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on 21 October 2006
As he explains at the outset, Searle does not intend this book to provide a neutral introduction to the philosophy of mind. He claims that in this area "all of the most famous and influential theories are false", and so he concentrates on presenting his own views on the topics of consciousness, intentionality, mental causation, free will, 'the unconscious', perception and 'the self'.

He devotes about half the book to a critique of both materialism and dualism and to advocating 'biological naturalism' as an alternative explanation of consciousness. It seems to me this approach -- which he has also outlined in earlier books -- offers a major step toward the solution of the traditional body/mind problem. Other chapters that I found particularly helpful were the ones discussing perception and mental causation.

Searle writes very clearly, and frequently summarises and recapitulates his main arguments. I like this style of presentation, but I imagine some readers might find it rather repetitive. I would think the ideas put forward will be of interest to most readers who enjoy pondering philosophical issues yet are not too philosophically sophisticated to need an introductory text.
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VINE VOICEon 30 July 2007
Including Searle's!

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.
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on 8 June 2012
Some areas of this book I found complex and felt as if I had been thrown into the middle of a argument that had been going on for decades between philosopher tribes. It does though distill some of the issues and tries to explain these but as with all these issues there are many sides to the coin. I was a little dissapointed with the lack of links between neurobiology and I felt memory was set aside as too complex to contemplate. I enjoyed it, it made me think but didn't fulfill its promise!
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on 20 November 2014
Very slight reservations - I'm not surer Searle quite understands some of the difficulties that the new student to philosophy of mind experiences, especially as getting across an interpretation of mind as material. Perhaps I was expecting too much. Nevertheless, warmly recommended and of the three books I've read covering similar ground, I think it is the best.
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on 15 July 2015
Excellent book, very clear, brilliant. The best introduction to the philosophy of mind.
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on 7 February 2016
excellent book
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on 29 December 2006
John Searle writes on "Free Will":

1. "Whenever we make up our minds, we have to presuppose freedom. If, for example, I am in a restaurant and I am confronted with a menu and the waiter asks me what I would like, I cannot say: 'I'm a determinist, I'll just wait and see what happens,' because even that utterance is only intelligible to me as an exercise of my free will."

2. "I cannot think of that utterance as something that just happened to me, like a sudden pain in the stomach." (page 219).

And on the relationship between the brain and the mind Searle writes:

3. "My feelings of thirst are entirely caused by neurobiological processes in the brain."

(page 111).

Searle refers to his view as "Biological Naturalism".

Searle's points are flawed for the following reasons:

1. We are not in restaurants by chance. There is a reason for going there. For example, I thought it would be nice to go for lunch with a friend of mine to discuss Searle's book. When in the restaurant, the waiter asked us what we wanted to eat. We responded: "we are determinists, we'll just wait and see what happens', because we had read Searle's book. The waiter then recommended a fish dish and white wine for my friend and a spicy dish and a beer for me. When eating out, I often ask the waiter to recommend something from the menu, with essentially the same effect.

There is no need to postulate "Free Will", neither on the part of me and my friend nor on the part of the waiter, to explain what happened to the three of us.

2. Halfway through lunch my friend got "a sudden pain in his stomach". He was recovering from the flu, which is one of the many possible causes of stomach pain. Stomach pain does not "just happen".

The gastrointestinal tract has its own nervous system, which is anatomically separated from, but affected by the central and peripheral nervous systems. This is the enteric nervous system. According to "Biological Naturalism", "a sudden pain in the stomach" is only "intelligible as an exercise of free will" by this nervous system. "Biological Naturalism" probably locates the "Free Will" of the gastrointestinal tract to the enteric nervous system rather than to the stomach, kidney or liver, because pain that is perceived to originate in the stomach can actually originate in some of the other organs. However, "Biological Naturalism", might have to postulate separate gastrointestinal "Free Wills", one in the stomach, one in the liver etc.

3. My lunch was delicious and because it was spicy I got thirsty and ordered another beer. Saying that my feeling of thirst was "entirely caused by neurobiological processes in the brain" is similar to saying that my ordering of another beer was "entirely caused by neurobiological processes in the brain." Neither of these statements make any sense, although the first statement might seem to make sense. My brain did not "cause" anything, it mediated between my ingestion of the spicy food, my thirst and my ordering of another beer.
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