The ”internal/external” metaphor in the philosophy of mind
Författare och institution:
Helge Malmgren (Filosofiska institutionen)
Toward a Science of Consciousness ("Tucson 2000"), Tucson, AZ, April 10-15, 2000,
In what sense, if any, are the states, contents and/or immediate objects of the mind ”internal” to me or to my mind, while the physical world is ”external”? And can the sense in which the mind's contents are ”internal” carry the epistemological burden which it is supposed to carry? Does the internality of my mental states guarantee that they are known by me? Does the externality of the external world preclude us from knowing it directly?
Outside philosophy, ”internal” is often used in a literal, spatial sense. Within philosophy, ”internal” has been used at innumerable occasions as a spatial metaphor in order to explain, illustrate and illuminate the relation between the contents of the mind and the physical world. However, the interior of my body is spatially internal to me in a most literal sense, yet belongs to the external world in any interesting metaphysical or epistemological sense. Hence the spatial sense cannot, obviously, be a one in which the mind's contents are internal to me, while the physical world is not.
The spatial use of ”internal” is a special case of what might be called its mereological uses. In any such use, ”internal” stands for partnership in a complex whole, constituted by some (specifiable) equivalence relation. There is for example the temporal sense in which a certain phoneme is internal to a certain spoken word, and the logical sense in which a certain theorem is internal to a certain theory. But lacking a specification of the relation with regard to which contents of the mind are internal, the statement that they are so in a mereological sense is all but vacuous.
(One might of course try to shortcut the discussion by defining ”internal” in epistemological terms here. However, as most shortcuts in philosophy, this one obviously begs the question.)
Maybe it would be more fruitful to look for the proper sense of ”internal” in phenomenology? The mind's contents may be held to be internal in the sense that they, and only they, are experienced as internal. But firstly, this does not relieve us of the burden of specifying the sense of ”internal” in which the mind’s contents are (supposedly) experienced as internal. Secondly, if we go for the spatial sense here, most people experience their bodily interiors as spatially internal to them.
I argue that a certain confusion between physics and phenomenology is the main basis of the widespread philosophical belief that the contents of our minds are internal to us. For physical reasons, what our visual experiences primarily present to us are the sides facing us of the closest opaque objects. Hence the unseen world is spatially external to the irregular volume which contains the light rays travelling from these surfaces to our eyes. If we do not carefully keep physics and phenomenology apart, this apparent structure may mislead us into believing that the visual experiences are themselves located inside a spatial or quasi-spatial container, and that there is an essentially unknown material world outside this container.
Ämne (baseras på Högskoleverkets indelning av forskningsämnen):
Psykologi (exklusive tillämpad psykologi) ->
Filosofi, etik och religion ->
Filosofi, etik och religion ->
Idé- o lärdomshistoria
Consciousness, internalism, metaphor, perception, phenomenology, cartesianism, epistemology
Poster vid konferensen Toward a Science of Consciousness ("Tucson 2000"), Tucson, Arizona, 10-15 april 2000.
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