What Makes Us Think?
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What Makes Us Think? : A Neuroscientist and a Philosopher Argue about Ethics, Human Nature, and the Brain

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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.show more

Product details

  • Paperback | 352 pages
  • 138 x 214 x 22mm | 421.84g
  • Princeton University Press
  • New Jersey, United States
  • English
  • Reprint
  • 16 halftones 16 line illus.
  • 0691092850
  • 9780691092850
  • 1,080,594

Review quote

"[A] real joy. . . . [T]his debate has a richness that sometimes makes me despair of the aridities of classical Anglo-American cognitive psychology and philosophy of mind."--Steven Rose, New Scientist "Despite their disparities, [Changeux and Ricour] manage to converse intensely and well. The dialogue benefits from each partner's ability to listen carefully and respond clearly, and also from the long perspective, based in intellectual history, each takes. . . . Challenging and enlightening."--Carol Albright, The Christian Century "Surprise! This dialogue between neuroscientist Changeaux and philosopher Ricoeur really is comprehensible. It works because both authors are well-rounded scholars committed to the clarity of expression . . . . General readers and professionals who are interested in science and philosophy, including brain surgeons, will enjoy it."--Choice "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. . . . These two amazing minds at work make for a fascinating look at the who, what, and how thought happens."--Choice "A rich dialogue, insofar as the two men belong to divergent currents of thought . . . neither a sham exchange of blows nor an intellectual compromise on either side. . . . This exchange constitutes the most successful exercise of its type . . . it throws the perspectives right open."--Yves Christen, Nouveaute "The materialist neurobiologist and the philosopher establish a no-holds-barred dialogue, which has resulted in a captivating book: often demanding, but always free of jargon. This exceptional initiative should be a milestone in the history of ideas."--Jean-Claude Escaffit, La Vie "Two leading giants face off: the biologist Jean-Pierre Changeux, leading neuroscientist and author of Neuronal Man, and the philosopher Paul Ricoeur, eminent apostle of phenomenology and author of Living Metaphors. The two . . . Develop . . . a true exchange of ideas, breaking with the preemptory affirmations and unilateral critiques which have too often characterized relations between science and philosophy."--Gerard Badu, Le Nouvel Observateur "These two amazing minds at work make for a fascinating look at the who, what, and how of thought."--Booklist "Intoxicatingly dense and provocative."--Virginia Quarterly Review "The mind-body problem, the origins and the ends of thought, the frontiers of brain research and the vexed relations among social norms, ethics and biological facts: all come under complicated scrutiny in this very informative volume."--Publishers Weekly "The two thinkers lock horns about the grandest of issues: the nature of mind, brain, religion, art, morality, and consciousness. . . . The broad terms of the debate and the erudition of the debaters provide considerable insight into how certain neuroscientists and philosophers attack enigmas that first occupied the ancient Greeks."--Howard Gardner, Chronicle of Higher Educationshow more

About Jean-Pierre Changeux

Jean-Pierre Changeux, Professor of Neurobiology at the College de France, is the author of Neuronal Man and, with Alain Connes, Conversations on Mind, Matter, and Mathematics (both Princeton). Paul Ricoeur is a hermeneutic philosopher and the author of many books, including Time and Narrative.show more

Table of contents

Translator's Note viPrelude ixChapter 1: A Necessary EncounterKnowledge and Wisdom 3Knowledge of the Brain and Self-Knowledge 10The Biological and the Normative 26Chapter 2: Body and Mind: In Search of a Common Discourse 33The Cartesian Ambiguity 33The Contribution of the Neurosciences 41Toward a Third Kind of Discourse? 63Chapter 3: The Neuronal Model and the Test of Experience 70The Simple and the Complex: Questions of Method 70The Human Brain: Complexity, Hierarchy, Spontaneity 75Mental Objects: Chimera or Link? 93Is a Neuronal Theory of Knowledge Possible? 110Understanding Better by Explaining More 125Chapter 4: Consciousness of Oneself and of Others 134Conscious Space 134The Question of Memory 138Comprehension of Oneself and of Others 154Mind or Matter? 169Chapter 5: The Origins of Morality 179Darwinian Evolution and Moral Norms 179The First Structures of Morality 195From Biological History to Cultural History: Valuing the Individual 202Chapter 6: Desire and Norms 212Natural Dispositions to Ethical Systems 212The Biological Bases of Rules of Conduct 222Passage to the Norm 239Chapter 7: Ethical Universality and Cultural Conflict 257The Natural Foundations of an Ethics of Debate 257Religion and Violence 259Paths of Tolerance 272The Scandal of Evil 279Toward an Ethics of Deliberation: The Example of Advisory Committees on Bioethics 298Art as Peacemaker 303Fugue 311Notes 313Index 327show more

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44 ratings
3.43 out of 5 stars
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4 34% (15)
3 36% (16)
2 14% (6)
1 2% (1)
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