Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Minds, Brains, and Science is a slightly revised version of John Searle’s 1984 Reith lectures, a series of six half-hour lectures broadcast by the British Broadcasting Corporation. These lectures were established by Bertrand Russell in 1948. Because the Reith lectures are popular and discuss issues of wide appeal, the essays are aimed at an audience without a scholarly background in the discipline of philosophy. The popular level is typified by Searle’s avoidance of specialized terms such as “epiphenomenalism” in favor of Standard English.

The form of the book reflects the original lectures and consists of six brief but related essays which occupy eighty-seven pages. The book is 107 pages long and includes a five-page introduction, a fourteen-item bibliography, and a five-page index. Searle comments that he had originally intended to publish the lectures as a conventional book with a complete scholarly apparatus but decided that doing so would vitiate the purpose of the series: “Complete accessibility to anybody who is interested enough to try to follow the arguments.”

The contents of the book are devoted to an exploration of the place of human beings, whom Searle defines as “intentionalistic,” in a universe which science describes as consisting of “unconscious physical particles.” The first three chapters, devoted to discussing aspects of the human mind, form a unit. The first explores the nature of the human mind as opposed to the brain and the body, which are demonstrably physical entities. Searle argues that problems arise when modern philosophers and psychologists use language derived from the work of Rene Descartes which suggests that there is an underlying distinction between the mind on one hand and the brain and body on the other. Searle states that modern philosophers must develop new terminology based on modern scientific knowledge, suggesting that the mind and all the functions associated with it (consciousness, intentionality, subjectivity, and mental causation) are related to the brain (and therefore to the body) just as a solid is to the properties of the molecules of which it is constituted. He argues that desires, beliefs, and emotions are caused by the neurophysiological functioning of the brain.

In chapter 2, Searle...

(The entire section is 943 words.)