Master of Arts (MA)


Philosophy and Religious Studies

Document Type



Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio wrote a book entitled DESCARTES’ ERROR (1994) in order to address popular misconceptions about the mind, particularly those which relate to Cartesian philosophy. One of the author’s major goals for the book is to argue that emotion contributes to reason, that emotion is in fact necessary for rational thought to occur. In order to link emotion to reason, Damasio proposes a theory of mind which explains several mental functions in terms of neurological representations. Consciousness, reason, instinct and emotion all occur because the brain forms representations of the subject’s body and of the world in which the body acts. Thought, in the broadest sense of the term, is the process in which the brain manipulates these representations and causes them to interact. This thesis will examine Damasio’s theory of mind in relation to two traditional topics in cognitive science: consciousness and intelligence. The first chapter simply explains the theory as given in DESCARTES’ ERROR. Chapter two argues that, like everyone before him, Damasio fails to explain how or why the brain generates consciousness. Although the theory fails in this regard, it is still useful as a description of the neurological processes which underlie consciousness, of the mechanics of mind. As such, this theory could serve as a conceptual complement to the traditional paradigms of cognitive science, “GOFAI” and Embodied Cognition. Chapter three will argue that Damasio’s theory is better suited to work with the latter paradigm than the former.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Jon Cogburn