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January 31, 2005



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Zen and the Brain: Toward an Understanding of Meditation and Consciousness. Winner of the Scientific and Medical Network 1998 Book Prize. July 1999, ISBN 0-262-51109-6. Homepage: Zen and the Brain

This book is hard to describe. The table of contents may help. Well, I'll try to describe it anyway: It's kind of an anti-new-agish treatment of meditation and altered states written by professor of neurology and long time meditator James Austin (MD). It's not first of its kind but it is the most complete and scientifically serious work I have ever encountered.

Brian Weatherson

Any support for Sense and Sensibilia? It's not my favourite book ever, but it played an important role (I gather) in the formation of the contemporary views on perception, and in some ways seems to me important generally in the growth of externalist theories of content.

Michael Cholbi

I'm not a philosopher of mind but it strikes me that Rorty's Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, though not a work in the philosophy of mind per se, might be considered, insofar as (a) it was widely discussed at the time, and (b) it sparked a lot of interest in the relationship between mental representation and epistemology.

For those interested, we've been runnning a similiar list on books in ethics at PEA Soup:

Yujin Nagasawa

I think there should be more books on consciousness on the list of the most important phil. mind books of the last 30 years. Perhaps we could include one or more of the following:

Searle, The Rediscovery of the Mind (1992); Dennett, Consciousness Explained (1992); McGinn, The Problem of Consciousness (1993). (It's a shame that we are not allowed to include Chalmers, Conscious Mind (1996)!)

Also, Kim, Supervenience and Mind (1993)?

I would also be interested in a list of the most important *papers* in the philosophy of mind. (We could then make a collection of ten best papers of the last 100 years for each area of philosophy.)


Well, you don't say what the criteria are but here's a few comments:

1) I'd say "Conscious Mind" has to be near the top - c'mon, no need for false modesty here - it absolutely exploded the discussion of consciousness in analytic philosophy. Its lasting significance of course, remains to be seen, but it focused the discussion like no other book has, ever.

2) It is sadly absurd that Fodor and Dennett supposedly represent 4 of the 10. I'd say Psychosemantics deserves to be there for popularizing computationalism, but Dennett is personally responsible for the fact that so many supposed "philosophers of mind" barely understand some of the most basic concepts of metaphysics. As for Churchland, "Neurophilosophy" may have been in vogue 30 years ago but it has gone the way of 30s-era "philosophical behaviorism."

3) Ahem, "Naming and Necessity"? Davidson? Is this a philosophy list or a cog sci list? (if you think they're the same, you need to go read your Descartes again).


Not sure how I forgot Sense and Sensibilia -- if Price is on the list, Austin should be too. Even if S&S lacks much in the way of real argument, it's certainly important, and extraordinarily engaging. I took Naming and Necessity to be mainly not philosophy of mind (though the little bit that it has is certainly important). Likewise Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (this has more philosophy of mind in it than most people remember, but its importance mostly lies elsewhere). The relevant Davidson would have to be Essays on Action and Events, but this is a somewhat fragmented collection with only about three articles in straight philosophy of mind (I've followed the usual although slightly odd convention of taking action theory to be a distinct field), and the importance to the field derives mostly from a single paper. The list is meant to be a philosophy of mind list rather than a cogsci or even a philosophy of cogsci list (if the latter, there would be a strong case for books like The Modularity of Mind and Neurophilosophy, at least on grounds of sheer influence). No more votes for present company, please -- way too much selection bias!


For the last 100 years I would have to put the Phil. Investigations at or near the top of the list for the problematics alone. For me, Kripkenstein could be on the same line for the same reason. If depth and originality matter, I'd also vote for Process and Reality.

In recent phil. of mind, leaving aside TCM, I felt Kim's "Mind in a physical world" was a nice book to focus thinking. Churchland's Plasticity of Mind was and still is very thought provoking. I'd also include one of Millikan's books.

Fodor and Dennett make it if the criteria is influence, but not if the criteria is quality.

The startling thing as I think about possibilities is how many of the books I would consider "great" focus on problematics and how few contain what I view as positive contributions to solutions.

