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The Mind-Body-Problem from the perspective of the Yoruba (african) Concept of a Person

Doctoral Thesis / Dissertation 2003 217 Pages

Philosophy - General Essays, Eras

Excerpt

Inhaltsverzeichnis

DUALIST THEORIES OF A PERSON AND THE NATURE OF THE MIND-BODY PROBLEM
1. 0 INTRODUCTION
1. 1. BACKGROUND TO THE STUDY
1. 2. DUALISM AND THE MIND-BODY PROBLEM
1.3. DUALIST THEORIES OF A PERSON
1. 3. 1. CARTESIAN DUALISM
1. 3. 2. OCCASSIONALISM AND PSYCHO-PHYSICAL PARALLELISM
1. 4. SOME MONIST RESPONSES TO MIND-BODY DUALISM
1. 4. 1. THE IDEALIST RESPONSE
1. 4. 2. THE MATERIALIST RESPONSE
1. 5. NON-COMMITTAL RESPONSES

AN OUTLINE OF THE YORUBA CONCEPT OF A PERSON
2. 0. INTRODUCTION:
2. 1. THE YORUBA CONCEPTION OF REALITY
2. 2. The Yoruba Cosmogony
2. 3. Yoruba Cosmology
2. 4.THE IFA LITERARY CORPUS AND RELATED DOCUMENTED UNDOCUMENTED ORAL SOURCES ON THE YORUBA ONTOLOGY OF A PERSON
2. 5. MATERIAL ASPECTS OF THE YORUBA ONTOLOGY OF A PERSON
2. 5. 1. NON-MATERIAL ASPECTS OF THE YORUBA ONTOLOGY OF A PERSON
2. 6. CRITICAL INTERPRETATION

THE MIND-BODY PROBLEM AND THE YORUBACONCEPT OF A PERSON
3. 0. INTRODUCTION
3. 1. DISTINCTION BETWEEN SUBSTANCE THEORIES OF MIND AND NON-SUBSTANCE THEORIES OF MIND
3. 2. YORUBA ACCOUNT OF MENTAL PHENOMENA
3. 3.THE MIND-BODY PROBLEM IN RELATION TO THE YORUBA CONCEPT OF A PERSON
3. 3. 1 THE IDEA OF A ‘CATEGORY MISTAKE’ AND THE YORUBA ACCOUNT OF THE MENTAL
3. 3. 2. LOGICAL BEHAVIORISM AND THE YORUBA ACCOUNT OF MENTAL PHENOMENA

A COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS OF CONTEMPORARY SCIENTIFIC AND YORUBA CONCEPTS OF A PERSON WITH REFERENCE TO

THE MIND-BODY PROBLEM
4. 0. INTRODUCTION
4. 1. FORMULATIONS OF MATERIALISM
4. 1. 1. Dialectical Materialism
4. 1. 2. Reductive Materialism
4. 2 REDUCTIVE MATERIALISM AND THE SCIENTIFIC CONCEPT OF A PERSON
4. 2. 2.SMART AND ARMSTRONG ON THE MIND-BRAIN IDENTITY THEORY
4. 2. 3. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE, NEURO-SCIENCE AND THE MIND-BODY PROBLEM
4. 3. A COMPARISON OF THE YORUBA AND CONTEMPORARY SCIENTIFIC CONCEPTS OF A PERSON WITH REFERENCE TO THE MIND-BODY PROBLEM
4. 3. 1. SOME POINTS OF SIMILARITIES
4. 3. 2. DISSIMILARITIES: DISTINCTION BETWEEN THE DESCRIPTIVE AND NORMATIVE ACCOUNT OF CAUSATION

A PHILOSOPHICAL APPRAISAL OF THE YORUBA
5. 0. INTRODUCTION
5. 1. YORUBA CONCEPT OF A PERSON: FURTHER CRITICAL INTERPRETATION
5. 2. THE YORUBA MULTIPLE-ASPECT CONCEPT OF A PERSON
5. 2. 1. A YORUBA INTERPRETATION OF THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE MENTAL AND OTHER ASPECTS OF A PERSON
5. 3. AN OUTLINE OF THE SOCIAL (OR NORMATIVE) DIMENSION TO THE YORUBA CONCEPT OF A PERSON
5. 4. ORÍ AND ÈNÌYÀN (PERSON) IN THE YORUBA SOCIETY
5. 4. 1. A SOCIAL INTERPRETATION OF ORÍ
5. 5. IMPLICATIONS FOR SOCIAL EXISTENCE
5. 6. CONCLUDING REMARKS

BIBLIOGRAPHY

CHAPTER ONE DUALIST THEORIES OF A PERSON AND THE NATURE OF THE MIND-BODY PROBLEM

1. 0 INTRODUCTION

The overall objective of this thesis is that of a critical appraisal of the Mind-body problem from the perspective of the Yoruba (African) Concept of a Person. To this end the research has pursued the following specific objectives.

First, the research has attempted to give an outline of what has traditionally been referred to as the mind-body problem. Secondly, in line with the first objective, the research has presented an outline of what may be considered a satisfactory account of the Yoruba concept of a person.

As its third objective, which relies heavily on the second, the research has attempted to show how the Yoruba concept of a person might be used to address the traditional mind-body problem which derives its origin from the dualist view that a person is made up of two components: mind and body. Taking cognizance of contemporary Western scientific attempts to define a person in purely physicalist terms, the research further carried out a comparative study of Western scientific approach and the Yoruba approach to defining a person.

Finally, the research carried out an analytico-philosophical appraisal of the Yoruba concept of a person vis-à-vis its response to the traditional mind-body problem. In this regard, the implications of the Yoruba concept of a person for social existence was explored.

As an exercise in philosophy, the method of this research is that of explanatory analysis and evaluation. The working definition that informs the philosophical method employed is that which sees the task of philosophy as that of a critical examination of life. Life in this sense is taken essentially to refer to man, his environment, his understanding of the environment in which he is situated and in essence, the totality of his beliefs, practices and institutions. Thus conceived, the method employed in the ultimate is that of critical and logical analysis.

The method of critical analysis is essentially that of analyzing arguments and clarifying concepts used in making claims. The critical or analytic approach in philosophy seeks for consistency and coherency in arguments. In the Yoruba aspect of the study, some of the recurring concepts that will be subjected to the method of philosophical analysis include those of ‘ ènìyàn’, ‘ èmí’, ‘ orí’, ‘ ara’ and ‘ okan’ among others.

