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Neuroscience and Philosophy: Brain, Mind, and Language [Paperback]

Maxwell Bennett , Daniel Dennett , Peter Hacker , John Searle
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

17 April 2009
In Neuroscience and Philosophy three prominent philosophers and a leading neuroscientist clash over the conceptual presuppositions of cognitive neuroscience. The book begins with an excerpt from Maxwell Bennett and Peter Hacker's Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience (Blackwell, 2003), which questions the conceptual commitments of cognitive neuroscientists. Their position is then criticized by Daniel Dennett and John Searle, two philosophers who have written extensively on the subject, and Bennett and Hacker in turn respond. Their impassioned debate encompasses a wide range of central themes: the nature of consciousness, the bearer and location of psychological attributes, the intelligibility of so-called brain maps and representations, the notion of qualia, the coherence of the notion of an intentional stance, and the relationships between mind, brain, and body. Clearly argued and thoroughly engaging, the authors present fundamentally different conceptions of philosophical method, cognitive-neuroscientific explanation, and human nature, and their exchange will appeal to anyone interested in the relation of mind to brain, of psychology to neuroscience, of causal to rational explanation, and of consciousness to self-consciousness. In his conclusion Daniel Robinson (member of the philosophy faculty at Oxford University and Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Georgetown University) explains why this confrontation is so crucial to the understanding of neuroscientific research. The project of cognitive neuroscience, he asserts, depends on the incorporation of human nature into the framework of science itself. In Robinson's estimation, Dennett and Searle fail to support this undertaking; Bennett and Hacker suggest that the project itself might be based on a conceptual mistake. Exciting and challenging, Neuroscience and Philosophy is an exceptional introduction to the philosophical problems raised by cognitive neuroscience.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 232 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press; 1 edition (17 April 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231140452
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231140454
  • Product Dimensions: 21 x 14 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 224,819 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

A useful introduction. -- Barry Dainton Science 8/17/07 Readable and accessible. -- James Sage Metapsychology 9/11/07 A good introduction to this dynamic subfield. Library Journal 10/1/07 [A] rare opportunity to appreciate an encapsulated philosophical debate... Recommended. CHOICE 04/1/08

About the Author

Maxwell Bennett is professor of neuroscience and university chair at the University of Sydney and scientific director of the Brain and Mind Research Institute. His most recent books are History of the Synapse, The Idea of Consciousness, and Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience, which he coauthored with Peter Hacker.Daniel Dennett is Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy and director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University. He is the author of numerous books including Freedom Evolves, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, and Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life.Peter Hacker is a fellow of St. John's College, Oxford. The leading authority on the philosophy of Wittgenstein, his seventeen books include, most recently, Human Nature: The Categorical Framework, Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience, which he coauthored with Maxwell Bennett, and Wittgenstein: Connections and Controversies.John Searle is Slusser Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of sixteen books, including Freedom and Neurobiology: Reflections on Free Will, Language, and Political Power, Speech Acts: An Essay in the Philosophy of Language, and Mind: A Brief Introduction. His works have been translated into twenty-one languages, and in 2004 he was awarded the National Humanities Medal.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
53 of 55 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Proper excitement over mind-body language 27 Oct 2008
Format:Hardcover
This brilliant book contains selections from 'Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience' of Maxwell Bennett (neuroscientist) / Peter Hacker (Wittgenstein specialist) and a 'triangle' discussion between these authors and Daniel Dennett and John Searle.
It is common in science to use intentional and phenomenal terms ('thinking', 'feeling', 'deciding') not only for people, but also for parts of people (especially brains and brain parts). According to 'Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience' this is not - as it seems - a matter of handy metaphor, but it reveals a misunderstanding and in the end incoherence of the language used. Talk about human beings and talk about biology are mixed in a way that adds smoke, to say the least.
Searle (as usual, imho) misses the point and keeps repeating that, for example, the foot as we feel it (part of the 'phenomenal body') is 'in our head'. It is just this sort of embarrassing silliness that Bennett and Hacker expose. In this way Searle does not really add to the discussion, but nevertheless he provides a clear illustration of the misunderstanding at stake.
The reaction of Dennett (beautifully written, but maybe a bit too sharp and personally hurt) is much more important. The differences between Bennett/Hacker and Dennett reveal an interesting tension: in what way can or must we stretch the common use of words like 'think', 'interpret', etc. that they provide more insight and not less?
Yes, Bennett and Hacker are right to warn us that you cannot jump to conclusions by using words in inconsistent ways (with clashing criteria or 'rules'). Don't confuse metaphor with explanation. Projecting human properties on body parts can actually hinder our understanding of the way brains work.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is an important topic which is usually a challenge for the lay reader to follow. Or at least, even if you can follow the views expressed by an author it is difficult to critique their argument.
The format chosen here of the debate between two groups with different views makes the argument come alive and helps you to think through the strengths and weaknesses of the views.
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Amazon.com: 3.7 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
28 of 33 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not long enough! 29 Mar 2008
By Lynn Paluga - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
What happens when you put a neuroscientist, a Wittgenstein scholar, a self-described teleofuctionalist and a qualiaphile in the same ring? Well, for one thing, there's barely enough space for neutral corners but the arguments, rebuttals and discourse among these four erudite persons couldn't be more entertaining. Maxwell Bennett and Peter Hacker, arguing for the existence of a human consciousness residing in the whole person, are taken on by Daniel Dennett and John Searle, who argue that the locus and milieu of consciousness lies solely in the brain. With an introduction and arguably biased conclusion by Daniel Robinson, this concise but informative book must be admired for its detail and descriptive character. Debates between weak and strong emergence abound: are we reducible to our component parts, or is there a complex confluence at work that produces consciousness? What causes it all: firing neurons and chemical combinations, or a mysterious alliance of constituent parts, brain/mind/body/environment? Are qualia simply qualities of objects or interpersonal properties of phenomenological experience?

