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Philosophy of Mind (A Beginner's Guide)
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on January 31, 2016
Philosophy of Mind, by Edward Feser, is an accessible introduction and intelligible overview of the central issues concerning -- you guessed it -- the philosophy of mind. In addition to an overview of the history of this area of philosophy, Feser argues that dualism as an answer to the so-called mind-body problem is as alive today as it's ever been. If anyone has an interest in the topic, this would be a great place to start. When discussing the philosophy of mind, you can't get too far from some difficult to understand terminology such as Epiphenomenalism or supervenience, but despite the occasional use of these kinds of terms and some difficult abstract concepts to deal with, the material is very readable. Feser provides simple examples and illustrations to keep the material approachable even for a new reader to the subject.

Feser begins by explaining the mind-body problem and providing some arguments for dualism as a means of explaining the problem. He then provides arguments against the position in order to advance through the subject matter. Specifically, each new chapter is another way monists have attempted to respond to the arguments for dualism. Feser explains how and why such attempts succeed or fail along the way, opening up opportunities for discussions of new topics.

As the subtitle suggests, this book is a beginner's guide. The flow of the prose is not interrupted by frequent references to other material and there aren't any footnotes for additional information as you progress. Although this approach makes it easier to read, it also takes some of the academic wind out of its sails. However, at the conclusion of each chapter a thorough list of resources is provided for further research. If a potential reader is interested in the philosophy of mind, I'd recommend picking up the book, finding a chapter covering an area on which you're particularly interested, and then looking up some of the additional resources referenced in these sections. Overall, the book is a fairly light read but some of that may depend upon you're existing understanding of the subject matter.

If you're curious as to how claims of dualism can possibly survive against the extensively materialistic worldviews of the Western world, give this book a whirl. It may not convince you, but it will almost certainly give you something to think about.
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on July 30, 2017
Clear and to the point
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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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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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on December 16, 2014
Arrived on time and the quality of the product was excellent
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on April 25, 2012
Feser's "Philosophy of Mind" is an extremely well written and balanced introduction to the different views on the philosophy of mind. For some strange reason, I have never been that excited about the arguments and questions in the realm of philosophy of mind. Yet Feser's book has made me realize the value in considering the questions raised by the study of mind. For example, does the existence of qualia undermine materialism? Does Cartesian dualism fall to the "interaction problem" i.e. how does this different substance (the soul) interact or cause changes in this material substance (the body)? These questions are somewhat indicative of the style Feser takes in his book, for as I mentioned above, Feser writes a balanced book, looking at both reasons for and against materialism and for and against Cartesian dualism. These are the two broad categories that Feser compares and contrasts with each other throughout the book. In fact, the book is so balanced for the first 2/3rds or so that I began to think that Feser wrote it in between his atheism and Catholicism stages of his life, and that he personally didn't hold to one position or another at the time of his writing. However, we do learn towards the end that Feser ultimately defends (rightly I believe) hylomorphic dualism. This is a great culmination of the book, as Feser has set it up so that there are some things that Cartesian dualism seems to answer better than materialism, but other things where Cartesian dualism falls short. The solution to the problem is another kind of dualism, the classic dualism of Aquinas and others, one which is totally immune from the interaction problem as well as new scientific findings in neuroscience.

If you are interested in a balanced introduction to philosophy of mind where the author will eventually culminate giving his personal opinion or answer to the questions he poses (I'm annoyed at books/courses that are attempted to be written/taught objectively with no answers given or proposed), this is a great place to start. Feser takes a complicated idea and makes it accessible.
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on September 2, 2012
Originally published in 2005 Edward Feser's `Philosophy of Mind' is an instalment in Oneworld Publications' Beginners Guide series. Feser is an American philosopher with publications in areas including; Aristotle, Aquinas, philosophy of mind and philosophy of religion. The present review pertains to the 2006 edition.

The text surveys the modern philosophy of mind tradition starting from Descartes and running through to the present. In this short text Feser takes the reader through a chronological overview of leading modern approaches including behaviourism, identity theory, functionalism, panpsyschism and concluding with hylomorphic dualism. The discussion provides an excellent overview of the various theories, introduces their leading proponents and assesses their respective strengths and weaknesses. I offer a few thoughts for potential purchasers.

1) The tag `beginners guide' is somewhat misleading. While Feser starts of with the basics and covers the requisite bases required of an introductory text, the discussion picks up speed and some of the latter chapters may be challenging for a true neophyte. The text seems best suited for someone who has had some exposure to the subject matter.

2) Probably the text's greatest strength is its uncharacteristically broad approach. Much contemporary work in the philosophy of mind presupposes materialism/physicalism and the discussion is accordingly skewed in this direction. This is not intended to dismiss physicalist views of the mind but, rather to note that presuppositions play an important role in determining how an issue is approached - which options are considered to be viable and which are not. For instance, dualism despite its strong intuitive appeal is normally dismissed by naturalists on the basis of the interaction problem and the perceived incoherence of a non-physical realm, while at the same time the equally, if not even more, daunting question of how one order of being (the mental) can arise from another (the physical) is viewed as a coherent question.

3) On a more mundane level the text has excellent annotated bibliographies at the end of each chapter with helpful recommendations for further reading. The glossary is also well done.

Overall, this is a solid book. Feser's occasional terseness is more than compensated by his broad approach and insightful analysis. Indeed, the text overshot my expectations and has encouraged me to look further into Thomism and hylomorphic dualism. Recommended for readers interested in the philosophy of mind.
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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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