As a critical expository and evaluative exercise, the research describes what is held to be the dominant view of the nature of man from two intellectual backgrounds viz. the Western and the Yoruba (African). The reserarch then attempts to give a critical interpretation of both with the aim of coming to an acceptable (or plausible) submission. Firstly the submission is with respect to which gives an adequate response to the Mind-body problem, and secondly, which provides the more plausible account of the nature of a person. There exist ample research materials in the Western intellectual tradition. To supplement the existing few documentary materials on the Yoruba concept of a person the research has adopted the method of making personal contacts and conducting interviews, with identifiable and knowledgeably competent Yoruba scholars, sages and Ifa Priests (being custodians of Yoruba wisdom).

The sourcing of materials for this research thus involved, in the first place, consultation of the existing inter-disciplinary literature on the Philosophy of Mind. Secondly, the research consulted those aspects of the Ifa Literary Corpus which have as their content an exposition of the Yoruba concept of a person. For these aspects of the Ifa Literary Corpus the research depended on the documented oral literature of the Yoruba and on personal question-and-answer sessions with identifiable Yoruba thinkers and Ifa exponents. The justification for appeal to Ifa Literary Corpus is the fact that the Corpus, as a compendium of Yoruba wisdom can be likened to a philosophical treatise, which attempts to give ratiocinative answers to the fundamental questions of life and existence.

Appealing to the Ifa Corpus however presents a methodological problem. Although Ifa is pan-Yoruba, it exhibits some slight and mostly dialectological differences from one Yoruba group to the other. To overcome this problem the research consulted other genres such as Ijala (the traditional poetry of Yoruba hunters), ewi iwoyi (contemporary general poetry), and proverbs which are also vehicles of Yoruba thought and philosophy. In order to further strengthen its basis, the research employed the ‘focus-group interview’ method. This method involves assembling people of different backgrounds and operating with different genres of oralture and holding discussion sessions with them. It is believed that the answers from such session will not only be plausible but will also be closer to the truth.

The method therefore is not one totally closed to the recognition of other methods or schools of philosophy. At the very heart of this study is the important recognition that there exist a number of philosophical traditions which will have one truth or the other to offer with respect to the attempt to outline a fuller and global understanding of man.

To effectively achieve its objective, therefore, the thesis is divided into five chapters. Chapter one is titled ‘Dualist Theories of a Person and the Nature of the mind-body problem’. The specific objective of this chapter is to critically outline the origin and nature of the mind-body problem in metaphysics.

The specific objective of Chapter Two titled ‘An outline of the Yoruba Concept of a Person’ is the articulation of what may be viewed a true account of the Yoruba concept of a person. To that extent this chapter involves an exposition and interpretation of the Yoruba account of a person (as found in Yoruba oral tradition, for example).

The above objective becomes instructive as a background to the third chapter titled ‘The Mind-Body Problem and the Yoruba Concept of a Person’. The specific objective of this chapter is to see, from the perspective of an outline of what is considered to be a plausible account of the Yoruba concept of a person, whether the Mind-body problem arises for the Yoruba (or in Yoruba culture).

In chapter four titled ‘Contemporary Scientific and Yoruba Concepts of a Person and the Mind-Body Problem: A Comparative Analysis’ the research attempted a comparative analysis of the contemporary Western and Yoruba responses to the mind-body problem. This has been carried out with a view to seeing what implications those responses have for the concept of a person.

The specific objective of the concluding chapter is that of an analytical appraisal of the Yoruba concept of a person vis-à-vis its response to the traditional Mind-body problem. The concluding chapter also analytically outlined the implications of the Yoruba conception of a person for social existence.

1. 1. BACKGROUND TO THE STUDY

Man, everywhere is essentially faced with similar basic concerns among which are the search for food, shelter and clothing. In addition to these are two metaphysical concerns. The first of this fundamental twin-concern is that of understanding human nature. The second is that of determining, on the basis of the first, what ought to be man’s relationship with the world in which he finds himself.

In essence, man everywhere, despite what may appear to be sharply contrasting environments and differing experiences, raises and attempts to give answers to a myriad of deeply intertwined questions in his attempt to understand his place in nature. He asks for example, ‘who am I?’, ‘what is the purpose of my existence?’, ‘how am I to relate with the forces of nature within which I find myself situated?’, ‘What ought to be my relationship with other beings that share almost essentially uniform characteristics with me?’, ‘Am I going to live here on earth forever?’, ‘Will I be survived by any part of my living self when I die?’, ‘If there is, which part is it and what is its nature?’, ‘Am I a free agent?’ ‘Or, are my actions determined by some other force(s)?’, ‘Is there a creator for this universe of which I am a part? And most importantly, how do I know anything at all?’

These significantly fundamental questions have impressed themselves on various peoples in various epochs. In fact, a people’s culture – comprising their beliefs, law, art, moral and the totality of their designs for living[1] – reflects the people’s collective response to these questions. One significant lesson from the history of cultures is that a people’s culture is largely determined by their collective experiences. It is experience that shapes how a people views reality, how they view themselves, how they view others and how they come to view their place in relation to others.

The Japanese, the American and the African cultures, among others, are all responses to virtually similar or uniform experiences in differing environments. The Japanese feels the urge for food, shelter and clothing just as his American or African look-alike in far-away continents. The way by which the Japanese satisfies his/er desires for these basic needs of life are however largely dependent on the kind of environment s/he finds himself. The same applies for the American and the African.

If culture is then taken in an anthropological sense to be a collection of the customs, practices, rituals, beliefs, habits, tools and mores of a people[2] one will be justified in submitting that cultures cannot but be relative. Each culture is relative to the environment from which it evolves. It is this cultural relativity that is then responsible for the various approaches that have been put forward by man in his attempt to answer the fundamental questions of reality and existence.

