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Journal of Philosophy, Inc.

A Materialist Theory of the Mind by D. M. Armstrong

Review by: Alvin I. Goldman
The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 66, No. 22 (Nov. 20, 1969), pp. 812-818
Published by: Journal of Philosophy, Inc.
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Step 1. Inflationary ontological reduction: We replace R by R' and D by

D u N; the proxy function is identity.
Step 2. Ontological reduction without change of domain: We replace R'
by (3 z) - (Nz & R'xy) V (z) (Nz & RN'XY). This reinterpretation preserves truth, since in the domain D v N the interpretation coincides with
R'; the proxy function is identity.
Step 3. Ontological destruction: Eliminate D from the domain. This
reduces the interpretation of R in effect to RN and, hence, preserves truth.
Thus it appears that, if Pythagoreanism is to be resisted, either some
further condition must be added or a further explication of the present conditions must be given. A more drastic alternative would be
to seek a less model-theoretic approach to ontological questions.
R. E. G.

A Materialist Theory of the Mind. D.
manities Press, 1968. xii, 372 p. $8.50.


New York: Hu-

This book is a stimulating defense of the thesis that the mind is

identical with the brain (or central nervous system) and that mental states are physicochemical states of the brain. Armstrong fits the
identity thesis into the framework of a general theory of the mind,
and provides one of the most comprehensive and clearly structured
discussions of the subject in the recent literature.
The book begins with a threefold classification of theories of
mind: (1) Dualism, (2) The Attribute Theory, and (3) Materialism.
The author's own theory is a species of materialism, which he calls
"Central-state Materialism." Armstrong then sets out to criticize
the rival theories. He charges that dualism is unable to capture the
unity of mind and body, that it fails to give a satisfactory account
of the interaction of mind and body, and that it cannot explain the
emergence and growth of the mind over time. The attribute theory
differs from Cartesian dualism in positing only one substance, but
contrasts with materialism in claiming that mental states are nonmaterial attributes of the substance. Though it escapes some of the
difficulties confronting dualism, Armstrong thinks that other objections raised against dualism also hold for it. Moreover, he finds it
just mysterious that there should be properties of the brain that
are not reducible to material properties. The advance of science, he
feels, renders implausible the hypothesis of any entity or attribute
that is not reducible to the entities and attributes of physical

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Behaviorism is classed as a species of materialism, or physicalism,

since it tries to reduce the mind to physical behavior and to tendencies to behave physically in certain ways. Armstrong's main criticism of behaviorism is precisely its emphasis on outer behavior and
its consequent failure to account for the "inner" nature of mental
states. According to behaviorism, says Armstrong, "the mind is just
the body in action" (56). Central-state materialism, on the other
hand, sees the mind as "an inner arena identified by its causal relations to outward act" (129). Nevertheless, Armstrong's own theory
closely resembles behaviorism; for, like the behaviorist, he thinks
our concepts of mental states are dispositional concepts. Unlike the
behaviorist, however, he contends that dispositional states must
have a "categorical basis." Thus, although we may think of a mental state as a state apt for producing certain behavior, such a state
must also have an intrinsic nature. Question then arises concerning
this intrinsic nature, and central-state materialism asserts that it is
a physicochemical state. Armstrong compares the process of identifying the mind with the brain to the process of identifying the gene
with the DNA molecule. The concept of a gene is a causal-dispositional concept: that of a factor apt for producing hereditary characteristics. Biological evidence suggests that the production of such
characteristics is attributable to DNA. Hence, the gene is identified
with the DNA molecule. Similarly, the concept of the mind is the
concept of a factor apt for producing certain behavior. Hence, since
scientific evidence suggests that the thing apt for producing this
behavior is the brain, the mind is identified with the brain.
The defense of the mind-brain identity thesis is hereby divided
into two stages. The first stage, a purely conceptual one, consists in
an analysis of the concept of a mental state as a state "apt for bringing about a certain sort of behavior" (82). The second stage argues
the contingent hypothesis that these behavior-causing states are
physicochemical states of the brain. Actually very little space is devoted to the second stage, whereas the first occupies the bulk of the
book. In a wide-ranging survey, Armstrong seeks to analyze numerous mental-state concepts in terms of their dispositions to cause
behavior (and, in some cases, to be caused by certain stimuli).
Among the concepts analyzed are those of desire, deliberation, pleasure and pain, emotion, inference, perception, belief, mental imagery, and bodily sensation.
The two most important mental concepts in Armstrong's theory
are desire and perception, which play an important part in the
analysis of various other mental concepts. Armstrong begins with

