The Social Construction of Mental States

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


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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    The standard criticism is N. Chomsky, ‘A Review of B. F. Skinner’s “Verbal Behaviour”’, Language, vol. 53, no.1, 1959, pp.26–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Skinner, ‘The Operational Analysis of Psychological Terms’, p.593.Google Scholar
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    For the claim that Wittgenstein proves no more than that private languages are contingently impossible, see R. Fogelin, Wittgenstein, London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1976, p.165.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    E. Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, trans. J. Swain, New York, Collier, 1961, pp.21–33.Google Scholar
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    The original Kantean claim that intuition without thought is not knowledge and ‘consequently would be for us as good as nothing’ is to be found in his Critique of Pure Reason, A.111.Google Scholar
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    It is perhaps significant that Kant did not make his a priori apparatus something that could be studied in an empirical psychology of the individual mind. It had a noumenal not a phenomenal existence. This was a wise move. For Durkheim this simply meant that the noumenal was a reified reference to the social — an even wiser move.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    N. Malcolm, Dreaming, London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1962: ‘if anyone holds that dreams are identical with, or composed of, thoughts, impressions, feelings, images, and so on... occurring in sleep, then his view is false’ (p.52).Google Scholar
  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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    Ibid. Malcolm discusses the work of the psychologists W. Dement, N. Kleitman and G. Ramsey; cf. ch.13.Google Scholar
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    Ibid, p.76. See also p.28, where Malcolm accepts that to use the word ‘asleep’ to cover hypnotic trances and nightmares ‘is to make a natural extension of the use of the word beyond its primary use’.Google Scholar
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    Ibid, p.81.Google Scholar
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    H. Putnam, ‘Dreaming and “Depth Grammar”’, in R. Butler (ed.), Analytical Philosophy (1st series), Oxford, Blackwell, 1966, pp.211–35.Google Scholar
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    P. Feyerabend, ‘Wittgenstein’s “Philosophical Investigations”’, Philosophical Review, vol.LXIV, 1955, pp.449–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. The page numbers I cite are from the reprint in G. Pitcher (ed.), Wittgenstein, London, Macmillan, 1968, pp.104–50.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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    Feyerabend, ‘Wittgenstein’s “Philosophical Investigations”’, p.111.Google Scholar
  25. 29.
  26. 30.
    A. Melden, Free Action, London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1967.Google Scholar
  27. 31.
    Ibid, p. 169.Google Scholar
  28. 32.
    Ibid, p.169.Google Scholar
  29. 33.
    The outward movement of the dialectic is accomplished by steps of the following kind: ‘Our concept of an action is the concept of an action for which the agent may have a reason and a reason of the kind that relates to the social intercourse of agents.’ Ibid, p.196.Google Scholar
  30. 34.
    Ibid, p.210.Google Scholar
  31. 35.
    Ibid, p.190.Google Scholar
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    Ibid, p.190.Google Scholar
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    Ibid, p.197.Google Scholar
  34. 38.
    Ibid, p.219.Google Scholar
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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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    Peters, The Concept of Motivation, p.155.Google Scholar
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    Melden, Free Action, p.184.Google Scholar
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    D. Davidson, ‘Actions, Reasons and Causes’, Journal of Philosophy, vol.60, no.23, 1963, pp.685–700.CrossRefGoogle 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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    See, for example, S. Toulmin, Foresight and Understanding: An Enquiry into the Aims of Science, New York, Harper & Row, 1961, chs 3 and 4 on ‘Ideals of Natural Order’Google Scholar
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    Melden, Free Action, pp.11-17.Google Scholar
  46. 48.
    This example is taken from Toulmin, Philosophy of Science.Google Scholar
  47. 49.
    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
  48. A. Louch, Explanation and Human Action, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1966.Google Scholar
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    Melden, Free Action, p.72.Google Scholar
  50. 51.
    Ibid, p.116; cf. also pp.109 and 114.Google Scholar
  51. 52.
    Ibid, p.173. Notice the similarity with the phenomenologists and actpsychologists discussed in Chapter 2.Google Scholar
  52. 53.
    C. Taylor, ‘Explaining Action’, Inquiry, vol.13, 1970, pp.54–89. The reference to an original, empirical language is on p.80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Melden, Free Action, p.85.Google Scholar
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    Davidson, ‘Actions, Reasons and Causes’, p.700.Google Scholar
  55. 56.
    J. Conant, ‘The Overthrow of the Phlogiston Theory: The Chemical Revolution of 1775–1789’, in J. Conant and L. Nash (eds), Harvard Case Histories in Experimental Science, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1966, vol.1, pp.67–115.Google Scholar
  56. 57.
    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
  57. 58.
    M. Black, Models and Metaphors, Ithaca, New York, Cornell University Press, 1962Google Scholar
  58. M. Hesse, Models and Analogies in Science, Notre Dame, University of Notre Dame Press, 1966, esp. ‘The Explanatory Function of Metaphor’, pp.157–77Google Scholar
  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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