Diversity and Inclusiveness The Inclusion Problem in the Philosophy of Mind: The Case of Dualism

The Inclusion Problem in the Philosophy of Mind: The Case of Dualism

In posts today and tomorrow, Professor Anand Vaidya uses the example of philosophy of mind to address the issue of diversifying our course syllabi. Dr. Vaidya’s presentation of the case of philosophy of mind is but an example of his ongoing research, in connection with many other scholars, on the inclusion problem in philosophy education. In future posts, he will be discussing diversification in other areas of philosophy, such as critical thinking, logic, metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, political philosophy, and aesthetics. In today’s post, he offers examples of how particular debates from non-western philosophy of mind can be connected to the topics explored in philosophy of mind classes focused on the western canon, and in tomorrow’s post Vaidya addresses some concerns one might have about the challenges and benefits of making these sorts of adjustments to one’s syllabus.


by Anand Jayprakash Vaidya

  1. The Inclusion Problem in the Philosophy of Mind

Every teacher of introductory philosophy of mind teaches some portion of Descartes’s Meditations and Objections and Replies. Most teachers I know go through the following sequence: skepticism, the Cogito argument, the wax example, the trademark argument, the distinction between understanding and imagination, the conceivability argument, and the divisibility argument. And since it is a mind course, most go over Arnauld’s objection to the relationship between clear and distinct perception in relation to possibility by separability, as well as Elizabeth’s objection by way of causal closure.

Most go on to then discuss a host of topics in contemporary philosophy of mind, such as Putnam’s functionalism, Kripke’s anti-physicalism, Burge’s social externalism, etc. But what most of us do not do, but can easily do, is include philosophers from outside the western tradition. I use the term ‘the inclusion problem’ to refer to the set of issues that surround the teaching of non-western thinkers in philosophy courses, where they are traditionally not taught. So, the ‘inclusion problem for philosophy mind’ is simply a phrase that refers to the set of issues that one might face when trying to think through how to meaningfully introduce and discuss non-western philosophers in a philosophy of mind course. In general, there is no reason why one cannot include philosophers from other traditions when building a conversation about the nature of the mind and the body. Here I will take the case of Cartesian dualism in light of classical Indian philosophy and Arabic philosophy. I will focus on the views of the Buddhist thinker Dharmakīrti and the Arabic philosopher Ibn Sina. My basic goal is to show how dualism can be engaged cross-culturally, and show that it can be done at the introductory level. There is no reason to leave discussion of non-western ideas about the mind to area studies courses such as Asian Philosophy or Arabic Thought.

  1. Diversifying Discussions of Dualism

In the 6th Meditation of his Meditations on First Philosophy, Descartes presents the Seperatability Argument for Substance Dualism. The Separability Argument is one of the most commonly taught arguments in an Introduction to Philosophy course and a Philosophy of Mind course. The core passage runs as follows:

First, I know that everything which I clearly and distinctly understand is capable of being created by God so as to correspond exactly with my understanding of it. Hence the fact that I can clearly and distinctly understand one thing apart from another is enough to make me certain that the two things are distinct, since they are capable of being separated, at least by God. The question of what kind of power is required to bring about such a separation does not affect the judgment that the two things are distinct. Thus, simply by knowing that I exist and seeing at the same time that absolutely nothing else belongs to my nature or essence except that I am a thinking thing, I can infer correctly that my essence consists solely in the fact that I am a thinking thing. It is true that I may have (or, to anticipate, that I certainly have) a body that is very closely joined to me. But nevertheless, on the one hand I have a clear and distinct idea of myself, in so far as I am simply a thinking, non-extended thing; and on the other hand I have a distinct idea of body, in so far as this is simply an extended, non-thinking thing. And accordingly, it is certain that I am really distinct from my body, and can exist without it.[1]

However, after presenting Descartes’s argument, one can easily go in for a discussion of work from non-western thinkers for the purposes of a wider discussion.

In his Pramāṇavārttika, Dharmakīrti presents his rejection of physicalism and defense of dualism through his compassion is the proof argument. The following will build on Dan Arnolds’s (2008), “Dharmakīrti’s Dualism” in Philosophy Compass 3.5.

Datum to be explained:

(C): The Buddha exemplified a fathomlessly profound degree of compassion.

Background theses:

(R): The development of compassion by a person requires disciplined repetition. So, the Buddha must have engaged in disciplined repetition.

(L): The Buddha’s compassion could not have been developed in a single lifetime, since there is such an unlimited amount of compassion.

Best explanation:

(D): Thought cannot depend on the body, since were it to, the Buddha could not have     developed such a fathomlessly profound degree of compassion.

One way to see the argument is as follows:

  1. Minds and physical things such as brains are distinct kinds of real stuff or substances because of having clearly different properties. Minds are luminous. Brains are not luminous. Minds have the capacity for infinite improvement with respect to virtues. Brains do not have the capacity for infinite improvement.
  2. Like must cause like; cause and effect are between fundamentally similar kinds of things.
  3. So, the brain and other physical things cannot be the cause of the mental—they can at most be secondary influences, auxiliary causes. A previous mind is the substantial substratum of the present mind, much like previously existing clay is the substantial substratum for the presently existing pot.