It has to be noted however that the submission that cultures are relative does not imply that any culture is static. This is because relativity does not rule out change. Just as the experience of a people may vary from time to time – as they experience cultural contacts for example, - so also does their perception of reality, as well as the way they relate with it. This dynamic relativistic feature of culture confirms that man in every age and society has attempted to think critically about the human condition. In fact, as noted by Wiredu, philosophy is, and has been, culture relative in various subtle ways.[3]

Again, at some level, it is justifiable to call a people’s culture their philosophy of life. This is because it is a people's philosophy of life that underlies their social, ethical, scientific, intellectual and technological expressions. Thus, when conceived as a critique of cultures[4], philosophy and culture come to have a common content: man, his nature, his environment, his understanding of the environment, in essence, the totality of his beliefs, practices and institutions.

Furthermore, as Sodipo notes, thinking critically about the human condition; its scope and fears, its laws of thought, its norms and conduct, its criteria of artistic creation and judgement are the concerns of philosophy.[5] Thus, culture and philosophy are inexorably intertwined.[6] As a people articulate a pattern of living and as they evolve norms of conduct, they are engaged in the intellectual exercise of philosophizing. Sodipo's definition of philosophy is apposite in this respect. For him, ‘philosophy is reflective and critical thinking about the concepts and principles we use to organize our experience in morals, in religion, in social and political life, in law, in psychology, in history and the natural sciences’.[7]

In addition it may be said that a people’s philosophy is their generally or culturally accepted body of answers to the fundamental questions of life. This kind of philosophy is what is referred to as first-order philosophy or traditional thought. It is distinguishable from what today may be called academic philosophy or second-order philosophy. Second-order philosophy is essentially a critical and personal enterprise. In addition Oseghare notes of Wittgenstein and Schlick, that “philosophy is an activity and not a body of doctrines. This activity involves not only a clarification and analysis of concepts but also, in certain cases the removal of ostentation from discourse”.[8]

From this two-level conception of philosophy, that is philosophy as a ‘first-order enterprise’ and philosophy as a ‘second-order enterprise’ – two significant observations come into focus. The first is that a people’s culture reflects their philosophy at the first order level. It reflects the way they have traditionally thought about the questions of reality and existence. This possibility of speaking of philosophy at the first-order level indicates also that there is no culture that is non-philosophical. If what makes a question philosophical is the fact that it derives from concerns about man’s life or about existence as a whole then a people’s system of beliefs, practices and institutions reflects the philosophical ways they have attempted to address the questions of life. This justifies the use of the term ‘philosophies’ to traditionally held beliefs and attitudes of various peoples.

The second point to note from the two-level conception of philosophy is the fact that the enterprise of philosophy at the second-order level is impossible without what has been identified as the first-order philosophy. For if there must be need to have a critical attitude there must be something about which to be critical. Furthermore, if there is to be developed a logically systematized thought system there must already exist a thought system, no matter how elementary. Traditional philosophy then provides the useful materials (or inputs) needed for philosophizing at the second-order level. Thus, the possibility of philosophy as a critical enterprise is dependent on the availability of traditional philosophy. The later however can be without the former. Some caution, however, needs to be expressed here concerning the possibility of having a traditional philosophy un-investigated by the critical tools of philosophy. Just as Socrates declared that ‘an un-examined life is not worth living’ it may also be declared that an unexamined culture is not worth practicing. An unexamined culture is most likely to be afflicted, among others, by the triad evils of anachronism, supernaturalism and authoritarianism.[9] Also, as Makinde puts it, a people who accepts beliefs and norms without further criticism lives in what Popper calls “World-Two” – the world of pure subjective beliefs[10]. Culture, when critically examined is purged of contradictions and other negative features such as anachronism, supernaturalism and authoritarianism thereby opening up the culture for development.

This last point draws attention to the recently dead, and perhaps, needless old debate about the existence of a discipline that may be referred to as African Philosophy. Those skeptical about African Philosophy argued, among others that there cannot be African Philosophy because Africans lack the literary tradition necessary for the philosophical enterprise. This argument is similar to that of Paulin Hountondji who argues that there cannot be African Philosophy in the absence of philosophical texts.[11] As the argument goes, a literary tradition is needed for recording the beliefs and ideas of a people in order to open them up for criticism and evaluation. The sceptics see literature as a sine qua non for philosophizing at the second-order level. Inexorably connected with that objection is the sceptic’s challenge to the effect that the African continent lacks identifiable philosophical personalities, such as Socrates and Descartes, who may be referred to as African Philosophers. The lack of a writing culture and identifiable philosophers then makes it impossible, the sceptic argues, to make sense of the expression African Philosophy.[12]

To meet the sceptic’s challenge, the proponents of African Philosophy have argued that the fact that a culture lacks a literary tradition or a literature is not enough to declare that that culture lacks a philosophy.[13] Philosophy, essentially, is a thought-system whether elementary or logically and elaborately systematized, whether appreciated by other cultures or not appreciated by them. Even if it is true, but this has been variously challenged[14], that Africans lack a literary tradition, it is never true that they lack philosophies reflecting how it is they have thought about the questions of reality and existence. This is not to deny that a literary tradition would make it possible for a lot more others to examine or study a particular culture without physically interacting with the practitioners of that culture.

It cannot however be denied that a literary tradition requires a reasoning tradition. The later is prior to the former; it is a lack of the later that makes the former impossible. And what constitutes the very kernel of philosophy is not writing (or literature) but reasoning. Gyekye notes for example, with respect to the great philosophical system of India that the Vedas were handed down from mouth to mouth from a period of unknown antiquity, when the Vedas were composed there was probably no system of writing in India.[15]

Even the widely acclaimed father of Western Philosophy did not put his ideas down in writing. All of what is known as Socratic Philosophy is largely made known through the works (or Dialogues) of Socrates’ pupil, Plato.

Thus, even if there is a willingness to accept that African communities lacked a tradition of writing it will not be appropriate to say they lack philosophies. By extension it will not make sense to say they lack thinkers. Behind every philosophy (traditional or critical) is a thinker or collection of thinkers. That it is at present difficult to identify individual thinkers in the African communities of the past does not imply that there were none. What makes it almost impossible to identify them is the fact that a large part of the volume of what is known today about how Africans had thought about the questions of existence have passed down from generation to generation, through oral traditions – myths, proverbs and songs among others.

The content of African oral traditions, as it is the case with oral traditions of other cultures, shows that Africans have attempted to address important ethical, epistemological and metaphysical questions. Oral traditions show that philosophizing is not the exclusive birthright of any culture, and as such that it is an act of intellectual dishonesty to want to equate the term ‘philosophy’ to ‘Western Philosophy’.

