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Schmitt, Wolfram (2006): The Cognitive View in Cognitive Science: An Investigation in the Context of Wittgenstein’s Later Philosophy. Dissertation, LMU München: Faculty of Philosophy, Philosophy of Science and the Study of Religion
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Abstract

I believe that there are only a select few topics, which arouse a similar level of interest and curiosity among academics and laymen alike, as does the study of mind and brain. Although mind and brain have been capturing the attention of philosophers for centuries, it is the "scientific investigation" of age old philosophical queries by socalled cognitive scientists, which is distinctive of the developments of the last few decades and which, in times to come, may well be considered the hallmark of the study of mind in the 20th and early 21st centuries. In the past, advances in the natural sciences underlay or boosted a plethora of developments in the technological, economic and political spheres that not only improved the standard of living and prolonged the average life span for a vast number of people, but also fuelled hopes that a new and improved understanding of the nature of man was also within reach. Despite all the benefits mankind derived from scientific and technological progress past and present, the success of the natural sciences also helped spread and foster a virulent and nowadays quasi-ubiquitous and unquestioned believe in the omnipotence of science and technology. In the context of the study of mind, in particular, it fostered the widespread (mis-)conception that in order for an investigation leading to insight and understanding a "scientific" approach is a sine qua non. This thesis highlights the danger of such an approach. By investigating the framework of explanation adopted by cognitive scientists, the cognitive view, and by examining its inherent conceptions of mind and thought, it will be shown that the scientific, or rather scientistic, approach inherent in the views depicted above is highly questionable, and in the case of the study of mind and brain, does not further insight and understanding, but rather prevents it. In the 20th century, Ludwig Wittgenstein has been one of the few philosophers who recognized the fallaciousness of these ideas and who opposed the inherent scientism. His later philosophy, which provides the philosophical mise en scène for the following investigations, provides a much-needed antidote against the misconceptions common among cognitive scientists today. Although, many of the shortcomings of the ideas and views of cognitive scientists have, with a certain regularity, been discussed by philosophers working in the tradition of the later Wittgenstein (e.g. Kenny, Hanfling, Hacker, Hyman and Glock) their criticisms, more often than not, fell on deaf ears. I believe that one of the main reasons underlying the imperviousness of the community of cognitive scientists to the criticism of the kind of analytic philosophy inspired by the later Wittgenstein, is that it mainly focused on select misconceptions inherent in the cognitive view, but regularly failed to point out their place in the overall framework of thought for cognitive scientists. As a result, it was easy to dismiss these criticisms with excuses of the sort "but that does not bear any direct relevance to the work I do ...". For this reason, this thesis aimed to portray and examine the cognitive view in its entirety, i.e. to depict the intricate interconnections existing between the premises that provide the foundation of the cognitive view, and to point out their disastrous consequences for our understanding not only of a select view aspects of mental phenomena, but to our understanding of the mind (and consequently of human nature) in its entirety. In order to provide such a "big picture", and to describe the numerous often very subtle interconnections between the various ideas making up the cognitive view in all their breadth and depth, a lot of well-trodden ground had to be revisited and reviewed. Thus, Anthony Kenny's and Peter Hackers' discussions of the mereological fallacy (Chapter 3, Chapter 4 first half) will provide the "base camp" from which we will visit less familiar aspects of the cognitive view via novel routes on our way to the peak of this "philosophical mountain". Where required, my indebtedness to the works of these philosophers will be highlighted throughout the text.