Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience

Behavior and Philosophy 34:71-87 (2006)

P. M. S. Hacker
Oxford University
The book "Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience" is an engaging criticism of cognitive neuroscience from the perspective of a Wittgensteinian philosophy of ordinary language. The authors' main claim is that assertions like "the brain sees" and "the left hemisphere thinks" are integral to cognitive neuroscience but that they are meaningless because they commit the mereological fallacy—ascribing to parts of humans, properties that make sense to predicate only of whole humans. The authors claim that this fallacy is at the heart of Cartesian dualism, implying that current cognitive neuroscientists are Cartesian dualists. Against this claim, we argue that the fallacy cannot be committed within Cartesian dualism either, for this doctrine does not allow for an intelligible way of asserting that a soul is part of a human being. Also, the authors' Aristotelian essentialistic outlook is at odds with their Wittgensteinian stance, and we were unconvinced by their case against explanatory reductionism. Finally, although their Wittgensteinian stance is congenial with radical behaviorism, their separation between philosophy and science seems less so because it is based on a view of philosophy as a priori. The authors' emphasis on the a priori, however, does not necessarily commit them to rationalism if it is restricted to conceptual or analytical truths.
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