1st Edition

A Refutation of Positivism in Philosophy of Mind Thinking, Reality, and Language

By Pieter A.M. Seuren Copyright 2023
    196 Pages 5 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This book argues that positivism, though now the dominant paradigm for both the natural and the human sciences, is intrinsically unfit for the latter. In particular, it is unfit for linguistics and cognitive science, where it is ultimately self-destructive, since it fails to account for causality, while the mind, the primary object of research of the human sciences, cannot be understood unless considered to be an autonomous causal force. 

    Author Pieter Albertus Maria Seuren, who died shortly after this manuscript was finished and after a remarkable career, reviews the history of this issue since the seventeenth century. He focuses on Descartes, Leibniz, British Empiricism and Kant, arguing that neither cognition nor language can be adequately accounted for unless the mind is given its full due. This implies that a distinction must be made—following Alexius Meinong, but against Russell and Quine—between actual and virtual reality. The latter is a product of the causally active mind and a necessary ingredient for the setting up of mental models, without which neither cognition nor language can function. Mental models are coherent sets of propositions, and can be wholly or partially true or false. Positivism rules out mental models, blocking any serious semantics and thereby reducing both language and cognition to caricatures of themselves. Seuren presents a causal theory of meaning, linking up language with cognition and solving the old question of what meaning actually amounts to.

    Key Features:

    • Provides a fundamental reassessment of the methodology of the humanities
    • Makes a distinctive contribution to the conceptual foundations of linguistics and philosophy of mind
    • Explores the philosophical and historical origins of central developments in the human sciences in the past 100 years
    • Offers a new approach to ontology and epistemology in the scientific study of the creative human mind and its products.

    1. The knowledge impasse
    2. The Being impasse: on what there is
    3. What is a proposition? What is a mental model?
    4. The language impasse


    Pieter A.M. Seuren (1934–2021) was a Dutch linguist. He was Emeritus Professor of Linguistics and Philosophy of Language at the Radboud University, Nijmegen, and research fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics. He laid down his formal, ecologically and historically motivated linguistics in many published articles and in a wide-ranging series of 15 books, among them, Operators and Nucleus (1969), Discourse Semantics (1985), Semantic Syntax (1996), his historical monograph Western Linguistics (1998), his foundational, two-volume Language from Within (2009), From Whorf to Montague (2013) and Saussure and Sechehaye: Myth and Genius (2018).