Thursday, March 01, 2012

Three Cheers for Folk Psychology

“I should think that the distinctive task of a science of consciousness would be a credible and systematic account of the manner in which knowledge, desire, belief, and judgment come to be integrated into action plans by entities that have and that take an interest in themselves and in others. Put another way, the distinctive task pertains to what is distinctive about human life, which is not merely or primarily ‘subjective experience.’ What is distinctive about it is its amenability to rhetorical sources of motivation, to desires grounded in moral precepts, to forms of art and play, belief and conviction, and hopes and intuitions, by which ‘behavior’ rises to the level of personal responsibility.”—Daniel N. Robinson

Daniel N. Robinson’s Consciousness and Mental Life (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008) is an excellent historical and analytical treatment of the more intractable if not “timeless” topics in philosophy of mind concerning the “mind/body” problem, physicalism, and consciousness. Among the conclusions for which we find succinct yet impressive arguments: “Emergentism, supervenience, and epiphenomenalism, which, collectively, deny the immateriality of consciousness, offer no argument or evidence that seriously challenges dualistic alternatives. It cannot even be said that they are working hypotheses, because a working hypothesis is one that will rise or fall with the evidence, and there is no ‘evidence’ as such that could tell for or against ‘hypotheses’ of this sort. They are not scientific hypotheses, though they are phrased as if they were.”

Robinson demonstrates how “Cartesianism” is often a predictable straw man in contemporary philosophy and cognitive science, the irony being “that much of the anti-Cartesian labors of the day recover what is explicit in Descartes’ own work and that the more weighty criticisms were advanced by Descartes’ celebrated contemporaries. ‘Anti-Cartesianism’ is now largely ‘code’ for a defense of physicalism no more credible and no more coherent than what Descartes had attempted to defend. His was very a form of ‘cognitive neuroscience’ that would be surprisingly at home in today’s major centers of thought on these matters.”

See too:
  • Bennett, M.R. and P.M.S. Hacker. Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2003.
  • Bennett, Maxwell, Daniel Dennett, Peter Hacker, John Searle, and Daniel Robinson. Neuroscience and Philosophy: Brain, Mind and Language. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007.
  • Descombes, Vincent (Stephen Adam Schwartz, tr.). The Mind’s Provisions: A Critique of Cognitivism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001.
  • Horst, Steven. Beyond Reduction: Philosophy of Mind and Post-Reductionist Philosophy of Science. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2007.
  • Tallis, Raymond. The Explicit Animal: A Defence of Human Consciousness. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999 ed.
  • Tallis, Raymond. Aping Mankind: Neuromania, Darwinitis and the Misrepresentation of Humanity. Durham, England: Acumen, 2011.


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