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THE MIND-BODY PROBLEM IN THE EARLY TWENTIETH CENTURY* JOHN C. BURNHAMt During the second half of the twentieth century, scientific advances in a number of areas revived a lively interest in an ancient philosophical concern, the mind-body problem (see, e.g., [1-5]). While writers in the very recent era are often aware of the classic formulations of the soma-psyche debate, they are often unaware of aspects of the more recent history of this problem, and ghosts from those days still haunt current discussions. The entire history of the problem as well as modern concerns become clearer in the light ofchanges that took place in the early twentieth century. Observers at that time and later historians have both provided materials, a sampling of which suggests the validity and usefulness of a clarifying periodization. "Early twentieth century" is the best designation for the years between about 1890 and the 1930s that constituted this distinct era in the history of ideas about the mind-body problem. The era was defined by changes in science rather than in philosophy, and the terminal date in particular represents the confluence of a number of independent developments in disparate lines of thinking. The period began when neurophysiologists invoked the concept of the neurone and the synapse to complete the nineteenth-century sensorimotor model of the nervous system. The era ended with the rise of personality theory and biochemistry. In the early twentieth century, a time ofintellectual flowering in many parts of the Western world, professional philosophers provided little outstanding metaphysical, epistemological, or logical work on the mind-body problem. The periodicPsychologicalBulletin summaries ofthe world literature on the subject, for example, revealed an aridity that was surprising, particularly because ofthe continued inclusion ofpsychology under chairs or departments of philosophy in many places in both *Work on this paper was supported in part by NIH grant LM 02539 from the National Library of Medicine. It was originally presented as a lecture in the Allan McLane Hamilton Seminar series at the Cornell-New York Hospital Medical Center, June 1975. fDepartment of History, Ohio State University, 230 West Seventeenth Avenue, Columbus , Ohio 43210. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine ¦ Winter 1977 | 271 Europe and America. The basic models of parallelism, interactionism, and double-aspect theory persisted without serious modification. Exciting events in medicine and physiology effected no substantial changes in the views of philosophical psychologists. When the American Philosophical Association set the mind-body as the theme of the 1916 meetings, for example, participants expected and witnessed lively debate . Yet afterward, when some weeks had passed so that cooljudgment could prevail, the meeting reporter, Albert G. A. BaIz, concluded that the entire effort had produced but "familiar notions in a new garb. . . . The recasting of philosophical problems in the language of science," he noted, "is not a solution of the problem" [6, pp. 215-217]. Scientists who discussed the relationship between soma and psyche did tend to use the philosopher's traditional formulations, even when attempting innovation (e.g., [7]). But in fact formal and programmatic discussions tended to disappear from the scientific literature soon after the turn of the century, even in Europe, where intellectuals selfconsciously used traditional philosophical categories and took traditional stances. In this physical-psychical area of thinking, professional philosophers were not speaking to problems that scientific investigators faced. Among the philosophers themselves, the mind-body question was engendering an untoward and increasing amount of confusion (see, e.g., the summary in [8, pp. 94-142]). Major publications such as the 1911 book, Body and Mind [9], by the English physician-psychologist William McDougall had kept interest in the subject alive. McDougall, however, was but a British representative of a number of thinkers led by Hans Driesch who tended to confuse the mind-body problem with the classical Continental debate of vitalism versus materialism. The attempt to retain a soul in either psychology or physiology was in fact largely ignored by scientists as the years rolled on. The philosophers, however, often took neovitalism seriously, and they were moreover further confused by new experiments and literature introducing behaviorism. The behaviorists questioned the reality, validity, or usefulness of consciousness. Indeed, followers of this new schema published...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 271-284
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-07
Open Access
No
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