Fritz McDonald

Chomsky, Syntactic Structures and Aspects of the Theory of Syntax.

Kirk Ludwig

I think that any list of the most influential books in the philosophy of mind is apt to be misleading, since some single articles have been more influential than some of the books mentioned, and some books and articles ostensibly not in the philosophy of mind have exerted a huge influence, for example, Putnam's "The Meaning of 'Meaning'".

If collections of essays are fair game, then it strikes me that _Essays on Actions and Events_ should make the list. The philosophy of action is a subfield of the philosophy of mind, and Davidson's work in the philosophy of action has had a lot of influence on work in the philosophy of mind more generally, and is clearly connnected with such issues as how to individuate propositional attitudes, the connection between rationality and agency, and between agency and the possibilty of thought in general. It also lies in the background of his argument for anomolous monism, and one can find a hint of this at the end of "Actions, Reasons and Causes."

One might also think here of volume 2 of Putnam's _Philosophical Papers_, _Mind, Language and Reality_, which contains a number of quite influential papers in the philosophy of mind as well as "The Meaning of 'Meaning'." And what about David Lewis's _Papers in Metaphysic and Epistemology_, which doesn't have 'mind' in the title, but contains a number of classic and highly influential papers in the philosophy of mind?

A book that has had a large influence but is not narrowly classifiable as in the philosophy of mind is of course Quine's _Word and Object_.

I rather think list making of this sort in philosophy can't be a very profitable enterprise. There is too much cross fertilization from different areas in philosophy. The most influential books and articles for a given field may not be in that field at all.


For a more philosophically relevant (although poorly edited) book by Chomsky, what about New Horizons (2000). For the 80s: Schiffer, Remnants of Meaning (1987). Stalnaker is missing too: Inquiry (1984).

What about ideas for an ultrashort list of papers: In a review in LBR last fall, Fodor told the history of analytic philosophy as if it can be told by focussing on Quine, 2DE + Kripke, N&N with perhaps a little Putnam, Mo"M"...

Angel P.

I am merely a grad student, but I'm surprised no one has mentioned Fodor's "Modularity..." or Chomsky's "Aspects...". Outside of the topic of consciousness, these books provide the foundation of how the mind is actually studied now (with some success, I might add). For those who think a role of philosophy is to provide foundations, then these books would seem like good candidates. Plus, the topic of the organization of the mind and the nature of mental processes is a topic that has a long history in philosophy. I don't know what 'me' is talking about above with regards to Descartes. It seems to me that these (foundations of cog sci)issues concerned Descartes and Hume very much (for example).

Charlie P.

Anyone else got a soft spot for Evans' "The Varieties of Reference"?

Yujin Nagasawa

I agree with Kirk Ludwig that in the philosophy of mind many articles have been much more influential than books, particularly in the last three decades or so. (Nagel, Davidson, Jackson, Burge, Searle, McGinn, Putnam, Millikan, etc.) Chalmers' Conscious Mind seems like an exception.

me again

The reference to Descartes was a bit of a joke, since Descartes was responsible for most clearly dileneating the mind/body dichotomy that is characteristic of modern ontology and has made cognitive science possible.

Anyway, my point vis-a-vis philosophy vs cog-sci is that there are many "philosophers of mind" who really practice cognitive science and don't even have the most basic grasp of the issues involved in, say, modal metaphysics. I think Dennett's degree of acceptance in the field, and the example he sets, is partly responsible for this.

Yujin Nagasawa

Sorry if this is not relevant, but I just checked which phil. mind books have been translated into Japanese. Here is the result:

Armstrong, Consciousness and Causality; Armstrong, A Materialist Theory of Mind; Chalmers, Conscious Mind; Churchland, Scientific Realism and the Plasticity of Mind; Churchland, A Neurocomputational Perspective; Churchland, Neurophilosophy; Crane, The Mechanical Mind; Kripke, Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language; Kripke, Naming and Necessity; McGinn, The Mysterious Flame; Nagel, Mortal Questions; Priest, Theories of the Mind; Putnam, Representation and Reality; Russell, The Analysis of Mind; Searle, Intentionality; Searle, Minds, Brains and Science.

