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Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience 1st Edition

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ISBN-13: 978-1405108386
ISBN-10: 140510838X
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Editorial Reviews


“This remarkable book, the product of a collaboration between a philosopher and neuroscientist, shows that the claims made on behalf of cognitive science are ill-founded. The book will certainly arouse opposition... but if it causes controversy, it is controversy that is long overdue.” Sir Anthony Kenny, President of the British Academy, 1989–93 <!--end-->

“This book was simply waiting to be written.” Denis Noble, Oxford University

“Contemporary scientists and philosophers may not like Bennett and Hacker's conclusions, but they will hardly be able to ignore them. The work is a formidable achievement.” John Cottingham, Professor of Philosophy, Reading University

“Neuroscientists, psychologists and philosophers will be challenged – and educated – by this sustained and well-informed critique.” Paul Harris, Professor, Human Development and Psychology, Graduate School of Education, Harvard University

"This book is a joy to read. It is the fruit of collaboration across disciplines and continents between a neurophysiologist and a philosopher. They have written a polemical work that is a model of clarity and directness. Distiniguished neurophysiologist M.R. Bennett of the University of Sydney, and eminent Oxford philosopher P.M.S. Hacker have produced that rarity of scholarship, a genuinely interdisciplinary work that succeeds. ... This is a wonderful book that will illuminate, provoke and delight professional scientists, philosophers and general readers alike." Australian Book Review

"Bennett and Hacker have identified [conceptual confusions] with clinical precision and relentless good sense.... rich with philosophical insights ... thoughtful and wonderfully useful treatise ..." Philosophy

"careful application in a host of cases precisely what Bennett and Hacker provide in devastating critiques of psychologists and neuroscientists such as Blakemore, Crick, Damasio, Edelman, Gazzaniga, Kandel, Kosslyn, LeDoux, Penrose and Weiskrantz; and they also raise equally disturbing questions for philosophers such as Dennett, the Churchlands, Chalmers, Nagel and Searle. Whether this book leads to a reconfiguring of contemporary neuroscience and the philosophy associated with it will tell us much about the dynamics of contemporary intellectual life." Philosophy

"The vast spectrum of material in philosophy and neuroscience that Bennett and Hacker consider is impressive and their discussion is thorough and illuminating." Human Nature Review

1. ‘[It] will certainly, for a long time to come, be the most important contribution to the mind-body problem which there is.’ G. H. von Wright

2. ‘everyone who thinks about the mind and consciousness should study Philosophical Foundations of Neurtoscience. ... it will ultimately contribute to a far better understanding of mind and consciousness within scientific thought as well as a better understanding of the limits of empirical investigation’, Arthur Collins, The Philosophical Quarterly, 2004

3. ‘Sweeping, argumentative and brilliant, this book will provoke widespread discussion among philosophers and neuroscientists alike’, Dennis Patterson, Notre Dame Philosophical Review, 2003

4. ‘...devastating critiques of psychologists and neuroscientists ... Whether this book leads to a reconfiguring of contemporary neuroscience and the philosophy associated with it will tell us much about the dynamics of contemporary intellectual life’, Anthony O’Hear, Philosophy 2003

5. ‘This book is a joy to read. ... a model of clarity and directedness... [Bennett and Hacker] have produced that rarity of scholarship, a genuinely interdisciplinary work that succeeds. ... This is a wonderful book that will illuminate, provoke and delight professional scientists, philosophers and general readers alike.’, Damian Grace, Australian Book Review, 2003

6. ‘clinical precision and ... relentless good sense ... [a] thoughtful and wonderfully useful treatise’, Daniel N. Robinson, Philosophical Quarterly, 2004

7. ‘mandatory reading for anybody interested in neuroscience and consciousness research. The vast spectrum of material in philosophy and neuroscience that Bennett and Hacker consider is impressive and their discussion is thorough and illuminating.’ Axel Kohler, Human Nature Review, 2003

8. ‘a delicious cake of a book in which Bennett and Hacker guide the reader through a conceptual minefield of confusions repeatedly made by neuroscientists and philosophers alike.’ Constantine Sandis, Metapsychology 2003

9. ‘Anyone who has ever framed a theory or explained one should read this book ‑ at the risk of forever falling silent.’, The Rector, University of Sydney, Obiter Dicta 2003

10. ‘... impressively lucid ... Bennett and Hacker unquestionably succeed in making us challenge our own concepts, examine them for dross, and strive to home in on fundamentals.’ Neil Spurway, Journal of the European Soc for Study of Science and Theology.

11. ‘...the fruit of a unique cooperation between a neuroscientist and a philosopher ... an excellent book that should be read by all philosophers of cognition and all researchers in the cognitive neurosciences.’ Herman Philipse, ABG #2, De Academische Boekengids 2003

12. `...there are, I think, grounds for hope that this book will do an enormous amount of good, both in correcting philosophical confusion within neuroscience and in promoting a new style of dialogue between neuroscience and philosophy' David Cockburn, Philosophical Investigations, 2005

Book Description

In this provocative work, a distinguished philosopher and a leading neuroscientist outline the conceptual problems at the heart of cognitive neuroscience. Writing from a scientifically and philosophically informed perspective, the authors provide a critical overview of the conceptual difficulties encountered in many current neuroscientific and psychological theories, including those of Blakemore, Crick, Damasio, Edelman, Gazzaniga, Kandel, Kosslyn, LeDoux, Penrose and Weiskrantz. They propose that conceptual confusions about how the brain relates to the mind affect the intelligibility of research carried out by neuroscientists, in terms of the questions they choose to address, the description and interpretation of results and the conclusions they draw. The book forms both a critique of the practice of cognitive neuroscience and a conceptual handbook for students and researchers.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell; 1 edition (April 18, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 140510838X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1405108386
  • Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 1.5 x 9.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #415,126 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

