The mind and the world

Julian C. Hughes

in Thinking Through Dementia

Published on behalf of Oxford University Press

Published in print February 2011 | ISBN: 9780199570669
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191754654 | DOI:

Series: International Perspectives in Philosophy & Psychiatry

The mind and the world

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The point of this chapter was to give a brief view of some theories of the mind. Dualism is perhaps the best known, but holds the least sway these days. Interactionism does not convincingly get around the problems of dualism. Extreme materialism, involving the elimination of everything mental, seems egregious. But other forms of physicalism, whether involving representationalism or anomalous monism, are also problematic. As we have seen, the issue is often to do with the inadequacy of the constitutive, over against the causal, accounts provided by these approaches to the mind. Physicalism, after all, seems to provide an adequate account of the causal structures that underpin mental events. Social constructionism is radically different and has the benefit of bringing others into the equation. The externality of mind links with a social constructionist approach and accounts for at least some of the constitutive features of the mind that are not readily accommodated by physicalism or materialism: the way in which much of our mental life seems essentially shared; it is certainly not all in our heads.

In turn, this helps to highlight the importance and remarkable nature of intentionality, concerning which Michael Luntley has written: Aboutness does not look natural. It might be ubiquitous, for us at least, but the aboutness of our thought and talk is not, unlike the colour of our hair, a straightforward natural fact. (Luntley, 2003a: 1)

How it is that our ‘thought and talk’ latches on to the world—whether indeed it is right to give the world precedence, rather than regard it as one of the ‘Far other Worlds, and other Seas’ that the mind (through thought and discourse) creates—is a major philosophical issue. In particular, philosophers have been concerned with the normative nature of intentionality, how it is that our ‘thought and talk’ about the world can be correct or incorrect. It is this to which I shall now turn.

But we should not forget Miss Breen. The importance of our conception of the mind is because it will have implications for our conception of the person. Part of the reason for sketching some of the theories of the mind was to demonstrate their inadequacies as far as Miss Breen is concerned. An egregious account of the mind leads to an egregious approach to Miss Breen. An inadequate or deficient or incomplete account is just as bad. We need to find an account of the mind that allows Miss Breen to be approached meaningfully, where the significance of her ways of engaging with her surroundings can be understood.

My argument is an attempt to bring together the philosophical and the clinical. If there were a way to understand mental phenomena which would allow us to move towards a better understanding of Miss Breen's otherwise incoherent engagements with the world, this would be of tremendous help in terms of our clinical encounters with her in her current context. But understanding mental phenomena in the human context is to understand at some level what it is to be a human person. What we have seen so far is how difficult it is to give an account of our intentionality—of how the mind makes contact with the world—partly because we cannot even give a straightforward account of how the mind links with the body. My answer will be to point eventually to the importance of our concept of the person as the locus of our intentionality. It is through the person that contact is made between the mind and the world. But we need a fully fledged account of the person (including Miss Breen), one which encompasses the mind and its being about something else. The mind can, perhaps, as Marvell suggests (vide supra), transcend the world and annihilate all that's made; but ‘a green thought in a green shade’ is still a thought of something. Even this transcendent thought is parasitic on the world; and the question to which we turn concerns how our ‘thought and talk’ quite generally is to be understood and judged as far as its rightness and wrongness goes.

Chapter.  12820 words. 

Subjects: Psychiatry

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