Philosophy, viewed in its strict technical, academic, or second-order sense, is a critical enterprise. Philosophy has both a universalist and a culturalist orientation. In its universalist orientation, philosophy has as its central tool, the universal rules of logic, with which one can test for consistency of claims, coherency of systems and validity of arguments, among others. When applied to the belief systems of a particular culture, it yields what may be called a culturalist orientation or cultural philosophy. This way, cultural philosophy shall be seen as an exercise of critically examining the contents of a particular culture’s beliefs, systems and institutions. Like philosophy itself, it becomes a second-order enterprise, transforming what Makinde describes as ‘chance or obsolete philosophy’ into critical philosophy.[16] What today is called ‘Western Philosophy’ is then nothing but a good specimen of ‘Cultural Philosophy’: the application of the tools of philosophy on the belief systems, practices and institution that have their origin in, or that have been known to develop as part of the Western world-views and designs for living.

Furthermore since Cultural Philosophy, like Philosophy itself, is an individual and second-order enterprise it is not expected that individual judgements or views within a particular Cultural Philosophy would be the same for all reflective persons within that culture. Thus, Cultural Philosophy is not communal philosophy, neither is it the philosophy of a particular culture; rather, and more appropriately, it is individual philosophical reflection on the culture of a people.

The above shall then serve as the background to an attempt to do a critical study of the Yoruba (African) conception of a person as a way of finding a plausible answer to the traditional mind – body problem. By implication, the research shall be concerned with assessing the plausibility of the Yoruba concept of a person as a plausible theory of human nature. The research is borne out of the belief that the apparently insurmountable problem of adequately defining man arises from approaching the issue exclusively from the perspective of just one particular intellectual framework. In Africa, in particular, scholars find themselves operating almost entirely within the strictly monolithic intellectual framework of the West, as opposed to, and perhaps to the detriment of, their indigenous intellectual milieu. This is not only in philosophy, but also to be found in science. As noted by Oke in this regard “our scientists who have been trained in the Western tradition have to acknowledge that there is no single-bullet approach to the conception, knowledge and control of nature”[17]. Otherwise they will be denying a whole range of alternative models which could have greater benefit, lead to a deeper understanding of nature, and facilitate a higher yield of knowledge in certain circumstances[18]

1. 2. DUALISM AND THE MIND-BODY PROBLEM

The quest for knowledge is inherent in human nature. Chief among the things for which man seeks knowledge is human nature itself. Down through the ages the person has been variously conceived in different cultures and epochs.[19] Eminent but prominently controversial among such views is that which conceives man as a composite of ‘mind’ and ‘body’. This view has come to occupy a key place in the history of philosophy and science.

The history of man’s technological and scientific advancements gives testimony, perhaps, to the success of man’s efforts towards comprehending and manipulating the forces of nature around him. Today, man not only now traverses the planet earth from one pole to the other, but also now visits the moon on honeymoon or holiday. Yet, the question of what or who a person is remains as formidable as ever.

There seems to remain through the ages, man’s technological growth notwithstanding, the fundamental problem of articulately providing an adequate answer to the question ‘what (sort of being) is man? These, among many other questions, have puzzled man and still remain, particularly in this age of unprecedented scientific feats, a source of great concern for him in his attempt to define himself and see his place in nature. His quest for knowledge which appears insatiable, has taken him through the earth and off beyond the sky. Yet there remains the problem of uncovering his nature or answering the question ‘what (sort of being) is a person?’

In the spirit of philosophy where there are as many articulated theories about reality as there are schools of philosophy the question is not one for which there can be a one way or uniform methodology for resolving. In the light of its task of critically and rigorously examining beliefs practices and institutions, its questions are perennially relevant and its conclusions open-ended

The problem of defining a person constitutes one of the problems that have been traditionally addressed by that branch of philosophy referred to as metaphysics. Metaphysics is a field of study that attempts among other tasks, a critical study of existence as a whole. It attempts to arrive by rational means a general picture of the world. It is a field of study that focuses attention upon philosophical issues concerning the nature and structure of the universe in which man leaves. It asks, among others, what is ultimately real? What categories or terms are necessary to describe the nature of what is? Is man basically a body – a being that is entirely explainable in terms of physical properties and processes? Or is there something about man that cannot be defined simply in terms of such properties and processes?

The last two of these questions now constitute, in particular, the subject-matter of that branch of Metaphysics now referred to as the Philosophy of Mind. Philosophy of Mind is a field of study that has drawn not only the attention of philosophers but also that of psychologists, psychiatrists and neurologists as well as that of other researchers who uphold the possibility of creating artificial intelligence. The contemporary growth of literature in this field, interdisciplinary in outlook, is perhaps an attestation to this.[20] It is then perhaps no understatement to submit that one of the most refractory problems in the history of philosophy, and the Philosophy of Mind in particular, is the age-long attempt to find a definitive answer to the seemingly simple question – what (category of being) is man? Furthermore, like most philosophical problems, the problem is not one without a history. It may therefore be profitable to outline some of the historic philosophical attempts to address that question, especially as the problem dictates the content of what has come to be known in philosophical parlance as the mind-body problem.

Within the context of Western thought Plato, an ancient Greek philosopher, made an historic and serious attempt to address the question of defining man when he described man as composed of two ontologically distinct entities viz. body and soul. The body is conceived as the ‘ship’ and the soul its ‘pilot’.[21] The body is also conceived as the ‘prison’ and the soul its ‘prisoner. And, since intuitively a prisoner would rather prefer to be out of prison, Plato subscribes to the idea of the possibility of the existence of dis-embodied souls.

Plato’s submission to the above view is one better understood against the background of at least two of his beliefs, which are complementary. The first is that for him the soul is eternal, indestructible and invisible; the second is that there is a future life of reward and punishment where the imperfections of this world shall ultimately be rectified.[22]

This bifurcation of man into body and soul by Plato represents what is, perhaps, ordinarily believed to be distinctive of man in the Western tradition. It has a close affinity to the Pre-Socratic Pythagorean doctrine of the transmigration of the soul.[23] According to that theory the human body, made up of pure matter is destructible, transitory and of no absolute worth. Rather than seek to satisfy his material or bodily needs, man, it teaches, must strive for eternal life by disciplining his bodily desires and purifying his soul. For, it is the soul, as in Plato’s view, that is capable of immortal existence, and hence of eventual dis-embodiment and relocation in another body, human or non-human.

