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Neuroscience and Philosophy: Brain, Mind, and Language Hardcover – April 10, 2007

ISBN-13: 978-0231140447 ISBN-10: 0231140444 Edition: 1st
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Editorial Reviews


If you can get two sworn and unrestrained philosophical enemies such as Daniel Dennett and John Searle to join forces against you, you must at the very least be described as the controversialists of our time.

(Akeel Bilgrami, Johnsonian Professor of Philosophy and director, Heyman Centre for the Humanities, Columbia University)

Neurophysiology has made astonishing progress in recent decades and has learnt many hitherto unknown facts about the brain and its functioning. But what do these discoveries tell us about the mind? Peter Hacker and Maswell Bennett adopt an avowedly Aristotelian stance. Many cognitive scientists, they maintain, covertly endorse the dualism of Plato and Descartes, merely substituting brain-body dualism for mind-body dualism. If Daniel Dennett and John Searle are right, philosophical psychology is about to be superannuated by a scientific breakthrough in the study of the mind. If Bennett and Hacker are right, then much of cognitive neuroscience is not sound science but muddled philosophy. The resulting four-cornered discussion must rank as one of the great philosophical debates of our generation.

The points at issue between these four sophisticated and articulate thinkers concern not only neurophysiology and philosophy of mind but the whole nature of philosophy itself and its relationship to science. The debates here give the reader an unparalleled chance to reach a personal decision on issues of fundamental intellectual importance.

(Anthony Kenny, Fellow Emeritus, St. John's College, Oxford University)

A useful introduction.

(Barry Dainton Science)

Readable and accessible.

(James Sage Metapsychology)

A good introduction to this dynamic subfield.

(Library Journal)

[A] rare opportunity to appreciate an encapsulated philosophical debate... Recommended.


Book Description

Three prominent philosophers and a leading neuroscientist engage in a lively, often contentious debate about cognitive neuroscience and philosophy and about the relationships among brain, mind, and person.

--This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 232 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press; 1 edition (April 10, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231140444
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231140447
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.5 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,354,846 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Maxwell R Bennett AO


Maxwell Bennett is Professor of Neuroscience and holds the first University Chair for 'research recognized internationally to be of exceptional distinction' He graduated in Electrical Engineering and did his doctoral research in Zoology at Melbourne University. He then turned to the brain sciences and was appointed to the second Personal Chair at Sydney University, after Lord May, at which time he was awarded the largest personal Centre of Research Excellence by the Australian Government. His over 300 papers are concerned with research on synaptic connections between nerve cells in the brain. This research led to the discovery that novel transmitters exist at synapses, the first to be identified in fifty years, for which he received the major award in biology and medicine in Australia, the Macfarlane Burnet Medal of the Academy of Sciences. His subsequent discovery that molecules exist at synapses which guide their reformation after nerve injury was recognized by an invitation to give the opening Plenary Lecture to the World Congress of Neuroscience in 1996 as well by appointment in 2000 as an Officer in the Order of Australia (AO). Professor Bennett has written seven books concerned with the history and philosophy of the brain and mind, of which the most recent are, with his colleague Peter Hacker, Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience, Neuroscience and Philosophy and History of Cognitive Neuroscience. These have created much interest as indicated, for example, by a recent invitation to give a talk on this subject at the United Nations in New York on the date of 9/11. Amongst the organizations he has initiated to promote science and brain research are the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies, the main lobby group for science in Australia, the International Society for Autonomic Neuroscience, as well as Brain and Mind Research Asia/Pacific. Professor Bennett founded the Brain and Mind Research Institute seven years ago, and with the raising of over $80 million and four juxtaposed buildings, now has seventeen research professors concerned with the amelioration of diseases of the brain and mind.


