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Consciousness and Mental Life

Consciousness and Mental Life

Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Consciousness and Mental Life
    Book Description:

    In recent decades, issues that reside at the center of philosophical and psychological inquiry have been absorbed into a scientific framework variously identified as "brain science," "cognitive science," and "cognitive neuroscience." Scholars have heralded this development as revolutionary, but a revolution implies an existing method has been overturned in favor of something new. What long-held theories have been abandoned or significantly modified in light of cognitive neuroscience?

    Consciousness and Mental Life questions our present approach to the study of consciousness and the way modern discoveries either mirror or contradict understandings reached in the centuries leading up to our own. Daniel N. Robinson does not wage an attack on the emerging discipline of cognitive science. Rather, he provides the necessary historical context to properly evaluate the relationship between issues of consciousness and neuroscience and their evolution over time.

    Robinson begins with Aristotle and the ancient Greeks and continues through to René Descartes, David Hume, William James, Daniel Dennett, John Searle, Richard Rorty, Hilary Putnam, and Derek Parfit. Approaching the issue from both a philosophical and a psychological perspective, Robinson identifies what makes the study of consciousness so problematic and asks whether cognitive neuroscience can truly reveal the origins of mental events, emotions, and preference, or if these occurrences are better understood by studying the whole person, not just the brain. Well-reasoned and thoroughly argued, Consciousness and Mental Life corrects many claims made about the success of brain science and provides a valuable historical context for the study of human consciousness.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51280-0
    Subjects: General Science, Health Sciences, Biological Sciences, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xvi)
    (pp. 1-16)

    Were this intended as an addition to the ambitious offerings of the MIT Press and designed to enlarge its appreciative community of readers, this first chapter might best begin with the neonatal rhesus monkey. Here is a primate still innocent as to the ways of the world but possessing brain cells that respond uniquely to the distress cries of its own species. Presumably thus shaped by evolution, these cells surely must have analogs within the human brain. Why not, then, posit pressures that would shape the brain of Homo sapiens in such a way as to foster communal modes of...

    (pp. 17-50)

    Every year, a spate of philosophical articles and books offers a solution to the problem of consciousness, or a more scientific explanation of it, or the breaking news that there is no such thing, though the remnants of village superstition continue to convince us otherwise. Widely cited in this connection was Daniel Dennett’s Consciousness Explained.¹ Given the provocative title, hopes were high as the pages were thumbed but, in the end, notwithstanding to the contrary the author’s sprightly discourse and technical competence, what was delivered was less an explanation than a metaphor—and not a very convincing one. Turning to...

    (pp. 51-82)

    Both of these statements can’t be true:

    (1) “Why Isn’t the Mind-Body Problem Medieval? ONE ANSWER: Because medieval philosophy is just the continuation of ancient philosophy by other means … and … the mind-body problem isn’t ancient.”¹

    (2) “In his discussion of sense-perception, Augustine shares the preoccupations of philosophers in the Greco-Roman tradition, and the problems which he identifies remain in many cases those of the modern philosophy of mind.”²

    As noted in the first chapter and notwithstanding to the contrary the contributions of Plato and Aristotle, scholars are still not in agreement on the question of just when and...

  8. 4. HIGHER-ORDER THOUGHT: A Machine in the Ghost
    (pp. 83-100)

    There is a range of theories about consciousness judged to be “leading edge” and influential in contemporary cognitive neuroscience. They all have much in common, not the least of which are unintended “Cartesian” features—not to mention an often spirited “refutation” of Cartesianism. Yet another common feature is the implicit (when not explicit) endorsement of the brain sciences as foundational for the theories themselves. What is not questioned is the metaphysical commitment to one or another form of physicalism. If, then, the elusive and even wraithlike nature of consciousness is to be explained in a manner compatible with this commitment,...

    (pp. 101-144)

    “Nobody ever was or had a self. All that ever existed were conscious self-models that could not be recognized as models…. You don’t see it…. This is not your fault. Evolution has made you this way.”¹ There is now something of a cottage industry producing such news items and, in the process, rendering the problems of consciousness and self-consciousness even more mysterious than might have been thought. “Evolution”—the great magician—works silently and cleverly to create the real sense of self in a “system” (the nervous system, of course) that possesses no “self” as such but merely a “model”...

  10. 6. EMOTION
    (pp. 145-168)

    A persistent theme in philosophy both ancient and modern, with authorities extending as far back as the Old Testament and Homer, finds human nature to be a house divided, emotions living on the lower floors and creating such havoc that the rationality living on the upper levels is often fitful and beside itself. Indeed, the ancient Greek εκστασις is quite literally being “beside oneself.” The very first word in the Iliad is “anger” (Μηνιν), and the entire epic charts the wages of passion’s decisive victories over our better judgment. Plato’s dialogues are somewhat mixed in their message here, for in...

    (pp. 169-200)

    “I will begin by stating … that it is not profitable for us at present to do moral philosophy; that should be laid aside at any rate until we have an adequate philosophy of psychology, in which we are conspicuously lacking.”¹ Elizabeth Anscombe reached this conclusion about sixty years ago. It is still timely, for it remains the case that academic (“scientific”) psychology is not now an adequate source for those who would understand the nature and the grounding of motives and desires and how these enter into considerations of a fulfilling life. It was this same essay that helped...

  12. 8. PLANS: An Epilogue
    (pp. 201-210)

    There would seem to be little evolutionary point to consciousness except as an aid, if not a necessary instrument, for planning a future. I must be clear on this. What registers in consciousness moment by moment is gone before anything can be done about it. Having some means by which to store or preserve such happenings is also pointless, unless the record is to be of use at a later time. Metaphorically speaking, and within the (arguably relevant) framework of evolutionary psychology, what counts in consciousness is a past that can be brought into it as a means by which...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 211-232)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 233-248)