This immortality or indestructibility of the soul is thus an important corollary to the theological doctrine of life after death: a life of either eternal bliss in a place called heaven or of eternal anguish in a place called hell. In the religio-Platonic conception, therefore, the soul is that part of man that has eternal life: the life of the body is temporary and ephemeral. The soul is therefore, from the Platonic point of view, the real man, the essential man, the body being only a contingent, accidental appendage.

what makes it (i.e. the defining character of the species which, in the Categories, he described as a substance in a secondary sense.[24]

The nature of what Plato calls the soul of a person can be likened to what Aristotle refers to as the substance (in Greek Ousia) of a thing. As noted by Morakinyo, for example, Aristotle in his Metaphysics VII defines the substance of a thing as

By implication what makes a person for Aristotle will be an unchanging substance (or essence) which persons as persons possess.

It must be noted, as well, however, that in Western thought, the soul is not only a synonym for the essence of life, but also a generic term for all mental activities. As Wiredu aptly notes The soul…seems in much Western philosophy to be intended to account not just for life, but also for thought.[25]

The English Language, as paradigmatic of one of the Western conceptual schemes, is replete with supporting instances of using the word ‘soul’ to mean or account for thought as well as life. Particularly, in moral discourse, the English language speaker does often refer to persons as either morally blameworthy or praise-worthy for their actions or inactions. Moreover, when so used the person is understood both in terms of his body and also in terms of something else that, perhaps, includes his body.

In day-to-day ordinary language discourse there is regularly encounter with such expressions as ‘the team’s morale is low’, ‘he has a short memory’, ‘he is not in the right frame of mind’ and so on. Within the context of Western thought, the trio of ‘self’, 'soul’, and ‘mind’ appears, then, constantly intertwined. While, quite often, theologians speak of the soul; modern philosophers speak of self or the mind. Thus, in Western contexts John Milton’s submission, as also distinctive of Plato, that reason is the essence of the soul or the mind, would be appropriate; conceived as such, the mind is the seat of thought and other mental activities. The human being, then, is unique within this context, because of his presumed ability to reason. Such that to deny any man of this ability of the mind is to deny him of his essence or personhood thereby disrobing him of his claim to humanity and all the privileges – moral, legal, social and political – that go with belonging to the human race.

The Philosophy of Mind raises deep and penetrating questions on the nature of mind. As one may ask, given the above, ‘what is the nature of mind?’ how is it different from the body?’ ‘how does an individual know others have minds?’ and if indeed, following Plato, man is made up of two components viz., mind and body, what, if any, is the relationship between these two features of man? The last of these questions defines what essentially in philosophical parlance is traditionally referred to as the mind-body problem.

The question ‘what is a person?’ is one that has given rise to a number of opposing theories; many of them articulated at different intellectual epochs, with some of them articulated as far back as the early Greek thinkers. A common feature of these theories is not only that they reflect the philosophical standpoint or worldview of their proponents, the theories also make explicit their views on the nature of mind.

On the traditional question of defining persons one can identify in broad outline two philosophical standpoints; the philosophical monist and the philosophical dualist standpoints. For the philosophical monists in general, reality is made up of an ultimate stuff.[26] The philosophical monists who subscribe to the view that reality is made up of just spirit (or idea) are called idealist monists. Berkeley’s subjective idealism to the effect that ‘what is, is what is perceived’ where what is perceived are ideas, is paradigmatic of this brand of philosophical monism. Those philosophical monists who subscribe to the view that reality is nothing over and above matter are called materialist monists. Smart’s theory that the mind is nothing over and above the brain, is for example, a materialist monist thesis[27].

Thus, since the philosophical monist does not subscribe to the view that reality is made up of more than just one kind of stuff, his concept of a person is bound to be monistic, as in Smart[28] and Armstrong for example[29]. Given this, the Mind-body problem, that is the problem of showing the nature of the relationship that might exist between a person’s mind and his body, will not arise for the monist. However the monist will have to ultimately explain in some way the activities of a person which appear to be non-physical or immaterial such as emotions and thoughts.

Since the Mind-body problem is essentially a problem for the dualist theories of a person it is instructive to critically outline, in an analytical and historicist manner, the known dualist theories of a person as a way of comprehending the nature and development of the Mind-body problem.

1.3. DUALIST THEORIES OF A PERSON

According to philosophical dualism in general, reality is made up of two different substances – spirit and matter or mind and matter – neither of which is reducible to the other. A recent formulation of the dualist theory is that of Sydney Shoemaker who maintains that the world contains three kinds of things viz.; material substances (such as human bodies), immaterial substances (such as mind) and composite things made up of a material substance and an immaterial substance. It is in that sense, given Shoemaker’s dualist view, that human beings can be said to be composite beings – mind and body.[30]

1. 3. 1. CARTESIAN DUALISM

Rene Descartes, a seventeenth century philosopher and acknowledged founder of modern philosophy, is representative of modern philosophical dualism. On the nature of mind, Descartes puts forward a dualist theory which claims the merit of a common sense conception.[31] Anticipations of this theory may be found in the writing of the Stoics and of St. Augustine.[32] Descartes is however credited with forcefully and comprehensively articulating this dualist theory of a person. In contemporary philosophy, the works of Popper and Eccles may be identified as representative of contemporary expressions of Cartesian dualism.[33]

While describing the mind and the body as substances, Descartes holds that the mind is ontologically distinct from the body.[34] The mind, for Descartes, is an un-extended immaterial substance capable of thinking. The body is its exact opposite; it is material, extended and incapable of thinking. As a non-thinking corporeal substance, the body is subject to the laws of mechanics as they apply to all objects existing in time and space. Cartesian dualism then posits, in effect, that man is a compound of two things: body and mind. The former is a material thing, and the latter a non-spatio-temporal entity. The bodily changes and processes can be examined or inspected by observers. The bodily behaviors or changes of a man are as public as those of the other physical things in nature.

From the Cartesian dualist point of view, the processes, or more precisely, the workings of the mind are however not observable by others. The operations of the mind, known as mental processes, are, it is claimed by dualists, not subject to mechanical laws and as such remain accessible only to the individual experiencing them. Thus the mental processes of man, such as thinking and memory, as opposed to his bodily processes and changes, are putatively private.

