The Minds of the Moderns

The Minds of the Moderns: Rationalism, Empiricism, and Philosophy of Mind

Janice Thomas
Copyright Date: 2009
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    The Minds of the Moderns
    Book Description:

    Taking Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, and Hume in turn, Janice Thomas presents an authoritative and critical assessment of each of these canonical thinkers' views of the notion of mind. She examines each philosopher's position on five key topics: the metaphysical character of minds and mental states; the nature and scope of introspection and self-knowledge; the nature of consciousness; the problem of mental causation, and the nature of representation and intentionality. The exposition and examination of their positions is informed by present-day debates in the philosophy of mind and the philosophy of psychology so that readers get a clear sense of the importance of these philosophers' ideas, many of which continue to define our current notions of the mental. Time and again, philosophers return to the great early modern rationalist and empiricist philosophers for instruction and inspiration. Their views on the philosophy of mind are no exception and, as Thomas shows, they have much to offer contemporary debates.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-9470-8
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-11)

    The roll call of great early modern Western philosophers trips readily off any undergraduate’s tongue: Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley and Hume – the rationalists and the empiricists. Again and again, professional philosophers and students alike come back to these figures for instruction and inspiration. The main objective of this book is to set out clearly views on the philosophy of mind held by each of these six figures. Each thinker has a distinct stance on the nature of mind that can be found in his central text or texts. So I shall be mainly looking at Descartes’sMeditationsand...

  6. I Descartes
    • CHAPTER 1 Does Descartes think minds are substances?
      (pp. 12-20)

      Why start an essay devoted to Descartes’s theory of mind with the question whether Descartes thinks human minds are substances or not? Doesn’t everyone know that Descartes is a mind–body dualist who thinks that minds are things that are utterly metaphysically different from material bodies? Surely there is no question of deciding – getting on for four hundred years after the publication of theMeditations¹ – that Descartes was not a dualist after all?

      However, recently a number of commentators have seriously questioned the attribution to Descartes of the sort of black and white, unqualified mind–body substance dualism...

    • CHAPTER 2 Descartes on self-knowledge
      (pp. 21-30)

      In the letter to the Sorbonne that prefaces theMeditationsDescartes writes that whereas “many people have considered that it is not easy to discover [the soul’s] nature” he thinks the nature and existence of the soul are matters capable of demonstration, that is, they are knowable with the utmost certainty (AT.VII.3; CSM.II.4). He concludes the synopsis by declaring his intention to prove that “knowledge of our own minds and of God … are the most certain and evident of all possible objects of knowledge for the human intellect” (AT.VII.16; CSM.II.11).

      These passages, together with the fact that he subtitles...

    • CHAPTER 3 Human consciousness and the rational soul
      (pp. 31-41)

      Descartes has often been portrayed as restricting consciousness of all kinds to those animals that possess rational souls, that is, to human beings. Supporting this conclusion is the claim that Descartes regards consciousness as equivalent to thought and also that he always gives the verbcogitarea much wider sense than that of the English verb “to think”. According to this view, Descartes includes in “thinking” not only the having of sense perceptions and feelings like pains but even the sensations of walking and of uttering something aloud.² So this interpretation sees Descartes as equating consciousness with thoughts, that is,...

    • CHAPTER 4 Mental causation
      (pp. 42-50)

      Notoriously, Descartes’s dualism is afflicted with a deeply serious and potentially fatal difficulty: the difficulty of explaining mind–body interaction. To many it has seemed that, just in so far as Descartes is able to support the claim that body and mind are metaphysically utterly different from each other, to that same extent he is unable to explain how two such different substances could affect one another. If mind or rational soul and physical body are really as different from each other as he claims, how can changes in physical sense organs (for example) cause changes in the subject’s ideas?...

    • CHAPTER 5 Mental representation
      (pp. 51-60)

      There are numerous ways for one thing to represent another thing. Paintings and portraits can represent their subject matter. Maps represent geographical areas and features. Graphs can represent economic, political, criminal, medical, virtuallyanykinds of trends or features. A red light means stop or danger. Diagrams and blueprints represent methods of assembly and details of construction. More obvious than any of the things mentioned so far, words – bits of language – stand for things and states of affairs.

      But if all these things are rightly regarded as representational they are also alike in having what is sometimes called...

  7. II Spinoza
    • CHAPTER 6 Is the mind a substance for Spinoza?
      (pp. 61-69)

      It is something of an irony that Spinoza’s thoroughgoing dedication to some of the basic principles of Cartesian thought results in his concluding that the human mind isnota substance. Spinoza believes that if you follow Descartes’s principles to what he regards as their logical conclusion you wind up a monist, not a substance dualist. In fact, for Spinoza there is only one individual substance and that one substance is, and can be, nothing less than the whole of reality. Reality or nature is a single substance, a single individual that exists necessarily and is characterized throughout by both...

