"The Mind's Provisions: A Critique of Cognitivism" by Vincent Descombes [Book Review]

European Journal of Philosophy 12 (3):399-424 (2004)
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The grand opposition between theories of the mind which is presented in this book will be familiar, in its broad outlines, to many readers. On the one side we have the Cartesians, who understand the mind in terms of representation, causation and the inner life; on the other we have the Wittgensteinians, who understand the mind in terms of activity, normativity and its external embedding in its bodily and social environment. In this book—one of a pair, the second of which has yet to be translated—Vincent Descombes puts up a spirited defence of the Wittgensteinian approach. The Cartesian approach, which he calls ‘mental philosophy’, and which is exemplified most typically in the ‘cognitivism’ of Jerry Fodor, is fundamentally mistaken, he argues, since it underestimates, neglects or ignores both the active and external characteristics of the mind.1 Instead we should2 understand the mind in terms of a human being’s participation in a culture or a ‘form of life’, a form of engagement which is structured by norms rather than causal laws. This ‘anthropological holism’ draws not only upon the work of Wittgenstein, but also on Le´vi-Strauss, Lacan and, among other things, on the role of fiction in shaping our selfunderstanding.
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