The Science of the Mind
Flanagan (Owen)
Source: Flanagan (Owen) - Science of the Mind
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  1. Psychology, according to the standard fable, severed its connection with philosophy in 1879 and became a science. Armchair speculation was abandoned in favor of a rigorous empirical approach to the study of mind. Metaphysics and epistemology thus remained the harmless amusements of fundamentally unrealistic minds, while psychologists got on with studying the real thing.
  2. Fortunately, the separation has not lasted. Thanks in part to the recent surge of interest in the cognitive sciences, as well as to a trend toward a more naturalistic style of philosophy, we are seeing the re-emergence of an exciting and fruitful alliance among philosophers, psychologists, and mind scientists generally. This book is intended as a contribution to this renewed alliance. In it I try to sort out the various ways in which philosophical assumptions appear in, affect, afflict, and illuminate the science of mind. Conversely, I examine the implications the science of mind has for traditional philosophical concerns.
  3. Some of the philosophical issues I discuss have received their most vivid formulations and have taken their most surprising turns within psychological theories, such as the problem of self-knowledge in psychoanalysis and the problem of the unity of consciousness1 in cognitive psychology. Other traditional philosophical questions have been declared solved or dissolved by psychological theories, such as the problem of free will in behaviorism, the question of the incorrigibility of introspection in cognitive psychology, and the mind-body problem in artificial intelligence2. My overall goal is to bring out the way philosophical concerns figure within psychology and to indicate the contribution psychology makes to the solutions of some reputedly unsolvable philosophical conundrums.
  4. I think of science, especially the human sciences, as having a narrative structure. I mean this in two senses.
    1. First, individual theories of mind are often fruitfully read as stories about what the mind is or would be like if certain assumptions about it proved to be true.
    2. Second, the histories of psychology and philosophy of mind, taken together, comprise a series of chapters among which there is intelligible interplay between earlier and later chapters.
    3. Furthermore, the narrative, taken as a whole or in terms of its major episodes, involves all sorts of drama. There are the tragic theoretical flaws originating in unarticulated but seemingly noble philosophical assumptions; there are moments when theoretical single-mindedness born of shallow but honest commitment to a vision pays great dividends; there are the "reinventions of the wheel" born of forgetfulness, or commission of Santayana's sin of failing to attend to history; and there are the moments of unquestionably great insight by unquestionably great thinkers.
  5. My views on the narrative structure of science and my abiding conviction that there is much to be learned from great thinkers, even if their theories are now considered wrong or outdated, help explain the structure of this book. I examine critically the ways in which important philosophical issues arise within several distinct theoretical traditions. I find it most useful to organize discussion around the views of some major figure, and have done so in all but two cases — within the fields of cognitive psychology and Artificial Intelligence3 there are no agreed-upon single representatives. Overall, the cast of characters includes Rene Descartes, William James, Sigmund Freud, B.F. Skinner, Jean Piaget, Wikipedia: Lawrence Kohlberg, a mixed lot of cognitive psychologists and members of the artificial intelligentsia, and one evolutionary biologist, Edward O. Wilson.
  6. I will have succeeded by my own lights if I provide an account of the science of the mind that indicates just how philosophically rich its theories are and an account of the philosophy of mind that locates many of its main problems and concerns in the actual theorizing of mind scientists. For the reader, going through the book sequentially is the best strategy, but I have tried to make each chapter stand more or less on its own so that the book can be read in any order without a major loss to the overall project. In order to assist the uninitiated, I have listed several useful introductions to the material under discussion at the foot of the first page of each chapter, and I have included a list of suggested readings at the end of each chapter.

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  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2021
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)

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