The philosophy of mind is a branch of the philosophy of nature. But it has this peculiarity, that the very item that conjures up its questions and vets its answers is the very part of nature under investigation. And it has the added peculiarity that its subject is the mind. A system that can harbour such natural marvels as imagery of what is long past, thoughts of what never even managed to be, and dreams of the logically impossible, in this subject turns its philosophical attention onto itself. In these special circumstances one might expect a few rules to go by the board. In any case, they do. The philosophy of mind is something of an exception to a rule or maxim limiting our legitimate metaphysical expectations: roughly, a rule to the effect that we should expect little or nothing. Now it is well-known that philosophers have long abandoned all pretensions to the role of cosmological sage, of a priori astronomer charting a heaven of ideas, and that this was effected through a sceptical critique that emanated from its own ranks: above all, from Hume, Kant and Wittgenstein. A sort of pessimism with regard to metaphysical enterprise seems as a result to have set in at some point, which lingers to this day, in which I suppose we are still paying for the brilliant excesses of our romantic metaphysical forefathers, and of Hegel most of all. Those 'intellectual inebriates', in the eyes of some, have bequeathed as our lot a seemingly permanent condition of metaphysical sobriety and philosophical self-consciousness.
LRB 1 April 1983 | PDF Download