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Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience [Paperback]

M. R. Bennett , P. M. S. Hacker
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

April 18 2003 140510838X 978-1405108386 1
In this provocative survey, a distinguished philosopher and a leading neuroscientist outline the conceptual problems at the heart of cognitive neuroscience.

  • Surveys the conceptual problems inherent in many neuroscientific theories.
  • Encourages neuroscientists to pay more attention to conceptual questions.
  • Provides conceptual maps for students and researchers in cognitive neuroscience and psychology.
  • Written by a distinguished philosopher and leading neuroscientist.
  • Avoids the use of philosophical jargon.
  • Constitutes an essential reference work for elucidation of concepts in cognitive neuroscience and psychology.

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Review

“This remarkable book, the product of a collaboration between a philosopher and neuroscientist, shows that the claims made on behalf of cognitive science are ill-founded. The book will certainly arouse opposition... but if it causes controversy, it is controversy that is long overdue.” Sir Anthony Kenny, President of the British Academy, 1989–93 <!--end-->


“This book was simply waiting to be written.” Denis Noble, Oxford University


“Contemporary scientists and philosophers may not like Bennett and Hacker's conclusions, but they will hardly be able to ignore them. The work is a formidable achievement.” John Cottingham, Professor of Philosophy, Reading University


“Neuroscientists, psychologists and philosophers will be challenged – and educated – by this sustained and well-informed critique.” Paul Harris, Professor, Human Development and Psychology, Graduate School of Education, Harvard University

"This book is a joy to read. It is the fruit of collaboration across disciplines and continents between a neurophysiologist and a philosopher. They have written a polemical work that is a model of clarity and directness. Distiniguished neurophysiologist M.R. Bennett of the University of Sydney, and eminent Oxford philosopher P.M.S. Hacker have produced that rarity of scholarship, a genuinely interdisciplinary work that succeeds. ... This is a wonderful book that will illuminate, provoke and delight professional scientists, philosophers and general readers alike." Australian Book Review

"Bennett and Hacker have identified [conceptual confusions] with clinical precision and relentless good sense.... rich with philosophical insights ... thoughtful and wonderfully useful treatise ..." Philosophy

"careful application in a host of cases ...is precisely what Bennett and Hacker provide in devastating critiques of psychologists and neuroscientists such as Blakemore, Crick, Damasio, Edelman, Gazzaniga, Kandel, Kosslyn, LeDoux, Penrose and Weiskrantz; and they also raise equally disturbing questions for philosophers such as Dennett, the Churchlands, Chalmers, Nagel and Searle. Whether this book leads to a reconfiguring of contemporary neuroscience and the philosophy associated with it will tell us much about the dynamics of contemporary intellectual life." Philosophy

"The vast spectrum of material in philosophy and neuroscience that Bennett and Hacker consider is impressive and their discussion is thorough and illuminating." Human Nature Review


1. ‘[It] will certainly, for a long time to come, be the most important contribution to the mind-body problem which there is.’ G. H. von Wright


2. ‘everyone who thinks about the mind and consciousness should study Philosophical Foundations of Neurtoscience. ... it will ultimately contribute to a far better understanding of mind and consciousness within scientific thought as well as a better understanding of the limits of empirical investigation’, Arthur Collins, The Philosophical Quarterly, 2004


3. ‘Sweeping, argumentative and brilliant, this book will provoke widespread discussion among philosophers and neuroscientists alike’, Dennis Patterson, Notre Dame Philosophical Review, 2003


4. ‘...devastating critiques of psychologists and neuroscientists ... Whether this book leads to a reconfiguring of contemporary neuroscience and the philosophy associated with it will tell us much about the dynamics of contemporary intellectual life’, Anthony O’Hear, Philosophy 2003


5. ‘This book is a joy to read. ... a model of clarity and directedness... [Bennett and Hacker] have produced that rarity of scholarship, a genuinely interdisciplinary work that succeeds. ... This is a wonderful book that will illuminate, provoke and delight professional scientists, philosophers and general readers alike.’, Damian Grace, Australian Book Review, 2003


6. ‘clinical precision and ... relentless good sense ... [a] thoughtful and wonderfully useful treatise’, Daniel N. Robinson, Philosophical Quarterly, 2004


7. ‘mandatory reading for anybody interested in neuroscience and consciousness research. The vast spectrum of material in philosophy and neuroscience that Bennett and Hacker consider is impressive and their discussion is thorough and illuminating.’ Axel Kohler, Human Nature Review, 2003


8. ‘a delicious cake of a book in which Bennett and Hacker guide the reader through a conceptual minefield of confusions repeatedly made by neuroscientists and philosophers alike.’ Constantine Sandis, Metapsychology 2003


9. ‘Anyone who has ever framed a theory or explained one should read this book ‑ at the risk of forever falling silent.’, The Rector, University of Sydney, Obiter Dicta 2003


10. ‘... impressively lucid ... Bennett and Hacker unquestionably succeed in making us challenge our own concepts, examine them for dross, and strive to home in on fundamentals.’ Neil Spurway, Journal of the European Soc for Study of Science and Theology.


