Cover image for What makes us think? : a neuroscientist and a philosopher argue about ethics, human nature, and the brain
What makes us think? : a neuroscientist and a philosopher argue about ethics, human nature, and the brain
Changeux, Jean-Pierre.
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Ce qui nous fait penser. English
Publication Information:
Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press , [2000]

Physical Description:
x, 335 pages : illustrations ; 23 cm
A necessary encounter -- Body and mind: in search of a common discourse -- The neuronal model and the test of experience -- Consciousness of oneself and of others -- The origins of morality -- Desire and norms -- Ethical universality and cultural conflict.
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BJ45 .C4313 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Will understanding our brains help us to know our minds? Or is there an unbridgeable distance between the work of neuroscience and the workings of human consciousness? In a remarkable exchange between neuroscientist Jean-Pierre Changeux and philosopher Paul Ricoeur, this book explores the vexed territory between these divergent approaches--and comes to a deeper, more complex perspective on human nature.

Ranging across diverse traditions, from phrenology to PET scans and from Spinoza to Charles Taylor, What Makes Us Think? revolves around a central issue: the relation between the facts (or "what is") of science and the prescriptions (or "what ought to be") of ethics. Changeux and Ricoeur ask: Will neuroscientific knowledge influence our moral conduct? Is a naturally based ethics possible? Pursuing these questions, they attack key topics at the intersection of philosophy and neuroscience: What are the relations between brain states and psychological experience? Between language and truth? Memory and culture? Behavior and action? What is a mental representation? How does a sign relate to what it signifies? How might subjective experience be constructed rather than discovered? And can biological or cultural evolution be considered progressive? Throughout, Changeux and Ricoeur provide unprecedented insight into what neuroscience can--and cannot--tell us about the nature of human experience.

Changeux and Ricoeur bring an unusual depth of engagement and breadth of knowledge to each other's subject. In doing so, they make two often hostile disciplines speak to one another in surprising and instructive ways--and speak with all the subtlety and passion of conversation at its very best.

Author Notes

Professor of philosophy at the University of Paris and the University of Chicago, Paul Ricoeur has been described as "possibly the only younger philosopher in Europe whose reputation is of the magnitude of that of the old men of Existentialism---Marcel, Jaspers, Heidegger and Sartre . . . ." His work has been characterized as "the most massive accomplishment of any philosopher of Christian faith since the appearance of Gabriel Marcel." A practitioner of the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl mediated by a return to Immanuel Kant---in that things in themselves, though unknowable, are not excluded by bracketing existence but are acknowledged as the necessary conditions for the possibility of human experience---Ricoeur has examined those parts of experience---faulty, fallible, and susceptible to error and evil---that other phenomenologists, interested primarily in the cognitional, have neglected. In this respect he follows in the footsteps of Heidegger and Sartre, but he goes beyond them in his discovery of principles transcending human subjectivity that are amenable to spiritual interpretation. Here Ricoeur steps within the contemporary hermeneutic circle of Heidegger and Hans-Georg Gadamer, on whom he has written. Ricoeur's hermeneutical method, however, has much in common with the methods of biblical exegesis, and in this respect his works should be especially appealing to seminarians and the clergy. (Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

The French literati love bringing two leading figures from what would appear to be disparate fields together and jointly publishing essays on a chosen topic. This generally provides some fascinating point/counterpoint, and this work falls into the camp of exemplary discussions that result from this process. Changeux, a giant in the field of neuroscience and professor at the College de France, has partnered with Ricoeur, a contemporary intellectual philosopher of magnum reputation. They offer an intriguing discussion on the function and nature of human thought. Morality, ethics, social norms, evolution, and peace are among the issues that are looked at from perspectives of cognitive neuroscience (how our brain's physiology functions) and logical philosophy (how our thought processes work). The central focus of these discussions is the relationship between scientific fact and ethical consciousness. Their intellectual meanderings take the discussion to many different places, including modern Israel, linguistic theory, religion, cognitive psychology, and history. These two amazing minds at work make for a fascinating look at the who, what, and how of thought. --Michael Spinella

Choice Review

Few would expect "comprehensible" to describe a conversation between a neuroscientist specializing in the molecular structure of the brain and a philosopher committed to "reflective philosophy, phenomenology, and hermeneutics." Surprise! This dialogue between neuroscientist Changeux and philosopher Ricoeur really is comprehensible. It works because both authors are well-rounded scholars committed to clarity of expression, and both steer clear of the intellectual trappings often associated with their respective disciplines, namely, scientific positivism and philosophical obscurantism. Moreover, both have obviously read and appreciate each other's work, share an interest in science, and have read the works of some of the same philosophers (especially Spinoza and Descartes). They even agree with one another more often than one would expect. The first half of the book stakes out their respective positions on the philosophy of science, cognitive science in general, the mind-body problem, and reductionism. The second half explores their contrasting views on the relationship between science (facts) and ethics (values)--evolutionary ethics in particular. Ethical issues discussed include religion, evil, violence, solidarity, peace, and beauty. Highly recommended for upper-division, interdisciplinary college courses focusing on the philosophy of science, epistemology, mentality, evolution, and ethics. General readers and professionals who are interested in science and philosophy--including brain surgeons--will also enjoy it. R. F. White; College of Mount St. Joseph

Table of Contents

Translator's Notep. vii
Preludep. ix
1 A Necessary Encounterp. 3
Knowledge and Wisdomp. 3
Knowledge of the Brain and Self-Knowledgep. 10
The Biological and the Normativep. 26
2 Body and Mind: In Search of a Common Discoursep. 33
The Cartesian Ambiguityp. 33
The Contribution of the Neurosciencesp. 41
Toward a Third Kind of Discourse?p. 63
3 The Neuronal Model and the Test of Experiencep. 70
The Simple and the Complex: Questions of Methodp. 70
The Human Brain: Complexity, Hierarchy, Spontaneityp. 75
Mental Objects: Chimera or Link?p. 93
Is a Neuronal Theory of Knowledge Possible?p. 110
Understanding Better by Explaining Morep. 125
4 Consciousness of Oneself and of Othersp. 134
Conscious Spacep. 134
The Question of Memoryp. 138
Comprehension of Oneself and of Othersp. 154
Mind or Matter?p. 169
5 The Origins of Moralityp. 179
Darwinian Evolution and Moral Normsp. 179
The First Structures of Moralityp. 195
From Biological History to Cultural History: Valuing the Individualp. 202
6 Desire and Normsp. 212
Natural Dispositions to Ethical Systemsp. 212
The Biological Bases of Rules of Conductp. 222
Passage to the Normp. 239
7 Ethical Universality and Cultural Conflictp. 257
The Natural Foundations of an Ethics of Debatep. 257
Religion and Violencep. 259
Paths of Tolerancep. 272
The Scandal of Evilp. 279
Toward an Ethics of Deliberation: The Example of Advisory Committees on Bioethicsp. 298
Art as Peacemakerp. 303
Fuguep. 311
Notesp. 313
Indexp. 327