Fear, Denial, and Loathing in the Philosophy of Mind.

Mr Nemo
14 min readJan 11, 2019

By Robert Hanna

“Diogenes Sheltering in His Barrel,” by John William Waterhouse




#16: The political aesthetics of outer space.

#15: The paradox of distributive social justice, and what is to be done?

#14: How a priori knowledge is really possible.

#13: Is a priori knowledge really possible? Yes; here’s proof.

#12: Is human free agency really possible? Yes; here’s how.

#11: What is democracy?

#10: Fear, loathing, and Pascal in Las Vegas: radical agnosticism.

#9: The philosophy of policing, crime, and punishment.

#8: The philosophy of borders, immigration, and refugees.

#7: The philosophy of old age.

#6: Faces, masks, personal identity, and Teshigahara.

#5: Processualism, organicism, and the two waves of the organicist revolution.

#4: Realistic idealism: ten theses about mind-dependence.

#3: Kant, universities, The Deep(er) State, and philosophy.

#2: When Merleau-Ponty Met The Whiteheadian Kripke Monster.

#1: Introductory; The rise and fall of Analytic philosophy; Cosmopolitanism and the real philosophy of the future; How to socialize the philosophy of mind.


308. Fear, denial, and loathing in the philosophy of mind. Recent and contemporary philosophy of mind is filled with existential fear, denial, and loathing:

fear and denial of consciousness;[i]

fear and denial of conscious intentionality, especially including conscious thought;[ii]

fear and denial of free agency (which presupposes consciousness and conscious intentionality);[iii] and above all,

loathing directed at any philosopher (or anyone else, for that matter) who has existentially faced up to the irreducible manifest reality of all these facts or phenomena, while still insisting on their naturalness, and therefore refusing either to reduce these facts or phenomena to mere things, or to inflate them by appealing to something mysterious, ghostly, or inherently hidden from human experience (aka “things-in-themselves,” “noumena,” “immortal souls,” etc.).

In short, recent and contemporary philosophy of mind is filled with existential inauthenticity, since philosophers of mind are talking about “human, all too human” creatures like us, especially including themselves, you, I, and the folks living next door, and not about some mere things or some mysterious ghosts.

Lucy McKenzie: Untitled, 2002

309. For clarity’s sake —

by “consciousness” I mean immanently-reflexive, egocentrically-centered (in orientable space and unidirectional time) experience, aka subjective experience;

by “experience,” I mean mental acts, states, or processes of any kind;

by “intentionality” I mean mental “directedness” and mental representation;

by “thought” I mean logically-guided conceptualization and judging or inferring; and

by “free agency” I mean natural libertarian freedom of the will and the practical agency of real human persons.[iv]

310. Simply but also synoptically put, the philosophy of mind is philosophical inquiry and theorizing that is focused on any or all of four basic problems:

The Mind–Body Problem: What explains the existence and specific character of conscious, intentional minds like ours in a physical world?

The Problem of Mental Causation: What explains the causal relevance and causal efficacy of conscious, intentional minds like ours in a physical world?

The Problem of Intentional Action: What explains the categorical difference between the things we consciously and intentionally do, and the things that just happen to us?

The Problem of Mental Representation: What explains our mind’s capacity to represent the world and ourselves, and what is the nature of the mental content of our mental representations?

311. In view of these problems, for me, the methodology of the philosophy of mind is a systematic triangulation that simultaneously draws on and synthesizes the results of three distinct sub-methods:

phenomenology, that is, the first-person introspective descriptions of conscious, intentional human experience, including intersubjective experience,

cognitive or affective neuroscience, that is, the empirical scientific study of cognitive or affective states, acts, and processes in human or non-human animals, and

classical philosophical reasoning about the mind, that is, either conceptual analysis and/or real, substantive metaphysics, directed to exploring the nature of minds like ours.

312. Needless to say, philosophy of mind in any or all of these senses has a long history, especially including Plato’s Phaedo, Aristotle’s De Anima, and Descartes’s Meditations on First Philosophy.

It also encompasses a standard array of recent doctrines, fast-forwarding from Descartes to the mid-20th century, which I will now very briefly gloss.

Classical Cartesian interactionist substance dualism in the philosophy of mind holds that the human mind and the human body are essentially distinct substances, one of them fundamentally non-material or non-physical, and the other one fundamentally material or physical, hence fundamentally non-mental.

These distinct substances are held together by metaphysically mysterious contingent causal relations, including both mind-to-body or mind-to- mind causal relations (aka “mental causation”) and body-to-mind causal relations.

