Introducing the mind to new minds

Mind and Cognition - Philosophy of Mind - Philosophy of Mind - Philosophy of Mind. First Edition
May 28, 1999

The problem for someone teaching the philosophy of mind is to avoid predictability. Everyone expects to use Descartes to characterise the mind-body problem, and then run through the menu of standard solutions to it: behaviourism, type-type identity theories, functionalism, and various kinds of non-reductive materialism. Computational approaches and the problem of "qualia" will probably be fitted in under functionalism. And various kinds of anti-realism about states of mind (interpretationalism, instrumentalism, eliminativism) are likely to be considered in connection with non-reductive materialism. It is comparatively easy to instil a high standard of professionalism in students, but correlatively difficult to get them to think about the issues really freshly.

Philosophy of Mind: An Introduction avoids this predictability, while covering many of the central issues, by breaking the subject into topics meant to be provocative to students: whether we survive our deaths, the problem of other minds, whether animals have beliefs, whether computers do, and so on. I cannot see myself using or recommending it as an undergraduate textbook, however. One reason is that it does not deal with the central issues arising out of the mind-body problem in the depth needed for a specialist course. Another is that there are clumsinesses of philosophy and style that I would prefer not to spend time explaining. Here are some examples. A Wittgensteinian solution to the problem of other minds is rejected partly on the ground that it risks being behaviourist, but a version of the Turing test is taken to be capable of deciding whether computers can think. There are patronisingly simplistic characterisations of the nature of philosophy ("Philosophers are displeased when questions are begged"), combined with quite uncritically technical terminology in the actual discussions. And there are sentences which are hard to understand at all ("Spare no words: mind depends upon brain").

Philosophy of Mind: A Contemporary Introduction is much better. It is pitched at the right level for undergraduates (from the second year on), but is not patronising. It contains four chapters that cover the central issues arising out of the mind-body problem in reasonable detail, and with firm and clear characterisations of positions. It is written with a nice sense of history, and every chapter ends with a full and up-to-date guide to further reading. The book reads as the work of a very good philosopher who wants to introduce students to the topic. It also gains in freshness from the fact that the author has a metaphysical view of his own which he is keen to press: this is a kind of neutral monism that seems designed to preserve a thoroughgoing realism about the way the world is. But although John Heil's personal commitments give life to the book, they also mean it should be handled with caution. I felt the issues involved in his metaphysical view were too difficult to be introduced at the speed with which Heil has to introduce them in a book of this kind. But I would certainly recommend students to read the chapters on particular topics, which strike me as getting very deep very quickly and comprehensibly.

The co-authored Philosophy of Mind provides a different kind of introduction. It covers all of the central topics more thoroughly and more self-critically than either of the other introductions reviewed here, and its coverage is informed by readings in the phenomenological tradition as well as the standard works in the analytical canon. This breadth prevents the book from being a routine introduction; and the authors also propose their own views, although not without noting the difficulties they have to face in them. I liked many things about this book, but think the level of discussion too high for most undergraduates to cope with at their first approach. It strikes me as a useful book for a tutor planning an undergraduate course, helpful background for a postgraduate course on the philosophy of mind, and good to direct an undergraduate to for revision.

Mind and Cognition: An Anthology is a textbook for those who do not like textbooks. It is an expanded edition of a now-famous anthology of readings in analytical philosophy of mind. The revisions are extensive and reflect recent trends in the subject. Behaviourism has been dropped altogether, and the first section now covers both identity theories and functionalism. The section on the status of "folk psychology" has been considerably enlarged to include papers on the "narrow" and the "wide" in considerations of content and causation, on self-knowledge, and on simulation theory. And a new section on emotion replaces the section of "special topics" (perception, images, innateness and AI).

Every postgraduate working in the field will want a copy if they do not already have the first edition; and tutors planning a course, whether for undergraduates or for postgraduates, should certainly have a copy of this edition. It provides a very useful survey of contemporary work in the field, which I would certainly recommend as a convenient source of articles for both undergraduates and postgraduates.

Michael Morris is reader in philosophy, University of Sussex.

Mind and Cognition: An Anthology. Second Edition

Editor - William G. Lycan
ISBN - 0 631 21204 3 and 20545 4
Publisher - Blackwell
Price - £60.00 and £18.99
Pages - 540

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