    • CHAPTER 7 Spinoza and self-knowledge
      (pp. 70-79)

      Spinoza is convinced that it is only by seeking and obtaining as much understanding as we can of our passions and emotions, beliefs, intentions and wants, and so on, that we can have any hope of balancing or subduing them in order to achieve happiness and whatever salvation is possible. And we can know that this individual personal self-knowledge is a worthy, and to some extent attainable, object of our efforts by coming to know the shared fundamental nature of human minds and their place in reality as a whole.

      However, Spinoza also thinks that there are severe limits on...

    • CHAPTER 8 The subject of thought and consciousness
      (pp. 80-87)

      Part 2 of Spinoza’sEthicsis entitled “Of the Nature and Origin of the Mind”: so it may be surprising not to find, among the definitions of “body”, “idea”, “‘adequate idea” and so forth with which this part begins, a definition of “mind”. Admittedly the definition of “idea” does say that an idea is a concept of the mind “which the mind forms because it is a thinking thing” (E2d3). Here as elsewhere throughout Part 2, and indeed the rest of the work, Spinoza says and assumes that the mind is a thing that thinks, imagines, conceives and understands. However,...

    • CHAPTER 9 Spinoza and mental causation
      (pp. 88-94)

      At some point in each of the preceding chapters it has been said that Spinoza’s metaphysical system has no place whatever for the notion of mind–body interaction. Minds are identical with bodies. So, for Spinoza, the suggestion that a mind might be sufficiently separate from its body to exert influence on that body (or vice versa) is a nonsense. This being so, perhaps Spinoza’s views on mental causation need not detain us long. The mind, for Spinoza, hasnocapacity to produce actions or to affect the body in any way.

      And yet this is obviously too hasty. For...

    • CHAPTER 10 Spinoza on representation
      (pp. 95-101)

      What is Spinoza’s answer to the question how thoughts come to represent, in the mind of the person having them, the objects in the world that those thoughts are about? As we have seen, Descartes rejects the view that ideas represent by being portraits or likenesses of the external objects encountered in sense perception. In general, ideas are not images of the things that cause them. They are mental states caused by sensory interaction with physical things but also they have the phenomenal character ordained by God to represent their physical causes.

      But obviously the Cartesian account of where mental...

  8. III Leibniz
    • CHAPTER 11 Is the mind a substance for Leibniz?
      (pp. 102-109)

      The brief answer to the title question is that each human mind is indeed an immaterial substance for Leibniz. This might seem to threaten his theory of mind with the same stubborn problem of accounting for mind–body interaction that many have regarded as fatal for Descartes. However, Leibniz’s theory of mind is very far from being just a revamped Cartesian dualism. In fact, it is not a dualism at all but rather an idealism or immaterial monism.

      Or is it? Leibniz certainly also insists that material bodies such as the human body and those of other animals and physical...

    • CHAPTER 12 Self-knowledge and the monads
      (pp. 110-119)

      As we have seen, for Leibniz, the only substances are the simple monads, which are the basis of all reality. Wholly independent of all external influences, each monad is imbued with its own internal active principle or force, which means that all its actions spring from its own depths (LA 170; G 136).¹ And all substances of every grade have perceptions. Bare monads have nothing but unconscious perceptions (without memory) but non-human animals and human beings are said to have sensation as well as perception. Or rather, more precisely, Leibniz says that, because they possess sense organs that focus and...

    • CHAPTER 13 Leibniz on consciousness and unconscious perceptions
      (pp. 120-125)

      Because Leibniz believes that there are many perceptions in any human mind that pass unnoticed, he is often credited with introducing the notion of the unconscious into theory of mind. As we have seen, Descartes did not hold precisely the crude theory of mental transparency, according to which there is nothing in any mind that is not fully consciously apprehended by that mind. But Leibniz certainly takes Descartes to hold this, and he is convinced it is quite mistaken.

      Leibniz’s position is at once more subtle and more credible than Descartes’s, even the more plausible interpretation suggested for Descartes in...

    • CHAPTER 14 Leibniz and the problem of mental causation
      (pp. 126-131)

      Does Leibniz believe that my mind and my mental states have the power to move my body and to affect the course of physical events? We have seen that Descartes thinks that a human mind can move its body by force of will, just as God – although wholly immaterial – moves matter by the power of his thought alone. Spinoza disagrees, denying the possibility of causal interaction between individual minds and their bodies and, in general, between the mental realm and the physical realm. For him, all physical events have exclusively physical causes while mental happenings have none but...

