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As I say in all reviews of a book by an author of whom I am a fan, I admit that I am a fan of Edward Feser. Feser is perhaps one of the best living writers in the field of philosophy, and his writing is so clear and refreshing that even if you do not agree with his conclusions, your thinking on the subject will be more lucid and you will wish that you could write the way that Feser does.

The philosophy of mind is perhaps one of the most interesting areas of philosophy; it is also one of the most difficult because it entails having a considerable understanding of the fields of epistemology (theory of knowledge), metaphysics (study of the nature of reality), philosophy of science, neuroscience, and physics (as you can tell, that is a lot of ground to cover). Feser's book, luckily, is so clear and defines its term so well that even if you have little to no experience with those disciplines, you will still like and understand Feser's book.

At the outset, Feser points out that materialism (the view that the world and things in it can be explained in scientific terms) is the dominant view in philosophy generally and in the philosophy of mind, and that there are good reasons and arguments for thinking this is the case. However, materialism is relatively new in the philosophy of mind (starting at around the early 20th century) and most philosophers, even with materialistic or naturalistic conceptions of the world, have thought of the mind in non-materialistic terms (Karl Popper, Bertrand Russell, C.D. Broad, etc). So, Feser points out the arguments for materialism and those against it, but tries to be neutral about which way he leans (though it is relatively clear he favors the non-materialist versions of the mind).

The book is broken down into eight categories: Perception, Dualism, Materialism, Qualia, Consciousness, Thought, Intentionality, and Persons. Since explaining all of the different positions expressed in the book would alleviate anyone from reading the book itself, allow me to focus on two of the areas that Feser mentions: dualism and materialism.

For those unfamiliar with philosophy, dualism is the position that there are two different types of things in the world; physical things such as atoms, quarks, persons, etc, and mental things such as thoughts, desires, etc and that these two things are not reducible to each other; like apples and oranges they are fundamentally different types of things. This view is usually attributed to Rene Descartes, but it goes back at least to Plato and his theory of forms. There are different types of dualism as well, such as substance dualism (which is formulated by Descartes, stating that the mind and body are separate substances); property dualism (which states that mind and body are connected, but have different properties and functions; John Searle is an advocate of this view); and hylomorphism (a view similar to property dualism, but not as clear; this is Feser's view). Fundamentally, dualism rests on a sort of common sense that since it seems that the mind and body are different things (the mind is a thinking thing, the body an extended, acting thing), that they must in fact be different things. The main problem with dualism (which Feser admits but does not solve), is that it seems impossible for non-material things to interact with material things. This is known as the interaction problem. The problem has not been solved in the hundreds of years since Descartes, and it seems that this is a good reason to move away from any sort of dualism.

Materialism, like dualism, has different forms such as behaviorism (that mental states are reducible to behavior), functionalism (which is that mental states should be understood in terms of functional roles; this is the view I endorse) and identity theory (the mind is the same as the brain). The reason materialism is superior to dualism is not because materialism has answered all the questions (nearly all materialists would admit that there are many unresolved questions) but because in principle we see how the problems can be solved through the medium of natural science. Dualism faces problems that are in principle irresolvable, and Occam's razor will lead us to a materialist view of the mind rather than a non-materialist view of the mind.

These are just two of the issues that Feser deals with in the book, but the best thing about the book (besides from Feser's writing) is that he is fair to all sides. When he makes the arguments for materialistic views of the mind, he does so in a way that materialists will think that he is supportive of their position. When he switches and talks about non-materialist approaches, materialists in turn will think, "You know, maybe there is something to this after all."

As mentioned before, the philosophy of mind is a challenging field, but I can think of no better place to start than with Edward Feser's Philosophy of Mind (A Beginner's Guide). A truly wonderful book.
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on August 17, 2013
The best introductory book on the Philosophy of mind I have ever read. This book gives a good concise summary of all the basic puzzles concerning the mind-body and related subjects and the arguments attempting to solve them from an admirably comprehensive source of perspectives, while still succeeding in remaining relatively succinct. Furthermore, it is just possibly the only unbiased book on the philosophy of mind that has been written in a very long time, including positions that are left out of most anthologies, no less introductory books, because of the strong dogmatic tendencies in our culture toward materialism. This does not mean that the book is written from an alternative perspective from the usual analytical one, e.g. “dualist”, it means that the book is written in an impartial way, showing all the arguments, including less than popular ones like those of the dualist, in their strongest possible light and actually implements the principle of charity that analytical philosophers so often mention and so seldom employ. I figure that this has to be pointed out since there are so few books written in philosophy that are actually impartial.

Some of the people who would benefit the most from this book are the following:

1.) The nonprofessional who wants to read about the philosophy of mind for their own knowledge or enjoyment but who want to read one book not a thousand. This book is actually much more comprehensive then I ever expected it to be.

2.) The scholar who studies philosophy but who is unsure of whether to pursue it professionally, as well as … people who consider themselves philosophers but who are not sure if they are, or if they want to be “analytical” philosophers and those who are analytical philosophers but who are unsure of whether they want to study the philosophy of mind side of Analytical philosophy.

