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The Mind's provisions: a critique of cognitivism

Author: Descombes, Vincent ; Schwartz, Adam, translation Series: New French thought Publisher: Princeton University Press, 2001.Language: EnglishDescription: 284 p. ; 24 cm.ISBN: 0691001316Type of document: BookBibliography/Index: Includes bibliographical references and index
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Book Europe Campus
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Print BF311 .D47 2001
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Includes bibliographical references and index


The Mind's Provisions A Critique of Cognitivism Contents Translator's Introduction: The Complete Holist xi CHAPTER 1 The Phenomena of Mind 1.1. What is the place of the mental in the world? Common sense cannot decide: in ordinary usage, the adjective "mental" does not apply only to the subject's immanent activities, but may also be used to qualify anything dependent on intellectual competence--a book, for example, which is a mental commodity. 1.2. Philosophy of mind becomes a mental philosophy when the mind is defined as a sphere detached from the external world, a sphere for which a place must be found in the order of things. 1.3. Classification of the phenomenologies of mind: mental phenomena can be conceived as given to everyone (exteriority) or only to the subject (interiority); they can be conceived as indirect manifestations of mind (symptoms) or as direct mani festations (criteria, expressions). 1.4. The philosophy of consciousness detaches mind from the world by contrasting our indirect knowledge of events in the world with our infallible direct knowledge of mental events. 1.5. Theories of the unconscious contest the identification of the mental and the conscious, but maintain the dissociation between the representational mind and the world. Theories of mental causes extend the philosophy of representational mind into a third person psychology. 1.6. The philosophy of intention does not define intention ality as a special relation between subject and object, but as an order of meaning imposed on a material. 1 2 9 II 14 17 19 CHAPTER 2 Two Sciences? 2.1. In the nineteenth century, the project for the scientific study of the human mind led to a debate regarding the unity of method in the sciences. 30 30 VI CONTENTS 2.2. The hermeneutic dualism of explanation through laws, on the one hand, and the understanding of meaning, on the other, today takes the form of a conflict between two philoso phies of action: the causal theory of action and the intentionalist conception. 2.3. The traditional opposition between explanation and understanding rests on a positivist philosophy of naturalistic explanation, one conceived as an explanation by means of laws, i.e., observed regularities. 2.4. Laws conceived as general propositions have no explicative power. In order for explanation to take place, the regularly observed link between two kinds of phenomena must correspond to a real connection. 2.5. Not every teleological explanation is an intentional explanation: thus, the functional explanation of a natural system makes no reference to intention. 32 35 39 42 CHAPTER 3 The Anthropological Investigation of the Mind 3.1. Structural anthropology is the project of explaining (the variety of) human institutions by (common) intellectual structures. 3.2. Lévi-Strauss sees structural explanation as a way of overcoming the opposition between explanation of social phenom ena by means of consciousness, on the one hand, and explan ation by historical circumstances, on the other. The social totality has a rational meaning because it can be given (in the mind) before its parts. 3.3. According to Lévi-Strauss, the holism of the social should be based on a theory of the structural unconscious. However, a naturalistic psychology cannot account for symbolic systems. 3.4. According to another brand of structural explanation (that of Louis Dumont), the opposition between voluntarist and historical explanation can be overcome by an understand ing based in the radical comparison between our culture and other cultures. 47 47 51 54 58 CHAPTER 4 The New Mental Philosophy 4.1. According to cognitivism, the model provided by the computer makes it possible for a naturalistic psychology to study intellectual activities. 66 66 CONTENTS 4.2. The materialism of contemporary mental philosophy is in fact a dualism for which the subject of mental operations is the brain. 4.3. The new mental philosophy advances three theses: (1) that mental life consists of a sequence of mental states; (2) that these mental states can be redescribed as brain states; and, (3) that the behavior of a subject is the effect of an interaction among internal mental causes. Vii 69 Note on the Concept of Metaphysics CHAPTER 5 The Doctrines of Psychical Materialism 5.1. Ordinary psychological explanations apply no theory to events. 5.2. The notion of a "folk psychological theory" is confused. 5.3. There is a real theory of the art of influencing people's behavior by giving them good reasons to act: rhetoric. 5.4. Explanation by means of psychical causes seems magical: representations are held effectively to act. According to some causalist theorists, the action of representations would be conceivable if representations were material. In order to establish a scientific psychology, "psychical matter" (Lacan) would have to be identified. 5.5. However, when material signs act, they do so in virtue of their physical properties rather than in virtue of their meaning. 5.6. The hypothesis of a symbolic effectiveness of myths (Lévi-Strauss) prefigures the cognitivist conception, by postulating an intermediary level of material mind, between the intentional and the organic; at this level, symbols are held to act like physical forms. 73 78 84 84 87 90 93 97 102 CHAPTER 6 The Psychology of Computers 6.1. The Turing test, which is meant to establish the intel lectual capacities of machines, proves nothing unless one posits that, in principle, agents exhibiting the same abilities really belong to the same class of equivalents, after we have abstracted from their origins and material makeup. 