Thursday, July 30, 2009

Ten Basic Articles for The Philosophy of Mind

A facebook friend tagged me on a note: he wanted everyone to list "Ten philosophy articles that blew your little fucking mind." The stipulations were a) to name the first ten that came to mind, articles of personal interest and b) to restrict oneself to journal articles. I'm not sure about his phraseology, but I did take a minute to think of the ten philosophy articles that first came to me.

Confession: I barely read articles any more. There comes a point where one must write things, not read them, and I’ve been there for a while. Nor am I endorsing anyone either in terms of quality or rightness. These are the ten that came to me. My list is tightly focused, and does not represent the breadth of my interests or reading by any means. As I said, I don't really read much of the gladiatorial nit-picking that goes on in the journals. But of course that is only a matter of taste. I paint with a relatively broad brush, I guess.

The exercise turns out to be useful for me as some workbench stuff for my project on the metaphysics of the philosophy of mind. It's very much "the basics" for me. It also will serve as the bibliography of my fall philosophy of mind class. So a nice little exercise found whiling away some minutes on facebook, thank you Devon B.

1) Daniel Dennett, “Why the law of effect will not go away,” Journal of Social Behavior, 1978. The theory of natural selection is not a biological theory, it’s a proof of mathematical logic: not the kind of thing that could be “false.” Classic Dennett: simple as pie, closes the discussion. People think Dennett must be an overrated philosopher because of his success as a popular writer, but this is definitely an underrated article. I also find Darwin's Dangerous Idea (1995) to be one of Dennett's best books. My two basic criticisms Dennett in general are 1) I think his conclusions about the minds of non-human animals are a failure, and 2) it may be that reductive materialism fails in a way that he does not acknowledge, given his apparent identification of Enlightenment ideology with reductive materialism (contra "sky hooks").

2) Jerry Fodor, “Fodor’s Guide to Mental Representation: The Intelligent Auntie’s Vade-Mecum,” Mind, 1985. I’m an eliminativist about mental representation. Fodor of course is an intentional realist all the way. He fascinates me. A brilliant, eccentric writer. I would also mention “Why paramecia don’t have mental representations,” Midwest Studies in Philosophy, 1986. My basic issue: I take Wittgenstein's point that any naturalized account of anything isn't going to refer to intentional or semantic "properties," or to any other kind of non-physical properties, so I'm not disposed to representational theories of mind. But it might be that I take all that back. That's one of the questions that continue to sustain my interest.

3) Donald Davidson, “Mental Events,” Experience and Theory, 1970. His exposition of “anomalous monism.” Another great philosopher who I think I don’t agree with. I tell students in my philosophy of mind course that if they can do exegesis of this one and get it all, and get it right, they get an “A.”

4) Hilary Putnam, “Brains in a vat,” Reason, Truth, and History, 1981. An actual phonebook denotes actual names and numbers, but an identical object without the right etiology would not. Now that’s philosophy! For a long time I just waved my hands at the “Twin Earth” stuff, or I should say waved the white flag. Nowadays externalism/wide content is a crucial part of my overall position: I think intentional predicates are predicates of whole persons, and that gets the "meaning" out of the head. Certainly one of my all-time favorites.

5) David Lewis, “Mad Pain and Martian Pain,” Readings in the Philosophy of Psychology, 1980. A really hard article. I continue to feel resistance to it although at this point I agree with Lewis that the problem of qualia is a pseudoproblem. I tell students that a good philosopher is “sporting.” Lewis is very sporting. Don’t ask me to explain that any further.

6) Jaegwon Kim, any of the articles collected in Supervenience and Mind: Selected Philosophical Essays, 1993. The supervenience (multiple realizability) of intentional states is a metaphysical problem right at the heart of the mind/body problem. It is the essence of functionalism (the thing one has to understand to motivate functionalism). It is the link to Plato. Kim is one of my most important teachers.

7) Paul Churchland, “Eliminative materialism and the propositional attitudes,” Journal of Philosophy, 1981. I can’t say I care for the Churchlands much; she disses Wittgenstein in a way that alienates me, and their view is the opposite of mine: they hold that intentional psychological explanation may be eliminated, but mental representation cannot be, I hold the reverse. But I had to admit that this one had to be on the list. Basics. (I think Paul Churchland's The Engine of Reason, the Seat of the Soul, 1996, is the best basic statement of their view.)

8) Saul Kripke, “Identity and Necessity,” Naming, Necessity and Natural Kinds, 1977. Famously elaborated in Naming and Necessity, 1980. The argument is that “pain” necessarily refers to the feeling of pain, and necessarily cannot be identified with some physical state (“C-fibers firing”). Notice how this engages with his subsequent interpretations of Wittgenstein (Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language, 1982): W. holds that no words can refer to “inner experience.” Which brings me to the last two articles.

9) John Searle, “Minds, Brains and Programs,” Journal of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 1980. It was crucial for me to realize that a) I agree with the conclusions of both this article and the next, and b) these two conclusions appear to be mutually exclusive. That is, both the Chinese Room Argument and the Turing Test Argument persuade me, but it looks like one of them has to be wrong. Resolving this is a major part of my project The Mind/Body Problems. Point number one is that we have not one but two metaphysical issues here and we can make progress if we disentangle them.

10) Alan Turing, “Computing Machinery and Intelligence,” Mind 1950. Basically a classic statement of philosophical behaviorism. If you can see how Wittgenstein is more nuanced and deeper than this, you’re starting to appreciate Wittgenstein. What is the same is that Turing and Wittgenstein both take the semantics of psychological terms to be necessarily public.


  1. Oh and this is a great tip of articles for us read. ;)

  2. I don't think I've read most of these yet, though like you, I don't feel inclined to. Philosophy is best savored by studying and developing your own, not filtering your thoughts and perceptions through the lens of other people's thoughts.

  3. Sigh... Thanks for adding to my much too large list of "Things I HAVE to read"...

  4. And all of that for me must lead to ethnographic research and application!

  5. Thank you for this list. I will take a look. Just stumbled on your blog, nice stuff.

  6. If you ever do Ten Basic YouTube Films For The Philosophy Of Mind I'd (or id) would suggest this one film of two parts.

  7. Jesus Christ????

    What a hell Jesus have to do with Philosophy of Mind Tor?

  8. I found this site/article the other day, and have never been exposed to such a tangible, unfluffed, outlook of the Universe/life/whatever, and I recommend it highly to anyone who has 10 free minutes to mull over the greatest questions there are for us. It is relatively short, yet certainly to the point and here's the link (copy into your browser)