This Cartesian account, one may note, is a reflection of the rather conflicting inclinations of Descartes.[35] Before he came under the influence of the mechanistic theory of nature as developed by Galileo, which he greatly admired, he was known to be a religious and moral man who subscribed to the already prevalent theological doctrine of the soul as an immortal component of man.

Now given Descartes’ account of the nature of the mind and the body, the problem that arises for him is to explain or describe how it is that the mind is related to the body. This problem finds expression in such questions as the following. How a person’s state of hunger is related to the bodily movements he makes whenever in that state? How is it that an individual feels pain when pricked by a pin? Or put more technically, how does the mind influence the body, and vice versa?

This problem of mind-body relationship brings to the fore a distinctive feature of Descartes’ dualism; that is, his thesis of interactionism, which is the view that the two components, mind and body, mutually interact in a single system. This implies that the mind, or mental activities, can give rise to or cause bodily movements in a person. Similarly, it is posited that bodily changes or processes can cause or give rise to mental processes. For Descartes, however, this mutual interaction between the mental (mind) and the physical (body) is characteristic of man alone to the exclusion of all other things in the universe.

Thus, Descartes’ classic formulation of two-way interactionism would grant that the feeling of pain or of being in danger (mental) can cause one to sweat or tremble; likewise the experience of putting one’s hands in fire or being hit by a hard object (bodily) can make one feel sad.

Again, given this two-way interactionist response to the question of how two dis-similar and essentially different entities or substances could have` effects on one another, a further problem arises for Cartesian dualism. This time it is for the theory to explicate how it is possible for the un-extended (mind) to interact with the extended (body).

Intuitively speaking, and also going by the theory of dynamics[36] that the motion of matter can be initiated or altered only by a direct or contiguous impact of another bit of matter, if there is any interaction between two entities, one of which is acknowledged to be physical, such interaction must be public and observable. In essence, as the traditional objection to interactionism goes, in the event of a two-way interaction between two entities, one of which is acknowledged to be physical, such interaction must be public and observable. This would require that there must be a public place or point of interaction.

Descartes, perhaps anticipating this line of objection, puts forward as the locus or place of interaction between mental activities and bodily changes the pineal gland – a place in the human brain. Bindra aptly captures Descartes’ account when he says that for Descartes Animal and human actions are produced by the transfer of animal spirits from nerves to muscles; passion or emotional states are generated by the impact of visceral heat and commotion of the brain; perceptions arise from the gentle deflections of the pineal gland by images arriving from the sense organs; and judgements and reasoning are activities of the mind which communicates with the brain through the pineal gland[37]

By locating the place of interaction in the brain, Descartes appears rather inconsistent. His dualism is quintessential of what has been nicknamed the ‘homunculus fallacy’ – the attempt to explain human behavior by postulating a little human within an ordinary human.[38]

As some have pointed out, particularly those of the materialist bent, Descartes’ last resort to the pineal gland as the meeting point for the mind and the body suggests that there is no entity or substance that may be referred to as the mind. It also suggests that talk about the mind is nothing but talk about the physical or chemical changes in the brain. Smart and Armstrong, among others, are renowned in philosophical circles for their attempts to firmly develop this view which in the Philosophy of Mind has come to be known as the Mind-Brain Identity Theory.[39]

Some, too, particularly Ryle, in the tradition of analytic philosophy have argued that Descartes’ bifurcation of man into body and mind and his attempt to explain the causal relationship between both is borne out of conceptual confusion.[40]

Ryle calls it the ‘category mistake’, which represents the facts of mental life as if they belonged to one logical type (or category) when they actually belong to another.[41] He describes the Cartesian interactionist thesis as the dogma of the ghost in the machine – as a result of its representation of a person as a ghost mysteriously ensconced in a body. Ryle then declares that like the absurdity involved in the statement ‘she came home in a flood of tears and a sedan chair’, Descartes’ account is guilty of the attempt to conjoin terms of different types in as much as it maintains that “…there exists both bodies and minds; that there occur physical processes and mental processes”.[42] This, for Ryle, is a … is entirely false, and false not in detail but in principle. It is not merely an assemblage of particular mistakes. It is one big mistake and a mistake of a special kind. It is, namely, a category mistake. It represents the facts of mental life as if they belonged to one logical type or category (or range of types or categories), when they actually belong to another.[43]

conceptual (or category) mistake. As he puts it Cartesian dualism

Considering that most philosophers since Descartes and the generality of mankind, including the church, have always confused the category of different senses of ‘exist’ with different species of ‘exist’, Ryle deridingly described Descartes’ formulation of dualism as the official doctrine[44].

Having attacked the official doctrine or the thesis of ‘the ghost in the machine’ Ryle urges that dispositional terms or concepts should not be confused with substantive concepts, as it had been traditionally done in philosophy, especially in the mind-body controversy. For him, it is bad logical grammar to have such diverse concepts in one sentence. To ask the question ‘where is the mind located?’ or ‘how does the mind affect the body?’ would be, in Ryle’s view, to combine words meaninglessly or to engage in a spurious combination of words.

The correct logic of the use of mental-conduct concepts is that they are applicable strictly speaking to dispositions. In the spirit of analytic behaviorism, the spirit behind his The Concept of Mind (1949), Ryle argues that the attribution of mental terms or predicates to some of the activities of man is, in reality, the attribution of a disposition to behave, under suitable conditions, in a peculiar or characteristic manner. For Ryle, therefore, there is nothing like the mind; rather, what is called the mind is simply a disposition to behave in certain ways.

Rylean objections to the Cartesian account of the nature of mind and body are, it should be noted, not limited to Cartesian dualism, but equally apply to other traditional metaphysical positions on the Mind-body problem, such as idealism, materialism, and the identity theory.

As a way of giving further outline to the nature of the Mind-body problem, it is considered profitable to examine how other bipartite conceptions of a person have attempted to resolve or dissolve the problem of showing how the mind of a person relates with his/her body.

1. 3. 2. OCCASSIONALISM AND PSYCHO-PHYSICAL PARALLELISM

Nicholas Malebranche in response to the charge of absurdity which Descartes’ interactionism gives rise to, puts forward a dualist thesis that has come to be known as occassionalism.[45] His view, shared also by Arnold Geulinox,[46] is to the effect that there is no causal interaction between the mental and the physical. When faced with accounting for the seeming interaction, as experienced, between the mental and the physical processes, he puts forward the thesis that God, as an intermediary link, or a supra-agent, is the one responsible for linking both.

