I may be wrong, but I have a sense that your key interest is the extent to which matters of mental health are grounded in nature or in a reality that is independent of changing or contingent matters, right? I am checking in to make sure I get the question, for there is a sense in which if you are asking about whether the term 'health' is defined by society, the reply should probably be that 'health' like all terms (from 'dog' to 'mountain') in all languages is indeed defined by social conventions. But it is a further matter whether 'health' or 'mental health' refers to something that is not only a matter of social convention. If I am right about your concern, then I think we have reason to believe that there are some norms that define 'mental health' and 'mental illness' that appear to range over cultures (or that cultures hold in common) and are pretty basic, e.g. it is not mentally healthy for parents to torture their children or for pilots to deliberately crash an airplane full of passengers into the Alps killing all aboard or for persons who are otherwise healthy to wash their hands every two minutes due to no apparent reason, and so on. But apart from some basic, widespread (perhaps even "common sense") boundaries, there can be significant reasonable disagreements. To take an extreme case, Richard Dawkins contends that those who believe in God are subject to what he at least used to call "the God delusions" --as he is not a psychologist or psychotherapist, consider Sigmund Freud who contended that religious believers were subject to a pathology, namely the Oedipal complex. Many of us (including me) thinks this charge is groundless and reflects either mistaken philosophical assumptions or (using stronger language) unwarranted prejudice. So, overall, I think that while there are some basic boundaries between mental health and illness, there is a great deal to debate. On the job of psychotherapists, insofar as she or he is committed to the health of her clients (or fellow citizens) I suggest the therapist would have reason to discern when some norm is merely socially contingent versus one that is deep and not subject to social variation. Sexual orientation may be a good case in point. If a therapist is working with a client who has homosexual tendencies and yet is working in a society that deems homosexuality a mental disorder, then the therapist may indeed have a job in proposing that the current "beliefs of the society in which s/he operates" are ungrounded or contingent.
Some preliminary thoughts: Racism seems to involve treating a group of persons who share an ethnic identity with derision, disrespect, and partial disadvantage. Accounts of racism today are controversial, but I propose that a comprehensive account of racism should involve both action as well as attitudes. What you write suggests that one reason why racism is inappropriate / unjust / wrong, is that persons cannot help being a certain ethnicity. I suggest, however, that racism would be wrong whether or not one could voluntarily adopt or abandon a race or ethnicity. If I converted to Judaism and, in the eyes of the world I became Jewish, anti-semitism would still be wrong even though I could have remained a Christian. In a related way, I suggest it would still be wrong to discriminate against homosexuals whether or not a person can choose whether to be homosexual or not.
It should be added as a side point that the very category of "race" is vexing. Some think of race as a social construct. If that is true, then (paradoxically) it could turn out that races do not exist as real things / categories, but racists do. This might be analogous to the idea that while it turns out that there are no witches (persons with supernatural powers to cast spells etc) but there have been witch-hunters.
On to intelligence: I suspect that some kinds of preferential treatment of persons based on intelligence would seem like racism. The following examples seem unjust: a policy in which only highly intelligent people have a right not to be tortured, but less intelligent people may be tortured for any reason whatever; a policy in which intelligent people can enslave those less intelligent, etceteras. But sometimes discrimination in which intelligence is a factor seems fair and prudent. Wouldn't you want intelligent persons to be pilots, surgeons, sailers, etc, rather than persons who are not intelligent --here I mean intelligent in the sense of mastering the relevant skills? Presumably, too, for a university to accept students on the basis of intelligence (including the capacity to learn) seems reasonable, right?
But you may be on to a very interesting worry. Some persons may be very vain and assume that they are superior to others on the grounds of some kind of measure of intelligence, when they are utterly inferior when it comes to matters of compassion, caring for others, generosity, courage, humility, poetic and artistic expressiveness, and so on. I suggest that someone we might call intelligent could turn out to be merely clever, but that is different from recognizing that someone is wise.
Not an easy question to respond to!
If, by 'thought' you are referring to what persons think about (as in: I am thinking about math), then because it seems as though we thinking persons can think about the world around us and about ourselves and abstract objects (as in mathematics), then the truth of what we think about the world and ourselves and abstracta (e.g. math) will (I suggest) very much depend on how things are. I might think I am an expert in mathematics, but it turns out I am rubbish. The 'reality of [my] thought' that I am a math expert does not depend upon whether it is true or false, but the consequences of its being true or false might be quite significant in reality.
Some philosophers (such as myself) are prepared to go in what must seem like a hopelessly mysterious direction. So, some of us treat the objects of our thinking to be propositions or abstract (non-concrete) states of affairs. For example, i hope to live in a universe in which there are unicorns, while my friend Judy does not. This may be understood as there being an abstract state of affairs:
Human persons living in a universe in which there are unicorns
Which I hope obtains (or is true) and Judy hopes is not true or it does not obtain.