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

55 of 59 people found the following review helpful By John Harpur on June 12, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Undoubtedly this book contains both excellence in terms of its review thoroughness and controversey by virtue of its conclusions. It is quite clear from the beginning that Hacker's philosophical stance drives most of the conceptual critique in the book. It is a complicated book, given the vast variety of themes and attendant analyses, and a short review will do it little justice. However, Hacker is a later Wittgensteinian, and to appreciate most of the philosophical input the reader should have reasonable knowledge of the contrast between early and later Wittgenstein, and what exactly characterises the core components of the latter.
The primary criticism leveled at neuroscience is that it is a conceptual shambles due to repeatedly confusing functions of 'selves' with functions of organs (the brain of course). Neursoscience is identified with Cartesian dualism by clumsily shifting talk of properties of persons to talk of brain phenomena and assuming them equivalent. The anvil upon which neuroscience is being philosophically temepered is termed the mereological principle (or fallacy - and you can buy the book for an explanation).
Part of the criticism echoes Wittgenstein's 'if a lion could talk we wouldn't understand him', and most significantly recalls previous critiques of private langage arguments (with a nod to Kripke). It turns out, according to Bennet and Hacker, that neuroscience has been secretly keeping private mental objects alive - presumably in ignorance of philosophical canons.
The book concludes with a well argued and welcome broadside against Dennett's intentional stance (a sacred tenet among cognitve neuroscientists) and, unfortunately, a more toothless critique of Searle on intentionality.
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25 of 30 people found the following review helpful By William Podmore on February 2, 2005
Format: Paperback
What are you, a ghost in a machine or a living human being? In this excellent book, the authors, a neuroscientist and a philosopher, answer the question.

They say that Rene Descartes' ideas still cause many muddles. He thought that we were all ghosts in machines, two things in one. This was because he believed that there were two basic kinds of thing, mind and matter (a theory called dualism), and that what we are depends on what our minds do (idealism).

The authors show that commonsense clears up the muddles. We are all living human beings. "The person ... is a psychophysical entity, not a duality of two conjoined substances, a mind and a body."

The authors show that dualism - the ghost in the machine - can never explain how our minds relate to our bodies. Our minds are not things, so they cannot cause changes by acting on our brains.

Often neuroscientists wrongly ascribe to our brains the activities that Descartes and his followers like John Locke ascribed to our minds. But human beings - not our brains or minds - think, see, decide and feel. "The brain and its activities make it possible for us - not for it - to perceive and think, to feel emotions, and to form and pursue projects."

Too many neuroscientists trap themselves in idealism. For example, Francis Crick wrote, "What we see appears to be located outside our body. ... What you see is not what is really there. ... In fact we have no direct knowledge of the objects in the world."

But the authors reply, "What we see does not appear to be located outside us. What we see is necessarily located outside our body, unless we are looking at ourselves in a mirror, or at our limbs or thorax.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Matthew Hoffarth on November 28, 2006
Format: Paperback
*disclaimer: I am writing this as a philosopher of mind so any parts of the book or chapters not related to this are not what I am addressing.*

I do not mean to say that Bennett and Hacker have all the answers, but their "ordinary language" approach, along with their debt to Wittgenstein, Ryle, Kenny and Strawson, says something about their book. Most contemporary philosophers of mind (Sprague, Strawson and Hacker, among others, excluded) have rightly dismissed the soul, but have decided that there is something "mysterious" about consciousness, or perception or emotion, or what have you. In response, Bennett and Hacker have shown what "consciousness" really is: the conscious acts of people existing in the world. This is why we know that other people are conscious actors: they do conscious things such as watch birds, or play chess, or eat ham sandwiches.

If Michael Tye's or David Chalmers' or Colin McGinn's problems of consiousness (e.g. that I can know that you feel the same pain that I feel, or that you see the same color that I see) are indeed problems for you, you should read this book; if it doesn't prove to you that they are not problems at all, at least it will give you a new way of looking at the problems so that you may come to your own interesting conclusions.
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27 of 37 people found the following review helpful By S. R. Deiss on June 6, 2005
Format: Paperback
I claim that with language we are nothing-but jabbering naked apes!

Seriously though, this is the best-written exposition of the Anglo-American analytical philosophical view of the current status of conceptualizing going on surrounding the new sciences of "mind and brain." It is written with extreme clarity. It is very readable in that one can start almost anywhere using the table of contents and the annotations throughout to find points of interest. You can almost read it as if it were web enabled after putting away the first chapter or two. The authors succeed in their goal in making the book very easy to use and understand. I highly recommend the book to anyone interested in philosophy of mind, or philosophy of neuroscience. All the arguments are up-to-date. All the major polarizing issues in the field are covered, and all the major players are given coverage. The footnotes and appendices are also well done. The clarity of exposition and good grammar is admirable.

The only problem with the book is that they are completely wrong. The authors' point of view is built almost entirely on a view of meaning that has outlived its usefulness. Ludwig Wittgenstein has the unique distinction of having lead two, going on three, generations of philosophers on two continents into semantic oblivion TWICE in one career, and the authors are bent on continuing that tradition. They criticize neuroscientists (and those philosophers who are tagging along for the ride) primarily for misusing concepts. They have nothing bad to say about the quality of research or the scientific achievements except where the wrong kinds of experiments get done or where results are misconstrued due to continuing conceptual confusion.
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