VCE Philosophy Stimulus Questions – Minds & Bodies

Below you will find a number of practice ‘stimulus questions’ designed to help you revise for the VCE Philosophy exam. These questions focus on Area of Study 1 – Minds and Bodies.

For a printable PDF of this study resource, please click here: Minds & Bodies Practice Questions PDF

What are stimulus questions?

A ‘stimulus question’ is a particular type of exam question. You are presented with a stimulus (for example, a picture or a quote) that is relevant to the study design. You are then asked to respond to the stimulus by drawing on the texts and arguments you’ve studied in VCE Philosophy.

Why should I incorporate stimulus questions into my revision?

In short: Because they appear on the exam.

There are usually two stimulus questions, worth ten marks each, in Section B of the VCE Philosophy exam. Historically, students perform very poorly when answering stimulus questions. For example, in the 2017 VCE Philosophy exam, the average mark for each stimulus question was only 3/10. If you practice responding to stimulus questions, you can easily get a few extra marks on Section B, boosting your overall study score.

How can I use these questions in my revision?

Read through these stimulus questions. Mark those you cannot answer, then revise the necessary texts and arguments until you can answer them. Once you can confidently answer all of the questions, practice responding to each question under timed conditions, preferably writing your answers by hand. This will help you figure out how much you can realistically write in the exam.

VCE Philosophy Stimulus Questions – Minds & Bodies

Question 1:

VCE Philosophy Minds and Bodies revision questions

  1. How would Armstrong respond to the above caption and image? What implications does his view have for the way we see ourselves and our place in nature? (3 marks)
  2. How would Descartes respond to the above caption and image? What implications does his view have for psychology? (3 marks)
  3. Critically compare Armstrong’s and Descartes’ theories of mind. Which theory do you prefer and why? (10 marks)

Question 2

Read the extract about machines and consciousness and then answer all questions.

Will Machines Ever Become Human?

…computers won’t ever be conscious; they are made of the wrong stuff (as the philosopher John Searle first argued in 1980). A scientist, Searle noted, naturally assumes that consciousness results from the chemical and physical structure of humans and animals—as photosynthesis results from the chemistry of plants. (We assume that animals have a sort of intelligence, a sort of consciousness, to the extent they seem human-like.) You can’t program your laptop to transform carbon dioxide into sugar; computers are made of the wrong stuff for photosynthesis—and for consciousness too.

No serious thinker argues that computers today are conscious. Suppose you tell one computer and one man to imagine a rose and then describe it. You might get two similar descriptions, and be unable to tell which is which. But behind these similar statements, a crucial difference. The man can see and sense an imaginary rose in his mind. The computer can put on a good performance, can describe an imaginary rose in detail—but can’t actually see or sense anything. It has no internal mental world; no consciousness; only a blank.

Source: David Gelernter, Big Questions Online

  1. A scientist (assuming they are a physicalist/materialist) “naturally assumes that consciousness results from the chemical and physical structure of humans and animals…”.
  2. Outline one argument, offered by the philosophers you have studied, in favour of physicalism.
  3. Outline one argument against the physicalist (materialist) perspective of the nature of the mind (2 marks)
  4. Do you think Gelernter is correct that machines will never achieve consciousness? Explain your position (3 marks)
  5. How would Armstrong respond to the assertion that computers are made of the wrong stuff for consciousness? (2 marks)
  6. In what way is the ‘internal mental world’ an essential feature for having knowledge of the mind for Descartes? (2 marks)

Question 3:

VCE Philosophy revision questions Area of Study 3


  1. Would Descartes agree with what is suggested by the above image and caption and why? What implications would his views have for the way we see ourselves? (4 marks)
  2. How would Armstrong respond to what is suggested by the above image and caption and why? (2 marks)
  3. Critically evaluate the dualist claim that all human beings consist of a separate mind and body. In your response refer to the views of both Socrates and Armstrong (4 marks)

Question 4:

Read the extract about the Turing Test and then answer all questions.

The Turing Test

The [Turing] test was introduced by Alan Turing in his 1950 paper “Computing Machinery and Intelligence,” which opens with the words: “I propose to consider the question, ‘Can machines think?'” Since “thinking” is difficult to define, Turing [chose] to “replace the question by another, which is closely related to it and is expressed in relatively unambiguous words. Turing’s new question is: “Are there imaginable digital computers which would do well in the imitation game? This question, Turing believed, is one that can actually be answered.

[In] the Turing test, a human judge engages in a natural language conversation (a conversation on any topic and in without stylistic constraints) with a human and a machine designed to generate performance indistinguishable from that of a human being. All participants are separated from one another. If the judge cannot reliably tell the machine from the human, the machine is said to have passed the test. The test does not check the ability to give the correct answer; it checks how closely the answer resembles typical human answers. The conversation is limited to a text-only channel such as a computer keyboard and screen so that the result is not dependent on the machine’s ability to render words into audio.

Source: Wikipedia

  1. Define physicalism (materialism) and dualism as they relate to the mind and body debate. (2 marks)
  2. How would either a physicalist (materialist) or a dualist respond to the Turing Test’s aim to re-define what it means for something to think? (2 marks)
  3. How does Descartes define thinking and what implications would this have for the debate over the possibility of artificial intelligence? (4 marks)
  4. Would a behaviourist, such as Armstrong, accept that a machine could think if it passed the Turing Test? (3 marks)
  5. How does Armstrong define the mind (and thinking)? Is this a better definition than the one Turing provides? (4 marks)