This position (historically linked to Plato) holds that truths and falsehoods about reality should be understood in the obtaining or not obtaining of states of affairs. So, to employ the terms you suggest, I propose that (assuming our universe contains no unicorns, alas), the following state of affairs does not obtain:
Human persons living in a universe in which there are unicorns
And this truth, assuming it is true, is not dependent upon your mind or mind. It does depend on the "external world" in the sense that if a single horned horse showed up in our world with tears that could heal us, then the above state of affairs would obtain (and it would be true we are living in a universe with unicorns, whether or not we believed it or were skeptical).
Interesting question! The field of psychology emerged in the 19th and early 20th century as a science; at least the early self-described psychologists first described themselves as developing a science of the mind, and later changed this to the science of behavior. In any case, I suggest that whether psychology is a science, it is difficult to avoid philosophy when addressing one's personal life or engaged in psychiatric treatment. Presumably, one's personal life will include some kind of philosophy of values or some ideas about what is good and healthy, bad and ill, what is kind or cruel, and so on. Some of the therapeutic communities I know in which persons seek recovery from mental illness involve a philosophy of health, responsibility, and care (see for example, Spring Lake Ranch in Vermont). They do not employ a philosophy course from Plato to Nato, but much of the dialogue is about wellbeing, the value of community, and living a philosophy of mutual respect.
Very good question! Those philosophers in the utilitarian tradition tend to think that such a gifted person ought to apply her intelligence in such matters if that would be the maximal way in which she might bring about the greatest happiness.
Formally, what is called 'act utilitarianism' is the view that an agent should do that act of which there is no other act that will produce greater utility (or happiness).
A Marxist approach to social roles (in which persons are assigned roles in accord with their abilities) would probably also deem the gifted person degenerate if she failed to help her comrades.
Philosophers who are in some religious traditions would also contend that one should use one's talents in ways that maximally benefits others. Christians, for example, offer a Good Samaritan ethic that obliges us to help the vulnerable. In that tradition, though, it is sometimes thought there is a difference between ordinary obligations, and the precepts of perfection. Ordinary virtue may not require heroic acts, but those seeking to be in perfect union with God's will may be called to exceptional duties.
Other philosophers (such as Susan Wolf and Bernard Williams) think that morality and ethical obligations need to be balanced by other goods. So, they would argue that even if the person of exceptional intelligence has a moral obligation to help others, the person may not be blameworthy if she decides to apply her intelligence to poetry rather than aiding others.
You raise excellent points. Blackburn is probably assuming Descartes' concept of what it is to be an individual substance which is, roughly, if S is a substance it may exist without other substances --or, as Descartes adjusted this concept, S is a substance if God can create and sustain A without creating and sustaining other substances. So if mind is a substance, it can exist without its body and vice versa. A zombie would be the body without a mind. HOWEVER, you raise excellent points. It may be that mind and body are distinct but the two cannot exist independently. Certain properties may be distinct but it is necessarily true that one cannot exist without the other: being the smallest perfect number and being the successor of five are distinct but it is necessarily the case that if one is instantiated (there is the number 6) the other is instantiated.
Your counter-example is also good, I think.
I believe it is also worth challenging whether the idea of a zombie is incoherent. B.F. Skinner's concept of what it is to be a human is throughly contrary to experience but if he were correct we would all actually be zombies.
Interesting question(s)! I'm afraid that it will be very difficult to replace arguments and the different "tools" philosophers use with neurological data. First, I assume that in identifying a subject as "deluded" we would have to know the falsehood of her belief and perhaps identify which fallacies she has committed. We would also need to think through ideas of mental causation and the degree to which a person's beliefs may be linked to neurological events (are we going to assume a reductive account of the mental? or are we going to allow that propositions, mental acts such as 'believing' are irreducible to the physical, in particular, brain states and processes?. We also need more than neurology to identify and define what is a 'religion.' You seem particularly interested in theism, but some important religions are non-theistic (most forms of Buddhism), and some theists are not religious (Richard Taylor may have been a good case of this).
Still, there are some common sense ways in which philosophers have regularly assumed that certain physical and mental conditions are more or less conducive to production philosophical reflection. In ancient Greece, when wine was sometimes consumed during philosophical dialogues, they were careful to mix water and wine to insure that the philosophers remained fit for disciplined inquiry. And today, most of us are aware that philosophical acuity is not enhanced by sleep deprivation, starvation, extremely high heart racing, migrain headaches,organ failure, and (among other things) brain injury. But even in the midst of all these conditions, we still have to study the arguments and reasons that are relevant. Imagine a graduate student stumbles into a seminar. He has not slept in five days, he has not eaten in three days, his heart rate is off the charts, his organs are failing, he has a splitting headache and he sustained brain injury from a car crash, and yet he manages to say: "G.E. Moore's refutation of idealism is spurious." Even though we have some reason for thinking the fellow is not fit for clear philosophical reflection, the best thing for us as philosophers would (so long as the fellow is sufficiently stable to talk) be to hear his reasons rather than to rush him out to give him an MRI.