Michael Rosen

Not a philosopher of mind (to put it mildly!) but I was really surprised not to see any of the following:

Putnam, Reason, Truth and History (brains in a vat, anyone?)
Nagel, The View from Nowhere
McDowell, Mind and World

Deliberate omissions?

marc moffett

I agree with Kirk on two counts. First, focusing on books can be extremely misleading, since much (most?) of the important work is in a paper or two (e.g., maybe, Shoemaker, Block, Jackson, Nagel). [And I have to put in a shameless plug for Bealer's "Self-consciousness" paper; published late, but deserving of wider influence in my opinion.]

Second, it is hard to delimit the philosophy of mind from the surrounding terrain. Much of the most important stuff in mind, was also simultaneously the most important stuff in language, metaphysics and/or epistemology (e.g., Kripke, Quine, Putnam, Burge, maybe Davidson). [Geez, think about Burge's single article "Individualism and the Mental" to see why these two issues are so tricky! And where to include Grice's work on INTENTION-based semantics which resulted in the subsequent development of theories of mutual knowledge and social interaction?]

I also agree with "me" (not myself) that Dennett is overrepresented in Dave's top 10--maybe just The Intentional Stance. I also think it would be hard to neglect Fodor's Modularity of Mind.

Finally, Lynn Rudder Baker's Explaining Attitudes is a pretty good piece of work and deserves at least an honorable mention. :)

Scott PM

I don't understand including "Rule-Following and Private Language" over "Naming and Necessity," I understand that Kripke is seen as having completely misunderstood the private language argument. Crispin Wright argues this, at least.

Davidson definitely needs to be up there, along with Wittgenstein's "Philosophical Investigations."

I'd also like to promote Warren McCulloch's "Embodiments of Mind," a founding work of connectionist theory.

Jason Stanley

A goodly portion of what is generally attributed to *Sense and Sensibilia* occurs in Chapter 3 of Price's *Perception*, "Some Modifications of Naive Realism", together with some objections Austin probably should have considered...


If collections of papers like Dennett's "Brainstorms" can be on the list, then, I think, a good candidate would be Shoemaker: Identity, Cause, and Mind (1984/2003).

What about Chishom's Perceiving (1957)?


Sure, important books in the philosophy of mind are only one source of important philosophy of mind. That's a feature, not a bug -- it makes the question somewhat more tractable than the much thornier question of "what's the most important philosophy of mind in the last century". Of course a huge amount of important philosophy of mind is done via papers, and a lot is done via books that one wouldn't immediately classify as books in the philosophy of mind. That's what's going on with The View From Nowhere and Reason, Truth, and History, for example, which I'd classify as books in general metaphysics and epistemology that contain some important philosophy of mind along the way. Likewise I take Evans and Schiffer to be primarily philosophy of language. Of course criteria for inclusion in a list like this are fairly arbitrary, but I was restricting myself to books that one would count as primarily philosophy of mind.

I was also excluding "collected papers" collections as something of a cheat -- otherwise there's no question that the Lewis and Putnam collections include at least as much important philosophy of mind as the books by Broad, Ryle, and Armstrong. I did include the two Dennett collections, I suppose with the tacit criterion being that for a collection to qualify, it must have something approaching the thematic unity of a monograph, and the work in it must have an especially significant impact qua collection. I think that holds for the two Dennett books (and maybe the Davidson), but not for the Lewis and Putnam. (Nor for McDowell's collected papers, which I take to be otherwise superior to Mind and World.) Still, in retrospect it's probably cleaner to simply exclude collections. That might end up excluding Dennett, unless we stretch the timescale by seven years and include Content and Consciousness, an excellent book but one that had less impact than the others, or reach a little and include Consciousness Explained, an important book in terms of its impact on the field but pretty clearly not as successful a work of philosophy as the earlier books (which I think are genuinely excellent qua philosophy).