6.2. The comparison between human and artificial intelligence requires a human operator who follows explicit rules. 6.3. A subject cannot be given rules to follow unless he has certain primitive practical skills: explanation stops where 108 110 115 viii action must begin (Wittgenstein); the end point of practical CONTENTS reasoning is the starting point for action (Aristotle). 6.4. Certain objections raised about the functional classcation of intelligent agents are grounded in a deficient conception of the nature of systems. A simple assemblage devoid of organization, like Searle's "Chinese Room, " has no behavior of its own, so that the question of its intelligence does not arise. 121 127 CHAPTER 7 The Inside and the Outside 7.1. In psychology, functional explanation accounts for the structure of an animate system's behavior in a complex environment. The psychological theory called "causal functionalism" has nothing to do with structural analysis and therefore puts forward no real functional explanations. 7.2. The "sciences of the artificial" (Herbert Simon) are in fact the sciences of (natural or manufactured) systems considered from the perspective of their adaptive abilities. 7.3. Functional explanation is holistic: when it studies the functions of the parts of a whole from the perspective of the rational conduct of this whole in its outer environment, it abstracts from the internal structure of those parts. 7.4. Psychology is a science of the artificial because its object--the behavior of animate systems--is not studied as an effect of the structures of its inner environment, but as a response of the behaving systems to the complexity of their outer environments. The condition of mind is neither interiority, nor subjectivity, nor calculating power, but rather, autonomy in determining the goals it undertakes. 135 135 141 148 152 158 CHAPTER 8 Mechanical Mind 8.1. The analogy with the computer is meant to mediate between physical processes (whose explanation is causal) and mental processes (whose explanation is intentional). This mediation is to be found in the idea that the computer carries out a calculation, in the sense of a rational transformation of physical formulas. 8.2. The idea of a calculation is held to resolve the two major difficulties for any mechanical theory of mind: what might be called the "Brentano problem" (how can physical events be explained by their intentional content?) and the "Sherlock Holmes problem" (how can a mechanical sequence 164 165 CONTENTS ix of mental states also be a chain of reasoning?). 8.3. Every mechanical theory of internal mental representations must demonstrate that it does not require an intelligent mechanism (a homunculus) to manipulate those representations according to their representational content. 8.4. First defense of mechanical psychology: through the breakdown of intellectual work into ever more simple operations. Yet, the need for a homunculus was the result not of the difficulty of cognitive operations but of their intentionality. 8.5. Second defense: through the redescription of intellectual work as mechanical calculation, thus as physical work. But the physical work described is brain work, so that the brain then becomes the subject of mental operations (dualism of the brain and the body). 8.6. A person's activities cannot be described outside of a narrative context. This principle of intelligibility, which is found in Wittgenstein's work, was recognized by the Aristotelian tradition ("actions are attributed to concrete subjects"). This is the principle that allows us to understand why dualisms of the soul (whether spiritual or material) and the body are doomed to incoherence. 167 171 174 178 182 CHAPTER 9 Cerebroscopic Exercises If beliefs and desires were states of a person's brain, we would in principle have to be able to determine what someone believes or desires by examining the state of his brain. This proposition appears to be incoherent. 189 CHAPTER 10 The Metaphysics of Mental States Mental philosophy borrows its concept of a state from the metaphysics of the natural sciences. A state is an internal condition of something at a given time. This condition is independent of both the state of the world outside the thing and the thing's past. In order to conform to this metaphysics, states of mind must be redefined as the "narrow states" of a solipsistic psychology. 200 CHAPTER 11 The Detachment of the Mind According to its defenders, mentalist psychology is legitimately solipsistic. For them, psychological explanation must detach mind from the world, for what matters is the content of the 212 X CONTENTS subject's mind, not the real state of the world. This is what the psychology of the computer-mind does: it detaches thought by defining it as formal calculation. This defense of methodological solipsism fails to account for the moment of appearances: the Cartesian subject who has suspended judgment continues to encounter appearances. CHAPTER 12 The Historical Conditions of Meaning 12.1. The notion of a mental state detached from every context is incomprehensible. Thoughts have their content in the context of a historical tradition of institutions and customs. 12.2. Anthropological holism of the mental does not contra dict the "principle of supervenience" according to which there can be no mental difference without a physical difference. Indeed, the very notion of supervenience implies a recognition of a differ ence in order between the states posited by a physical description, and the meaning provided by an intentional description. 12.3. In what case are two people thinking the same thing and in what case are they thinking something different? Mental atomism proposes to identify thoughts through individuation: it assumes that thoughts can be counted one-by-one, as physical images might be counted. For its part, mental holism will have to explain how it plans to identify thoughts without individuating them: it will have to provide an identity criterion for thoughts. 224 224 229 236 Notes Works Cited Index 249 273 279

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