Mental event

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A mental event is anything which happens within the mind or mind substitute of a conscious individual. Examples include thoughts, feelings, decisions, dreams, and realizations.[1]

Some believe that mental events are not limited to human thought but can be associated with animals[2] and artificial intelligence[3] as well. Whether mental events are identical to complex physical events, or whether such an identity even makes sense, is central to the mind-body problem.

Relation to mind-body problem[edit]

Some state that the mental and the physical are the very same property which cause any event(s); this view is known as substance monism. An opposing view is substance dualism, which claims that the mental and physical are fundamentally different and can exist independently.

Physicalism, a form of substance monism, states that everything that exists is either physical or depends on that which is physical;[4] the existence of mental events has been used by philosophers as an argument against physicalism. For example, in his 1974 paper What Is it Like to Be a Bat?, Thomas Nagel argues that physicalist theories of mind cannot explain an organism’s subjective experience because they cannot account for its mental events.


  • Mary is walking through a park and she sees and recognizes City Hall. This instance of seeing and recognizing City Hall is an instance of perception—something that happens in Mary's mind; that instance of perception is a mental event. It is an event because it is something that happens, and it is mental because it happens in Mary's mind.
  • Mary feels happy after doing well on an exam and she smiles. This thought is a mental event; the smile is a physical event.
  • A killer whale recognized a feeling of hunger. It eats a fish; the recognition of the feeling of hunger is a mental event. Eating the fish is the physical event.

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ Bunnin, Nicholas; Yu, Jiyuan (2004). "Mental event". The Blackwell Dictionary of Western Philosophy. Blackwell Reference Online. Retrieved 2016-11-23.
  2. ^ Griffin, Donald R. (2001-05-01). Animal Minds: Beyond Cognition to Consciousness. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 9780226308654.
  3. ^ McCarthy, John (1995). "Making Robots Conscious of their Mental States" (PDF). Stanford University. Retrieved 2016-11-23.
  4. ^ Stoljar, Daniel (2016). Zalta, Edward (ed.). "Physicalism". The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2016 Edition). Retrieved 2016-11-23.