I suppose that leaves two open spots on my list, to be filled by two favorites of your choice. Davidson has attracted votes, but is now excluded as a collection (I'm also still worried that if one counts the philosophy of action, one then has to consider any number of important books on free will and practical reason). So has Naming and Necessity, but this is excluded (at least from the 30-year list) on grounds of the original 1972 publication date. (As for doubts about Kripkenstein, I take it that this book is more valuable qua primary source than qua secondary source, so that if the book's argument isn't Wittgenstein's, it's all the more original and important.) The Modularity of Mind is a contender, but three books by Fodor seems excessive. Maybe the last two spots can be wild cards for the 1990-2005 period. Personally I'd be tempted to include Siewert's The Significance of Consciousness (on grounds of quality) and give half a spot each to Dennett's and McDowell's books (on grounds of influence), but your mileage may vary.

I'm surprised there hasn't been more discussion of the "century" list -- no chance of a consensus top ten? Maybe Broad, Price, Ryle, Austin, Armstrong, and five more to be determined. The Investigations is a borderline case of "primarily philosophy of mind", but one could make a case for it. I almost mentioned Chisholm's Perceiving in my original post. I take Process and Reality to be primarily metaphysics. It's still hard to see any of the last-30-years books as really standing out from the crowd -- the top ten seem to be fairly level. But maybe others see things differently.

[Housekeeping: Please sign your full name or at least leave identifying information if you can. I don't have a hard ban on anonymous or effectively anonymous comments, but they're more likely to be edited or deleted. If you want to italicize a title, use [em]Title[/em], but with angle brackets instead of square brackets.]


Peter Geach, "Mental Acts"

Lucy O'Brien

And Anscombe's *Intention* is, I think, an important and influential essay.

Varol Akman

Sorry, didn't check the whole list of comments but I always found John Searle a great author and a source of excellent questions to ponder. Another favorite of mine is John Perry. His "Knowledge, Possibility and Consciousness" is a gem. And when there's a list of great phil of language books, I'll go add his (and the late Jon Barwise's) "Situations and Attitudes".

Peli Grietzer

I think reading PI as primarily philosophy of mind is a major source of (what I take to be) the Dennettian\Behaviorist misreading which interprets its prgamtism\instrumentalism about the mental to be rooted in a materialist denial of any onthological status for (For example) sensations, while in fact it gives "It's raining" pretty much the same treatment as "He's in pain". So I believe it's quite important not to categorize it as primaraly philosophy of the mind.

Thomas Osborne

Should we distinguish between "most important" and "most influential"? I may be outside the mainstream, but it seems that Anscombe's Intention should be among the most important. While I'm at it, add Geach's Mental Acts. But neither have had too much of an effect on the discipline. And I am not sure whether the most influential are the most important. Where should we put Broad?


I took "important" to be something of a weasel word that involves elements of both quality and influence. Ideally an important book will have high quality and high influence, but very high quality can compensate for somewhat lower influence (maybe Broad is in this category), and very high influence can compensate to some extent for somewhat lower quality (maybe Austin is in this category).

Robert Allen

Patricia Churchland, Neurophilosophy (last 15)

Mitch Jones

For the Husserl text, I'd suggest "Ideas II". It's a surprisingly more ontological treatment of mind (subjectivity) than one might expect. For a more overtly epistemological work, "Formal and Transcendental Logic" would suffice.


What about Tye, "Ten Problems of Consciousness"? I am not sure what the influence has been, but it is incredibly accessible and is pretty good philosophy as well.


Yes, I think if one is considering recent books, there is a good case for awarding a spot jointly to Tye's Ten Problems of Consciousness and Dretske's Naturalizing the Mind: both good books, and jointly very influential.

Listmaniacs might note that elsewhere on the web, analogous discussions have recently been started for important books in metaphysics and the philosophy of language. You're encouraged to give in to this fin de siecle philosophical decadence for a moment or two before reclaiming a proper 21st-century seriousness.

Anstein Gregersen

Question for Prof. Chalmers:

I am merely a grad student, so I will just ask a question.

