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Philosophy of PsychologyReview - Philosophy of Psychology
A Contemporary Introduction
by Jose Luis Bermudez
Routledge, 2005
Review by Richard de Blacquière-Clarkson
Apr 12th 2006 (Volume 10, Issue 15)

The discipline of Psychology is, to put it mildly, broad, and its philosophical study naturally follows suit. To write a text which serves, in the series editor's words, as 'an accessible but substantial transition from introductory to higher-level work' (publisher's inset) of such an area is a challenge which Bermudez meets admirably, although a slight tension between comprehensiveness and being concise does show in certain chapters.

Chapter one provides a light background discussion to the main topic of the book, dwelling briefly on cognitive psychology's roots in Descartes, Berkeley and Kant, and on varieties of conceptual analysis -- which is, apparently, the 'business of' the philosophy of psychology, albeit a variety which is partly empirical. Chapter two then introduces the problematic which is explored in the remainder of the book, the 'interface' problem of how to relate our everyday, or 'commonsense', psychology to the machinations of our cognitive goings-on at a subpersonal level (or levels). In particular, how does 'personal-level' psychological explanation interface with the explanations of 'subpersonal' cognitive activities? In the following three chapters Bermudez considers in turn four pictures of the mind, each of which supply an answer to this conundrum, before turning to increasingly fundamental concerns that underlie all four.

Chapter three differentiates the autonomous mind from the functional mind, which hold that there is no connection between commonsense psychology and that the connection can be characterized in causal terms respectively, according to how they treat commonsense psychological explanations. Autonomy theorists such as Davidson and McDowell take them to involve a normative ideal of rationality, whereas for the legion of functionalists they are subsumed under causal explanations quite generally. The functional mind is then differentiated from the representational mind in chapter four on the grounds that mental representations, unlike simple functional states, admit an internal structure and so can distinguish the content of a state from an attitude taken towards it. Oddly, though, Bermudez characterizes the representational picture solely by Fodor's Language of Thought hypothesis (LoT) -- this despite not only the fact that there are many varieties of representationism but many, if perhaps not all, share this feature of he takes as central. Millikan, for example, has defended the view that a defining feature of representations is their having internal structure ('semantic compositionality'), but a structure that is more analogous to a map or model than a sentence. Brevity, it seems, won here over completeness, although perhaps the opposite may be said of the discussion of the neurocomputational mind in chapter five. According to which the different levels coevolved and need to be studied together, possibly through use of neural networking techniques.

The four pictures introduced, Bermudez returns to the nature of personal-level commonsense psychology, and considers objections raised to the standard view of it consisting of prediction and explanation in terms of propositional attitudes. In chapter six Dennett's 'mild realism' concerning intentional states and his use of 'real patterns' is subjected to a probing exegesis which exposes tensions in the supposed observer-independence and causal status of these patterns, and the arguments Bermudez gives also lend some credence to his slightly curious classification of Dennett as an autonomy theorist rather than a representationalist. Both Davidson's Anomalous Monism and counterfactual approaches to intentional explanation receive somewhat milder criticism, but are effectively analyzed and dismissed nonetheless. Chapter seven considers the scope of commonsense psychology through a discussion of the theory versus simulation debate over its underlying mechanisms, which concludes with a mild advocacy of the view Bermudez has advanced elsewhere, that we can often interact effectively without propositional attitude psychology, using instead our grasp of social roles and routines; thus the scope of commonsense psychology may well be somewhat narrower than commonly thought. Another standard view is examined in chapter eight, which is concerned with understanding the move from perception to action and contains a particularly lucid account of the 'massive modularity' hypothesis that holds that all reasoning is domain-specific.

Latterly, chapters nine and ten are concerned with propositional attitudes and language, and are followed by some concluding thoughts on how a fifth picture of the mind might be developed. The need for the vehicles of propositional attitudes to have a structure isomorphic to that of their content is canvassed through further discussion of the Language of Thought hypothesis -- sadly, once again other relevant varieties of representationism are left by the wayside -- as well as the apparent tension between this structural requirement and the neurocomputational picture. Once again in chapter ten Fodor looms large, where LoT is contrasted with rival hypothesis concerning linguistic thought before its take on practical reasoning and concept learning is scrutinized, if not criticized particularly heavily.

Although doubtlessly highly significant in the philosophy of psychology, given their specialization these topics may seem a little curious for the late chapters of an advanced introductory text, but the rationale for their placement becomes much clearer after reading the concluding remarks -- the fifth picture outlined therein is, in essence, a hybrid of each of the others bar the autonomous mind, with a core of 'central' processing divided into two types understood, one directly and the other indirectly, in terms of language.

As an advanced introductory text, this book has much to recommend it to undergraduate and graduate philosophy students: as being clearly and engagingly written and, on the whole, striking an excellent balance between exegesis and criticism and between brevity and completeness. On this account it may well also prove of interest to yet more sophisticated philosophers and readers more familiar with other disciplines, but where it really excels is in Bermudez' pedagogy which succeeds in not only clearly presenting what are often seen as rather murky issues, but relating them together in a genuinely illuminating and unified discussion. For this alone, the book should be essential reading for anyone with at least a little background in the philosophy of psychology who wishes to learn more; I should also mention the inclusion of an annotated bibliography to guide further research.

 

© 2006 Richard de Blacquière-Clarkson

 

Richard de Blacquière-Clarkson, University of Durham


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