How important are physical experiences in comparison to a mental experience?

Philosopher's reply

Dear Shannon and Sahil,

Thanks for this great question! Like all the best philosophical questions, answering it involves thinking about a bunch of other questions that are difficult to answer: how do we tell the difference between physical and mental experiences? How do we decide what makes an experience important, and is what’s important for one person necessarily what’s important for another? But since I’ve only got a postcard, I’ll just tell you what I think!

I think physical experiences are ones that are to do with experiencing the world and your body and that mental experiences are your thoughts and imaginations. (its not clear where emotions fit here – they’re usually a bit to do with your body and a bit to do with your thoughts and the world). So which is more important?

I think the answer is: sort of mental experiences, but sort of both (sorry, this is the sort of annoying answer that philosophers are always giving!) I think there’s one way in which mental experiences are more important: without being able to think and compare and imagine, I don’t think anything can really be important or meaningful to us. I think meaning and importance depend on our being able to interpret the world, and that we can’t do that without being able to think and imagine.

But there’s another way in which I think the answer is ‘both’. I think that being able to think and imagine isn’t possible without being able to experience your body and the world. Imagining is a way of pretending to have physical experiences and thinking is just a fancy kind of imagining. So for things to be important to us we need mental experiences, but to have mental experiences we need physical experiences. That’s what I think, anyway!

Cheers! – Dave x

Philosopher's profile

Dave Ward

University of Edinburgh, UK

An afternoon outside in the sun spent reading a copy of “The Sovereignty of Good” that I had picked up in a charity shop on a whim restored my faith in philosophy. Iris Murdoch’s philosophy reminds us of something that it’s easy to forget: philosophy is about trying to make sense of our lives and how to live them. Whenever I struggle to see why anyone should care about some abstruse bit of the history of philosophy, I look to see what Murdoch wrote about it, and she shows me.

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