By sharp contrast, philosophy of mind in the mainstream Anglo-American tradition, running from roughly 1950 up to the beginning of the 21st century can be doubly characterized by

(i) its official rejection of classical Cartesian interactionist substance dualism, and

(ii) its central, ongoing commitment to brain-bounded materialism (aka “brain-bounded physicalism”) as regards the nature of the mind-body relation and the nature of cognition.

At the same time, however, even despite its official anti-Cartesianism, this tradition remains implicitly committed to a three-part metaphysical presupposition that I call Cartesian Fundamentalism, according to which

(i) the mental is fundamentally (that is, inherently, necessarily. and exclusively) non- physical,

(ii) the physical is fundamentally (that is, inherently, necessarily, and exclusively) non- mental, and

(ii) no substance can have a complementary dual essence that is inherently and necessarily both mental and physical.

All classical Cartesian interactionist substance dualists and all materialists or physicalists, alike, are committed to Cartesian Fundamentalism.

They differ only as to whether, on the one hand, the mental and the physical possess equal but opposite ontological status, which is classical Cartesian interactionist substance dualism, or, on the other, the mental asymmetrically ontologically depends on the physical, which is materialism or physicalism.

Hence all materialists or physicalists, at bottom, are Cartesian materialists or physicalists.

Now materialism or physicalism, as such, says that properties of or facts about the human mind are constitutively determined by fundamentally physical facts.

But there are two different types of materialism or physicalism:

reductive materialism or physicalism, and

non-reductive materialism or physicalism.

Reductive materialism or physicalism says that all properties of or facts about the human mind are wholly constitutively determined by fundamentally physical properties or facts; that is: the human mind is nothing over and above the fundamentally physical world.

Non-reductive materialism or physicalism, by contrast, says that some but not all properties of or facts about the human mind are wholly constitutively determined by fundamentally physical properties or facts; that is: certain causally inert properties or facts about the human mind — for example, about the normative character of rational intentionality, or about the qualitative specific character of consciousness — vary independently of fundamentally physical properties or facts, even though all of the human mind’s causally efficacious properties or facts are still wholly constitutively determined by fundamentally physical properties or facts.

Brain-bounded materialism or physicalism, whether reductive or non-reductive, says that properties or facts about the human mind are constitutively determined by fundamentally physical properties or facts about the human brain.

For example, a very popular mainstream view first articulated in the 1950s, the Materialist or Physicalist Mind-Brain Identity Theory, holds that all mental properties and facts are asymmetrically or “downwardly” identical to, hence “nothing over and above,” brain-properties and brain-facts.

313. Over the first two decades of the 21st century, philosophy of mind in the mainstream Anglo-American tradition, has been significantly influenced by the extended mind thesis,[v] which challenges the specifically brain-bounded component of brain-bounded materialism or physicalism, and also by panpsychism,[vi] which challenges both materialism or physicalism and Cartesian dualism alike.

The extended mind thesis says that the fundamentally physical constitutive ground of mental properties or facts extends into the natural and/or social environment beyond the human body, either by means of external vehicles of mental content or by means of external vehicles of consciousness; that is: the human mind is essentially spread out into the natural and social world, although not throughout the entire natural world.

Panpsychism goes one giant step further than the extended mind thesis, however, and says that if we posit the existence of consciousness (or experience) in everything, everywhere in nature, at the basic level,

either (i) as an irreducible intrinsic, nonrelational property of a neutral cosmic stuff that’s as much mental as it is physical, but can appear as mind-like or as matter-like in different natural contexts (aka “neutral monism”),

or (ii) as an intrinsic nonrelational feature of all basic physical particles (which may also be atomic events),

then we don’t have to explain how causally efficacious conscious mind mysteriously emerges or “pops out” from the basic level of nature — because consciousness (or experience) is already literally installed in everything, everwhere in nature, right from the metaphysical get-go.

314. By sharp contrast to philosophy of mind in the mainstream Anglo-American tradition, however, I reject materialism or physicalism (whether reductive or non-reductive), the brain-bounded thesis, the extended mind thesis, and panpsychism alike, not only for strictly theoretical reasons, but also because I believe that they all express, in different ways, an intense (if often unselfconscious or self-deceived) existential fear, denial, and loathing about consciousness, conscious intentionality, and free agency.

And at the same time, I also reject classical Cartesian interactionist substance dualism.

My double rejection of materialism or physicalism (whether reductive or non-reductive) on the one hand, and classical Cartesian interactionist substance dualism on the other, is rationally motivated and entailed by my thoroughgoing rejection of Cartesian Fundamentalism.

Hence for me, the mental is not fundamentally non-physical; the physical is not fundamentally non-mental; and it is also really possible for a substance to have a complementary dual essence that is inherently and necessarily both mental and physical.

Indeed, according to my view, it is actually the case that some substances have a complementary dual essence that is inherently and necessarily both mental and physical, since creatures like us are those very substances.