Thank you for the question and your reflections on some possibilities and suggestions! I believe that in our ordinary usage in English, the term "understand" often suggests both a level of comprehension as well as some degree of empathy or sympathy (but not necessarily endorsement). A policeman might say: "I understand why you were driving dangerously. If I caught my husband cheating on me, I would probably drive quite dangerously myself. But in that case, we would both be wrong in endangering others." In philosophy, when we speak in terms of understanding some state of affairs, we usually are speaking in terms of comprehension, rather than expressing any sympathy. What kind of comprehension is involved will vary depending on the state of affairs. I might understand that 6 is the smallest perfect number by knowing that a perfect number is equal to the sum of its divisors, including one, but not itself and 6 equals 1+2+3. I might rightly claim to understand that my colleague is a materialist, but without knowing why. As for a further definition of what understanding or comprehension is, I suspect we will only be able to invoke synonyms (to understand a state of affairs is to conceive of it, to comprehend it, to know something of the causes involved or to know something about why it is what it is, and so on...). Sometimes in philosophy we wind up with primitive concepts, concepts that cannot be further explained in terms clearer, alternative concepts. So, we may make some progress in analyzing some concepts, for example (arguably) to know that X is to believe that X and to be justified in that belief, and the justification for that belief does not involve any essential reasoning with a false premise. But certain concepts like 'understand' or 'belief' or (to take a popular term in the current literature) 'consciousness' may have to be taken as primitive and 'defined' ostensively (by offering examples) but not unpacked and analyzed as in a 'bachelor' is an 'unmarried male.'
A great question, and not easily answered! The English Romantic poet and philosopher Samuel Coleridge drew a sharp distinction between fantasy and imagination in which the first is relatively feckless and futile (and your examples would fit under what Coleridge would classify as fantasy), whereas imagination is more constructive and is employed to think about the meaning of life, God, the good, and our relationships and responsibilities to one another, and the life. I believe the Cambridge University philosopher Douglas Hedley defends position like that. I tend to take a somewhat more relaxed view. While clearly fantasies can be horribly self-absorbed, even cruel, surely (I suggest) our lives would be poorer without some fantasies --a child fantasizing about becoming an astronaut or an adult fantasizing about being a great diplomat who both gets Hamas to recognize that the state of Israel to exist and insures that the Korean peninsular is nuclear free. Sometimes the entertaining of outright fantasies (what if Tom Cruise asked me to marry me?) can even tell you things about yourself that you weren't fully aware of (I would say no, because, come to think of it, Scientology is too weird).
Interesting!! The old, classic definition of 'imagination' as the power to form images. We now use it more broadly as one might imagine something that involves no images, e.g. you might imagine becoming a world leader, but not thereby utilize any image whatever. I suggest that the imagination is our power to image, picture, think of some state of affairs that is not immediately present to your senses. In this vey broad definition, it may be argued (as some philosophers have done) that we routinely use our imagination whenever we perceive things. For example, technically, I may only sense the surface of a baseball, but because I can picture it as a solid, three dimensional object with a side that I am not immediately sensing, we naturally claim that I perceive the baseball.
On your second question, surely experience, knowledge, memories, past beliefs, stories you have heard, films, plays, and more may enter into what you imagine.
On your third question, about whether it is possible to imagine something beyond one's thinking, if imagination is a type of thinking or involves the exercise of thought, you cannot imagine what you cannot think about. Still, through imagination, you might well come to see the world from radically new perspectives. When you read about mountain climbing, you might well stretch your thinking and imagination, even if you have never seen a mountain, let alone climbed one.
On the limits and power of imagination, some philosophers (like John Locke) maintained that imagination was pivotal for the exercise of freedom. If you cannot or do not imagine doing something different from your habitual routines, chances are you will not freely undertake a different course of action. Some philosophers (like David Hume) have plausibly held that imagination was foundational to ethics (which involves trying to see situations from the points of view of the different parties involved). As for trying to remove some of the obstacles that limit our imagination, philosophers like Iris Murdoch and Martha Nussbaum suggest that reading can be an important tool. Another important tool is conversations with those very different from yourself, and I will end this long-ish (perhaps less than ideally imaginative) reply by noting what Charles Darwin recommended in the last paragraph of his memoir of his experiences on the HMS Beagle about learning new things and making friends; Darwin recommended TRAVEL! You can find the book online and check out the ending.: