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Self, Employed: A Review of The Mind’s Job Description

“What is the mind?” Since the mind isn’t actually a thing, this is more of a philosophical question than a scientific one. However it’s a very tricky question, even for a philosopher. Perhaps a better (as in more useful) question to ask is “What does the mind do?”

According to Ralph Barton Perry, a 20th century philosopher, “a mind is a complex so organized as to act desideratively or interestedly.” He describes how this involves “interests, nervous system, and content.” These aspects of mind can also be understood as the awareness of, reaction to, and reflection upon an organism’s requirements for self-preservation. From this perspective, we would describe the mind as:

  1. The ability of an organism to have biological interests (“that character which distinguishes the living organism, having originally the instinct of self-preservation, and acquiring in the course of its development a variety of special [biological] interests.”).
  2. The ability of an organism to react to changes in internal (bodily) or external (environmental) factors relevant to its biological interests (“a bodily nervous system which localizes the interest and conditions the refinement and range of its intercourse with its environment.”).
  3. The ability of an organism to reflect upon and evaluate information in its environment relevant to its biological interests (“a mind embraces certain contents or parts of the environment, with which it deals through its instrumentalities and in behalf of its interests.”).

Present Philosophical Tendencies: A Critical Survey of Naturalism, Idealism, Pragmatism, and Realism Together with a Synopsis of the Philosophy of William James | Ralph Barton Perry









The mind as the development of, adaptation to, and reflection on the biological interests of an organism.

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