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Behind the Mereological Fallacy1

  • Rom Harré (a1)

Language based criticisms of the intelligibility of the programme of neuropsychology have made use of the principle that words the meaning of which is established in the context of descriptions of aspects of whole persons cannot be used in that sense to ascribe properties to parts of human bodies. In particular neither human brains nor their parts think, are conscious, imagine, suffer and so on. Recently, Bennett and Hacker have presented the error as a mereological fallacy, because brains are parts of persons. However, while brains are parts of human bodies it is not clear that they are parts of persons. I restyle the argument in terms of fields of family resemblances, in such a way that it makes sense to describe the hippocampus as an organ for remembering, but does not support the claim that neuroscience is core psychology. Such fields are networks of meanings linked by two principles. (1) Taxonomies of relevant body parts are determined by the psychological role they play in everyday human life. (2) Many body parts are also identified by the role they play as tools in human activities including psychological tasks. Arguments are developed to show that objections to the idea that brains and their constituent organs are tools are misplaced. Hybrid psychologies are possible.

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This paper is based on the Third Marx Wartofsky Memorial Lecture, given at City University of New York, 11 May 2011.

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2 Bennett M.R. & Hacker P.M.S.Philosophical Foundations of Neurosciences (Oxford: Blackwell, 2003)

3 Rundle B.Mind in Action (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997)

4 Coulter J.Mind in Action (Cambridge: Polity, 1989)

5 Harris Lasana T & Fiske Susan T.Journal of Psychology 219, 175181. (2011)

6 Shweder R.A.Thinking Through Cultures. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991), 265

7 Coulter, J. op. cit.

8 Bennett M.R. and Hacker P.M.S. (Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience. Oxford: Blackwell,. 2003)

9 Hacker P.M.S. ‘Consciousness’ in Harré R. and Moghaddam F.M.Psychology for the Third Millennium (London and Los Angeles, Sage, 2012) Chapter 4.

10 Rundle, op. cit., 25

11 Haynes J.-D.Deciding and predicting intentions’, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1224, (2011): 921.

12 Wittgenstein, op. cit., §286.

13 Wittgenstein, op. cit., §583.

14 Wittgenstein, op. cit., §284.

15 Coulter J. & Sharrock W.Brains, Minds and Human Behaviour in Contemporary Cognitive Science (Lewiston: Mellen Press, 2007)

16 For a contrary view see Cook J.Locating WittgensteinPhilosophy 85 (2010), 273289.

17 Bennett and Hacker, op. cit., 73

18 Locke J.An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (London, 1690), Book 2, Chapter XXVII, §9.

19 Haynes, J.-P. op. cit., 9–21.

20 Gallivan J.P., McLean A., Valyear K.F., Pettypiece C.E. & Culham J., ‘Decoding action intentions from preparatory brain activity in human parieto-frontal networks’, Journal of Neuroscience 31 (2011) 95999610.

21 Laing R.D.The Divided Self: An Existential Study in Sanity and Madness (London: Penguin, 2010), New Edition.

22 Luria A.R.Restoration of Function after Brain Injury (Oxford: Pergamon, 1963).

23 McLeod P., Plunkett K., & Rolls E.T.Introduction to Connectionist Modelling of Cognitive Processes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998).

24 Ebbinghaus H.Memory: A Contribution to Experimental Psychology. Trans. Roger H. A. & Bussenius C. E., New Edition (New York: Dover Books, [1885] 1987).

25 Burton R.The Anatomy of Melancholy, (Oxford: Clarendon Press [1621]. New edition 19891994)

26 Wittgenstein, op. cit. §172 .

27 Personal communication.

1 This paper is based on the Third Marx Wartofsky Memorial Lecture, given at City University of New York, 11 May 2011.

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