All this and more, it's confrontational, it's accessible and it's neuroscience, cognition, philosophy, psychology, and linguistics all rolled together for the sake of consideration and understanding. This book, more than anything, serves as the impetus to further explore themes in neuroscience and consciousness. All four contributors offer their own insights in a wide range of independent publications.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A RE-PRESENTATION OF A CRITICAL LOOK AT THE FOUNDATIONS OF NEUROSCIENCE 14 Aug 2013
By Steven H. Propp - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The Introduction to this 2007 book states, "Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience, by Max Bennett and Peter Hacker, was published ... in 2003... it was the first systematic evaluation of the conceptual foundations of neuroscience, as these foundations had been laid by scientists and philosophers... In the fall of 2004 Bennett and Hacker were invited by the... American Philosophical Association to participate in an 'Authors and Critics' session at the 2005 meeting... The choice of critics could not have been better: Daniel Dennett and John Searle had agreed to write replies to the criticisms levied against their work by Bennett and Hacker. The contents of this present volume are based on that three-hour APA session." (Pg. vii)

Bennett and Hacker state in their own Introduction, "We have written this book in admiration for the achievements of twentieth-century neuroscience, and out of a desire to assist the subject... we have tried to identify conceptual problems and entanglements in important current theories ... Moreover, we argue that much contemporary writing on the nature of consciousness and self-consciousness is bedeviled by conceptual difficulties. This aspect of our investigations is indeed negative and critical. On the other hand, we have endeavoured... to provide a perspicuous representation of the conceptual field of each of the problematic concepts. This is a constructive endeavour." (Pg. 13)

They assert, "The question we are confronting is a philosophical question, not a scientific one. It calls for conceptual clarification, not for experimental investigation. One cannot investigate experimentally whether brains do or do not think, believe, guess, reason, form hypotheses, etc., until one knows what it would be for a brain to do so..." (Pg. 19)

Dennett argues, "The authors claim that just about everybody in cognitive neuroscience is committing a rather simple conceptual howler. I say dismiss all charges until the authors come through with some details worth considering... they offer no positive theories or models or suggestions about how such theories or models might be constructed, of course, since that would be not the province of philosophy... Explanation has to stop somewhere, as Wittgenstein said, but not here... On the strength of this showing, one can see why the neuroscientists are so unimpressed." (Pg. 95)

Searle charges, "I believe that the vision they present of neurobiology and the mind is profoundly mistaken and potentially harmful. Many of the crucial questions we need to ask in philosophy and neuroscience would be outlawed by their approach. For example, What are the ... neuronal correlates of consciousness and how exactly do they cause consciousness?... Indeed, a huge number of central questions in neurobiological research would be rejected as meaningless or incoherent if their proposals were accepted... This is one of those cases, like strong AI, where a mistaken philosophical theory can have potentially disastrous scientific consequences, and that is why I consider it important to answer their claims." (Pg. 124)

This book may be of interest to both students of neuroscience (i.e., those interested in the "roots" of the science) and of the philosophy of mind.
3.0 out of 5 stars It was okay 20 Aug 2014
By Chris H - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
So the concept of the book is a good one. Usually you end up with one author's opinion and he is responsible for summing up and responding to his opponents' works; having some of that dialogue in the same place seems interesting, and the individuals contributing are worthwhile.

Unfortunately the whole thing feels a bit stitched together. I'm left with a puzzle that, despite finished, fails to fit together in a satisfactory manner as well as a distinct impression that everyone was talking past and misunderstanding each other.

There are insightful nuggets, of course. But you'd be better off getting them from the authors' individual works rather than trying to parse through this cluttered compilation.

It's possible some of my disappointment stems from how expensive such a short book was, for full disclosure :)
5.0 out of 5 stars best book i have ever read about explaining the two ... 29 July 2014
By keith m - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
best book i have ever read about explaining the two world views of cognitive sciences
and the competing philosophies behind it! you do not need to be a cognitive scientist to understand
but they do not write down to you either. challenging to say the least but worth it!
18 of 31 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not impartial enough 24 Feb 2008
By N. Powell - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Granted, Bennett and Hacker were the impetus behind this book's creation, but I feel they could have allowed more back-and-forth with Dennett and Searle, their two primary interlocutors. Instead, they republish sections of their own original arguments to give some context to Dennett and Searles' responses, which don't differ except in tone from their positions at the conference from which the book came. Then the book grants Bennett and Hacker another answer (composed, so far as I could tell, of almost willful misreadings of Searle's and Dennetts' criticisms), then a conclusion from a "referee" who, naturally, mostly judges them to have come out ahead in the argument. I expected more interlocution, but instead it seems to be a vehicle for Hacker and Bennett's position.
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