Critique of Naturalistic Philosophies of Mind

Author: O'Brien, Dan
This book aims to provide arguments to substantiate that John McDowell’s rejection of an approach to the philosophy of the mind which he, in his Mind and World, termed ‘bald naturalism,’ which is an attempt to construe mental relations in terms of the law-like structure of nature. The first part of the book defines the bald naturalist position distinguishing between to forms of the philosophy with regards to their acceptance or criticism of folk psychology. In the second part of the book, a more sophisticated bald naturalism is considered in relation to a study of the practice of interpretation utilized to reveal features integral to the structure of mind. Having demonstrated that the rational constraints on interpretation are open-ended, it becomes apparent that bald naturalism, which is unable to deal with this fact, is unable to properly understand interpretation or the mind.


“Dr. O’Brien’s arguments are challenging and intriguing, and they attempt to give rigorous form to some important ideas. The first is that the intentionality of mental states ... cannot be easily reconciled with many versions of the bald naturalist picture. The most obvious forms of naturalism oblige us to deny that we really possess desires, beliefs and other intentional states. Although sophisticated forms of naturalism may be able to avoid this consequence, they run into further problems ... The ways in which we understand what people believe and what they say turns out to be much more complicated than most philosophers assume. In developing these important and interesting ideas, O’Brien introduces some challenging thought experiments and persuasive arguments. Drawing on excellent knowledge of the philosophical context in which these issues arise, he provides a fascinating guide to an important area of philosophy, seeking clarity where other writers are often allusive. This book is a valuable contribution to an important debate.” - Professor Christopher Hookway, Department of Philosophy, University of Sheffield

“The division between defenders of naturalism in the philosophy of mind, who hold that the psychological realm can be investigated and explained in purely scientific terms, and their opponents is a fundamental one. One of the most influential opponents of naturalism has been John McDowell. ... The author’s understanding of all these matters is impressive, his argument is original, his position well-defended and his exposition exemplary in its care and clarity. This book provides an illuminating overview of important recent themes in the philosophy of mind for advanced students, and, for participants in the debate, a novel set of arguments which merit and will, I am sure, receive careful scrutiny.” - Professor Harold Noonan, Department of Philosophy, University of Nottingham

“The book ‘contributes to scholarship’ in at least two ways. First, the material in earlier chapters, in which O’Brien discusses a range of important topics and sketches the framework in which his main argument is later developed, amounts in effect, to a highly readable, informative and stimulating introduction to a range of important themes in philosophy of mind. Second, the main argument against bald naturalism, developed over the second half of the book and summarized above, delivers a novel and striking challenge to an important element of received conceptions of mind: such a provocation deserves the attention of philosophers in general, and bald naturalists in particular.” - Dr Darragh Byrne, Department of Philosophy, University of Birmingham

Table of Contents

Foreword by Professor Christopher Hookway
1 The Big Picture
2 Bald Naturalism
3 Crude Bald Naturalism
4 Sophisticated Bald Naturalism
5 Normativity
6 Interpretation
7 Interpretation: Our Ongoing Commitment
8 A View from Somewhere