Clearly, the work of Descartes can be meaningfully compared to that of Dharmakīrti’s in a number of ways. And one can also apply an objection, Elizabeth’s objection concerning how distinct substances interact, to the work of Dharmakīrti. But Dharmakīrti isn’t the only non-westerner to whom Descartes can be compared.

The Arabic philosopher Ibn Sina (980-1038 C.E.; also spelled Avicenna) provides a thought experiment that can be used to generate discussion of substance dualism as well.

So we say: one of us must imagine himself so that he is created all at once and perfect but with his sight covered so that he cannot see anything external, and created falling through the air or a vacuum, but falling in such a way that he encounters no air resistance nor anything else that would allow him to have any sensations, and with his limbs separated from one another so that they do not meet or touch. Then consider whether he will affirm the existence of his essence [or: of himself]. For he will not have any doubt in affirming existence for his essence, yet he will not along with this affirm [the existence of] the extremities of his limbs, nor his innards, his heart, his brain, or anything external to him. Instead, he will affirm [the existence of] his essence, without affirming that it has length, breadth, or depth. Nor, if in that state he were able to imagine there to be a hand or other body part, would he imagine that it was a part of himself or a condition for his essence [or: himself][2]

If we let the flying man refer to a man who is created all at once, floating in the air or in a void where air cannot hit him, and he cannot sense his surroundings, and he cannot use his sight to see things external to him, the following argument is suggested from the above:

  1. The flying man affirms that his essence exists.
  2. The flying man denies that his limbs or internal organs, or any specific length, breadth, or depth pertains to him.
  3. If the flying man affirms the existence of his essence, but denies the body, then his essence is not the same as his body.
  4. So, the flying man’s essence is not the same as his body.

These arguments from Dharmakīrti and Ibn Sina are but examples. There are many more figures from Indian, Chinese, and other traditions who can be easily engaged in response to Descartes. And there are many good secondary sources on the primary texts that can help one understand how to integrate this material. Many topics in the philosophy of mind can meaningfully be taught by engaging non-western traditions.

[1] This excerpt is taken from J. Cottingham, R. Stoothoff, and D. Murdoch’s (1984) The Philosophical Writings of Descartes Volume II, Cambridge University Press, 54.

[2] This excerpt is taken from Jonardon Ganeri’s (2012) The Self: Naturalism, Consciousness, and the First-Person Stance, Oxford University Press, 58.

Anand Jayprakash Vaidya is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Center for Comparative Philosophy at San Jose State University in California. His interests include the epistemology of intuition, perception, and modality, the metaphysics of logic, critical thinking, the capabilities approach to justice, the philosophy of economics, and cross-cultural and multi-disciplinary public philosophy.

The APA blog is interested in more posts on inclusivity in philosophy. If you would like to submit a contribution, we’d love to hear from you.  Please contact us via the submission form here.



  1. But what does adding these show beyond the fact that others in other places have constructed similar arguments. Is it just to show that good (if we don’t judge these two by contemporary standards; as they stand there’s more wrong with them than the Elizabeth counter argument) Philosophy was done outside the west, or is this supposed to add something to the discussion of mind itself?

  2. Just after reading this article by Professor Vaidya I came across a piece by Suhas Mahesh, an undergraduate at Indian Institute of Science in India: “The Intellectual Wonder That Was Dharmakīrti,” Svarajya http://swarajyamag.com/currentissue/ accessed on Jan 13, 2016).

    In a very lucid and engaging style Suhas Mahesh introduces to the reader Dharmakirti’s poetic brilliance that kept the flame flickering in the philosophical firmament of India in the seventh century. This piece suggests why Dharmakīrti could indeed become the beachhead for the project to diversify and render more inclusive Western philosophy and its teaching.

    At least the following verse of Dharmakirti (cited by Mahesh) should be brought up in a discussion on mind to enliven the class in a Western university:

    Knowing that ‘mind’ is neuter, I sent mine to her; but now it refuses to return; I’ve been ruined by Pāṇini (Subhāṣita-Ratna-Koṣa 478 = नपुंसकम् इति ज्ञात्वा तां प्रति प्रहितं मनः । रमते तच् च तत्रैव हताः पाणिनिना वयम् ।। The word for mind, manas, being of neuter gender in Sanskrit).

  3. Vaidya in his second part proposes that Descartes’ argument (aiming to prove everything from the ground) should be taught side by side with Dharmakirti’s argument from a Buddhist doctrine about the infinite compassion of Buddhas that most students will presumably neither share nor take seriously :

    This is more comparable to Augustine’s argument against skepticism about the external world, that it is inconsistent with the Gospel report that Jesus saw a woman of Samaria — that no one would teach in a secular epistemology course nowadays.

    This fails to do justice to either Indian philosophy or to our students. If we wouldn’t teach arguments using premises from Christian scriptures or theology in a philosophy of mind course, we shouldn’t use dogmatic Buddhological ones either, but only premises plausible independently of these. Perhaps, however,
    Buddhist arguments against selves, more grounded in experience (as was Hume’s), can be usefully contrasted with Descartes’ Cogito. Perhaps a discussion of the Buddhist distinction between relative and absolute would be needed to do this sensitively — the conclusion of the Cogito is good enough for daily life but not for metaphysics.

  4. I guess I don’t understand how there is a so-called “inclusion problem in the philosophy of mind” that needs addressing.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

WordPress Anti-Spam by WP-SpamShield

- Advertisment -


Must Read

Test post Nathan

test test test 

Test Title