Hilary Putnam:
THE THREEFOLD CORD: MIND, BODY AND WORLD (Columbia Univ, 1999)


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Putnam is a philosopher deservedly famous for 1. writing in a very ambigous and confusing style; 2. making a big deal of small issues and 3. changing his mind very often. Such is the case with the first part of this book, whereis Putnam simply tells us that he thought it over and now believes our perceptions tells us the truth. He used to side with most philosophers who think perceptions are "intermediaries" between our mind and reality. We'll never truly know what is out there. Now Putnam believes we do know what is out there: it is what we perceive. The second part of the book is occupied with the mind-body problem. Putnam takes issues against two popular views. First, he criticizes the thought experiment of the "zombie", a being who is identical to you atom by atom but does not have a mental life. Putnam thinks this is an oxymoron because mental life is caused by your bodily content. Therefore, same body same mind. On the other hand, Putnam also takes issue with the "identity theory" that mental states are identical with physical states of the brain (the same way electricity is identical with the motion of charged particles). Putnam thinks that mental states are, in a sense, outside the body. To some extent, mental states are due to the environment. The content of a mental state depends the environment and may vary between identical people in different worlds. For example, the concept of water that I have depends on the fact that I grew up in a world where water is what it is in this world and it has been named that way, and used for some purposes and so forth. In another world, my concept of water would be different. Putnam prefers to think of the mind as a set of skills, or capacities. All of this is fine and dandy but: 1. it is not written in a very clear style, so it lends itself to several possible interpretations; 2. it makes a big deal of a couple of trivial ideas that are shared by billions of people who did not spend the best years of their lives pondering them; and 3. we already know that Putnam will change his mind again (long may he live, of course).

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