1. Contributions to Neuroscience.
For sixty years it was thought that nerve terminals release only two substances (noradrenaline and acetylcholine) that control the cells on which they make connections. Bennett showed that there are at least two other substances released and now over thirty have been identified. One of these was identified as ATP, which has now been shown to play a major role in the generation of pain following nerve injury as well as in the immune systems control of inflammation. This has resulted in contemporary pharmacology having as a main aim the blocking of ATP so as to ameliorate pain. Bennett also discovered that nerve terminals reform connections on other cells after a nerve injury at sites that have specialized molecules on their surface for triggering the terminals to stop growing and form a synapse. These synapse formation molecules have recently been recognized. This holds out great hope for reconstructing nerve connections after an injury. Bennett's research also revealed that there are silent synapses, in which nerve terminals are physically present but do not release transmitters. This has had important implications for changes in the brain responsible for learning and memory. As a consequence of this research on synapses the Australian Academy of Sciences conferred on Bennett in 2000 the major award in biology and medicine, the Macfarlane Burnet Medal, and the University of Sydney its first University Chair, for 'research recognized internationally as of exceptional distinction'. In addition, in 2001 he received the Distinguished Achievement Medal of the Australian Neuroscience Society, only the second time it had been awarded for research in the 25 year-old history of the Society and was elected President of the International Society for Autonomic Neuroscience.

2. Contributions to the history and philosophy of the Brain and Mind Sciences.
Bennett is the leading neuroscientist on the history and philosophy of brain and mind research. The main theme of his philosophical work, primarily with his colleague Peter Hacker, is that the brain sciences have distorted the use of language in attributing our psychological capacities as in thinking, remembering, perceiving etc to the brain rather than to the person whose brain it is; the brain being necessary for us to express these abilities, but it is we who express them. This Mereological Principle has had profound implications for how we view ourselves. In his historical work Bennett has followed the evolution of our ideas concerning the functioning of the different components of the brain and their organization from the time of Aristotle to the present. He has shown how fundamental ideas arise in this area through a combination of research, prejudice and irrationality and of how strong hypotheses concerning brain function are often abandoned for extended periods of time in favor of less logical hypotheses. Bennett's most recent works include The Idea of Consciousness (1998), History of the Synapse (2000), Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience (2003; with P.Hacker); Neuroscience and Philosophy: Brain, Mind and Language (with D.Dennett, J.Searle and P. Hacker; 2006); and History of Cognitive Neuroscience (2008, with P. Hacker). Recognition of his stature in this area was afforded in Christmas 2005 when he was invited by the American Philosophical Association to give a plenary presentation at their annual meeting in New York, the first neuroscientist to be so invited.

3. Contributions to the founding of new organizations to promote Brain and Mind research.
Bennett has a deep commitment to the amelioration of diseases of the brain and mind. To this end he established the major research/clinical facility in Australia for the treatment/research of those suffering from these diseases, 'The Brain and Mind Research Institute' at Sydney University. The first stage of this was opened by the Governor of NSW (Professor Marie Bashir ) in 2004, the second stage by the Prime Minister of Australian, the Honorable John Howard in June 2006, the third stage by the Premier of NSW the Honorable Morris Iemma in February 2007, the fourth stage by the Honorable John Howard in 2009 and the fifth stage by the Governor of NSW (Professor Marie Bashir) and the Honorable Morris Iemma in November 2009. Raising over $ 80 million has allowed a complex of four buildings devoted to the amelioration of brain disease through the integrated work of basic brain sciences, clinical and translational research and youth mental health.
Bennett has been responsible for organizing the thirty-six University and Research Institutes that make up the Association of Pacific Rim Universities forming 'Brain and Mind, Asia/Pacific' in 2004-2005. The aim of this is to marshal the great research strengths of these Universities to ameliorate diseases of the brain and mind. His work on the Mental Health Council of Australia (2002-) and as a Director of the Australian Brain Foundation (2004-), of Neuroscience Australia (2002-2005) as well as of the Institute for Biomedical Research (2002-2006) and the International Brain Research Organization (1996-2002) has enabled him to make further contributions to assist those suffering from diseases of the brain and mind.