11. ‘...the fruit of a unique cooperation between a neuroscientist and a philosopher ... an excellent book that should be read by all philosophers of cognition and all researchers in the cognitive neurosciences.’ Herman Philipse, ABG #2, De Academische Boekengids 2003

12. `...there are, I think, grounds for hope that this book will do an enormous amount of good, both in correcting philosophical confusion within neuroscience and in promoting a new style of dialogue between neuroscience and philosophy' David Cockburn, Philosophical Investigations, 2005

Book Description

In this provocative work, a distinguished philosopher and a leading neuroscientist outline the conceptual problems at the heart of cognitive neuroscience. Writing from a scientifically and philosophically informed perspective, the authors provide a critical overview of the conceptual difficulties encountered in many current neuroscientific and psychological theories, including those of Blakemore, Crick, Damasio, Edelman, Gazzaniga, Kandel, Kosslyn, LeDoux, Penrose and Weiskrantz. They propose that conceptual confusions about how the brain relates to the mind affect the intelligibility of research carried out by neuroscientists, in terms of the questions they choose to address, the description and interpretation of results and the conclusions they draw. The book forms both a critique of the practice of cognitive neuroscience and a conceptual handbook for students and researchers.

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Most helpful customer reviews
Format:Paperback
Undoubtedly this book contains both excellence in terms of its review thoroughness and controversey by virtue of its conclusions. It is quite clear from the beginning that Hacker's philosophical stance drives most of the conceptual critique in the book. It is a complicated book, given the vast variety of themes and attendant analyses, and a short review will do it little justice. However, Hacker is a later Wittgensteinian, and to appreciate most of the philosophical input the reader should have reasonable knowledge of the contrast between early and later Wittgenstein, and what exactly characterises the core components of the latter.
The primary criticism leveled at neuroscience is that it is a conceptual shambles due to repeatedly confusing functions of 'selves' with functions of organs (the brain of course). Neursoscience is identified with Cartesian dualism by clumsily shifting talk of properties of persons to talk of brain phenomena and assuming them equivalent. The anvil upon which neuroscience is being philosophically temepered is termed the mereological principle (or fallacy - and you can buy the book for an explanation).
Part of the criticism echoes Wittgenstein's 'if a lion could talk we wouldn't understand him', and most significantly recalls previous critiques of private langage arguments (with a nod to Kripke). It turns out, according to Bennet and Hacker, that neuroscience has been secretly keeping private mental objects alive - presumably in ignorance of philosophical canons.
The book concludes with a well argued and welcome broadside against Dennett's intentional stance (a sacred tenet among cognitve neuroscientists) and, unfortunately, a more toothless critique of Searle on intentionality.
Is this a good book?
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Format:Paperback
Philosophical Foundations Of Neuroscience is the collaboration and brainchild of both neuroscientist M. R. Bennett (Professor of Physiology and University Chair, University of Sydney) and philosopher P. M. S. Hacker (Fellow of St. John's College, Oxford, England), surveying numerous theories including those of Blakemore, Crick, Damasio, Edelman, Gazzniga, Weiskrantz, and others. Written as a conceptual handbook for both students and researchers, Philosophical Foundations Of Neuroscience is a scholarly, college-level text covering the history of this intersection between disciplines, cognitive powers, emotion, conscious experience, reductionism and more. Philosophical Foundations Of Neuroscience is highly recommended as an excellent general foundation resource for academic Philosophy collections and reading lists.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  10 reviews
53 of 57 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, and controversial, critique of neuroscience June 12 2004
By John Harpur - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Undoubtedly this book contains both excellence in terms of its review thoroughness and controversey by virtue of its conclusions. It is quite clear from the beginning that Hacker's philosophical stance drives most of the conceptual critique in the book. It is a complicated book, given the vast variety of themes and attendant analyses, and a short review will do it little justice. However, Hacker is a later Wittgensteinian, and to appreciate most of the philosophical input the reader should have reasonable knowledge of the contrast between early and later Wittgenstein, and what exactly characterises the core components of the latter.
The primary criticism leveled at neuroscience is that it is a conceptual shambles due to repeatedly confusing functions of 'selves' with functions of organs (the brain of course). Neursoscience is identified with Cartesian dualism by clumsily shifting talk of properties of persons to talk of brain phenomena and assuming them equivalent. The anvil upon which neuroscience is being philosophically temepered is termed the mereological principle (or fallacy - and you can buy the book for an explanation).
Part of the criticism echoes Wittgenstein's 'if a lion could talk we wouldn't understand him', and most significantly recalls previous critiques of private langage arguments (with a nod to Kripke). It turns out, according to Bennet and Hacker, that neuroscience has been secretly keeping private mental objects alive - presumably in ignorance of philosophical canons.
The book concludes with a well argued and welcome broadside against Dennett's intentional stance (a sacred tenet among cognitve neuroscientists) and, unfortunately, a more toothless critique of Searle on intentionality.
Is this a good book? As an exercise in conceptual analysis this is an excellent text to study - and disagree with. However, implicit in the text is a philosophical backcloth that will not be accessible to many readers outside philosophy (e.g. the presentation of neuroscientific concepts as neo-platonic). It is an immensely scholarly work, but personally I believe that readers with an informed understanding of Wittgenstein will follow the threads more easily than others. Nevertheless, I heartily recommend it.
25 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb critique of how Idealism confuses scientists Feb. 2 2005
By William Podmore - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
What are you, a ghost in a machine or a living human being? In this excellent book, the authors, a neuroscientist and a philosopher, answer the question.