Why did you not consider "Being and Time" in on the century list? As far as I gather there could be some justification, both in terms of quality, and influence past and present.


Mostly because I restricted myself to things I've read. Also because it's a borderline case of "primarily philosophy of mind" (one might suggest that it's primarily metaphysics), and because it's somewhat more distant from analytic philosophy of mind than Husserl and Merleau-Ponty. It's certainly a reasonable contender, though.

New Mysterian

I agree with other posters that essays/articles have arguably wielded more influence than books per se. McGinn's my man. Haven't seen Searle's name mentioned yet - how about "The Rediscovery of Mind"?

Although already mentioned, I'm volunteering pitches for:

Chalmers, The Conscious Mind
McDowell, Mind and World
McGinn, The Problem of Consciousness
Nagel, The View from Nowhere


This is by no means exhaustive -- I am not trying to cover every book that ought to be on the list, and I am naming these books with no consideration for what list (top-whatever in whatever-years) they are to be on. But anyway ...

I think there are good reasons to include each of /The Modularity of the Mind/, /The Language of Thought/, and /Psychosemantics/ on a list of this sort, given that each of the first two was also pretty important to the development of cognitive science, and that the third is basically the classic text on folk psychology and representation (right?). Chomsky ought to be on the list for similar reasons.

Searle's /Intentionality/ remains probably the best book written on the topic -- I saw that it was mentioned on the original post but am surprised that others haven't been beating the drum for it. What an underrated piece of work.

So far as the "continent" goes, /Phenomenology of Perception/ and /Being and Nothingness/ are obvious ones to include. I think that Husserl's /Crisis of the European Sciences/ is noteworthy because of its engagement with the history and philosophy of science, as well as its huge influence on Merleau-Ponty. (It's also -- gasp! -- quite readable.) And /Being and Time/, while certainly a metaphysical work at heart, should be included because the First Division does contain some hugely important stuff on how to understand consciousness and perception.

Similarly from left field (although there are others who have agreed with these ones), I think that /Philosophical Investigations/ and /Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature/ are both extremely important, even if not well-enough appreciated in the mainstream. As for McDowell, I agree that his collected papers are superior to /Mind and World/.

And count me as having soft spots for both /Sense and Sensibilia/ and /The Varieties of Reference/.

Finally, though I know this book was written quite recently and perhaps it's hard to give it a solid evaluation, I think that Susan Hurley's /Consciousness in Action/ (1998) is a tremendous -- if quirky and sometimes obscure -- book that people working in "the field" would do well to reckon with.

So for what it's worth, there's what a lowly graduate student thinks.


Why Being and Nothingness? Sartre's arguments in that book regarding consciousness are clearly circular. Although I think La Nausée is a very good novel, and that Sartre made some interesting observations in Psychology of the Imagination, I don't think that there's much to recommend in Being and Nothingness.

Denis Robinson

If important and influential articles in philosophy of mind are going to get any sort of guernsey or passing mention in this thread, surely Jack Smart's "Sensations and Brain Processes" should be one of them!


I have started a blog devoted to discussing Dretske's Knowledge and the Flow of Information. It is here. Dretske is the Darwin if intentionality, in my opinion.

John Bruce Wallace

What about P.F. Strawson's Individuals, as-well-as, Anthony Kenney's Action Emotion and Will. As to Husserl the Logical Investigations (vols. I & II) seems the prime candidate. I also would include: Geach's Mental Acts, Anscomb's Intentions; Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenology of Perception and Structure of Behavior; Sartre's the Imaginary; and Wittgenstein's Blue and Brown Books.

