Jaegwon Kim: Biography of this philosopher of the mind

Throughout the history of philosophy we find eminent personalities who have made themselves known around the world for their contributions to this field of knowledge. One of these figures, belonging to contemporary history, was Jaegwon Kim (1934-2019), American philosopher of Korean origin.

In this article we will see a biography of Jaegwon Kim, As well as his most relevant contributions to philosophy and, more particularly, to the philosophy of the mind and to the body-mind problem.

    Short biography of Jaegwon Kim

    Jaegwon Kim was born in Daegu (South Korea) on September 12, 1934. He began to study French literature at the University of Seoul (Korea), although for only two years. Then, in 1955, he entered Dartmouth College (USA). He then changed his specialty of French literature to a specialty combining French, philosophy and mathematics. So he graduated from Dartmouth College. Later, received his doctorate in philosophy from Princeton University (New Jersey, USA).

    Also, Jaegwon Kim he worked as professor emeritus of philosophy at Brown University during the 1960s; in between, he worked elsewhere, but returned to Brown in 1987, where he remained until his death.

    Thus, Kim also worked as a professor of philosophy at other universities: the University of Michigan, the University of Notre Dame, Cornell University, Johns Hopkins University and Swarthmore College (Pennsylvania, United States).

    Other interesting facts about Jaegwon Kim are that he was president of the American Philosophical Association for a year, from 1988 to 1989. He was also a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and editor of the Quarterly Newspaper. Cuban philosopher Ernesto Sosa.

    Finally, Jaegwon Kim passed away on November 27, 2019, at the age of 85.

    The body-mind problem

    Jaegwon Kim, a thinker who rejected strict physicalism and focused on the search for metaphysics, survival, the body-mind dilemma and, most importantly, the philosophy of mind. He was an American philosopher, of Korean descent, who became known through his work on the “body-mind problem”.

    The mind-body problem (also known as the body-mind dilemma) refers to the difficulty of explaining the relationship between mind (or soul, for some) and matter. In other words, that is to say How can mental states (such as beliefs, memories, sensations …) explain or interact with the material world (the world of objects)?

    In addition, Jaegwon Kim’s contributions have also focused on the field of epistemology and metaphysics. The themes on which this philosopher mainly worked were: survival, Cartesian metaphysics (rather its rejection), the individualization of events and the limits of psychophysical identity.

    As a highlight, Jaegwon Kim’s most important work has been collected in the book Supervenience and Mind: Selected Philosophical Essays (1993).

      The influences

      Jaegwon Kim himself recognized that his main philosophical influences came from the American philosophers Carl Hempel and Roderick Chisholm. From Hempel, above all, he was influenced by his positivist logical approach, and from Chisholm, Kim claimed to have learned “not to be afraid of metaphysics”..

      Contributions and reflection

      Jaegwon Kim has developed his work focusing on different topics on philosophy of mind, metaphysics, philosophy of science, theory of action and epistemology. These are all areas of knowledge (or streams) within philosophy.

      1. Philosophy of mind

      Jaegwon Kim has defended various theories of the body-mind dilemma over the course of his career. In his early days, in the early 1970s, Kim advocated a version of identity theory.

      To give you an idea, identity theory (also called “mind-brain identity theory”) is a theory that states that the states and processes of the mind are equal (or equivalent) to the processes that they have. Place in the brain (brain processes). So, according to this theory, mental processes are actually mental activities or connections.

      Following the defense of his version of identity theory, Kim he went on to defend another theory, in this case a nonreducing version of physicalism.

      For its part, physicalism is a doctrine of philosophy, linked to naturalism and materialism, which speaks of the nature of real things, and which maintains that only the physical (including the mental) exists.

      Rejection of strict physicalism

      Jaegwon Kim rejected strict physicalism; according to him, this doctrine was insufficient to explain, understand or resolve the mind-body dilemma. According to him, in addition, the problem of consciousness (the question thus researched and discussed in philosophy, about “what is human consciousness?”) would never be solved by physicalism.

      Some of his works (in this case, monographs), such as “Mind in a Physical World” (1998) and “Physicalism, or Something Near Enough” (2005) address this question; the rejection or criticism of strict physicalism in order to be able to explain certain phenomena of philosophy or aspects of one’s own human condition, with their corresponding arguments.

      2. Dualism

      Another thesis defended by Jaegwon Kim was that desires and beliefs, as intentional mental states that they are, could be functionally reduced to their neurological performers, but that unintentional mental states (such as sensations), are physical and cannot be reduced to anything. even more primary.

      In this way, Kim would advocate a version of dualism. For its part, dualism is this philosophical (or also religious) doctrine which affirms that the order of the universe is the result of an action which combines two opposing and irreducible principles.

      3. Study of the mind

      According to Jaegwon Kim (and he explains it in a 2008 interview with Korean newspaper Joongang Ilbo), in order to understand and explain how the human mind works, we must resort to a naturalistic-type explanation.

      This is so because the mind is a natural phenomenon (and not “supernatural”, for example). So, in reality, a reliable explanation of the workings and nature of the mind would be provided by natural science, and not so much by philosophy.


      Some of Jaegwon Kim’s most notable works are:

      • Supervenience and Mind, Cambridge University Press (1993)

      • The Mind in a Physical World, MIT Press (1998)

      • Making Sense of Urgency, Philosophical Studies 95 (1999)

      • Physicalism or Something Almost Sufficient, Physical University Press (2005)

      • Philosophy of Mind, 2nd ed., Westview Press (2006)

      Bibliographical references:

      • Guzmán, G. (sf). The Mind-Brain Identity Theory: What Is It? Psychology and the mind.
      • Kim, J. (2002). The body-mind problem after fifty years. Azafea. Tower. cuts. 4: 45-63.
      • Kim, J. (2018). Philosophy of the mind. (3ª Ed.). Westview Press. UNITED STATES.

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