Review of 'The Nature of True Minds' by John Heil
Baker (Lynne Rudder)
Source: Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 55:475–78, 1995
Paper - Abstract

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Author's Introduction

  1. The Nature of True Minds is an engaging exploration of implications of the doctrine of externalism in the philosophy of mind. Externalism is the view that the contents of intentional attitudes are fixed in part by the subject's circumstances or environment. As John Heil sees it, externalism "does indeed mandate a fundamental reordering of our conception of mind, its standing in the natural world, and its relation to behavior;" the question is "how much of our traditional conception of agency and intelligent action, how much or our science of psychology could survive such a reordering." (p. 25) While not offering direct arguments in support of externalism, Heil argues that externalism is compatible with sensible construals of mental causation1, supervenience2, and privileged access. His ultimate answer to the question is that externalism "poses no immediate threat to the standing of the intentional attitudes, nor, by extension, to our ordinary conception of agency." ( P 238)
  2. By and large, Heil's arguments are judicious. Like most other philosophers of mind today, Heil embraces naturalism, as "the view that mental characteristics are determined by or supervene3 on features of agents comprehended by the natural sciences. Agents possess thoughts in virtue of their possession of particular sorts of physical characteristics." (pp. 4-5) Maintaining that supervenience4 or determination is a wholly ontological thesis, Heil takes no stand on whether or not intentional concepts are reducible to non-intentional concepts. Throughout The Nature of True Minds, Heil offers fresh insights into the views of many philosophers: for example, Putnam and Burge on externalism; Davidson, Hare and Kim on supervenience5; Searle and Malcolm on mental causation6. In addition, Heil develops his own account of privileged access (reminiscent of Burge's) and of the relation between thought and language.


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