Neuroscience and Philosophy

Neuroscience and Philosophy: Brain, Mind, and Language

With an Introduction and Conclusion by Daniel Robinson
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Neuroscience and Philosophy
    Book Description:

    In Neuroscience and Philosophy three prominent philosophers and a leading neuroscientist clash over the conceptual presuppositions of cognitive neuroscience. The book begins with an excerpt from Maxwell Bennett and Peter Hacker's Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience (Blackwell, 2003), which questions the conceptual commitments of cognitive neuroscientists. Their position is then criticized by Daniel Dennett and John Searle, two philosophers who have written extensively on the subject, and Bennett and Hacker in turn respond.

    Their impassioned debate encompasses a wide range of central themes: the nature of consciousness, the bearer and location of psychological attributes, the intelligibility of so-called brain maps and representations, the notion of qualia, the coherence of the notion of an intentional stance, and the relationships between mind, brain, and body. Clearly argued and thoroughly engaging, the authors present fundamentally different conceptions of philosophical method, cognitive-neuroscientific explanation, and human nature, and their exchange will appeal to anyone interested in the relation of mind to brain, of psychology to neuroscience, of causal to rational explanation, and of consciousness to self-consciousness.

    In his conclusion Daniel Robinson (member of the philosophy faculty at Oxford University and Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Georgetown University) explains why this confrontation is so crucial to the understanding of neuroscientific research. The project of cognitive neuroscience, he asserts, depends on the incorporation of human nature into the framework of science itself. In Robinson's estimation, Dennett and Searle fail to support this undertaking; Bennett and Hacker suggest that the project itself might be based on a conceptual mistake. Exciting and challenging, Neuroscience and Philosophy is an exceptional introduction to the philosophical problems raised by cognitive neuroscience.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51194-0
    Subjects: Philosophy, Health Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-xii)
    Daniel N. Robinson

    Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience, by Max Bennett and Peter Hacker, was published by Blackwell in 2003. It attracted attention straightaway because it was the first systematic evaluation of the conceptual foundations of neuroscience, as these foundations had been laid by scientists and philosophers. What added to the attraction of the work were two appendixes devoted specifically and critically to the influential writings of John Searle and Daniel Dennett. Max Bennett, an accomplished neuroscientist, correctly identified Searle and Dennett as the philosophers most widely read within the neuroscience community and was eager to make clear to readers why he and Hacker...

  4. The Argument

    • Selections from Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience
      (pp. 3-48)
      M. R. BENNETT and P.M.S. HACKER

      Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience presents the fruits of a cooperative project between a neuroscientist and a philosopher. It is concerned with the conceptual foundations of cognitive neuroscience—foundations constituted by the structural relationships among the psychological concepts involved in investigations into the neural underpinnings of human cognitive, affective and volitional capacities. Investigating logical relations among concepts is a philosophical task. Guiding that investigation down pathways that will illuminate brain research is a neuroscientific one. Hence our joint venture.

      If we are to understand the neural structures and dynamics that make perception, thought, memory, emotion and intentional behaviour possible, clarity about...

      (pp. 49-70)

      When a propagating action potential reaches a synapse at the end of an axon terminal of a presynaptic neuron, indicated by the small rectangle in figure I, it induces the release of neurotransmitter molecules, as shown in the inset of a synapse in the lower left of figure I. The transmitter diffuses across a narrow cleft and binds to receptors in the postsynaptic membrane. Such binding leads to the opening of channels and often, in turn, to the generation of action potentials in the postsynaptic neuron. There are several hundred proteins required for this process (Sieburth et al. 2005). I...

  5. The Rebuttals

    • PHILOSOPHY AS NAIVE ANTHROPOLOGY: Comment on Bennett and Hacker
      (pp. 73-96)

      Bennett and Hacker’s Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience (Blackwell, 2003), a collaboration between a philosopher (Hacker) and a neuroscientist (Bennett), is an ambitious attempt to reformulate the research agenda of cognitive neuroscience by demonstrating that cognitive scientists and other theorists, myself among them, have been bewitching one another by misusing language in a systematically “incoherent” and conceptually “confused” way. In both style and substance, the book harks back to Oxford in the early 1960s, when Ordinary Language Philosophy ruled and Ryle and Wittgenstein were the authorities on the meanings of our everyday mentalistic or psychological terms. I myself am a product...

    • PUTTING CONSCIOUSNESS BACK IN THE BRAIN: Reply to Bennett and Hacker, Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience
      (pp. 97-124)

      This is a long book, over 450 pages, and it covers a huge number of issues. It contains many objections to my views as well as an appendix specifically devoted to criticizing me. I will here confine my remarks to certain central issues in the book and to answering what I believe are the most important of Bennett and Hacker’s criticisms. But I do not attempt to discuss all of the major issues raised by their book.

      As most of my remarks will be critical, I want to begin by noting some important areas of agreement. The authors are right...

  6. Reply to the Rebuttals

      (pp. 127-162)

      In Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience¹ we aimed to contribute to neuroscientific research in the only way that philosophy can assist science—not by offering scientists empirical theories in place of their own, but by clarifying the conceptual structures they invoke. One of us has spent his life constructing empirical theories about neuronal functions. But those endeavors, which deal with the foundations of neuroscience, provide no part of its conceptual foundations. The systematic elucidations we gave of sensation, perception, knowledge, memory, thought, imagination, emotion, consciousness, and self-consciousness are not theories.² Their purpose is to clarify the psychological concepts that cognitive neuroscientists...

      (pp. 163-170)

      I met Sir John Eccles in 1962 while concluding my degree in electrical engineering. The following year he was awarded the Nobel Prize for his work on chemical transmission at synapses in the spinal cord and brain. He asked me what I was doing and I replied “electrical engineering,” to which he responded, “Excellent, you should join me, as every first-rate neurophysiology laboratory needs a very good solderer.” I believe that every first-rate cognitive neuroscience laboratory now needs a very good critical, analytical philosopher. The dialogue concerning the aims and accomplishments of cognitive neuroscience at the 2005 American Philosophical Association...

    • STILL LOOKING: Science and Philosophy in Pursuit of Prince Reason
      (pp. 171-194)

      Anatomy was in the air of the thinking classes in the Britain of the early seventeenth century. The great William Harvey, returning from Italy in 1602, would offer his pioneering Lumleian lectures from 1615. Cambridge was one of the centers of this revived interest in the machinery of the body. Harvey, degree in hand, left there in 1600 to receive instruction in Padua from Fabricius himself, even as the younger Phineas Fletcher (1582–1650) was completing his own course of study at King’s College. We all know about Harvey. Fletcher is nearly lost in the mists of time. Nor would...

  7. NOTES
    (pp. 195-220)