For example, when an individual knocks his / her foot against a hard object, God, on Malebranche’s thesis, intervenes to ensure that that individual feels pain. This theory, unacceptable to Leibniz, perhaps, for having to bring God to intervene at every point of causal relation, gives rise to another dualist theory, psycho-physical parallelism.[47] This is the view that the body and the mind, like two parallel lines that never meet, do not have causal relations.

On the Mind-body problem then, Leibniz, representative of the parallelist, puts forward an analogy of two clocks. This analogy is to the effect that just as two perfectly synchronized clocks keep the same time by virtue of their inner mechanisms, as designed by their maker, mental and physical events are both effects of God’s causal activity; the mind never affects the body nor the body the mind. The so-called regularities in nature or in experience occur simply as a result of God’s providence. God’s causal intervention is required for whatever causal connection there may appear to be in nature. There is neither a direct nor indirect causal interaction nor connection between what one does when in a state of hunger and consequently going for food. What accounts for the regular correlation between these acts, is the fact that God has eternally pre-established the relationship or harmony between these events.

On the parallelist account (otherwise known as the thesis of Pre-established harmony), then, God does not have to intervene to ensure that whenever there is a mental event, there is a corresponding physical event, contra occassionalism. Denying outright the possibility of causal connection between a material entity (body) and an immaterial entity (mind), the parallelist asserts, against earlier dualist thesis, that this correlation is so regular that whenever one mental event occurs there occurs also a corresponding physical event. These non-causal correlations, as outlined above, are accounted for by the fact that God has perfectly synchronized the mechanism or working of the mind and the body.

The problem with this view is that to resolve the problem encountered by Cartesian dualism, it invokes another entity, God, whose existence remains a perennial source of controversy. That assumption raises a further problem, which is no longer simply the mind-body problem but rather the more complicated mind-God-body problem.

1. 4. SOME MONIST RESPONSES TO MIND-BODY DUALISM

The Mind-body problem, as shown above, developed as a result of the philosophical dualist view that man is made up of two components: mind and body. Opposed to this dualist view is the philosophical monist conception of the person.

From the standpoint of philosophical monism there is just one fundamental reality. On the question of the nature of human person, the philosophical monist declares that there is no spirit-matter or mind-body distinction. Reality for the monists in general is made up of an ultimate stuff. For a good grasp of the nature of the Mind-body problem it is imperative to take a look at the philosophical monist responses to the problems created by the dualist theories of a person. The next session outlines, first the idealist monist response to the problem.

1. 4. 1. THE IDEALIST RESPONSE

The idealist monist asserts that reality is something spiritual – an Idea, Thought or Mind. Paradigmatic of the idealist-monists are Bishop G. Berkeley of Cylone and G. W. Hegel[48]. Berkeley puts forward a subjective idealist thesis to the effect that reality is our experience of things – that is, for Berkeley, to be is to be perceived or to be a perceiver. He accordingly posits that the only things that exist are minds and their perceptions. To do this Berkeley puts forward the thesis that there is a universal (infinite) mind, God, capable of eternally perceiving, first, all objects, perceived or unperceived by the finite minds of persons.

Berkelean idealism however finds it practically impossible to plausibly account for the continued existence of minds when not perceiving. Opposed to the subjective idealism of Berkeley however is Hegel’s objective idealism. According to Hegelean idealism, reality is a ‘universal spirit’ or ‘spiritual organism’.[49] This spirit is rational and purposive. It is capable of developing itself in a complex manner and evolving into various species in an equally complex process. On this account, therefore, the chance variation and the survival of the fittest components of Darwin’s evolutionary theory[50] do not adequately explain the movement, over million of years from ‘mind-less organism’ to complex human minds. That underlying reality that adequately explains the evolutionary or purposive nature of the world is then, on Hegelean account, the Mind, the Absolute.

On the idealist monist account then the person is essentially a spiritual or mental being. The person is a manifestation of the Absolute Spirit or Mind, which determines the origin of all that there is in the universe.

Idealist monists, whether of the subjectivist bent or the objectivist bent, as outlined above, are however guilty of an error in reasoning that may be termed ‘the anthropomorphic fallacy’. This is the error of projecting or attributing to the universe, or reality as a whole, characteristics, traits or concepts that, originally speaking, apply only to the mental activities of man. The idealists in general, then, appear to make an illegitimate leap from minds to Mind.

1. 4. 2. THE MATERIALIST RESPONSE

For the materialist monist[51] on the other hand, all of reality or existence is nothing over and above matter. Matter, for the materialist monist is the substance, or the stuff of the universe – the ultimate reality. Nothing, for the materialist, exists over and beyond matter. The reductive materialist, for example, attempts to give a rational or critical account of the universe and everything in it in terms of one or other material principle.

For the materialists persons are nothing over and above material processes. The Mind-Brain Identity Theorist would want to argue, for example, that what is called the mind is nothing over and above brain processes.

And concerning persons, contemporary materialists, for example, appear to be busy with the enterprise of demonstrating to the world that it is possible to consistently define or conceive persons as nothing over and above matter and material processes. Further outline and examination shall be given to this contemporary attempt to define a person in simply scientific terms in chapter four.

1. 5. NON-COMMITTAL RESPONSES

In their conception of what a person is, non-committal theories seek a middle course between all variants of idealism and materialism. According to the double-aspect theory, for example, reality is neither mental nor physical. The mental and the physical are on this view, only different aspects of something and that thing is neither mental nor physical. Like the two sides of a coin, man or a person, on this view, can be viewed from two sides; that is, as either mental or physical, but none of these is an ultimate description of man. Spinoza is, for example of the double-aspect theorist’s belief that man can be viewed from two sides, the mental and the physical which are attributable to an underlying substance. That mental aspect of the underlying substance is what may be referred to as the ‘mind’ on this account.[52]

The immediate difficulty with this account is the task of plausibly explaining what that ‘underlining unity’ or ‘underlying substance’ of man is. Seeking to dissolve the confusion, as Sydney Hook notes, Herbert Spencer pushes Spinoza’s suggestion further, by urging that a spade be called a spade and see the underlying substance as something unknowable.[53]

[...]


