Dan Zahavi and John Searle on Consciousness and Non-Reductive Materialism
Keywordsconsciousness, mind, dualism
In his 1994 paper, neuroscientist Benjamin Libet affirmed that he found a way to test the interaction between the mind and the brain. He believed that this procedure would also test the reality of a non-physical mind, emerging from neural activity. In 2000 John Searle objected to Libet’s evident dualism, affirming that the mind is not a hypothesis to test but a datum to be explained. According to Searle, Libet’s problem arose from accepting the Cartesian distinction of ‘mind’ and ‘body’, obsolete categories from an old philosophy. Searle’s solution implied the rejection both of dualism and reductive materialism, suggesting a non-reductive materialism. This first-person ontology, as Searle calls it, aims at preserving, against reductive materialism, the essential features of consciousness, i.e. subjective, qualitative and unified. Searle argued, however, that the nature of consciousness remained biological. Dan Zahavi’s thesis is that a phenomenological approach to the self and consciousness can offer a complementing alternative to the contemporary comprehension of the nature of consciousness. Engaged in an open dialogue with neuroscience and cognitive science in his dealings with consciousness, Zahavi holds, nonetheless, that this notion cannot be completely understood without reference to the notion of the self. Thus, this paper will analyse Zahavi’s ideas about the self and consciousness in Subjectivity and Selfhood (2005) as to evaluate whether his phenomenological approach is able to overcome the materialist tones of Searle’s philosophy of mind, opening the possibility of a non-reductive comprehension of human beings.
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