What is a person? [george lakoff, philosophy of the flesh]

What we now know about the mind is radically at odds with the major classical philosophical views of what a person is.
For example, there is no Cartesian dualistic person, with a mind separate from and independent of the body, sharing exactly the same
disembodied transcendent reason with everyone else, and capable of knowing everything about his or her mind simply by self-reflection.
Rather, the mind is inherently embodied, reason is shaped by the body, and since most thought is unconscious, the mind cannot be known
simply by self-reflection. Empirical study is necessary.
There exists no Kantian radically autonomous person, with absolute freedom and a transcendent reason that correctly dictates what is and
isn’t moral. Reason, arising from the body, doesn’t transcend the body. What universal aspects of reason there are arise from the
commonalities of our bodies and brains and the environments we inhabit. The existence of these universals does not imply that reason
transcends the body. Moreover, since conceptual systems vary significantly, reason is not entirely universal.
Since reason is shaped by the body, it is not radically free, because the possible human conceptual systems and the possible forms of
reason are limited. In addition, once we have learned a conceptual system, it is neurally instantiated in our brains and we are not free to think
just anything. Hence, we have no absolute freedom in Kant’s sense, no full autonomy. There is no a priori, purely philosophical basis for a
universal concept of morality and no transcendent, universal pure reason that could give rise to universal moral laws.
The utilitarian person, for whom rationality is economic rationality-the maximization of utility-does not exist. Real human beings are not, for
the most part, in conscious control of-or even consciously aware of-their reasoning. Most of their reason, besides, is based on various kinds of
prototypes, framings, and metaphors. People seldom engage in a form of economic reason that could maximize utility.
The phenomenological person, who through phenomenological introspection alone can discover everything there is to know about the mind
and the nature of experience, is a fiction. Although we can have a theory of a vast, rapidly and automatically operating cognitive unconscious,
we have no direct conscious access to its operation and therefore to most of our thought. Phenomenological reflection, though valuable in
revealing the structure of experience, must be supplemented by empirical research into the cognitive unconscious.
There is no poststructuralist person-no completely decentered subject for whom all meaning is arbitrary, totally relative, and purely historically
contin gent, unconstrained by body and brain. The mind is not merely embodied, but embodied in such a way that our conceptual systems
draw largely upon the commonalities of our bodies and of the environments we live in. The result is that much of a person’s conceptual system
is either universal or widespread across languages and cultures. Our conceptual systems are not totally relative and not merely a matter of
historical contingency, even though a degree of conceptual relativity does exist and even though historical contingency does matter a great
deal. The grounding of our conceptual systems in shared embodiment and bodily experience creates a largely centered self, but not a
monolithic self.
There exists no Fregean person-as posed by analytic philosophy-for whom thought has been extruded from the body. That is, there is no real
person whose embodiment plays no role in meaning, whose meaning is purely objective and defined by the external world, and whose
language can fit the external world with no significant role played by mind, brain, or body. Because our conceptual systems grow out of our
bodies, meaning is grounded in and through our bodies. Because a vast range of our concepts are metaphorical, meaning is not entirely literal
and the classical correspondence theory of truth is false. The correspondence theory holds that statements are true or false objectively,
depending on how they map directly onto the world-independent of any human understanding of either the statement or the world. On the
contrary, truth is mediated by embodied understanding and imagination. That does not mean that truth is purely subjective or that there is no
stable truth. Rather, our common embodiment allows for common, stable truths.
There is no such thing as a computational person, whose mind is like computer software, able to work on any suitable computer or neural
hardwarewhose mind somehow derives meaning from taking meaningless symbols as input, manipulating them by rule, and giving
meaningless symbols as output. Real people have embodied minds whose conceptual systems arise from, are shaped by, and are given
meaning through living human bodies. The neural structures of our brains produce conceptual systems and linguistic structures that cannot be
adequately accounted for by formal systems that only manipulate symbols.
Finally, there is no Chomskyan person, for whom language is pure syntax, pure form insulated from and independent of all meaning, context,
perception, emotion, memory, attention, action, and the dynamic nature of communication. Moreover, human language is not a totally genetic
innovation. Rather, central aspects of language arise evolutionarily from sensory, motor, and other neural systems that are present in “lower”
animals.
Classical philosophical conceptions of the person have stirred our imaginations and taught us a great deal. But once we understand the
importance of the cognitive unconscious, the embodiment of mind, and metaphorical thought, we can never go back to a priori philosophizing
about mind and language or to philosophical ideas of what a person is that are inconsistent with what we are learning about the mind.

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