Sunday, December 28, 2008

Warby on Philosophy of Mind

Over at the online edition of Australia's Quadrant magazine, Michael Warby kindly reviews my book Philosophy of Mind. As Warby notes, the book is now out in a revised edition. (The first edition has the subtitle "A Short Introduction" and a surrealist cover illustration. The new edition, pictured at left, has a "brain in a vat" cover with the new subtitle "A Beginner's Guide." The only difference in content is the addition of an eight-page Postscript to the new edition.)

You can find a sample chapter here. Like the book in general (which first appeared in 2005), it is perhaps a tad too Cartesian and "representationalist" in spirit. Were I writing it today, I would make it more thoroughly Aristotelian-Thomist. (The philosophy of mind related portions of The Last Superstition reflect my transition toward a more consistent Thomism.) Still, Cartesianism is better than materialism, to say the very least.

Anyway, for interested readers, here is the complete table of contents:

Preface and acknowledgments

1. Perception

Dreams, demons, and brains in vats
Indirect realism
Appearance and reality, mind and matter
Further reading

2. Dualism

Minds and brains, apples and oranges
The indivisibility argument
The conceivability argument
The interaction problem
Further reading

3. Materialism

Tables, chairs, rocks, and trees
Reduction and supervenience
Cause and effect
The identity theory
The burden of proof
Further reading

4. Qualia

The inverted spectrum
The “Chinese nation” argument
The zombie argument
The knowledge argument
Property dualism
Further reading

5. Consciousness

Representationalism and Higher-Order Theories
Russellian identity theory and neutral monism
Troubles with Russellianism
A more consistent Russellianism
Consciousness, intentionality, and subjectivity
The binding problem
Further reading

6. Thought

Reasons and causes
The computational/representational theory of thought
The argument from reason
The Chinese Room argument
The mind-dependence of computation
Thought and consciousness
Further reading

7. Intentionality

Naturalistic theories of meaning
1. Conceptual role theories
2. Causal theories
3. Biological theories
4. Instrumentalist theories
Eliminativism again
The indeterminacy of the physical
1. Representations
2. Concepts
3. Formal reasoning
Materialism, meaning, and metaphysics
Further reading

8. Persons

Personal identity
Consequences of mechanism
Thomistic dualism
Philosophy of mind and the rest of philosophy
Further reading

Postscript (2006)



  1. Prof Feser does your book deal with the question of whether we can prove the existence of 'external' reality or not?

    Over the last couple of weeks I've been in conversations with people and they have more or less stated (once in my philosophy class and once in an idle conversation at work) that we cannot prove the existence of the external world and that might be all an illusion.

    I wish I had/have a quick argument against this position but sort of felt lost for words even though I'm sure we can (surely!) prove the existence of 'external reality'!

  2. Hi David, yes, I do address that issue in a section of chapter 1 of the book. But I'm more inclined these days to reject the Cartesian "inner theatre" conception of the mind that generates such worries, for reasons I say a bit about in The Last Superstition.

  3. After reading your blog, I will like to share my work. I have written a book, Man Is A Thought.

    This work tries to establish relationship between scientific theories and theological beliefs. Author explores if

    thoughts, their behavior, existence and interaction with mind can be explained with in scientific domain.
    Further to this, book also provides insight that why artificial intelligence fails to mimic man's ability to think,

    what limits rational intelligence to attain the status of pinnacle, how thought space can be perceived by humans


    At the end it has been suggested that it is a new beginning for mankind. And I reach at a point where I say:

    "A man is an oscillation of an image of thought in Real Time Space."

  4. Professor Feser, this book looks right up my street!
    Does this book deal with recent advances in neuroscience?
    And do you hold to a two-way causation between mind and body?

  5. Professor Feser, about the evil demon hypothesis:

    Thomism answers the problem of the existence of an extra-mental world by appealing to the immediacy of the knowledge of the real world, at the same time as we become aware of the first principles of thought. Very roughly, I think I've stated the thomistic answer correctly. Nevertheless, personally I don't take the existence of an extra-mental world as a problem.

    However, if thomism can get us rid of the evil demon in terms of immediate knowledge, what are we to (thomistically) think of the certainty of our mediate knowledge? How can we know that the evil demon doesn't impart us false memories so to completely undermine our mediate knowledge - from knowledge of the existence of God to historical knowledge?