They say that Rene Descartes' ideas still cause many muddles. He thought that we were all ghosts in machines, two things in one. This was because he believed that there were two basic kinds of thing, mind and matter (a theory called dualism), and that what we are depends on what our minds do (idealism).

The authors show that commonsense clears up the muddles. We are all living human beings. "The person ... is a psychophysical entity, not a duality of two conjoined substances, a mind and a body."

The authors show that dualism - the ghost in the machine - can never explain how our minds relate to our bodies. Our minds are not things, so they cannot cause changes by acting on our brains.

Often neuroscientists wrongly ascribe to our brains the activities that Descartes and his followers like John Locke ascribed to our minds. But human beings - not our brains or minds - think, see, decide and feel. "The brain and its activities make it possible for us - not for it - to perceive and think, to feel emotions, and to form and pursue projects."

Too many neuroscientists trap themselves in idealism. For example, Francis Crick wrote, "What we see appears to be located outside our body. ... What you see is not what is really there. ... In fact we have no direct knowledge of the objects in the world."

But the authors reply, "What we see does not appear to be located outside us. What we see is necessarily located outside our body, unless we are looking at ourselves in a mirror, or at our limbs or thorax." We see what is really there, the real world, and we directly know objects in the world, which exist whether we see them or not.

This is materialism, which "in its simplest and warranted form amounts to a denial that there are mental or spiritual substances." Materialism does not mean that our minds are our brains. It does not mean that we explain things, even material things, by studying the matter of which they are made. Materialism does not reduce everything to physics, or reduce our minds to our nervous systems.

Colin Blakemore was wrong to write, "We are machines", Crick wrong to write, "You ... are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules." Our goals, motives and reasons - not our cells or molecules - explain our behaviour.

The authors show that scientists and philosophers do two different, useful jobs. Scientists analyse what's true and what's false. They create theories to explain and hypotheses to predict.

Philosophers analyse concepts and the rules for the use of words. They clarify what makes sense and what does not. And these authors have done this job superbly.
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For the philosopher of mind, this is THE start of the road. Nov. 28 2006
By Matthew Hoffarth - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
*disclaimer: I am writing this as a philosopher of mind so any parts of the book or chapters not related to this are not what I am addressing.*

I do not mean to say that Bennett and Hacker have all the answers, but their "ordinary language" approach, along with their debt to Wittgenstein, Ryle, Kenny and Strawson, says something about their book. Most contemporary philosophers of mind (Sprague, Strawson and Hacker, among others, excluded) have rightly dismissed the soul, but have decided that there is something "mysterious" about consciousness, or perception or emotion, or what have you. In response, Bennett and Hacker have shown what "consciousness" really is: the conscious acts of people existing in the world. This is why we know that other people are conscious actors: they do conscious things such as watch birds, or play chess, or eat ham sandwiches.