4. Contributions to the community through explaining the discoveries made in the Brain Sciences and their implications.
Bennett has felt a major responsibility to explain progress made in the brain sciences to the community as well as the ethical and philosophical issues that arise from this progress. He frequently makes invited presentations to, for example, gatherings of Supreme Court Judges, senior business leaders, church leaders and public forums involving dialogue with distinguished guests such as the Dali Lama. In addition, Bennett is a frequent guest in the media, making presentations on questions concerning brain and mind research and its history, such as on John Cade (the discoverer of lithium for the treatment of bipolar manic/depression) and Sir John Eccles (the Australian Nobel Prize winning brain scientist and theorist on the relation between brain & mind). Bennett has been chosen to assist in many Australian Government task forces to advise Ministers of Health, Education and Science on how to best optimize the nations research capacity in the brain and mind sciences and use this for the alleviation of suffering of our fellow citizens. In this regard, on the date of 9/11 in 2009, Bennett gave an invited talk in the United Nations (New York) on 'Brain Function in relation to Criminality'.

Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Lynn Paluga on March 29, 2008
Format: Hardcover
What happens when you put a neuroscientist, a Wittgenstein scholar, a self-described teleofuctionalist and a qualiaphile in the same ring? Well, for one thing, there's barely enough space for neutral corners but the arguments, rebuttals and discourse among these four erudite persons couldn't be more entertaining. Maxwell Bennett and Peter Hacker, arguing for the existence of a human consciousness residing in the whole person, are taken on by Daniel Dennett and John Searle, who argue that the locus and milieu of consciousness lies solely in the brain. With an introduction and arguably biased conclusion by Daniel Robinson, this concise but informative book must be admired for its detail and descriptive character. Debates between weak and strong emergence abound: are we reducible to our component parts, or is there a complex confluence at work that produces consciousness? What causes it all: firing neurons and chemical combinations, or a mysterious alliance of constituent parts, brain/mind/body/environment? Are qualia simply qualities of objects or interpersonal properties of phenomenological experience?

All this and more, it's confrontational, it's accessible and it's neuroscience, cognition, philosophy, psychology, and linguistics all rolled together for the sake of consideration and understanding. This book, more than anything, serves as the impetus to further explore themes in neuroscience and consciousness. All four contributors offer their own insights in a wide range of independent publications.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Steven H Propp TOP 100 REVIEWER on August 13, 2013
Format: Paperback
The Introduction to this 2007 book states, "Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience, by Max Bennett and Peter Hacker, was published ... in 2003... it was the first systematic evaluation of the conceptual foundations of neuroscience, as these foundations had been laid by scientists and philosophers... In the fall of 2004 Bennett and Hacker were invited by the... American Philosophical Association to participate in an 'Authors and Critics' session at the 2005 meeting... The choice of critics could not have been better: Daniel Dennett and John Searle had agreed to write replies to the criticisms levied against their work by Bennett and Hacker. The contents of this present volume are based on that three-hour APA session." (Pg. vii)

Bennett and Hacker state in their own Introduction, "We have written this book in admiration for the achievements of twentieth-century neuroscience, and out of a desire to assist the subject... we have tried to identify conceptual problems and entanglements in important current theories ... Moreover, we argue that much contemporary writing on the nature of consciousness and self-consciousness is bedeviled by conceptual difficulties. This aspect of our investigations is indeed negative and critical. On the other hand, we have endeavoured... to provide a perspicuous representation of the conceptual field of each of the problematic concepts. This is a constructive endeavour." (Pg. 13)

They assert, "The question we are confronting is a philosophical question, not a scientific one. It calls for conceptual clarification, not for experimental investigation.
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By Chris H on August 19, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
So the concept of the book is a good one. Usually you end up with one author's opinion and he is responsible for summing up and responding to his opponents' works; having some of that dialogue in the same place seems interesting, and the individuals contributing are worthwhile.

Unfortunately the whole thing feels a bit stitched together. I'm left with a puzzle that, despite finished, fails to fit together in a satisfactory manner as well as a distinct impression that everyone was talking past and misunderstanding each other.

There are insightful nuggets, of course. But you'd be better off getting them from the authors' individual works rather than trying to parse through this cluttered compilation.

It's possible some of my disappointment stems from how expensive such a short book was, for full disclosure :)
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