Tuesday, November 5, 2013

New Philosopher: "What is a mind, and what is it good for?"


Not long ago, I was given the debut copy of a new magazine, New Philosopher. I was impressed by the calibre of the authors -- often professional philosophers -- but also by the variety of topics, and elegance of the magazine itself. Stylistically, it's very striking.

As it happens, I have an essay in the second issue of New Philosopher, which has 'mind' as its theme. (But, again: plenty of diversity is packed into this one topic.)

The essay is an edited version of my talk for the Brisbane Writers Festival, "What is a mind, and what is it good for?" Here is a sample:
Where these minds? David Hume’s famous answer was ‘nowhere in particular’. He pointed out that we never actually see these ‘minds’ we go on about. We have impressions of the world, and impressions of our own impressions; we have feelings from without and within, even if the ‘in’ and ‘out’ are dodgy metaphors. But we never have any evidence that there is this simple thing called a ‘mind’ – let alone a deathless soul, which moves north once the body is retired. For Hume, what we call ‘the mind’ is often just…an idea -- with all the vagueness and caprice this suggests. 
The point is not that we can’t have good ideas. The point is that ideas are good partly because they recognise this bigger, blurrier world. They acknowledge their own abstraction. The point is also that if ideas work in minds, when we say ‘minds’ we are also talking about ideas.

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