Sometimes, when I'm feeling dyspeptic, I wonder why psychologists have such a down on minds. Psychologists, of all people. In philosophy, ever since Plato, the mainstream opinion has been that the mind is the organ of thought; thinking is what the mind is for, and we act as we do because we think what we do. But psychologists, for the last hundred years or so, have mostly viewed that sort of 'intellectualism' as an embarrassing remnant of the Enlightenment: behaviourists say that the question of what minds are for doesn't arise, since there aren't any. Freudians say that the myth that we think is a sort of cover story that the mind tells itself to avoid having to confess to its libidinous urges. Associationists say that we don't need a mind to think with ('we don't need an "executive"' is how they put it) because ideas think themselves in virtue of the mechanical connections among them. And neuropsychologists say that since the mind is the brain, we don't need the one because we have the other. That this bundle of muddle is recommended as the hard-headed, scientific way to do psychology is, I think, among the wonders of the age.
LRB 28 April 2011 | PDF Download