I’ve excerpted the second part of the first chapter of my treatise on the philosophy of mind (you can find the first part here: https://stephanheard.wordpress.com/2016/03/09/a-theory-of-mind-part-1-from-in-defense-of-the-mind/#respond). If you like what you read, you can find the book here: http://www.amazon.com/Defense-Mind-Philosophical-Treatise/dp/1522829687/ref=la_B00QEL41LS_1_6?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1457897839&sr=1-6
The importance of existentialism in this idea of a dualistically existential viewpoint of the mind, however, is that not only can we see the mind as an entity for further study (to allow us to also further inquire into the nature of it) in accordance with Cartesian dualism and its emphasis of the mind as its own separate entity, but we can also be responsible for it. I cannot stress how important that it is, even if we fail or have biological problems, that we work to control every single one of our thoughts, feelings, desires, and the like. It is important that we be accountable and responsible for our minds. Our mind determines so much of our life (which is probably why it is shrouded in so much mystery), and I think that the more that we understand it, or the more we at least try to understand it, the more that we can accomplish.
I know there are problems with an existential dualism, when thinking specifically about the tradition in which this idea would fit in the field of study that is philosophy. First, there is already the opposition between both schools (existentialism and dualism), and their antagonists. So, for instance, a determinist or a materialist would see many problems with an existentialist view of mind. A monist or Idealist would, naturally, see a problem with a dualistic view of the mind. All of that being said, let’s examine the benefits of believing that our mind is not only free (the existentialist viewpoint), but also separate from any and all other considerations (due to Cartesian dualism). I’ve already implied the freedom with our thoughts and the freedom to study it, but probably the best way to formulate a benefit from this perspective is that we are agents that can study our own mind, and it means not only is this a possibility, but it’s something we can do right now this very moment.
Now, of course, the catch is that the agent must be aware of this possibility. If the agent sincerely believes they are not in control of not just their choices and nature but also their thoughts and desires, then they cannot employ dualistic existentialism. If they don’t think their mind is something that can be studied internally and psychologically, the same problem arises. The ready-made apparatus that comes from the uniquely but conveniently combined concepts giving way to dualistic existentialism is that we get to control our minds. We have complete control, we have the opportunity, potentially at least, for complete understanding.
How can this deep understanding of the mind be reached/achieved? I think reflection is crucial for this process. The benefits of self-reflection are insurmountable. So, for instance, what are we thinking right now? Are we aware of what we are thinking? What do we want right now? Are we aware of what we want right now? Are we aware of where our thoughts are going to go from this point on? Can we predict what is going to happen with our train of thought, and where we’ll end up soon enough?
Whether that can be done or not conclusively, is hard to say: But the program behind existential dualism is that we are certainly going to try. The mind has too much potential, and the good thing about self-consciousness, reached via some self-reflection, is that we are getting in touch with our deepest nature. It would seem to me that there is nothing really deeper in meaning than the human mind (apart from, if you’re into metaphysics, spirituality, and even religion, the human heart and the human soul), and there is certainly a benefit from trying to study the mind. I am talking about psychology, but I’m talking about more than just psychology. I know this is a common objection to my conception of the mind (just look at the behaviorists), but essentially, what is the point of knowing all about the physics, chemistry, and biology of the mind, if we don’t actually know what the mind is, what makes it tick, what it is thinking and why it is thinking, etc.? I propose that there are few things more important than understanding, or trying to understand, the human psyche. No wonder Freud was so arrogant: He had to believe he’d figured out the mind, because otherwise he’d have to admit how completely unpredictable the mind is. Because, when it comes to human behavior and the mind, certainly, it’s difficult to take a deterministic perspective, and even in terms of the mysterious nature of the mind, it’s hard to take a materialist stance. Can it all really be reduced to the physical realm? I’m not so sure, despite the evidence. And even if it can all be reduced to the physical realm, what good is it to know this (knowing of which is itself a kind of abstraction in the abstract mind)?
The theory of dualistic existentialism, however, isn’t a theory of mind meant to be conclusive. Nothing is ever really conclusive, of course, not even in science (which is why we have philosophy of science). Who really understands their own mind, much less the mind of anyone else? Rather, the theory is proposed as a means for narrowing in on the powers of the mind, the potential of the mind (to defend it from certain naysayers), and essentially, give back control to our conception of mind. We’ve gotten too carried away by materialism and determinism and the like, and have moved away from trying to understand the mind as something that we are in control of, or at least could potentially be in control of. As a side note, I think that is what can be appreciated about Eastern philosophy, and their emphasis on meditation, and trying to get in touch with the mind, or understand it, or even empty it. I don’t deny that the mind is complex, and I don’t want to pin it down (though I don’t think that’s possible) … but I do want to study it, and I do want to be responsible for it, as much as I can.
So, what do you think about this concept of dualistic existentialism and how it relates to the mind? I have hit upon some of the objections already. I definitely don’t promote the idea that the mind is “just” existentially dualistic (I don’t want to overly categorize the mind: as much as I like Aristotle, I think he worked too hard to categorize existence), but I do want to give us a specific way of viewing the mind that might give us more freedom and even more purpose, for the reasons I’ve iterated: Because we can study it (via methods like self-reflection, and because we focus exclusively on the mind) and we can be accountable for it (via the philosophies of existentialism). Just remember, you would have to be aware that you are an active agent, and participant, in everything that you think, feel, and be. Without being aware of it, your brain is free to do whatever it wants (in that sense, the materialist would win: just let the brain chemistry decide all of your decisions, and live life that way).
Even if this theory of the mind is wrong, it still gives us a starting point for viewing the mind. It still gives us a place to go. And if it is right? I have simply stated a theory that will help us focus on the powers of the mind, and defend it from the naysayers, those that want to crush the potential of our minds.