Mind: A Brief Introduction (Fundamentals of Philosophy Series) Illustrated Edition
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"Searle has written a forceful, clear, accessible and fascinating introductory book that explains much more convincingly than anything else his iconoclastic view that both materialism and dualism are false. Searle vigorously explores the big issues in philosophy of mind, always keeping the deepest intuitions about the mind in focus."--Ned Block, New York University
"Mind finishes with a chapter whose title says it all, 'Philosophy and the Scientific World-View.' That masterful, three-page essay should top the required-reading list in every high school and college around the world. I believe that every thinking person concerned about the mind and its place in the world should own a copy. Easy to read, the book keeps philosophical jargon to a minimum. Pound per pound, you don't get much better value."--Science, Christof Koch, California Institute of Technology
About the Author
- Item Weight : 9.9 ounces
- Paperback : 224 pages
- ISBN-13 : 978-0195157345
- Product Dimensions : 8.02 x 5.56 x 0.63 inches
- ISBN-10 : 0195157346
- Publisher : Oxford University Press; Illustrated Edition (July 28, 2005)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #696,623 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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In short, the book is a bit frustrating, because he mostly just asserts that he has an answer, and then simply begs the question.
Searle is an honest philosopher. He states his assumptions, makes clear his reasoning, and knows when his approach to the subject hits a wall that he has not (perhaps yet) found a way round. In this book, like everyone else, he cannot reduce-away the gap between the objective ontology of brains and the subjective ontology of experience. He points out that while every other phenomena in the physical universe can be both logically and physically reduced to some more fundamental phenomena, subjective experience cannot be logically reduced precisely because it is subjective while everything else is objective, public. Of course he assumes that there is some underlying, solely physical, foundation which will become known in time.
The book covers consciousness taken as a whole, a gestalt, and also intentionality (the "about-ness" of our thinking), the aspectral nature of all consciousness, emotions, desires, beliefs, and with these also acts: decisions and volitional control of the body. There is also a chapter on the unconscious, and that too fits perfectly well into his view of what mind is.
Searle runs into two other barriers not normally acknowledged by other philosophers. In a chapter on [libertarian] free will, he says that from a psychological point of view, free will must be real, but from his own view that consciousness is just what the brain does in the same sense that kidneys filter blood, he admits that he cannot figure out how free will could work. He alludes to a popular view that quantum mechanics might have something to do with this, but is honest enough to admit that this idea still does not really answer the question.
The other barrier is that of personal identity, the conviction that although my body and character change I remain, to myself subjectively, the same person today as I was a month or a decade back and that I can plan for the future when, presumably, this same person will still be around to enjoy the fruits of present labor. Here he addresses the "continuity of memory" theory to personal identity and accepts that this is important but is insufficient to explain the phenomenon. That these are MY memories still presupposes some "I" whose memories they are. He denies the "I" is substantive, but merely a functional hypothesis that we must have to make experience intelligible. He admits that he does not know how to get deeper into it than that.
The book is well written (could Searle do otherwise?) with little formality. His assumptions and arguments are clearly made in plain English. It isn't an encyclopedic introduction to the philosophy of mind, but it does touch briefly on the main threads of the field as explored by Western philosophers for the past 300 or so years. His own theory, well expounded, illustrates how subtle and problematic some of the questions in the field can be. A good read. Highly recommended.
I gave it four stars only because the whole Searlean system struck me as less and less convincing the more deeply I read into it. Searle never really explains how neurons, synapses, and structures in material brains can support seemingly nonmaterial phenomena such as consciousness, intentionality, first-person experiences, or action on the basis of reasons. He just points out -- maybe correctly -- that it is simply a fact that brains have these powers, and he urges us to change our vocabulary about the mental and the material to reflect this fact. But he never makes this picture of reality feel intelligible or intuitive.
By the end of "Mind," I couldn't help but feel that Searle's negative arguments (including the classic Chinese Room argument) were much stronger than his overall positive system. Searle is a very self-confident guy (I heard him lecture when I was a student at Berkeley) and he is very good at acting like he's figured everything out, but I suspect that there're more mysteries in the world than are dreamt of in his philosophy.
Top reviews from other countries
I recommend it, as a readable, direct, and dazzling account of the human mind.
I've read this book twice, firstly before I took an evening class on this subject and then after the class. It's a difficult area to get your head around and tends towards the incredibly technical. I didn't really understand the book the first time around but made much more of the second. So if my experience is anything to go by it's not an introduction for the total beginner.
All in all this is a good book that tries to honestly cover the territory, Searle doesn't pretend to have a theory to cover every aspect of Mind and says so when he's unclear. One problem is that he does sneak in technical words without defining them, but this is such a technical field it's hard not to (I've struggled with it myself here!).
First Searle describes alternate theories of Mind and knocks them down, then he describes his own theory and finally moves on to other territory such as identity, perception etc.
Searle's theory (biological naturalism) roughly is that both the subjective viewpoint is valid and that mind is generated biologically from the brain. It's hard to disagree with this unless you are a committed dualist. However he fails to give much of a bridge between the two worlds, he correctly describes both subjective experience and in outline the workings of the brain. Then he seems to abandon the territory to neuro-biologists. This seems unwise - it's hard to see how a purely objective science can offer insights into a subjective viewpoint.
His theory of mind seems to contradict his own famous thought experiment 'The Chinese Room' - I accept his conclusion from this - that strong Artificial Intelligence is impossible in principle as it doesn't give an account of semantics (meaning). However, neither does Searle's theory of Mind. Even Dennett, for all his faults gives a clearer picture of how the subjective could be generated (even though Dennett believes subjective experience is illusionary).
Furthermore he seems to be involved in a purely linguistic explanation of Mind. He seems to dismiss many philosophical problems with a sleight of hand, saying that basically the confusion is in the use of words rather than actually a problem in reality. There is a central (hard) problem in the Theory of Mind, in that the subjective seems to have fundamentally different properties to regular matter (stuff), that can't be defined away. He seems to tend towards the Wittgenstein school of Philosophy, where our philosophical problems are caused by language.
I also found his defence of things like naive realism peculiar and not very convincing.
Still a clear explanation of his stance and a good book but too difficult for a beginner.