The Meaning of Mind: Language, Morality, and Neuroscience

The Meaning of Mind: Language, Morality, and Neuroscience

The Meaning of Mind: Language, Morality, and Neuroscience

The Meaning of Mind: Language, Morality, and Neuroscience


In The Meaning of Mind, Thomas Szasz argues that only as a verb does the word "mind" name 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 their 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 than ever, making this book an indispensable addition to the seemingly recondite debate about, simply, who we are.


Since the Enlightenment and the birth of modern science, educated people have been expected to embrace the rationalist doctrine of determinism and deny the reality of free will and individual responsibility. Yet, reflection tells us that there is little difference between the certainty with which we know that we are alive and the certainty with which we know that we are responsible.

Responsibility: the paradigmatic self-conversation

Science commences when people begin to pay attention to certain regularities in their environment. the most elementary regularities in nature are sunrise and sunset, which is why astronomy-the study of the planets--is the oldest science. the most elementary regularities in human nature are our experiences of willing and being responsible, which is why religion--the regulation of intentionality and culpability--is the oldest social institution.

For millennia, man lived in a technologically undeveloped world over which he had scant control. His experience of pervasive helplessness contradicted his intense sense of willing, which he projected unto imaginary spirits. He thus saw natural events through intention-colored lenses and attributed them to quasi-human agents (gods). in such a view of the world, nothing happens . . .

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