Customer Reviews: Readings in Philosophy of Psychology, Volume I
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on March 28, 2001
This is one of the best collections of articles about contemporary philosophy of mind. Together with Lycan's 'Mind and Cognition' and Rosenthal's 'The Nature of Mind' Block's 'Readings' put together what one could classify as a minimalist library on the topic. Many articles that have already become classics are here. If you intend to get serious about the philosophy of mind, go for these volumes.
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Editor Ned Block (born 1942) is an American philosopher who is a professor in the departments of philosophy and psychology and at the Center for Neural Science at New York University (NYU). He also edited a sequel to this volume: Readings in Philosophy of Psychology, Volume II, and a collection of his papers has been published: Consciousness, Function, and Representation: Collected Papers (Volume 1).

He wrote in the Preface to this 1980 collection of papers, "It is increasingly clear that progress in philosophy of mind is greatly facilitated by knowledge of many areas of psychology and also that progress in psychology is facilitated by knowledge of philosophy... A host of crucial issues do not 'belong' to either philosophy or psychology, but rather fall equally well in both disciplines... until now there has been no general anthology intended as a text in philosophy of psychology. It is this gap that the present book, which appears in two volumes, is intended to fill." (Pg. v) He later adds, "no single anthology on the subject could possibly be comprehensive. The best one can do is pick a few topics and cover them in moderate depth..." (Pg. 6) Block also wrote helpful introductions for each section of the book.

Papers (or excerpts from books) from many important figures in the field are included, such as: Carl Hempel [including his statement, "the meaning of a statement is established by its method of verification," pg. 17; not ethat Hempel clarified that the article included is "far from representing my present views"; pg. 14]; Hilary Putnam; B.F. Skinner; Noam Chomsky [his famous critique of Skinner's Verbal Behavior]; Donald Davidson; Jerry Fodor; Saul Kripke; Thomas Nagel [his famous essay, 'What Is It Like to Be a Bat?']; David Lewis; Jaegwon Kim, and others.

To take one example of the contents, Chomsky's critique of Skinner, Chomsky notes that "we can account for a wide class of responses in terms of Skinnerian functional analysis by identifying the controlling stimuli. But the word 'stimulus' has lost all objectivity in this usage... they are driven back into the organism. We identify the stimulus when we hear the response... We cannot predict verbal behavior in terms of the stimuli in the speaker's environment, since we do not know what the current stimuli are until he responds... Skinner's claim that his system, as opposed to the traditional one, permits the practical control of verbal behavior is quite false." (Pg. 52)

Famously, Chomsky adds, "We constantly read and hear new sequences of words, recognize them as sentences, and understand them... It appears that we recognize a new item as a sentence not because it matches some familiar item in any simple way, but because it is generated by the grammar that each individual has somehow and in some form internalized... It must be admitted that the ability of a human being to do this far surpasses our present understanding. The child who learns a language has in some sense constructed the grammar for himself on the basis of his observation of sentences and nonsentences... this grammar is of an extremely complex and abstract character, and that the young child has succeeded in carrying out what ... seems to be a remarkable type of theory construction. Furthermore, this task is accomplished in an astonishing short time... and in a comparable way by all children. Any theory of learning must cope with these facts... The fact that all normal children acquire essentially comparable grammars of great complexity with remarkable rapidity suggests that human beings are somehow specially designed to do this." (Pg. 59-60)

In Nagel's 'Bat' article, he says, "In so far as I can imagine this... it tells me only what it would be like for ME to behave as a bat behaves. But that is not the question. I want to know what it is like for a BAT to be a bat... So if extrapolation from our own case is involved... the extrapolation must be incomplete... And if there is conscious life elsewhere in the universe, it is likely that some of it will not be describable even in the most general experiential terms available to us." (Pg. 161) He adds, "This bears directly on the mind-body problem. For if the facts of experience... are accessible only from one point of view, then it is a mystery how the true character of experiences could be revealed in the physical operation of that organism." (Pg. 163)

Readers who apreciate this volume will almost certainly appreciate Mind and Cognition (Blackwell Philosophy Anthologies).
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on January 18, 2007
This collection remains the best introduction to debates about the mind/body problem and the metaphysics of mind. It's a starting point: it contains the state of the art as of 1980. From here you could go to Jackson and Braddon-Mitchell's text, or Chalmer's anthology, for contemporary developments; but the best foundation is Block's anthology.
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