Very simply put, according to my view, creatures like us are nothing more and nothing less than minded human animals.

(I don’t in any way mean to deny that there are also non-human or non-rational minded animals: contrariwise.

It’s just that the philosophy of mind, insofar as it looks towards free agency, is particularly focused on rational minded human animals.)

315. Correspondingly, my metaphysics of the mind-body relation, as worked out and defended in Embodied Minds in Action,[vii] is the essential embodiment theory.

This theory centers on the following six core theses.

The Essential Embodiment Thesis:

Creatures with conscious, intentional minds are necessarily and completely neurobiologically embodied.

The Essentially Embodied Agency Thesis:

Basic acts (for example, raising one’s arm) are intentional body movements caused by an essentially embodied mind’s synchronous trying to make those very movements and its active guidance of them.

The Emotive Causation Thesis:

Trying and its active guidance, as the cause of basic intentional actions, is primarily a pre-reflective, desire-based emotive mental activity and only derivatively a self-conscious or self-reflective, deliberative intellectual mental activity.

The Mind-Body Animalism Thesis:

The fundamental mental properties of conscious, intentional minds are:

(i) non-logically or strongly metaphysically (that is, synthetically) a priori necessarily reciprocally intrinsically connected to corresponding fundamental physical properties in a living animal’s body (aka mental-physical property fusion), and

(ii) irreducible truly global or inherently dominating intrinsic structures of motile, suitably neurobiologically complex, egocentrically-centered and spatially- oriented, thermodynamically irreversible living organisms (aka, neo-Aristotelian hylomorphism).

The Dynamic Emergence Thesis:

The natural world itself is neither fundamentally physical nor fundamentally mental; instead, it is essentially a causal-dynamic totality of forces, processes, and patterned movements and changes in real space and real time, all of which exemplify fundamental physical properties (for example, molecular, atomic, and quantum properties). Some but not all of those physical events also exemplify irreducible biological properties (for example, being a living organism), and some but not all of those biological events also exemplify irreducible fundamental mental properties (for example,consciousness or intentionality). And both biological properties and fundamental mental properties are dynamically emergent properties of those events.

The Intentional Causation Thesis:

A mental cause is an event or process involving both consciousness and intentionality, such that it is a necessary proper part of a nomologically jointly sufficient essentially mental-and-physical cause of intentional body movements. In so doing, it is a dynamically emergent structuring cause of those movements. Then, under the appropriate endogenous and exogenous conditions, by virtue of synchronous trying and its active guidance, conscious, intentional essentially embodied minds are mental causes of basic acts from their inception in neurobiological processes to their completion in overt intentional body movements.

In this way, The Essential Embodiment Theory says

that our dynamically emergent, irreducible, sentient and sapient minds are also necessarily interdependent with our own living organismic animal bodies and not essentially distinct from them;

that we are far-from- equilibrium, asymmetric, complex, self-organizing thermodynamic systems;

that we act by intentionally moving our bodies by means of our desire-based emotions and trying; and

that our conscious, intentional, caring, and rational minds are basically causally efficacious precisely because they are metaphysically continuous with our biological lives, and life is basically causally efficacious in physical nature.

The simple upshots of the essential embodiment theory, then, are these two synoptic claims:

In thinking about the mind-body problem, we should decisively replace the early modern Cartesian and Newtonian ghost-in-the-machine metaphysics with a post- Cartesian and post-Newtonian but also at the same time neo-Aristotelian immanent-structure-in-the-non-equilibrium-thermodynamics metaphysics.

The irreducible conscious, intentional, caring minds of cognizers and agents grow naturally in suitably complex living organisms, as irreducible, non-dualistic, non- supervenient, asymmetric thermodynamic immanent structures of those organisms.

Correspondingly, I am committed to a body-bounded constitutive ground of mindedness, and neither to a brain-bounded ground, nor to an extended ground beyond the living human body, nor to a panpsychic ground in everything, everywhere in nature.

316. Here, very briefly, are four arguments showing why human mindedness extends out beyond the human brain to the limits of the living human body, but no further.

Argument I. The organismic nature of the human mind

1. Human minds are essentially embodied in living human organisms.

2. So human minds are essentially alive and organismic.

3. But extended vehicles for human minds are either (i) not living human organisms or else (ii) not the same living human organisms in which those minds are essentially embodied.

4. Therefore, human minds cannot be extended beyond the living human body.

Argument II. The promiscuity of the extended mind

Without a sufficient rationale for limiting mind-extension, then in principle, anything in nature or society could count as a constitutive vehicle for the human mind, which is metaphysically absurd.

Argument III. The systematic diminishment of human practical agency and agential autonomy under the extended mind thesis

1. Purported facts about the extension of human mind into the environment diminish human practical agency and agential autonomy in direct proportion to their distance from the individual minded human animal, the natural and moral source of practical agency.

