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The Social Construction of Mental States

  • David Bloor
Chapter
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Part of the Theoretical Traditions in the Social Sciences book series

Abstract

The language-games of commonsense psychology include reporting bodily sensations, describing feelings, imputing motives and intentions, engaging in mental skills such as reading, and telling our dreams. We shall be concerned with how these topics are handled outside the laboratory, but for purposes of comparison we must sometimes don the white coat of the specialist. Before plunging into details it may be useful to say how these issues bear upon the enterprise of building a social theory of knowledge. What we will be talking about is the mind and the ego. This is the part of ourselves that is often assumed to be known most intimately. It seems to be the location and source of our identity and individuality. There is therefore a sense in which this is the keep of the individualist’s castle. At least, there is much in what we are tempted to say about the mind, and there is much in traditional philosophies of mind, that can be used to support the idea that a theory of knowledge must begin with the individual and, so to speak, work outwards. Wittgenstein took the opposite approach. Instead of approaching public knowledge via individual experience, he approached the intimacies of the self via the public categories with which they must be grasped. The Self was to be understood through the Other.

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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    Cf. also NFL, pp.281 and 307.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    B. Skinner, ‘The Operational Analysis of Psychological Terms’ (reprinted from the Psychological Review, vol. 52, 1942) in H. Feigl and M. Brodbeck, Readings in the Philosophy of Science, New York, Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1953, pp.585–95.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    It is important for a proper appreciation of Skinner’s theory to realise that his operant conditioning is not the same as Pavlov’s classical conditioning. It does not, for example, begin with a passive, unconditioned reflex: it begins with an active stream of behaviour or ‘operants’. See Skinner’s stress on the difference between elicited and emitted behaviour: B. Skinner, The Behaviour of Organisms: An Experimental Analysis, New York, Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1938, pp.19–20.Google Scholar
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  11. 11.
    Ibid. His waking impression is what establishes that he had a dream, and his account of his dream establishes what the content of his dream was (p.79). For further stress on accounts and narrations see, e.g., pp.85-6, 92 and 94.Google Scholar
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    Wittgenstein’s interest in the process of reading may have come from his period as a schoolteacher. Reading is discussed in PI I, 156–71 and extensively in the Blue and Brown Books.Google Scholar
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  26. 30.
    A. Melden, Free Action, London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1967.Google Scholar
  27. 31.
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  28. 32.
    Ibid, p.169.Google Scholar
  29. 33.
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    R. Peters, The Concept of Motivation, London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1960, p.7.Google Scholar
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    C. Wright Mills, ‘Situated Actions and Vocabularies of Motive’, American Sociological Review, vol.5, 1940, pp.904–13. Mills saw his paper as part of a ‘major reorientation of recent theory and observation in sociology’ (p.904).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    See, for example, J. Manis and B. Meltzer (eds), Symbolic Interaction: A Reader in Social Psychology, Boston, Allyn & Bacon, 1967.Google Scholar
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    A simple but cogent argument for this thesis is provided by S. Toulmin, The Philosophy of Science: An Introduction, London, Hutchinson, 1965 (7th impression) ch.2.Google Scholar
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    This example is taken from Toulmin, Philosophy of Science.Google Scholar
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    Precisely the same issue is argued out between A. Louch and E. Gellner. The only difference is that the argument is joined at a later stage. Louch — on the anti-positivist side — allows causal knowledge in the social sciences but treats it as a different kind of causal knowledge from that in the natural sciences. He insists that it has an irremediably ad hoc character: it is directly ascertained and applies to specific cases. It neither has, nor hints at, generality. Gellner, on the other hand, insists that all causal claims carry an implicit commitment, or reference, to general laws. See: E. Gellner, ‘A Wittgensteinean Philosophy Of (or Against) the Social Sciences’, reprinted in his Spectacles and Predicaments: Essays in Social Theory, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1979, ch.3, esp.pp.72–5Google Scholar
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    Ibid, p.116; cf. also pp.109 and 114.Google Scholar
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    Ibid, p.173. Notice the similarity with the phenomenologists and actpsychologists discussed in Chapter 2.Google Scholar
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    See, for example, D. Huff and S. Turner, ‘Rationalizations and the Application of Causal Explanations of Human Action’, American Philosophical Quarterly, vol.18, no.3, July 1981, pp.213–20.Google Scholar
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    M. Black, Models and Metaphors, Ithaca, New York, Cornell University Press, 1962Google Scholar
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  59. D. Schon, Displacement of Concepts, London, Tavistock, 1963.Google Scholar
  60. 59.
    Explanation may be represented thus, where the arrow stands for logical deduction: Analysis, on the other hand, may be represented thus, where the arrow takes on a meaning which depends on one’s view of analysis: This claim is argued and illustrated in more detail in D. Bloor, ‘Explanation and Analysis in Strawson’s “Persons”’, Australasian Journal of Philosophy, vol.48, no.1, 1970, pp.2–9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. 60.
    Melden, Free Action, pp.11-17. Similar arguments about character explanations have been put forward by P. Foot, ‘Free Will as Involving Determinism’, Philosophical Review, vol.LXVI, 1957, pp.439–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. For a reply on behalf of the causalists arguing that Foot has too narrow a conception of causal thinking in science, see M. White, ‘Causation and Action’, in S. Morgenbesser, P. Suppes and M. White (eds), Philosophy, Science and Method, New York, St. Martin’s Press, 1969, pp.251–9, esp. p.254.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© David Bloor 1983

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Bloor
    • 1
  1. 1.University of EdinburghUK

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