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Philosophy of Mind

Ludwig Wittgenstein

The Cartesian legacy is strong and everywhere apparent in discussions of the mind. It received a penetrating critique in the early part of the twentieth century, however, in the later work of Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889–1951), such as his Philosophical Investigations. Wittgenstein can be taken to have rejected the introspective method as well as the dualism of Cartesianism, and for this reason is sometimes said to be a behaviorist of sorts. It is, however, best to avoid this comparison. What Wittgenstein urges is that when we study the mind, we need to accept and understand the fact that the mind has both a first and a third person aspect; that is, each one of us knows the mind both from the "inside" as a subject and from the "outside" as the observer of other subjects. For Wittgenstein, the study of mind needs to be taken to be the study of the concept of mind, a concept that has application to oneself as well as to others. Wittgenstein's private language argument is interpreted as a critique of the very idea that one can make sense of the application of mental states to oneself in the absence of the acquisition of a concept—an acquisition that takes place through the use of language and in a social setting. Through the interaction with others, the child comes to understand that pain, for instance, is something that happens when, for example, one encounters sharp objects and reacts with a cry. The child's nature is such as to respond to its environment in certain ways; this nature and this response form the basis of the child's use of language and contribute to the development of the child's concepts. In this way the child develops concepts that have application both to the child and to others. With its constant reminder of the role that others play in the way we understand the mind, Wittgenstein's work offers a fundamental alternative to Cartesian individualism.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Philosophy of Mind - Early Ideas to Planck lengthPhilosophy of Mind - Early Ideas, Descartes's Legacy, Philosophy And Psychology, Identity Theory, Eliminativism, Functionalism, And Anomalous Monism