[1] Oke, M. ‘Conceptual Issues in the Growth of Science in Africa’ in Journal of Philosophy and Development Vol. 3 Nos. 1 & 2 January 1997 p. 3

[2] Ibid. p.4

[3] Wiredu, K. Philosophy and An African Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980) p. 10

[4] Russell, B., Problems of Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1963)

[5] Sodipo, J. O., Philosophy and Culture Inaugural Lecture Series 6 (Ife: University of Ife Press, 1972) p. 3 - 4

[6] For more on the relationship between philosophy and culture see for example Makinde M. A. African Philosophy, Culture and Traditional Medicine (Ohio: Monographs in International Studies, 1988) pp. 1 – 14; and Oke, M., A Critical Study of the Viability of Phenomenalism as an Alternative Theory of Perception, doctoral Dissertation, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile - Ife , 1990: 366 –377

[7] Sodipo, J. O Op. Cit. Cit. p. 3

[8] Oseghare, A. S. ‘Sagacity and African Philosophy’ in International Philosophical Quarterly Vol. 32 No. 125 (March, 1992) p. 97

[9] Wiredu K. highlights the nature of what he identifies as the three evils that may afflict any traditional society in his work Philosophy and An African Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980)

[10] Makinde, M. A. African Philosophy,Culture and Traditional Medicine (Ohio:Monographs in International Studies, 1988) p. 16

[11] Hountondji, 1998

[12] Hountondji in particular raises this problem. See his African Philosophy: Myth or Reality (London: Hutchinson and Co. Publisher, 1983) for example.’ In this work Hountondji attempts a blow on the idea of deriving philosophy from oral sources.

[13] For a dicussion of this see Momoh, J. S., The Substance of African Philosophy (Auchi: African Philosophy Projects Publication, 1989)

[14] For expressions of such challenges see for example, Oseghare, A. S. ‘Sagacity and African Philosophy’ in International Philosophical Quarterly Vol. 32 No. 125 (March, 1992) and Makinde, M. A. African Philosophy, Culture and Traditional Medicine (Ohio: Monographs in International Studies, 1988)

[15] Gyekye, K., An Essay on African Philosophical thought: The Akan Conceptual Scheme (Cambridge: University Press, 1987) 25 – 40

[16] Makinde, M. A. ‘Of Chance Philosophy and Obsolete Philosophy: Some Anti-Scientific Features of African (Traditional) Thought’ in Second Order New Series Vol. 1 No. 1 January, 1988: 1 - 27

[17] Oke, M., Op. Cit p. 13

[18] Ibid. p. 13

[19] Stevenson, 1974; Xirau and Fromm, 1976; Makinde, 1984; Oke, 1988

[20] Popper and Eccles, 1977; Margolis, 1978; Nagel, 1974; Churchland, 1995; and Damasio, 1999, among others.

[21] See Plato, The Republic, Part IV Book X translation by Paul Shorey in Plato’s Collected Dialogues, edited by Edith Hamilton and H. Cairns (New York: Bollingen Foundation, 1964);Kraut, R. Cambridge Companion to Plato (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991)

[22] Crombie, I, An Examination of Plato’s Doctrines (New York: Humanities Press, 1963)

[23] See Guthrie, W. K. C. A History of Greek Philosophy (Cambridge: University Press, 1969) and Crombie, I., An Examination of Plato’s Doctrines (New York: Humanities Press, 1963) See also Plato, The Republic, Part IV Book X translation by Paul Shorey in Plato’s Collected Dialogues, edited by Edith Hamilton and H. Cairns (New York: Bollingen Foundation, 1964

[24] Morakinyo, O., and Akiwowo, A., ‘The Yoruba Ontology of Personality and Motivation; A Multi-Disciplinary Approach’ Journal of Social and Biological Structure (1981) Vol. 4: 19-38. ; See also Aristotle’s Metaphysics , B1. IV; Aristotle’s Metaphysics in R. Mckeoned Basic Works of Aristotle (New York: Random House, 1941)

[25] Wiredu, K., 1983: 35

[26] Hamlyn, 1984: Ch. 3.

[27] J. J. C. Smart, Sensations and Brain Processes’ Philosophical Review 68 (1959): 141-56. Reprinted in Rosenthall (ed.) The Nature of Mind (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991)

[28] Ibid.

[29] Armstrong, D., A Materialist Theory of Mind (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1968)

[30] Shoemaker, 1984: 139 – 158

[31] Anscombe and Geach, 1971

[32] Kirwan, C. A. ‘Augustine on souls and bodies, in Logica, mente emi persona ed. A Albert (Florence: Olschki, 1990)

[33] Popper and Eccles, 1977

[34] Cottingham, J. (ed. et. al.) The Philosophical Writings of Descartes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985)

[35] Op. Cit

[36] Nagel, T. The Structure of Science (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1961) 78

[37] Bindra, D. The Brain’s Mind (U. S.: Gardener Press, 1980)

[38] Antony, K., ‘The Metamorphosis of Metaphysics ’in The Monist 64 (1981) No. 1 p. 72

[39] Smart, 1970; Armstrong, 1968

[40] Ryle, Op. Cit.: 17

[41] Ibid.17

[42] Ibid.22

[43] Ryle, G., The Concept of Mind (Hermondsworth: Penguin Books Ltd. 1963) First Published in 1949 p. 16

[44] Op. Cit.: 23

[45] See Shaffer, J., ‘Mind-Body Problem’ in Edwards P., (ed.) Encyclopaedia of Philosophy (New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1967) Vol 5 & 6, p. 342

[46] Ibid. 341

[47] Ibid. 342

[48] For outlines of Berkeley’s and Hegel’s idealism see Berkeley G., Principles of Human knowledge (New York: 1957) p. 68 and Wallace, W., Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971)

[49] Ibid.

[50] For Darwiniwn evolutionary theory see Darwin, C., the Origin of Species (1859) (Penguin, Harmodsworth, 1968)

[51] For example, J. J. C. Smart, D. Armstrong and A. J. Ayer.

[52] Hampshire, 1960: 104

[53] Hook, 1960: 104

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217
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2003
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9783668597747
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9783668597754
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Obafemi Awolowo University – Faculty of Arts
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Title: The Mind-Body-Problem from the perspective of the Yoruba (african) Concept of a Person