2. But any theory of the mind that systematically diminishes human practical agency and agential autonomy is a false theory.

3. Therefore the extended mind thesis is false.

Argument IV. Know thyself: the finitude of minded human animals

1. As the-Delphic-Oracle-inspired Socrates pointed out, we must know ourselves and our own limits.

2. To say that human minds are essentially embodied in living organisms, is to say that we are minded human animals.

3. We are not reducible to brains, as per brain-bounded reductive materialism or physicalism. We are not Cartesian ghosts, as per classical Cartesian interactionist substance dualism. And we are not indefinitely extensible into the natural or social environment, as per the extended mind thesis.

4. Only the knowledge that we are minded human animals, nothing less than that and nothing more than that, satisfies the Delphic/Socratic dictum.

317. Now what about panpsychism?

It should already be clear enough that panpsychism is immediately subject to a version of Argument IV above: if minds like ours are not indefinitely extensible into the natural or social environment, then obviously minds like ours are also not literally installed in everything, everywhere in nature.

But more precisely, my view is that panpsychism is half-right and half-wrong.

It’s right to posit the existence of consciousness (or experience) at the basic level of nature, necessarily bound up with physical properties, insofar as consciousness (or experience) occurs in living organisms of a suitable degree of complexity, i.e., minded animals; but it’s wrong to go metaphysically overboard and literally install consciousness (or experience) in everything, everywhere in nature.

For in that case, then even (for example) shoes, ships, sealing wax, cabbages, beer, bourbon, beer bottles, and bourbon bottles are all literally conscious (or having experiences) — which, as much as I do like beer and bourbon, is clearly an excessively strong metaphysical hypothesis.

Moreover, since consciousness (or experience) is supposed by the panpsychist to be an intrinsic, nonrelational feature of basic stuff or basic particles, then it follows that mind and mindedness cannot be directly known from outside the stuff or beings that have those properties intrinsically and nonrelationally, and that therefore mind and mindedness are never manifestly real in the spatiotemporal world of human experience.

By contrast, I think it’s self-evidently obvious that not only are minded animals reflexively conscious, but also that they directly consciously perceive the mindedness of other minded animals.

318. In short, all of the basic theoretical problems encountered by materialism or physicalism (whether reductive or non-reductive), Cartesian dualism, brain-bounded theories, extended mind theories, and panpsychism, are fully avoided by the essential embodiment theory.

But at the end of the philosophical day, the most important virtue of the essential embodiment theory is existential, since it fully avoids the fear, denial, and loathing expressed by all of the other theories.

The hardest things of all for us, not only as philosophers of mind specifically but also as philosophers full stop, and as human free agents, are these: to be able to locate ourselves correctly, to know our own powers and their scope, to know our own inner and outer limits, neither to reduce ourselves to mere things nor to inflate ourselves into mysterious ghosts, and therefore, finally, to refuse self-deception and face up to ourselves as we manifestly really are.

Of all the theories I’ve surveyed, only the essential embodiment theory meets this existential standard of authenticity.


[i] See, e.g., G. Strawson, “The Consciousness Deniers,” New York Review of Books (13 March 2018), available online at URL = https://www.nybooks.com/daily/2018/03/13/the-consciousness-deniers/>.

[ii] See, e.g., S. Ayan, “There Is No Such Thing as Conscious Thought,” Scientific American (20 December 2018), available online at URL = <https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/there-is-no-such-thing-as-conscious-thought/>.

[iii] Ironically, Strawson himself is one of the better-known free-agency-deniers; see G. Strawson, “The Impossibility of Moral Responsibility,” in G. Watson (ed.), Free Will (2nd edn., Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2003). See also D. Pereboom, Living Without Free Will (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2001); and S. Harris, Free Will (New York: Free Press, 2012).

[iv] See R. Hanna, Deep Freedom and Real Persons: A Study in Metaphysics, aka THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION, Vol. 2 (New York: Nova Science, 2018), PREVIEW.

[v] See, e.g., A. Clark and D. Chalmers, “The Extended Mind,” Analysis 58 (1998): 7–19.

[vi] See, e.g., P. Goff, W. Seager, and S. Allen-Hermanson, “Panpsychism,” in E.N. Zalta (ed.),The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2017 Edition), available online at URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2017/entries/panpsychism/>.

[vii] R. Hanna and M. Maiese, Embodied Minds in Action (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2009), PREVIEW.



Mr Nemo, W, X, Y, & Z, Friday 11 January 2019

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Mr Nemo

Formerly Captain Nemo. A not-so-very-angry, but still unemployed, full-time philosopher-nobody.