Mind Without Mentalism

In spite of the excellent work of many philosophers, socially dominant views of mind today remain in the thrall of narrow mentalist, representationalist conceptions originally promoted by Descartes and Locke. What are implicitly Cartesian and British empiricist views of this sort largely inform what passes for common sense. Our minds are in here, and things are out there. What seems to be immediately present to the mind has special, privileged status, mostly sheltered from the doubts that may be entertained about things out there.

This notion of special privileged status traces back historically to the Latin medieval notion of an intellectual soul, which has an Augustinian heritage, and gained favor as a perceived solution to historically specific theological concerns that emerged from the late reincorporation of Aristotelian learning into the Western tradition in the 12th and 13th centuries CE.

While a degree of support for something like an intellectual soul can be extrapolated from Plato, it was counterbalanced by his strong emphasis on discursively articulable form as the basis of intelligibility. Plotinus added an alternate emphasis on immediate presence in the soul, about which Plato had been much more circumspect. Building on Plotinus as well as Christian doctrine, Augustine further accentuated this tendency, fusing previously separate notions of intellect and personality.

Earlier, Aristotle had moved in the opposite direction, anticipating something like Hegel’s emphasis on mediation. In the immense scholastic florescence of the later Latin middle ages, many complex hybrids developed that are still little known and understood. But all this was abruptly discarded in the transition to printed books and modern languages. Printed books in modern languages promoted one-line dismissals of scholasticism, and also failed to distinguish it from the historical Aristotle. (See Aristotle: General Interpretation; Aristotle: Core Concepts; Languages, Books, Curricula.)

Although Spinoza and Leibniz were great philosophers and partial exceptions to the mentalist trend, it was not until Kant and Hegel that a new, major alternative to Cartesian/Lockean mentalism clearly emerged. This was such a big event that it has taken until recently for this aspect of Kant and Hegel to be adequately understood and foregrounded. Numerous independent nonmentalist developments after Hegel can now be seen in this added light. (See also Intentionality; Inferentialism vs Mentalism; Ego; Subject; Matter, Mind; Radical Empiricism?; Primacy of Perception?; Structuralism; Imaginary, Symbolic, Real; Archaeology of Knowledge.)