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The ‘physiology of the understanding’ and the ‘mechanics of the soul’: reflections on some phantom philosophical projects

Charles Wolfe (UGent)
(2016) QUAESTIO. 16. p.3-25
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Abstract
In reflecting on the relation between early empiricist conceptions of the mind and more experimentally motivated materialist philosophies of mind in the mid-eighteenth century, I suggest that we take seriously the existence of what I shall call ‘phantom philosophical projects’. A canonical empiricist like Locke goes out of his way to state that their project to investigate and articulate the ‘logic of ideas’ is not a scientific project: “I shall not at present meddle with the Physical consideration of the Mind” (Essay, I.i.2). An equally prominent thinker, Immanuel Kant, seems to make an elementary mistake, given such a clear statement, when he claims that Locke’s project was a “physiology of the understanding,” in the Preface to the A edition of the first Critique). A first question, then, would be: what is this physiology of the understanding, if it was not Locke’s project? Did anyone undertake such a project? If not, what would it have resembled? My second and related case comes out of a remark the Hieronymus Gaub makes in a letter to Charles Bonnet of 1761: criticizing materialist accounts of mind and mind-body relations such as La Mettrie’s, Gaub suggests that what is needed is a thorough study of the “mechanics of the soul,” and that Bonnet could write such a study. What is the mechanics of the soul, especially given that it is presented as a non-materialist project? To what extent does it resemble the purported “physiology of the understanding”? And more generally, what do both of these phantom projects have to do with a process we might describe as a ‘naturalization of the soul’?
Keywords
materialism, psychology, Locke

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Chicago
Wolfe, Charles. 2016. “The ‘Physiology of the Understanding’ and the ‘Mechanics of the Soul’: Reflections on Some Phantom Philosophical Projects.” Quaestio 16: 3–25.
APA
Wolfe, C. (2016). The “physiology of the understanding” and the “mechanics of the soul”: reflections on some phantom philosophical projects. QUAESTIO, 16, 3–25.
Vancouver
1.
Wolfe C. The “physiology of the understanding” and the “mechanics of the soul”: reflections on some phantom philosophical projects. QUAESTIO. Brepols; 2016;16:3–25.
MLA
Wolfe, Charles. “The ‘Physiology of the Understanding’ and the ‘Mechanics of the Soul’: Reflections on Some Phantom Philosophical Projects.” QUAESTIO 16 (2016): 3–25. Print.
@article{8112075,
  abstract     = {In reflecting on the relation between early empiricist conceptions of the mind and more experimentally motivated materialist philosophies of mind in the mid-eighteenth century, I suggest that we take seriously the existence of what I shall call {\textquoteleft}phantom philosophical projects{\textquoteright}. A canonical empiricist like Locke goes out of his way to state that their project to investigate and articulate the {\textquoteleft}logic of ideas{\textquoteright} is not a scientific project: {\textquotedblleft}I shall not at present meddle with the Physical consideration of the Mind{\textquotedblright} (Essay, I.i.2). An equally prominent thinker, Immanuel Kant, seems to make an elementary mistake, given such a clear statement, when he claims that Locke{\textquoteright}s project was a {\textquotedblleft}physiology of the understanding,{\textquotedblright} in the Preface to the A edition of the first Critique). A first question, then, would be: what is this physiology of the understanding, if it was not Locke{\textquoteright}s project? Did anyone undertake such a project? If not, what would it have resembled? My second and related case comes out of a remark the Hieronymus Gaub makes in a letter to Charles Bonnet of 1761: criticizing materialist accounts of mind and mind-body relations such as La Mettrie{\textquoteright}s, Gaub suggests that what is needed is a thorough study of the {\textquotedblleft}mechanics of the soul,{\textquotedblright} and that Bonnet could write such a study. What is the mechanics of the soul, especially given that it is presented as a non-materialist project? To what extent does it resemble the purported {\textquotedblleft}physiology of the understanding{\textquotedblright}? And more generally, what do both of these phantom projects have to do with a process we might describe as a {\textquoteleft}naturalization of the soul{\textquoteright}?},
  author       = {Wolfe, Charles},
  issn         = {1379-2547},
  journal      = {QUAESTIO},
  keyword      = {materialism,psychology,Locke},
  language     = {eng},
  pages        = {3--25},
  publisher    = {Brepols},
  title        = {The {\textquoteleft}physiology of the understanding{\textquoteright} and the {\textquoteleft}mechanics of the soul{\textquoteright}: reflections on some phantom philosophical projects},
  volume       = {16},
  year         = {2016},
}