The debates about human free will are traditionally the concern of metaphysics but neuroscientists have recently entered the field arguing that acts of the will are determined by brain events themselves causal products of other events. We examine that claim through the example of free or voluntary switch of perception in relation to the Necker cube. When I am asked to see the cube in one way, I decide whether I will follow the command (or do as I am asked) (...) using skills that reason and language give to me and change my brain states accordingly. The voluntary shift of perspective in seeing the Necker cube this way or that exemplifies the top-down control exercised by a human being on the basis of the role of language and meaning in their activity. It also indicates the lived story that is at the centre of each human consciousness. In the third part of this essay, three arguments are used to undermine metaphysical objections to the very idea of top-down self control. (shrink)
The concept of futility is sometimes regarded as a cloak for medical paternalism in that it rolls together medical and value judgments. Often, despite attempts to disambiguate the concept, that is true and it can be applied in such a way as to marginalize the real interests of a patient. I suggest we replace it with a conceptual toolkit that includes physiological futility, substantial benefit (SB), and the risk of unacceptable badness (RUB) in that these concepts allow us to articulate (...) what is at stake in ethical judgments where outcomes are crucial in determining what should be done. (shrink)
Walter Freeman, the self styled neurosurgeon, became famous (or infamous) for psychosurgery. The operation of frontal leucotomy swept through the world (with Freeman himself performing something like 18,000 cases) but it has tainted the whole idea of psychosurgery down to the present era. Modes of psychosurgery such as Deep Brain Stimulation and other highly selective neurosurgical procedures for neurological and psychiatric conditions are in ever-increasing use in current practice. The new, more exciting techniques are based in a widely held philosophical (...) position on the relationship between the mind, brain and soul, which is the key to ethical debates in this area. Psychosurgery has always posed questions of responsibility, personality, character, identity, spirit, relationship, integrity, and human flourishing and they do not go away when we enter the brave new world of neuroethics and Deep Brain Stimulation. (shrink)
Informed consent is the practical expression of the doctrine of autonomy. But the very idea of autonomy and conscious free choice is undercut by the view that human beings react as their unconscious brain centres dictate, depending on factors that may or may not be under rational control and reflection. This worry is, however, based on a faulty model of human autonomy and consciousness and needs close neurophilosophical scrutiny. A critique of the ethics implied by the model takes us towards (...) a 'care of the self' view of autonomy and the subject's attunement to the truth as the crux of reasoning rather than the inner mental/neural state views of autonomy and human choice on offer at present. (shrink)
The first edition of The Mind and its Discontents was a powerful analysis of how, as a society, we view mental illness. In the ten years since the first edition, there has been growing interest in the philosophy of psychiatry, and a new edition of this text is more timely and important than ever. -/- In The Mind and its Discontents, Grant Gillett argues that an understanding of mental illness requires more than just a study of biological models of mental (...) processes and pathologies. As intensely social animals, he argues, we need to look for the causes of human mental disorders in our interactions with others; in social rule-following and its role in the organization of mental content; in the power relations embedded within social structures and cultural norms; in the way that our mental life is inscribed by a cumulative life of encounters with others. Drawing upon work from within the philosophy of mind, epistemology, post-modern continental philosophy, and philosophy of language, he tries to elucidate the nature of psychiatric phenomena involving disorders of thought, perception, emotion, moral sense, and action. Within this framework, a series of chapters analyse important psychiatric disorders such as depression, attention deficiency, autism, schizophrenia, and anorexia. Along the way, Gillett explores the nature of memory and identity; of hysteria and what constitutes rational behaviour; and of what causes us to label someone a psychopath or deviant. -/- Updated, available in paperback, and more accessible than before, the new edition of this fascinating book will provide readers with important insights into the causes and nature of psychosis. In addition, Gillett's arguments have considerable implications for the way in which we understand and treat people suffering from psychiatric disorders. The Mind and its Discontents will be read by researchers and postgraduate students in a range of academic areas, including psychiatry, bioethics, philosophy of mind, social theory, and clinical psychology. It will also be of considerable interest to practising psychiatrists. (shrink)
The human brain is subjective and reflects the life of a being-in-the-world-with-others whose identity reflects that complex engaged reality. Human subjectivity is shaped and in-formed (formed by inner processes) that are adapted to the human life-world and embody meaning and the relatedness of a human being. Questions of identity relate to this complex and dynamic reality to reflect the fact that biology, human ecology, culture, and one's historic-political situation are inscribed in one's neural network and have configured its architecture so (...) that it is a unique and irreplaceable phenomenon. So much is a human individual a relational being whose own understanding and ownership of his or her life is both situated and distinctive that neurophilosophical conceptions of identity and human activity that neglect these features of our being are quite inadequate to ground a robust neuroethics. (shrink)
The use of human tissue raises ethical issues of great concern to health care professionals, biomedical researchers, ethics committees, tissue banks and policy makers because of the heightened importance given to informed consent and patient autonomy. The debate has been intensified by high profile scandals such as the “baby hearts” debacle and revelations about the retention of human brains in neuropathology laboratories worldwide. Respect for patient’s rights seems, however, to impede research and development of clinical knowledge in contemporary health care. (...) The Common clinical endeavour argument and a Presumption for beneficial use argument suggest that the use of tissues for research and teaching in contemporary health care can respect patients and their values in multicultural communities where there are provisions for oversight and for opting not to contribute, both of which should respect the diverse views of different ethnic or cultural groups. (shrink)
Cara sui (care of the self) is a guiding thread in Foucault's later writings on ethics. Following Foucault in that inquiry, we are urged beyond our fairly superficial conceptions of consequences, harms, benefits, and the rights of persons, and led to examine ourselves and try to articulate the sense of life that animates ethical reasoning. The result is a nuanced understanding with links to virtue ethics and post-modern approaches to ethics and subjectivity. The approach I have articulated draws on the (...) phenomenology of Levinas and Heidegger, the Virtue ethics of Baier, and the post-structuralist writing of Michel Foucault. The subject is seen as negotiable, embodied, provisional and able to be transformed in a way that denies essentialism about human beings, their moral status, and the idea of the good. The human being emerges as responsible because, properly, responsive to the context of discourse in which morality becomes articulated. When we import this style of thinking into bioethics we find that it reaches beyond issues of policy or right conduct and allows us to use the biomedical sciences and the clinical world to revise and interrogate our understanding of ourselves and the theoretical foundations of health care ethics. (shrink)
Philosophical accounts of thought crucially involve an array of abilities to identify general properties or features of the world (corresponding to concepts) and objects that instantiate those general properties. Abilities of both types can be grounded in a naturalistic account of the usefulness of cognitive structures in adaptive behaviour. Language enhances these abilities by multiplying the experience bases giving rise to them and helping to overcome subjective biases.
