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Tomorrow Tuesday July 1, 2014, 13.30 – 17.00, at Utrecht University, Drift 6, room 0.17 the OZSW working group “Philosophy around 1900” will hold a workshop. The programme is as follows:

13.30 – 14.15 Paul Ziche “Fictions and Foundations. Tolerance and rigorousness in the philosophico-scientific landscape around 1900: the example of Hans Vaihinger and Moritz Pasch”

14.15 – 15.00 Mireille Kirkels “Gerrit Mannoury: concept-criticism as a means of better understanding”

15.00 – 15.30 Break

15.30 – 16.15 Irene van de Beld “Neokantianism’s ongoing relevance for today’s philosophy of science”

16.15 – 17.00 Carlo Ierna “Brentano’s Science of Consciousness and the Mechanization of the Mind in the 19th century”

My talk builds on my current research, but also extends it into a new direction, which might form the basis for a new project. In the last two years I have been working on Brentano’s idea of philosophy as science and on his project to establish (descriptive) psychology as a science. I consider Brentano to be developing an ontological and epistemological framework for doing research in what we nowadays would consider cognitive science: his approach is non-reductive, interdisciplinary, and combines both first- and third-person methodologies. In other words, in Brentano’s framework we can give an autonomous, full-blooded account of the mind and consciousness: quite literally a Geisteswissenschaft, but open to the Naturwissenschaften.

This stands in sharp contrast to two other approaches that progressively develop in the 19th century, that I both consider as forms of mechanization, broadly understood. On the one had, biologistic/naturalistic reductionism, i.e. the mind is subsumed by the machinery of the brain and body, on the other the literal mechanization of reason, i.e. the implementation of the laws of thought in machines, such as mathematical and logical calculators. The idea of a mechanization of the world-view is already familiar, as is the mechanistic approach to the human body and the faculties of perception ever since the scientific revolution and early modern philosophy. However, in the 19th century it becomes feasible to theorize a mechanization of the mind, which had previously always been excluded. For instance, Descartes explicitly excludes the possibility of mechanizing the mind (and speech) due to the lack of universality and flexibility in an automaton. However, in the 19th century machines such as Babbage’s Analytical Engine and Jevons’ Logic Piano supplied a mechanical model for at least some classes of mental acts, at least as preliminary proof-of-concept. If logical and mathematical calculation could be thusly mechanized, what else? On the other hand, progress in psycho-physics and the theory of evolution increasingly claimed to be able to explain consciousness and cognition through the natural sciences: not only by a natural-scientific method, but within the ontological province of a mechanical universe.

Brentano’s project of a scientific philosophy and a philosophical psychology, however, shows the inherent limitations of such approaches and the need for an autonomous science of consciousness, at least as an indispensable complement to the mechanization of the mind.