Skip to main content

Overcoming the myth of the mental


Can we accept John McDowell’s Kantian claim that perception is conceptual “all the way out,” thereby denying the more basic perceptual capacities we seem to share with prelinguistic infants and higher animals? More generally, can philosophers successfully describe the conceptual upper floors of the edifice of knowledge while ignoring the embodied coping going on on the ground floor? I argue that we shouldn’t leave the conceptual component of our lives hanging in midair and suggest how philosophers who want to understand knowledge and action can profit from a phenomenological analysis of the nonconceptual embodied coping skills we share with animals and infants, as well as the nonconceptual immediate intuitive understanding exhibited by experts.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  • Amidzic O, Riehle HJ, Fehr T, Weinbruch C, Elbert T (2001) Patterns of focal γ-bursts in chess players: grandmasters call on regions of the brain not used so much by less skilled amateurs. Nature: Brief Communications 412:9 August 2001

    Google Scholar 

  • Aristotle (1955), The ethics of Aristotle, translated by Thomson JAK. Penguin, Harmondsworth

  • Benner PE, Tanner CA, Chesla CA (1996) Expertise in nursing practice: caring, clinical judgment, and ethics. Springer Publishing Company, New York

    Google Scholar 

  • Brooks RA (2002) Flesh and machines: how robots will change us. Pantheon Books, New York

    Google Scholar 

  • Dreyfus HL (1992) What computers still can’t do. MIT Press, Cambridge (MA)

    Google Scholar 

  • Dreyfus HL, Dreyfus SE (1988) Mind over machine. Free Press, New York

    Google Scholar 

  • Fodor JA (1983) The modularity of mind. Bradford/MIT Press, Boston

    Google Scholar 

  • Freeman WJ (2001) How the brain makes up its mind. Columbia University Press, New York

    Google Scholar 

  • Heidegger M (1987) The basic problems of phenomenology, translated by Hofstadter A. Indiana University Press, Bloomington (IN)

  • Heidegger M (1997) Plato’s Sophist, translated by Rojcewicz R, Schuwer A. Indiana University Press, Bloomington (IN)

  • McDowell J (1994) Mind and world. Harvard University Press, Cambridge (MA)

    Google Scholar 

  • McDowell J (1998) Virtue and reason. In: Mind, value, and reality. Harvard University Press, Cambridge (MA)

  • Merleau-Ponty M (1966) The structure of behavior, 2nd edn., translated by Fisher AL. Beacon Press, Boston

  • Todes S (2001) Body and world. The MIT Press, Cambridge (MA)

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Hubert L. Dreyfus.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Dreyfus, H.L. Overcoming the myth of the mental. Topoi 25, 43–49 (2006).

Download citation

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • myth of the given
  • myth of the mental
  • phenomenology
  • expertise
  • skill
  • perception
  • action