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the concept of desire, which is the clearest case of a mental state that
tends to produce behavior. Problems arise immediately, however.
Some desires do not really tend to cause behavior; for example, an
agent does not act upon a desire that he knows he cannot fulfill.
Armstrong tries to handle such cases by suitable counterfactuals,
saying what behavior would result from these desires if the agent
had certain beliefs. Secondly, desires are not the only mental states
that produce behavior; so distinguishing features of desires must
be introduced. Armstrong tries to do this by defining a purpose (or
desire) as a state whose behavioral effects depend on perceptual
Purposive activity . .. is a train of activities initiated and sustained by
a mental 'thrust' or causal state. At the beginning of the activity, and
as the activity develops, perceptions of the current state of the agent
and his environment

occur. Where the information

. . . contained


the perceptions is relevant, it feeds back to the causal state, modifying

the latter in a way suitable (or believed to be suitable) for the achievement of the 'end' of the activity. The 'end' is simply the state of affairs
such that perception that it has been reached feeds back to the sustaining causal state and stops the causal state operating. Purposive activity is a train of activities, initiated and sustained by a mental state,
and controlled from beginning to end by perception acting as a feedback cause on the mental state. To put forward a slogan: a purpose is
an information-sensitive mental cause (139).

Having explained desire in part in terms of perception, Armstrong

turns to the latter concept. Here again he employs the formula characterizing mental states as states "apt for producing certain sorts of
behavior," though he admits that perception does not have the same
sort of causal role as desires or purposes.
Now, in the case of perception, there is no question of the inner event
actually tending to bring about behavior. What we must say, rather, is
that perception supplies a necessary precondition for appropriate behavior. If a baby can perceive a difference between a green and a blue
block, then it is in a position to discriminate between them in its behavior if it should want to. . . . Perception enables discriminating behavior, but does not impel towards that behavior (249).

The behavioral effects of perception tell only part of the story, however. Armstrong says that certain mental-state concepts must be analyzed partly in terms of the propensity to be caused by certain stimuli, and perception is the main example of this. To perceive an object or situation in the environment, he says, is to acquire a belief
about the environment. (This thesis was espoused in his earlier

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book, Perception and the Physical World.') Such belief-acquirings

are "apt" for being brought about by the corresponding objects or
situations in the environment, which is what occurs in veridical perception. Thus, perception is to be understood in terms of the stimuli
that characteristically cause it, as well as the behavioral differences
it is apt to produce.
Armstrong's analysis of mental-state concepts turns out to be far
less simple and straightforward than the original billing suggests.
As we have seen, he not only appeals to behavioral consequences in
analyzing mental concepts, but also to stimulus causes. Moreover,
in many cases mental states are characterized in terms of their causal
relations to other mental states, rather than their direct ties to behavior or stimuli. Emotions are analyzed in terms of propensities
to cause certain desires and to be caused by certain beliefs, and deliberation is analyzed as a process apt for causing a decision. Again,
even the primary mental concepts, desire and perception, are not
independently analyzed. As we have seen, Armstrong's analysis of
desire or purpose makes use of the concept of perception, and his
analysis of perception presupposes the concept of desire; hence, he
calls them "package-deal" concepts (253). But a full analysis requires him to distinguish the joint operation of purpose and perception from that of other mechanisms, e.g., automatic self-regulating mechanisms in the body. In his attempt to do this, Armstrong
is eventually forced to appeal to the "enormously greater complexity" of purpose and perception (252).
In addition to the analysis of particular mental concepts, a complete theory of the mind must also give an account of self-knowledge
and of consciousness in general. Here seem to lurk large obstacles to
a causal-materialist account of the mind. For example, if a mental
state is a disposition to produce behavior, how is noninferential
knowledge of it possible? And if a mental state is a physicochemical
state of the brain, why should a statement concerning such a state
have a different epistemic status from, say, a statement about the
state of one's liver? Yet it is widely claimed that first-person mental
statements do have a unique epistemic status: they are incorrigible
and self-intimating.
Armstrong confronts these challenges head on. He argues that
noninferential knowledge of dispositions is perfectly possible and,
hence, that noninferential knowledge of one's mental states is also
possible. On the other hand, he emphatically denies the incorrigi' New York: Humanities, 1961; reviewed in this


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14 (July 5, 1962):



bility and self-intimatingness of first-person mental statements. That

I believe I am in mental state M, he says, does not entail that I am
in M; and that I am in M does not entail that I believe, or am
aware, that I am. Armstrong's position is that
. . . our cognitive relation to our mind ... is like our cognitive relation to anything else in nature. We know in part, guess in part, in
part we are mistakenand in large part we are simply ignorant.Being
in a mental state entails nothing about our awarenessof that state