    • CHAPTER 15 Leibniz and representation
      (pp. 132-138)

      One of Leibniz’s more striking ideas is that the model in terms of which a genuinely unitary substance should be understood is the individual conscious subject with its entirely unique point of view or perspective on reality. If we mistakenly think of individual substances as identical, minutely small, bits of matter – the building blocks of material bodies – we are bound to misunderstand them. All physical things can be divided and dividedad infinitum: they are all entities by aggregation with, at best, only qualified claim to genuine unity. They are thus not substances. In sharp contrast, monads or...

  9. IV Locke
    • CHAPTER 16 Is the mind a substance for Locke?
      (pp. 139-147)

      In earlier chapters we have seen that the question “Does this author hold that the human mind is a substance?” is by no means as easy to answer as might have been imagined. Descartes certainly, and officially, holds that the mind is an immaterial substance. But we have seen that he also holds that there are psychological features of a living human being – such as perceptual and access consciousness, experience of pleasure and pain and the passions – that can characterize a human subject in the absence of the rational soul. For Spinoza the answer to the question whether...

    • CHAPTER 17 Locke’s views on self-knowledge
      (pp. 148-154)

      Locke’s conviction that human minds are not furnished with any innate knowledge but that all our ideas come from sensation and reflection alone was noted in Chapter 16. Now we need to ask what impact this empiricism has on Locke’s views about the knowledge we have of ourselves. From sensation we mostly obtain ideas about the world outside ourselves, although we clearly also gain some ideas about our bodies, particularly the extremities, from our external senses. (Think, for example, of discovering that you have a rash on your hand by seeing it before you feel it.) But when it comes...

    • CHAPTER 18 Locke on consciousness
      (pp. 155-162)

      In the second book of theEssay, Locke introduces ideas as the “atoms” of mental life. Exhilarated by his, as he thinks, comprehensive trouncing of the theory of innate propositions and ideas, he declares his empiricist credo that all ideas come from experience, either sensation or reflection. In a very upbeat spirit he turns almost immediately to address the Cartesian claim that the mind is always thinking. He offers the arguments summarized in the previous chapter, each of which flows from his conviction that “thinking consists in being conscious that one thinks” (II.i.19, 115). He also defines “thinking” as “that...

    • CHAPTER 19 Locke on mental causation
      (pp. 163-168)

      Near the end of the last chapter it was said that Locke believes that a crucial feature of a human person or consciousness is the fact that each of us is a moral agent with a conscience. Like all our philosophers from Descartes to Hume, Locke clearly thinks that human persons are capable of actions and behaviour that issue from moral choices and decisions, and for which, on Locke’s view, the agents will be answerable on the day of judgement. But it might seem that it is only fair to make someone answerable, to praise or blame, punish or reward...

    • CHAPTER 20 Locke on representation
      (pp. 169-180)

      Locke’s position with respect to ideas and our experience of the external world is sometimes labelled “representative realist” to indicate Locke’s belief that our ideas represent their causes (hence “representative”) and that those ideas are faithful representatives that give us pictures which are as accurate as they can be – and as we need them to be – of the way the world really is (hence “realist”). Some commentators think that this rough sketch of Locke’s position, when suitably refined and qualified, is reasonably correct. Others think it is, in differing ways, very far wide of the mark.

      Rather than...

  10. V Berkeley
    • CHAPTER 21 Minds are the only substances
      (pp. 181-190)

      Berkeley’sPrinciplesandDialoguestogether give us a very clear and full picture of Berkeley’s metaphysics, a strict idealism, which is spelt out in explicit opposition to materialism: it puts minds and their ideas not just at the centre of its picture of reality but alone there. Minds and mind-dependent items are the only existent (real) things. All the rich variety of natural and man-made phenomena are just that: phenomena, appearances. Physical reality, for Berkeley, consists entirely in various families of ideas of sense that depend for their existence exclusively and entirely on minds. This is not to say that...

    • CHAPTER 22 What do we know about our own minds or selves?
      (pp. 191-201)

      This chapter defends the view that – in the case of at least one substance, namely his own – Berkeley believes he has direct immediate knowledge that that immaterial substance exists and what it is like as the support and cause of (his) ideas and perceptions. He would have rejected emphatically Hume’s sceptical contention that introspection reveals only the perceptions currently occurring in the mind, never a persisting self that has those perceptions (see e.g. P§137). But this interpretation of Berkeley as a firm believer in self-knowledge derived from immediate experience of the self in reflection has been challenged. George...

