The Meaning of Mind: Language, Morality, and Neuroscience

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Greenwood Publishing Group, 1996 - Political Science - 182 pages

In this brilliantly original and highly accessible work, Thomas Szasz demonstrates the futility of analyzing the mind as a collection of brain functions. Instead of trying to unravel the riddle of a mythical entity called the mind, Szasz suggests that our task should be to understand and judge persons always as moral agents responsible for their own actions, not as victims of brain chemistry. This is Szasz's most ambitious work to date. In his best-selling book, The Myth of Mental Illness, he took psychiatry to task for misconstruing human conflict and coping as mental illness. In Our Right to Drugs, he exposed the irrationality and political opportunism that fuels the Drug War. In The Meaning of Mind, he warns that we misconstrue the dialogue within as a problem of consciousness and neuroscience, and do so at our own peril.

In The Meaning of Mind, Thomas Szasz argues that only as a verb does the word mind mean something in the real world, namely, attending or heeding. Minding is the ability to pay attention and adapt to one's environment by using language to communicate with others and oneself. Viewing the mind as a potentially infinite variety of self-conversations is the key that unlocks many of the mysteries we associate with this concept. Modern neuroscience is a misdirected effort to explain mind in terms of brain functions. The claims and conclusions of the diverse academics and scientists who engage in this enterprise undermine the concepts of moral agency and personal responsibility. Szasz shows that the cognitive function of speech is to enable us to talk not only to others but to ourselves (in short, to be our own interlocutor), and that the view that mind is brain--embraced by both the scientific community and the popular press--is not an empirical finding but a rhetorical ruse concealing humanity's unceasing struggle to control persons by controlling the vocabulary. The discourse of brain-mind, unlike the discourse of man as moral agent, protects people from the dilemmas intrinsic to holding themselves responsible for their own actions and holding others responsible for theirs. Because we live in an age blessed by the fruits of materialist science, reductionist explanations of the relationship between brain and mind are more popular today than ever, making this book an indispensible addition to the seemingly recondite debate about, simply, who we are.

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The meaning of mind: language, morality, and neuroscience

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Emeritus professor of psychiatry and a prolific and controversial author (The Myth of Mental Illness, 1974; Our Right to Drugs, Praeger, 1991), Szasz here addresses the concept of mind with his ... Read full review

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Contents

Thought Selfconversation
1
Responsibility Selfblame and Selfpraise
23
Memory Fabricating the Past and the Future
47
Brain The Abuse of Neuroscience
75
Mind The History of an Idea
101
Modernitys Master Metaphors Mental Illness and Mental Treatment
115
The Person as Moral Agent
139
Notes
145
Bibliography
165
Index
179
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Page 71 - ... and Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat...
Page 35 - This is the excellent foppery of the world, that, when we are sick in fortune, — often the surfeit of our own behaviour, — we make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars...
Page 1 - Someone was drawing water and my teacher placed my hand under the spout. As the cool stream gushed over one hand she spelled into the other the word water, first slowly, then rapidly.
Page 9 - And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. But he answered and said, IT is WRITTEN, MAN SHALL NOT LIVE BY BREAD ALONE, BUT BY EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDETH OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD.
Page 118 - God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong...
Page 39 - Laertes? Never Hamlet : If Hamlet from himself be ta'en away, And when he's not himself does wrong Laertes, Then Hamlet does it not, Hamlet denies it. Who does it, then ? His madness : if 't be so, Hamlet is of the faction that is wrong'd ; His madness is poor Hamlet's enemy.
Page 25 - But there is a superior principle of reflection or conscience in every man, which distinguishes between the internal principles of his heart, as well as his external actions: which passes judgment upon himself and them; pronounces determinately some actions to be in themselves just, right, good; others to be in themselves evil, wrong, unjust : which, without being consulted, without being advised with, magisterially exerts itself, and approves or condemns him the doer of them accordingly : and which,...
Page 35 - ... we make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon and the stars : as if we were villains by necessity, fools by heavenly compulsion ; knaves, thieves and treachers, by spherical predominance ; drunkards, liars and adulterers, by an enforced obedience of planetary influence ; and all that we are evil in, by a divine thrusting on...
Page 27 - All this was in the two plague years of 1665 and 1666, for in those days I was in the prime of my age for invention, and minded mathematics and philosophy more than at any time since.
Page 82 - You," your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.

About the author (1996)

THOMAS SZASZ, Professor of Psychiatry Emeritus at the State University of New York Health Science Center in Syracuse, New York, is the author of 23 books, among them the classic, The Myth of Mental Illness (1961), and Our Right To Drugs (Praeger, 1991).

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