Conscious Will

Karey Perkins karey at
Fri Apr 26 15:16:45 EDT 2002

As one of my many elective courses for the philosophy
minor, I had to take "Philosophy of Mind."  Just think,
a whole semester of reading philosophers asking (and
receiving various answers to) the very questions you ask
below.  What fun.

There was no final conclusion, but to greatly simplify a
complex topic, the views, if I can pull them up from my
enfeebled absent-minded professor memory, were concerned
with how MIND related to BODY: what is the action and
relation of mind to our physical selves (are they one or
separate? does one exist and not the other?), what is
the substance of "mind" (must it be of biological origin
or can an incredibly advanced computer mimic our brain
processes to the extent that it gains "consciousness"?)
and so forth (can "zombies" who look and act exactly
like humans, but do not have consciousness, be
considered "human"? also, various kinds of "robots" and
"aliens" and "bats" (Nagel) and "qualia" (our
perceptions) are hypothesized to refine and clarify
their thoughts -- these philosopher of mind guys had
great imaginations.) The views run the gamut from:

**physicalism:  (physical reductionist) Soul/spirit is
reduced to psychology which is reduced to biology which
is reduced to physico-chemical brain reactions.  IE:
Depression is just "C-fibers" firing in the brain or
some such -- take a pill for it (Prozac solves all our
problems).   The logical positivists cited earlier said
something of this sort...though they didn't necessarily
do away with psychology, etc., just said it was

**materialism (various kinds)

**functionalism (various kinds)


**dualism (various types) but basically:  Mind and Body
both exist but are completely separate substances
(Descartes is the father of this...but it is largely
"out" today in philosophical circles)

**idealism: opposite of physicalism -- the only real
substance is mind, or ideals, and physical
manifestations are an illusion (Plato)  Again, this is
largely "out" today.

You may wonder why I chose not to elucidate some of the
views above...simply, I don't know the exact explanation
(this course was two years ago and I made a (ahem) "C"
in it...)  I basically learned enough to know this is a
really hard topic and I need to study it more.  Perhaps
some others of you can help out here?

However, all of this is a very prominent topic of
Percy's.  I have just finished reading all of Percy's
fiction, and it was quite clear from each of his novels
that he is most certainly against the first:  Physical
reductionism -- and that this is a major theme of his.
He laments our current postmodern society's tendency to
physicalism, at the sacrifice and neglect of our spirit
and soul.  This is a handicap of the residents of the
20th (and 21st) century that those in centuries before
us did not have to face.  It is not good for any of other words, while we live in the "best of
times" (having a wonderful life on a physical level), we
also live in the "worst of times" (spiritually --little
acknowledgement or attention to this very real side of
us is given in our society).

But, what I didn't pick up until I started on his
non-fiction (which is slower going than the fiction, I'm
still on "Signposts in a Strange Land" and haven't made
it to the others yet), is that he is also NOT a dualist!
Of course it's obvious after the fact (Love in the Ruins
and Tom More's lapsometer measuring the
physical/spiritual split; the "San Andreas fault"...).
This also relates to our immanence/transcendence
discussion -- what Percy's saying is he's not a dualist.

So what is he?


 -----Original Message-----
From: James Piat [mailto:piat1 at]
Sent: Friday, April 26, 2002 6:09 AM
To: Percy-L: Literary and Philosophical Discussion
Subject: [percy-l] Re: Conscious Will

Dear Folks-

Seems to me that the drive to be conscious is the
strongest drive of all. Consciousness is like going to
the movies only better  --it's our own life that is
being shown.  Being conscious of our motives and actions
does not in my view necessarily mean we are freely
choosing them.  Nor do I understand how consciousness
would be necessary for free choice to occur.

I'm not even sure what consciousness is. How does
consciousness differ from mere responding? I think
consciousness may depend upon the ability to represent
experience.  That perhaps the two are somehow intimately
connected and responsible for producing the sense of
life occurring on two levels  --the mental spiritual and
the physical material.  What can a conscious person do
that an unconscious person can not do?  Is language the
answer?  Is there such a thing as unconscious language?
I suppose there is such a thing as mindless
chatter --and perhaps this is an example of it.  But my
question is could we have the word (as representation)
without consciousness and/or vice versa.  Perhaps it is
true that in the beginning (of aware life) was the word
and it occurred in the garden of Eden.

Jim Piat
An archive of all list discussion is available at
Visit the Walker Percy Project at
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <>

More information about the Percy-L mailing list