There’s No Such Thing as the Mind

Not long ago, a friend recommended that I check out the work of Italian philosopher Maurizio Ferraris, so I promptly ordered his book Manifesto of New Realism via interlibrary loan. Overall it is a valiant attempt to dig out of the hole of postmodernism – valuable, at the very least, for those who have fallen into that particular hole in the first place. Ferraris identifies one aspect of the constraints I talked about recently, in the form of what he calls “unamendability” (i.e., the fact that some aspects of reality cannot be changed by human wishes and ideas). On page 35 of the English translation, he writes:

As I said, I propose we define this fundamental character of reality’s “unamendability”: the fact that what we face cannot be corrected or changed by the mere use of conceptual schemes, unlike what happens in the hypothesis of constructivism. This, however, is not only a limit, it is also a resource. Unamendability, in fact, informs us about the existence of an external world, not in relation to our body (which is part of the external world) but in relation to our minds and more specifically with respect to the conceptual schemes with which we try to explain and interpret the world.

I’d like to draw attention to his astounding claim that one’s body is part of the external world! This implies that there exists an internal world consisting only of a thing called mind. To believe this is to commit the fallacy of reification: treating an abstraction (in this case certain activities of human beings, for instance speech, understanding, and concept-formation) as an independently existing entity (in this case “the mind”). It’s surprising to me that an otherwise quite sophisticated thinker could accept the conceptual crudities of this kind of mental idealism, but so it seems to be.

For myself, I prefer a common-sense personalism that considers each human being to be an integrated whole with an indivisible identity.

4 thoughts on “There’s No Such Thing as the Mind

  1. Where have I heard of that idea of the integrated person before? Well, probably lots of places, but I can think of one near and dear to my heart! I agree that Ferraris is disappointing in his embrace of dualism. I think he is a little confused on the subject. In Positive Realism he offers this definition:

    By ‘external world” I mean a world external to our conceptual schemes.

    This definition suggests that by “mind” he means our conceptual ways of knowing or trying to know. In Positive Realism he describes how philosophers from Descartes on have tried to make perception more like reason or “conceptual schemes.” So maybe he is trying to distinguishing the “scheming part” of us from the unamendable part, which he is calling “body”. As you know, I would prefer to ditch talk of the mind and also the body as it’s improperly related to the “mind.” A lot of difficulties vanish if one does this.

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    1. Hi Kurt, thanks for your comment. I hadn’t attached too much significance to his use of the term “scheme” but perhaps there’s something to that. Naturally I agree that he’s overcomplicating the matter! It’s best to avoid dualism if at all possible…

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