1st Edition

The Embodiment of Meaning Why Matter Matters for Cognition and Experience

By Farid Zahnoun Copyright 2024

    This book presents an elaborated argument for why functionalism, as well as other dematerialized and disembodied theories of mind, can’t be right. 

    In discussing the question of whether or not we are just material beings, Hilary Putnam once claimed that “we could be made of Swiss cheese and it wouldn't matter.” Fifty years later, functionalism still reigns, and the psychological irrelevance of the materiality of our bodies remains a hardwired assumption of philosophy of mind and cognitive science. As this book shows, the idea of the possibility of a disembodied mind is rooted in a philosophical depreciation of the particular in favor of the abstract, an attitude which runs through Western philosophy as a red thread. The Embodiment of Meaning demonstrates how this privileging of the immaterial-abstract over the material-particular is not only untenable from a logical-philosophical point of view; it also runs counter to a basic fact of human psychology itself: rather than being irrelevant, the world precisely matters most in its material particularity. In addition to offering a thoroughgoing criticism of the Platonic-functionalist “abstract-over-particular” idea, the book aims to substantially contribute to a less ambiguous understanding of the various ways in which “matter matters.”  

    Introduction; 1. Mistaking the score for the music: intellectualism and the philosopher’s fallacy; 2. Multiple realizability and the irrelevance of matter; 3. The embodiment of meaning; 4. Categorial and particular identity; Intermezzo: six honest serving men; 5. Embodied experience; 6. Psychology as strongly embodied; 7. Embodiment and identity; Epilogue: the significant body; Afterthought on sense-making; References.


    Farid Zahnoun is a postdoctoral researcher in the field of philosophy of mind and cognitive science with an expertise in the topics of mental representation, perception, and the notion of information within theoretical neuroscience. He is currently affiliated with the Free University of Berlin (FU) and the University of Antwerp (UA).

    "Farid Zahnoun combines the precision and clarity that analytical philosophers strive for with the scope and depth that continental philosophers aim at. He makes clear that many assumptions of current thinking about the mind are up to their teeth metaphysically biased and shows how the mind is shaped by its material particularity and by socionormative practices. If it has ever occurred to you that all that is of interest about embodiment has already been said, this book will make you think again."
    Erik Myin, University of Antwerp

    "There is a natural human tendency—often exacerbated in philosophy, and pervasive in contemporary analytic philosophy—to overlook our ineliminable contribution to the sense things make to us: first to our ‘phenomenal body’ in pre-objective, pre-conceptual perceptual experience, and then, on that basis, to our Kantian ‘understanding,’ at the level of our true-or-false objective representations. It was Kant who first identified and diagnosed the resulting ‘transcendental realist’ illusion of supposing that the sense we make of things in our objective representations is a sense they have as ‘things as they are in themselves,’ altogether independently of human judgment and of our sense-making practices. And it was the phenomenological tradition that has shown that, and how, that sense is itself rooted in pre-objective perceptual experience that is essentially embodied. Wisely anchoring his discussion in contemporary philosophy of mind—where the above tendencies have led to ‘functionalist’ views of the mind that downplay or outright repress the embodied nature of human perceptual experience and (therefore) cognition, and consequently to the influential doctrine of the ‘multiple realizability’ of the mental—Zahnoun works carefully, but at the same time forcefully and originally, to expose much of contemporary philosophy of mind as resting on fundamental confusions that stem from the repression of the essential embodiment of meaning. At a time of increased balkanization in professional philosophy, this ambitious, broad-ranging, and eye-opening book stands out in its sustained effort to engage seriously with mainstream philosophy of mind, and to invite its practitioners to reconsider some of their most basic presuppositions"
    Avner Baz, Tufts University