The Myth of the Mind

Of course, I do not mean by the title of this paper to deny the existence of something called ‘the mind’. But I do mean to call into question appeals to it in analyzing cognitive notions such as understanding and knowing, where its domain is taken to be independent of what one might find out in cognitive science. In this respect, I am expressing the skepticism of Sellars in “Empiricism and the philosophy of mind” [1956], where he explodes, not only the ‘Myth of the Given’, but also, as part of that myth, theorizing about thoughts, intentions and the like, where such theorizing is regarded as something more than a nascent cognitive science, in which such entities enter as theoretical entities, in aid of accounting for our cognitive abilities. The myth is that these entities present themselves in consciousness, available to us by introspection—and, perhaps, a priori reasoning. But, even among authors who claim to embrace Sellars ’ critique of the Myth of the Given, his message about the mind is ignored.1 As an example, I want to consider and disarm an influential line of thought, by John McDowell, which implicates the mind in the analysis of knowing and understanding, not in the legitimate sense of suggesting causal accounts of our cognitive abilities in terms of mental or physiological structures, but in the sense of claiming that these abilities are mental or essentially involve the mental in a way that escapes the net of cognitive science. The ground on which I stand in this discussion is one which I attribute to Wittgenstein in his Philosophical Investigations. Basically, the position.
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