Notes on the Philosophy of Mind

  • Georg Henrik von Wright
Part of the Synthese Library book series (SYLI, volume 272)


The notion of behaviour is related to the notions of bodily movement and muscular activity, and also to that of neural processes. A basic difference between behavioural reactions and neural processes is that whereas the first are macroscopic and manifest or overt (“visible and audible”) the second are microscopic and not manifest to the senses in the same direct way as the first.


Bodily Movement Neural System Physical World Neural Process Muscular Activity 
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  1. 1.
    These “Notes” were a preliminary study for the following chapter “On Mind and Matter”.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    This conceptualization is conditioned, it seems, by the degree of resemblance which there is in size, anatomical structure, and characteristic movements between animal and human bodies. In a classic study on the amoeba we read: “The writer is thoroughly convinced, after long study of the behaviour of this organism, that if Amoeba were a large animal, so as to come within the everyday experience of human beings, its behaviour would at once call forth the attribution to it of states of pleasure and pain, of hunger, desire, and the like, on precisely the same basis as we attribute these things to the dog.” H.S. Jennings, Behaviour of Lower Organisms, 1906, p. 306.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    There is a danger connected with this way of speaking. The danger is one of “hypostasizing” the signification or meaning of the sign as something “thing-like”, a thing signified or meant, — like the bearer of a label. The idea of the mental as something thing-like and the analogous idea, deep embedded in our thinking, of the “soul” or mind as a body-like phantom or ethereal spirit, is one of the greatest obstacles in the way of clarity when we philosophize about these matters.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Cf. below p. 147 on the causal priority of the neural in relation to the behavioural.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    One is here reminded of Leibniz’s famous mill simile. (Monadologie, 17.) Let us imagine a brain enlarged so much that we could enter and walk around in it and see the working of the “neural clockwork” in detail. We could then study the neural links N which causally connect S and M as two events in the material, physical world. Here everything happens “comme si la mauvaise doctrine de ceux qui croient que l’âme est materielle suivant Epicure et Hobbes, estoit veritable”. (The quotation is from Leibniz’s reply to Bayle.) But at the same time we would see, like a mirror image, the way in which sensing the input S by the subject connects with his producing the output M.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    The “real shape” of the coin is round. But it is not the roundness we see (“as seen”) which is its “real shape”. The roundness of the coin is a property which it has by virtue of the fact that all points on the edge of the coin have the same distance from one and the same point in its middle. The seen roundness is only a “symptom” of this. If we distrust the symptom we should have to carry out measurements. This too involves perception — in the form of observations of the coincidence of points on the measuring rod with a point on the periphery and a point in the centre of the coin. But the equidistance as thus perceived (observed, seen) is no more the “real shape” of the coin than is its roundness.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Talk of action is not “theorizing” about the mind; but it could, with caution, be called “theorizing” about bodily phenomena. I know that many would resent this analogy and condemn it as “scientistic”. One can do this — and yet also see a similarity here.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Georg Henrik von Wright
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Academy of FinlandHelsinkiFinland
  2. 2.University of HelsinkiFinland

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