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Philosophy of the Arts


Introspectivism and my mind


I think that the problem is quite simple (but I may be wrong): once you believe that your mind is something in you, you must also think that the way to find out what the mind is is by looking inward (introspection), and that seems only logical. And because of this, you cannot know for sure whether other persons have a mind like you. And that seems logical, as well: to find out about their minds they should introspect and report their findings, and why would we trust these?

Now you can argue, as Wittgenstein did in his Private Language Argument, that you cannot disclose anything in there without help from the outside: you need a shared language. But why would that not lead to the idea that what you would be identifying would not be your private mind, the thing that you introspect, but whatever it is that language allows you to identify: a nominal mind, not the real thing. And who would want that?

Yet, we possess a certainty about something best called our self-consciousness: the feeling of what it is to be the one who experiences some or other thing, the subjective (Nagel). Can we say more about this subjective aspect, given the argument above? Well, either we say something about it that no-one else can fathom, or, alternatively, everyone understands what we are saying but it is, therefore, not the subjective that we are so conveying.

Everything in the above two paragraphs is written from the point of view of introspectivism; this must stop if we want to escape this predicament. Yet it is one thing to want to put a halt to it—like Wittgenstein did when he said “Do not ask yourself `How does it work with me?’—Ask `What do I know about someone else?’.” (Philosophical Investigations, 206:c). It is something other to try to say something positive about one’s own mind. I think Wittgenstein’s suggestion is a good first step. But why would it lead us anywhere?

Why we can talk about our minds

The answer to that last question is: your mind is not just in you. Little can be said about the receptive part of your mind—and that is because it is just, like Leibniz saw it correctly, the point of view from where the world is perceived. Mind is not a place, and therefore it is not open for inspection (introspection). Instead, it is the monadal focal point of a network of relations.1 There is not much to say about the part of the mind that you are—to avoid saying: that is in you. Yet all the more can be said about the part of your mind that is out there, outside of your body. For instance, I can try to explicate what goes on in me while I am appreciating a particular painting, but nine-tenth of what I will say will be about the painting, and that is absolutely logical. When I see a chair, and someone asks me What chair? I will point to the thing out there; I will not start delineating something that is supposed to be in me—something that is sometimes called the internal representation of the chair.

My perception is out there as much as it is in me. I am subjectively aware of the chair as something I can relate to by sitting on it. The subjectivity consists in the experience of the chair’s relevance for me. All I can say is that it is me who is seeing that chair.2


1. Hence the convincing power of contemporary brain talk: the brain is little more than the spot where the world gets processed in this body of mine. The flaw in most brain talk—the version of cognitive neuroscience that reaches the media, and hence, the financial support, and hence our ways of thinking about ourselves—is that it is used to disqualify all mind talk. But only some mind talk should go: introspectivism; while another should stay.
2. Other thinkers, next to Leibniz, who are on the right track with this are Hegel in his phenomenology of the mind and J.J. Gibson in his ecological theory of perception, and contemporary debates on externalism and enactivism. Yet Clark and Chalmers’ Otto’s notebook does little to nothing to make the right point about the mind being external to the brain, because Otto needs his internal mind to realize that there is something to be had by looking in his notebook. I think looking at the world outside, and its many meanings, should be enough mind we need to get by in life. All else that is required on the inside is a good working embodied brain to pick up those meanings that lie waiting for us. Persons, embodied minds, notice meanings, and they need a brain for that—the notion of perception makes no sense at the level of the brain. Minds do not perceive—they merely process streams of input caused by processes in the world outside. I am not saying this is a trivial feat, it isn’t! It is just not perception. The person’s mind perceives.


Clark, Andy, and David Chalmers. 1998. “The Extended Mind.” The Philosopher’s Annual XXI:10–23.
J.J. Gibson. 1986. The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception. London, Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
G.W.F. Hegel. 1973 (1807). “Phänomenologie des Geistes.” In Werke, Bd. III, edited by E. Moldenhauer and K.M Michel. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.
G. W. v. Leibniz. 1960-61 (1714). “Monadologie.” In Die philosophischen Schriften (VI), edited by C. I. Gerhardt, 607–623. Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlagsbuchhandlung.
Thomas Nagel. 1979. “Subjective and Objective.” In Mortal Questions, 196–214. Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press.
Ludwig Wittgenstein. 1953. Philosophical Investigations. Translated by G.E.M. Anscombe. Oxford: Blackwell.