3.) The student who is currently studying philosophy on the graduate or undergraduate level and needs a book that will map out the basic positions, in order to help him or her decide which areas to concentrate on. This book presents the basic arguments in an economical way so as to make it easy to decide what positions one agrees and disagrees with, are interested in studying further, and which are not worth the bother, hence saving one countless hours reading books and articles that are ultimately useless for their own personal philosophical purposes.

For this final category, this book is also superb for pointing in the right direction for further research in various individual areas.

The only thing one who intends to use the book for professional purposes should keep in mind is that this book is written in a manner that is more designed for the layman than for the seasoned professional and hence may not be as detailed or as nuanced in its language as may be necessary for some professional purposes. Nevertheless, it has many benefits even for professionals.
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on March 10, 2016
This book provides a very clear and accessible introduction into this fascinating field of study. It explains the various predominate theories in philosophy of mind along with the arguments raised by proponents, their critiques, and some of the major contributors in this area, going back to Rene Descartes and earlier. What exactly did Descartes mean when he said "cogito, ergo sum" ("I think, therefore, I am")? Read this book and draw your own conclusion!
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on October 26, 2015
I'm enjoying this as much as I can understand it. I consider myself to be fairly intelligent but for "A Beginner's Guide" I'm finding I can only take this book in small pieces which makes it hard to maintain continuity. I think this is due partly to the writing style are partly to the fact I'm not overly familiar with the terms and subject.
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on July 30, 2017
Clear and to the point
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on April 7, 2013
The text does break down the material into its elementary components where anyone without a background in Philosophy can understand. This text is also an excellent review for students who have studied other philosophical works, particularly those by Rene Descartes.
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on January 29, 2014
In my opinion this is a clear, balanced and understandable introductary book about "Philosophy of Mind".
I found that Feser's book took me, as a beginner, into many of the important parts of the field.
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on October 1, 2011
I bought the Kindle version of this book, but I recommend you buy the ordinary book version, so that you can refer to the glossary while reading. The author does try to make this very complex topic simpler but is not entirely successful. This book is a long, cumulative argument in favor of hylomorphist dualism. The first few chapters are relatively easy to follow, but in order to follow the arguments of the later chapters it is necessary for the reader to memorize definitions of technical terms and to memorize arguments and their names, which I was not able to accomplish. This book is full of information and very educational, but I would certainly not be able to summarize it for anyone else.
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on March 3, 2010
Edward Feser's book is a fine introduction to the contemporary issues in Philosophy of Mind. I believe this is saying a lot because Philosophy of Mind is a terribly difficult subject and there are no really solid boundaries between today's major thinkers. For example, Daniel Dennett (Consciousness Explained), John Searle (Mind, Language, and Society : Philosophy in the Real World), Jerry Fodor (LOT 2: The Language of Thought Revisited) and Paul Churchland (Matter and Consciousness: A Contemporary Introduction to the Philosophy of Mind) are all given some mention and their ideas are discussed in a useful way.

Two major benefits of this book are the Glossary at the end of the book and the Further Reading sections at the end of each chapter. Feser does a great job hitting the high points and the history of Philosophy of Mind in nine painless chapters: 1) Perception, 2) Dualism, 3) Materialism, 4) Qualia, 5) Consciousness, 6) Thought, 7) Intentionality, 8) Person and 9) Postscript (2006). My degree is in Philosophy and I wish I had had this book my freshman year. And while it may not help resolve any of the issues on the topic, it is very helpful in understanding the issues involved. I highly recommend it.
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on September 14, 2016
This book is a wonderful introduction to the philosophy of mind from a broadly dualist perspective. Along the way, Feser surveys such topics as qualia, thought, intentionality, and reason. What makes this book so valuable is the way Feser is able to explain somewhat technical issues in terms an interested layperson can understand, without sacrificing any of the intellectual weight of the discipline. Feser himself is a Thomist, and as such, is a kind of dualist, but this doesn't prevent him from treating fairly the various materialist concepts of the mind. What shines through, in my view, is just how hopeless the materialist case is. What one encounters again and again is an assertion or implication by a materialist concept that "this phenomenon or set of phenomena is identical to mind." And the answer, quite frankly, is "No, it isn't." The materialist will assert, for example, that a belief is a set of neural wiring. The problem is that the belief has properties a set of neurons don't: a belief is "about" something (intentionality) whereas a set of neurons, being material, is not inherently "about" anything at all. It just is. This problem leads to what I think was the most insightful portion of the book: an exploration of the concept that the mind is a computer. Feser shows, following John Searle, that a thing's function as a computer is only relative to mind in the first place. Electrical wiring which encodes an algorithm is such that when one stimulates certain wires with a key bearing a symbol for a number, it will fire some wiring and generate a set of pixels which constitutes a symbol of another number. The problem with the materialist concept is that these pixels do not have an inherent (that is, in themselves) relation to the numbers they symbolize. They only have that function with respect to a mind which bears these concepts. Consequently, to develop the notion that the mind is a sort of computer is to put the cart before the horse. A computer is only a computer with respect to the mind, which entails that the computer cannot be the basis for mind.

This is essential reading for anybody who wants to understand why the claims about the mind or soul that one sees in pop-science and on atheist forums are entirely unjustified.
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