It's on the Mind...
One could argue that the single greatest mystery left in contemporary academia is the question of how the mind (human, animal or whatever) fits into what otherwise seems to be a completely physical universe. There was a time, not so long ago in the early to mid-twentieth century, when a great number of philosophers, enamored with the promises of physicalism, were convinced that the mind wasn't much of a problem after all. The simple solution was to assert that the mind was nothing but physical processes - reducible to at least the level of biology and theoretically to the most primitive physical particles and their interactions. But wherever ideologies rule for a time, our most intimate perceptions of reality will serve as correctives.
In the second half of the twentieth century, philosophers once again recognized the massive anomalies that the mind posed for our current physical theories. Indeed, there is a large school of philosophers today who contend that our physical theories have neither the vocabulary nor the theoretical concepts to deal with the phenomenal aspects of consciousness. But there are other fundamental issues as well. How do we deal with the peculiar nature of mental causes, where things happen for reasons? Minds seem to have unique causal powers: the ability to make things happen that we wouldn't expect from blind, purposeless interactions.
This historical analysis is all well and good, but what are the implications? It's one thing for philosophers to once again acknowledge the major problems that the mind poses for physicalist/reductive accounts of the universe; it's another to offer an alternative. The problematic dilemma arises out of a committment to physicalism on one hand, and an intuition that mind deserves a more fundamental place in our ontology than physicalism offers. For the last several decades, the most common attempt to resolve this dilemma has been to propose theories that fall under the rubric of "supervenience" - strategies for holding onto physicalism in addition to some vague sort of realism about mind. However, the intellectual work that supervenience theories achieve has been called into serious question.
So where do philosophers of mind go from here? Committment to physicalism has been nothing short of pervasive throughout the last century, and yet, it seems that the mind provides ample reason to reject strong physicalist ontologies. Is there a workable alternative to reductive accounts of the mind? It is with the hope of encouraging the exploration and pursuit of such alternatives, that we offer this issue of PCID.