Wittgenstein shifted from a picture theory of meaning to a use-based theory of meaning in his philosophical work on language. The latter picture is deeply congenial to the view that language and the use of our hands in practical activity are closely related. Wittgenstein's theory therefore offers philosophical support for Corballis's suggestion that the development of spoken language is the basis of dominance phenomena.
In European philosophical psychology, the work of Jacques Lacan has exerted a great deal of influence but it has received little attention from analytic philosophers. He is famous for the view that the unconscious is a repository of influences arising from language and the meanings it captures, but the presentation of his ideas is sometimes perplexing and impenetrable and its conceptual links with analytic philosophers like Frege and Wittgenstein are not easily discerned. In fact, there are a number of such (...) links and they are worth pursuing for those interested in language, mind, and the unconscious. If we explore Lacan's claim about the link between signification and the tuchè (the encounter with the real) we find that the mental content of the subject is essentially tied to the external world both causally and linguistically. The means of tying the two together arise in the context of human interactions and therefore are charged with personal and emotive content as well as the semantic content with which we are normally concerned in philosophy of language. When we pursue the implications of his view it becomes plausible both that the unconscious is structured like a language and that language borrows much of its meaning and significance to a subject from the interpersonal medium through which it has been inscribed on that subject. His approach is therefore illuminating both for linguistics (especially psycholinguistics) and for the psychology of the unconscious. (shrink)
Consciousness and its relation to the unconscious mind have long been debated in philosophy. I develop the thesis that consciousness and its contents reflect the highest elaboration of a set of abilities to respond to the environment realized in more primitive organisms and brain circuits. The contents of the states lesser than consciousness are, however, intrinsically dubious and indeterminate as it is the role of the discursive skills we use to construct conscious contents that lends articulation and clarity to the (...) mental acts which cumulatively make up our mental lives. I lay out a tripartite structure for the formation of mind in which the ongoing interaction between brain and world, the formative effect of socio-cultural context and the self production of a relatively coherent narrative all play an important part in making a mind. The latter two influences clearly transcend biological science and suggest that human minds have features which broadly align with certain Freudian insights but do not support the reification of the causally structured unconscious that Freud envisaged. (shrink)
The idea of cultural evolution, coined by Daniel Dennett, suggests we might be able to formulate a Darwinian type of explanation for the adaptive 'tricks' we learn as human beings. The proposed explanation makes use of the idea of memes. That idea is examined and related to semantic units linked to the terms in a natural language. It is agreed with Dennett that these are of pivotal significance in understanding the structure of human cognition. The alternative is then explored to (...) the chaos of worddemons that Dennett appeals to in explaining why and how we think and enter into discursive relations. Beginning with certain thoughts about language games the essay moves on to consider the relations of power and knowledge that shape discursive reality and explain our subjectivities and actions. This leads to a sketch of Foucaultian theory as an advance in the philosophy of mind required to move beyond fairly gestural accounts of psychological explanation to be found in the standard biologically motivated approaches. (shrink)
The Snark is an intentional object. I examine the general philosophical characteristics of thoughts of objects from the perspective of Husserl's, hyle, noesis, and noema and show how this meets constraints of opacity, normativity, and possible existence as generated by a sensitive theory of intentionality. Husserl introduces terms which indicate the normative features of intentional content and attempts to forge a direct relationship between the norms he generates and the actual world object which a thought intends. I then attempt to (...) relate Husserl's account to Fregean insights about the sense and reference of a term. Neither Husserl nor Frege suggest plausible routes to a naturalistic account of intentionality and I turn to Wittgenstein to provide a naturalistic reading of the crucial terms involved in the analysis of intentional content. His account is normative in a way required by both Husserl and Frege and yet manages a kind of Aristotelian naturalism which avoids crude biologism. (shrink)
Since the time of Hippocrates, medical science sought to develop a practice based on "knowledge rather than opinion". However, in the light of recent alternative approaches to healing and a philosophy of science that, through thinkers like Kuhn, Rorty, and Foucault, is critical of claims to objective truth, we must reappraise the way in which medical interventions can be based on proven pathophysiological knowledge rather than opinion. Developing insights in Foucault, Lacan, and Wittgenstein, this essay argues for a recovery of (...) the Aristotelian idea of a techne, where there is a dynamic interplay between praxis and conceptualization. The result is a post-Kuhnian epistemology for medical science that recognizes the evaluative dimension of knowledge, but that also looks to a Platonic conception of the good as the ultimate constraint on human thought, thus avoiding the radically self-contained accounts of truth found in some post-modern thinkers. Keywords: normal science, power, truth, virtue CiteULike Connotea Del.icio.us What's this? (shrink)