Philipp Othmer

I wrestled with the mind-body problem long ago. It started in my Freshman year, when my philosophy grad student teacher couldn't answer my questions, and kept accusing me of being a "materialist." After awhile I started denying that I was one, because it seemed pejorative (not that I knew what the hell he was talking about), and kept getting in the way of what I thought was important: I was so interested in finding these scientists and their research that had proven free will didn't exist. (Finally it seemed some scientists were doing exciting research!). But he kept getting angry and calling me a materialist! My first truly religious experience was in his office. After I'd sacrificed all materialism (or whatever horse I'd rode in on), and just tried to follow his way of thinking, I closed my eyes and just took it all in. And, as he kept talking, I felt my own mind rise right out of my skull: a fraction of an inch. And then, when I started asking questions, my experience ended and whatever mind I had popped right back into my brain. This whole experience was alot more interesting than the boring science I thought was inevitably necessary.
Being a "truth maniac," after a few years, I went back into philosophy. Once I figured out what all the terminology meant, it turns out he was right. I was a materialist. Of the Ayn Rand Objectivist breed (I was almost president of the club, until the over-see-ers of this club had me over for dinner). Then, I crapped on my own parade because I said that their view of science was, in fact, not accurate. And they didn't think anyone like me would work out; so, I just denied that I wasn't exactly what was needed...etc. It was just a detail about the science is 100% accurate Randian stuff that was wrong. I didn't want to get thrown out over that!
Why they didn't correct the details when they were wrong eluded me. We're all philosophers here, right?
So, in my senior year (Philosophy major), I wrote a paper on the mind-body problem. As we all know, scientists officially don't believe in a "mind stuff." But, as any philosophy grad student will tell you, without it, we can't have free will, rights, human dignity, or the possibility of God (I guess). So it must be there. Without it, (just look, will ya!?), all we have is a Newtonian determinism, blind Calvinistic pre-destination (hell on earth, I suppose--the chains of God); or, as these micey obsessed philosophy grad students evince, they scratch at the pinhole of Heisenberg and uncertainty.
And so the real problem is, "well are we determined (and hence materialistic in body and soul), or just random?
So, in my armchair undergraduate dungeon of thought, I said, "Fuck 'em all! (the straw scientists)"--they don't believe in the mind stuff...but its there! If they're too stupid to find the stuff, that's not my problem! So, I just imagined it existed. Then, as I started working this ontological play-do with all the necessary attributes into the world as I needed it (i.e. me thinking over here, you thinking over there, and some medium so we could talk through etc.), and just putting in the time dimension (so everything doesn't happen at once, of course). I found something very interesting. Once I started making stuff with this "mind stuff," it seemed like everything else needed to be made out of it as well!
In fact, I never told anyone. Because basically, I re-invented the whole world right there out of mind stuff. There really wasn't any "materialistic" stuff. It was mind stuff.
At the edges of reality, I asked myself, "but what is this mind stuff, really?" Oh, I looked through all my philosophy texts so I could be technically accurate--but I couldn't find a description. "Some kind of energy," I opined. And just the kind of stuff we could make all this physical crap out of too.
A few years later, uh...duh...E=mc squared. It is the same stuff. Nobody told the scientists it was all mind stuff in the first place.
By then, though I was already in medical school. I certainly had no interest in telling all the philosophers to "go study science," and certainly had no interest in telling all the scientists they were really philosophers. So, now I'm a psychiatrist. And the important question is why Descartes would not allow into the question the opinion of "those men who think they are made of glass."

alex leon

Henri Bergson's Matter and Memory - that perception is the cutting edge of memory is the beginning of any theory of consciousness. Consciousness Explained - I disagree with almost everything that Dennett says with regards to his empty materialist view of consciousness but that's what makes it such a good book. Hurley's Consciousness in Action - a good book at clarifying much of the mistaken thinking about perception and action in relation to consciousness.

sarah ikea

1. Consciousness Explained - Daniel Dennett
2. The conscious mind - David Chalmers
3. Matter and Memory - Henri Bergson
4. Philosophical foundations of Neuroscience - Bennett @ Hacker
5. Consciousness in Action - Susan Hurley
6. Dream, Death and the Self - J. Valberg
7. Being and Nothingness - J.P. Sartre
8. Mindsight - Colin McGinn
9. The Walls of Plato's Cave - J.R. Smythies
10. Wholeness and the Implicate Order - D.Bohm

Patricia Horton


Professor Chalmers:

Could you elaberate on what you and Patrica Churchland disagree about?

Thanks, Patricia Horton

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