If mental states are physicochemical states of the brain, indubitable

knowledge of them should not be expected. Consciousness of one's
mental states is a self-scanning process. One is conscious of a mental state when it is "scanned" by a further mental state. Although
successful scanning is possible, there is no reason to expect every
mental state to be scanned or every putative scanning to be correct.
Thus, Armstrong's position squares well with his materialism.
On the whole, this is a valuable book that deserves, and will
receive, considerable attention. It presents a coherent and systematic
theory of the mind, with reasonably clear-cut proposals for the solution of many traditional problems in this domain. It certainly constitutes the most detailed defense of the "contingent identity thesis"
yet to appear. In addition, Armstrong writes lucidly and engagingly;
he puts all his cards face up on the table, both in criticism of others
and in defense of his own views. Though the book is long, it is eminently readable.
Of special use to students is Armstrong's classification of theories
of mind and his critique of theories that rival his own. His criticisms
of rivals are often imaginative. I was disappointed, however, by insufficient discussion of the concept of reduction. In criticizing the
attribute theory, Armstrong claims that mental attributes, or properties, must be "reducible" to physical ones, but he never explains
what this means. Presumably, reducibility requires some sort of regularities holding between the incidence of mental properties and of
physical properties. But the nature of these regularities goes completely unexplored. In the same vein, one wishes Armstrong had
said more about criteria of identity for states or events. In the early
part of the book he talks almost exclusively of the identification of
mind and brain. But since "the mind" is just shorthand, I think,
for a certain class of states and events, one wishes there were some
elaboration of the problem of when two states can be considered

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Armstrong's causal analysis of mental concepts is a salutary development in the philosophy of mind. Its main importance, I think,
lies in its refutation of the oft-repeated dogma that logical connections and causal connections are incompatible. Armstrong is quite
right to point to concepts, such as the gene, whose analysis includes
a propensity to cause certain effects. He is also right, I think, in suggesting that the concept of desire or purpose is the concept of a
state whose analysis includes the propensity to cause behavior.
There is a sense, then, in which there is a conceptual, or logical, tie
between desire and action. Yet this logical tie is perfectly compatible with the fact that actions are caused by desires.
More dubious, however, is Armstrong's extension of this logical
connection thesis to all mental states. First, even where we can agree
that a certain kind of mental state characteristically produces certain behavior, it may not be evident that this is a logical truth. Secondly, there are many kinds of mental states that do not seem to be
associated with specific kinds of physical behavior. What sorts of
overt behavior are typically associated with entertaining a hypothesis, doubting a proposition, or daydreaming? The conceptual relationship between such states and overt behavior-even an indirect
relationship via other mental states-is, at best, extremely tenuous.
Armstrong's willingness to come to grips with the consequences of
his view is most in evidence in his treatment of noninferential
knowledge of mental states and his treatment of consciousness. He
clearly recognizes the implications of his causal-materialist position
on these issues, and his positions on them are original and refreshing. I remain unconvinced, however, by his support for noninferential knowledge of dispositions. He claims that pressure is a state apt
for producing movement in a body, so that noninferential knowledge of pressure on one's body is noninferential knowledge of a disposition. But this is dubious. His view of consciousness as a "selfscanning" process is also questionable. On his view, M is a conscious
mental event if it is the object of another mental event (the awareness of M). Otherwise it is unconscious. It follows that an awareness
is itself an unconscious mental event if it is not the object of a further awareness. Thus, an awareness of a pain is unconscious if it
goes unscanned by a "higher-level" awareness. This strikes me as
extremely counterintuitive.
There are other specific points where Armstrong's discussion is
inadequate, sometimes because he tries too hard to fit things into
his framework without full cognizance of the difficulties involved.
On the other hand, his development of the theory is always interest-

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ing and frequently ingenious. Bold theories, like Armstrong's, are

the stuff of which philosophical progress is made, and so this is a valuable contribution to the philosophy of mind.

University of Michigan
The last item of the APA Program for Saturday, December 27, in
20 (Oct. 16, 1969): 725-735, page 726, was omitted. This line should
have read:
8:00 Smoker, Grand Ballroom

The editors regret the omission, and trust that many of our readers will
attend the Smoker.


The editors report with deep regret the death of A. N. Prior, fellow in philosophy of Balliol College, Oxford, and former editor of the Journal of
Symbolic Logic. Professor Prior was born and educated in New Zealand;
he had taught at Otago University and at Canterbury University, and also
at Manchester University, England. At the time of his death he was on
sabbatical leave, visiting at the University of Oslo. He died in Trondheim,
Norway, on October 6, i969, at the age of fifty-four.
The editors regret to learn that J. W. Swanson, Professor of Philosophy at
the University of Massachusettts, Amherst, and a contributor to this
JOURNAL, died on November 6, i969.


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