Global Encounters, Peasant Metaphysics, and the Real Mind-Body Problem

Justin E. H. Smith in his newsletter:

Is the individual person a composite of a material body and an immaterial mind or soul? And if so, what is the relationship between these two ingredients?

This is the “mind-body problem” in its simplest formulation. But simplicity is not always a virtue, and in fact this formulation conceals a good deal of the historical complexity of the issue. Most philosophers are generally aware that the problem is part of our inheritance from early modern Europe, but when it is formulated in this concise way, we miss some of the important reasons why seventeenth-century Europeans were so anxious about apportioning and delimiting the respective powers of the mind and the body. And without understanding these, neither can we understand the nature of the problem we have inherited.

Anglo-American scholars have for the most part treated the problem as a timeless one, while continental scholars have tended to see its origins in early modern Europe as a result of the cultural transformations of the wars of religion. It became urgent, these latter maintain, to account for such questions as whether spirit is coextensive with body, or rather whether it should not be said to have any locus at all, in a cultural setting in which entire populations were being massacred over disagreements about the composition of the Eucharist. But what both the historically ignorant Anglo-Americans and the historically sensitive but terribly ethnocentric Europeans miss is the crucial role of global encounters, in what used to be called the “age of exploration”, for the shaping of a distinctly modern set of philosophical problems, among them, importantly, that of the relationship between mind and body.

More here.