If Michael Tye's or David Chalmers' or Colin McGinn's problems of consiousness (e.g. that I can know that you feel the same pain that I feel, or that you see the same color that I see) are indeed problems for you, you should read this book; if it doesn't prove to you that they are not problems at all, at least it will give you a new way of looking at the problems so that you may come to your own interesting conclusions.
26 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Without language we are naked apes" ?? June 6 2005
By S. R. Deiss - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I claim that with language we are nothing-but jabbering naked apes!

Seriously though, this is the best-written exposition of the Anglo-American analytical philosophical view of the current status of conceptualizing going on surrounding the new sciences of "mind and brain." It is written with extreme clarity. It is very readable in that one can start almost anywhere using the table of contents and the annotations throughout to find points of interest. You can almost read it as if it were web enabled after putting away the first chapter or two. The authors succeed in their goal in making the book very easy to use and understand. I highly recommend the book to anyone interested in philosophy of mind, or philosophy of neuroscience. All the arguments are up-to-date. All the major polarizing issues in the field are covered, and all the major players are given coverage. The footnotes and appendices are also well done. The clarity of exposition and good grammar is admirable.

The only problem with the book is that they are completely wrong. The authors' point of view is built almost entirely on a view of meaning that has outlived its usefulness. Ludwig Wittgenstein has the unique distinction of having lead two, going on three, generations of philosophers on two continents into semantic oblivion TWICE in one career, and the authors are bent on continuing that tradition. They criticize neuroscientists (and those philosophers who are tagging along for the ride) primarily for misusing concepts. They have nothing bad to say about the quality of research or the scientific achievements except where the wrong kinds of experiments get done or where results are misconstrued due to continuing conceptual confusion. Nevertheless, they exemplify the extreme unquestioning dedication to a rationalism based on how words are or should be used according to public linguistic norms. (A rule is a rule, right?) The book then amounts to 400 some odd pages of hand-slapping as the philosophers, like English teachers, take it upon themselves to discipline all those unruly slang laden neuroscientists. No wonder analytical philosophers are characterized as pompous or irrelevant all too often. (They give philosophy majors like me a bad name.)

I likewise do not have much enthusiasm for the naïve reductionist views that are prevalent among neuroscientists and the "eliminative" views that support them. I held both views myself some 35 years ago. But I finally outgrew it with good reason upon realizing how badly reductionism was doing explaining our natural world, particularly its failings in accounting for emergent behavior in systems, quantum phenomena and the relationship between them. Another reason was being turned off by all the uncritical go-go-science cheerleading from the sidelines. I worry for what the public will make of all the mind-brain breakthrough bragging going on. Reading this book provided me with a much needed philosophical tune-up and the realization that I'd better be more careful of what I say and how I say it. But it did not convince me that a blind allegiance to the "meaning is use" view will get us any closer to resolution of these issues. This is only going to lead to a stalemate, or worse - the winner will unfortunately be the guy with the most government funding and press time - not the one with the most sensible and meaningful philosophical outlook. The main contribution of the book is to accidently demonstrate how badly a new approach is needed.

To solve these problems and get philosophers and neuroscientists on the same page will require a new view of meaning, what it is, where it comes from, how it evolves, and what exactly it has to do with usage norms. Such a view is, I think, not too far off. Read this book, and then go read everything you can about cognitive semantics and cognitive linguistics by folks like Lakoff, Johnson, Turner, Fauconnier, Elman, Bates, etc, etc. Once the full implications of what this area of research has to say about concepts, language, language games and philosophy itself are known, some new ways of approaching these stale philosophical problems will surface. [OOPs, guess I blew it, areas of research cannot talk, sorry Hacker.] When that happens, I am sure we will all find the words to express it.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More Wittgenstein than neuroscience May 13 2014
By Wayne - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
It is nice to see philosophical interaction with neuroscience besides John Searle's responses to Damasio. However, it seems that the current findings of neuroscience receive short shrift. Unfortunately, the bias toward Wittgenstenian philosophy makes the book reductionistic to Wittgensteins philosophy rather than being interactive with neuroscience. This quote is an example.

"Feelings of emotion are not about the body at all. What they are 'about' is the object of the emotion, in one or another sense of the term. What a person is proud about (or of) may be his achievements, . . . etc.--but not any somatic changes that may occur when he thinks of them. What a person feels guilty about are his sins or wrongdoings, not any bodily perturbations that may or may not occur when he thinks about them. What a person feels angry about is perhaps the annoying behavior of another, but not (normally) his somatic responses to it." (p 215)

The authors here do not reflect accurately Damasio's position on this subject. Damasio's whole project is to reveal how the body, brain, emotions and cognition co-occur, rather than in the isolation of Wittgenstenian events.
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