thought of as either mental (psychological) or physical depending on the network of relationships into which they enter, and dual-aspect monists such as Spinoza adhere to the position that there is some other, neutral substance, and that both matter and mind are properties of this unknown substance. The most common monisms in the 20th and 21st centuries have all been variations of physicalism; these positions include behaviorism, the type identity theory, anomalous monism and functionalism.Most modern philosophers of mind adopt either a reductive physicalist or non-reductive physicalist position, maintaining in their different ways that the mind is not something separate from the body. These approaches have been particularly influential in the sciences, especially in the fields of sociobiology, computer science (specifically, artificial intelligence), evolutionary psychology and the various neurosciences. Reductive physicalists assert that all mental states and properties will eventually be explained by scientific accounts of physiological processes and states. Non-reductive physicalists argue that although the mind is not a separate substance, mental properties supervene on physical properties, or that the predicates and vocabulary used in mental descriptions and explanations are indispensable, and cannot be reduced to the language and lower-level explanations of physical science. Continued neuroscientific progress has helped to clarify some of these issues; however, they are far from being resolved. Modern philosophers of mind continue to ask how the subjective qualities and the intentionality of mental states and properties can be explained in naturalistic terms.

Property dualism

Property dualism describes a category of positions in the philosophy of mind which hold that, although the world is composed of just one kind of substance—the physical kind—there exist two distinct kinds of properties: physical properties and mental properties. In other words, it is the view that non-physical, mental properties (such as beliefs, desires and emotions) inhere in or supervene upon certain physical substances (namely brains). As a doctrine, 'property dualism' is epistemic, as distinct from ontic.

Substance dualism, on the other hand, is the view that there exist in the universe two fundamentally different kinds of substance: physical (matter) and non-physical (mind or consciousness), and subsequently also two kinds of properties which adhere in those respective substances. Substance dualism is thus more susceptible to the mind-body problem. Both substance and property dualism are opposed to reductive physicalism. As a doctrine, 'substance dualism' is ontic, as distinct from epistemic.

The Master and His Emissary

The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World is a 2009 book written by Iain McGilchrist that deals with the specialist hemispheric functioning of the brain. The differing world views of the right and left brain (the "Master" and "Emissary" in the title, respectively) have, according to the author, shaped Western culture since the time of the ancient Greek philosopher Plato, and the growing conflict between these views has implications for the way the modern world is changing. In part, McGilchrist's book, which is the product of twenty years of research, reviews the evidence of previous related research and theories, and based on this and cultural evidence, the author arrives at his own conclusions.

The Master and His Emissary received mostly favourable reviews upon its publication. Critics praised the book as being a landmark publication that could alter readers' perspective of how they viewed the world; A. C. Grayling, however, commented about the book that "the findings of brain science are nowhere near fine-grained enough yet to support the large psychological and cultural conclusions Iain McGilchrist draws".The Master and His Emissary was shortlisted for the 2010 Bristol Festival of Ideas Book Prize, and was longlisted for the Royal Society 2010 Prize for Science Books.

Type physicalism

Type physicalism (also known as reductive materialism, type identity theory, mind–brain identity theory and identity theory of mind) is a physicalist theory, in the philosophy of mind. It asserts that mental events can be grouped into types, and can then be correlated with types of physical events in the brain. For example, one type of mental event, such as "mental pains" will, presumably, turn out to be describing one type of physical event (like C-fiber firings).

Type physicalism is contrasted by token identity physicalism, which argues that mental events are unlikely to have "steady" or categorical biological correlates. These positions make use of the philosophical type–token distinction (e.g., Two persons having the same "type" of car need not mean that they share a "token", a single vehicle). Type physicalism can now be understood to argue that there is identicalness between types, whereas token identity physicalism says one can only describe a particular, unique, brain event.

There are other ways a physicalist might criticize type physicalism; eliminative materialism and revisionary materialism question whether science is currently using the best categorisations. In the same way talk of demonic possession was questioned with scientific advance, categorisations like "pain" may need to be revised.

Related topics

This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.