    • CHAPTER 23 What is the nature of consciousness for Berkeley?
      (pp. 202-211)

      I concluded in the previous chapter that Berkeley means by “reflection” a kind of acquaintance or contact that is neither a species of innersensenor any sort of inference nor the intuition of self-evident truths. This reflection gives intuitive knowledge of the self or mind in both broad senses outlined in the Introduction: it gives us knowledge of our own existence as minds, as supporters of ideas and thoughts, by giving us direct knowledge of our own, individual mental operations. I have, in reflection, awareness of the existence of the individual doing the reflecting (myself) and also awareness of...

    • CHAPTER 24 Berkeley’s problem of mental causation
      (pp. 212-221)

      This chapter considers the possibility that Berkeley is trapped in an acute problem of mental causation that results from the fact that God is the source of all sensory ideas, a problem that initially seems strongly analogous to the intransigent “physical exclusion problem” discussed in earlier chapters. Before turning to this uniquely Berkeleian problem, I shall look briefly at Berkeley’s way of dealing with more familiar versions of the question whether mental states or events can have physical effects.

      We have seen that, at first approach, the problem of mental causation can seem just another form of the dualists’ heterogeneity...

    • CHAPTER 25 What is Berkeley’s theory of mental representation and intentionality?
      (pp. 222-229)

      It should be said at the outset that there is no evidence that Berkeley ever set out specifically to explain where intrinsic intentionality comes from. Like Locke he is sure that there are no innate ideas. But how those of our acquired ideas that represent anything come to do so is not a question Berkeley addresses as such. Still, like Locke, he has a – largely implicit – theory of what accounts for the intentionality of mental states. And that theory, like so much in Berkeley’s thought, can be seen as arising as a result of his rejection of Locke’s...

  11. VI Hume
    • CHAPTER 26 Is the mind a substance for Hume?
      (pp. 230-238)

      David Hume, like Locke, is very sceptical about the nature of substance, whether material or immaterial. And he goes much further than Locke’s agnosticism, saying that both sorts of substance are inconceivable. He thinks we cannot get beyond our impressions (roughly, our sensations) to know anything whatever about their causes. For all we know, our impressions could be caused by any of the following: material objects (whether similar to our impressions or wholly unlike them); God (as Berkeley might say); our own minds (either dreaming or hallucinating), that is, nothing at all external; an arch deceiver; any other as-yet-un-imagined cause....

    • CHAPTER 27 Hume and self-knowledge
      (pp. 239-249)

      Notoriously, Hume denies that there is such a thing as the simple and unitary, persistent, unchanging, re-identifiable self recognized by other philosophers. As we have seen, he bases this denial on his own inability to find such a self in introspection. For Hume the subject of experience is, as a matter of empirical fact, never presented to the subjectinexperience. And this, for Hume means that there can be no true idea of the self since such an idea would have to be copied from or at least correspond to an impression of the self and he is convinced...

    • CHAPTER 28 Hume’s notion of consciousness
      (pp. 250-258)

      It must be confessed at the outset that Hume says very little about the nature of consciousness and subjectivity; or, rather, he equates consciousness now with thought in general, now with reflection, sometimes with experience. And he seems to have devoted little thought to differentiating among different sorts of conscious awareness: there are no explicit distinctions between the humblest sensation and the most sophisticated introspection; between peripheral awareness and concentrated attention; between mere animal wakefulness and deep philosophical reflection. In § “Conscious experience and introspection”: below, I shall look at what little is to be found in theTreatiseon...

    • CHAPTER 29 Hume on mental causation
      (pp. 259-266)

      Does Hume believe that states of mind have causal efficacy? Can they either move the body or alter the mind of the person who has them? And supposing that the answer is yes, does Hume have any resources from which he could create a response to the modern-day causal exclusion argument against mental causation? In order to answer these questions we need to look first at Hume’s account of the nature of causation as constant conjunction and his rejection of the notion of causal force or necessary connection. It will also be helpful to glance at his views on determinism,...

    • CHAPTER 30 Hume on representation
      (pp. 267-275)

      Whatever their other differences, all the early modern philosophers dealt with so far are agreed that the “aboutness” or intentionality of our ideas isderivedrather thanoriginalintentionality. By one route or another, they all reach the view that it is God who bestows aboutness or meaning on our mental states. Either God furnishes us directly with innate ideas that are already about their objects or he endows us with the physiological mechanisms for acquiring – and endows things with the powers to cause in us – just those ideas that are best fitted to represent what we naturally...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 276-284)

    One topic that I have had to leave almost completely untouched in this book is the question what each of our philosophers would say accounts for personal identity or persistence of the self over time. Here is the briefest of catalogues of the answers I believe would be given. Criteria of personal identity are often said to fall into broadly two types: a criterion that stresses physical persistence of the body or one where psychological continuity is crucial. It could be said that each of our six thinkers (with the possible exception of Spinoza) adopts his own, highly distinctivepsychological...

  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 285-288)
  14. Index
    (pp. 289-294)