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identity in philosophy. The soul of a prince may end up in the body of
a pauper, or (in the modern version) a person™s mind might be stored

3
Disciplining the Individual and the Mind
4

in a computer and downloaded in other matter, or teletransported Star
Trek-style to another spatial location.
In fact, such widespread views re¬‚ect and reinforce, rather than chal-
lenge, the tie between minds and individuals. For in effect what they do
is identify an individual in terms of his or her mind. It is that very same
individual who sins on Earth and is thus punished in the afterlife, and
the very same individual who emerges from the teletransporter as the one
who stepped into it. If this were not true, then Hell would deliver only
a Kafkaesque notion of justice and desert, and teletransportation would
be suicide and the creation of a new life all in one.
This book is about the boundaries of the mind. The preceding two
paragraphs aside, it has nothing directly to say about religious thought
or about work on personal identity. Rather, its focus is on the idea of
the individual as a boundary for the mind in the cognitive sciences and
the philosophy of mind. There are various strands to the idea that the
individual serves as a boundary for the mind in those sciences, and I
want to tease them apart, to probe and examine them, and to question
at least some of them. I take seriously the idea that there are important
senses in which the individual is not a boundary for the mind, but do
so from within the con¬nes of the cognitive sciences. This will involve
saying much about what I think the mind is. And it will be hard to say
much of use on this topic without also entering into discussion of what
individuals are. That, I suggest, takes us immediately beyond the mind
and the cognitive sciences to a larger arena within science.


2 individuals and science
The concept of the individual is central to how we think about the mind,
about living things, and about the social world. The sciences that concern
each of these domains “ the cognitive, biological, and social sciences “
have developed independently. Human agents are often taken to be
paradigms of individuals in each of these sciences, what I shall collectively
refer to as the fragile sciences. Yet there exists little systematic discussion
of the roles and conceptions of individuals across the cognitive, biolog-
ical, and social sciences. Boundaries of the Mind focuses on the role that
the individual has played and continues to play in guiding our thinking
about the mind within cognitive science. It conceptualizes that science
(or, better, cluster of sciences) as part of a broader range of sciences, the
fragile sciences, that use individuals as a touchstone. It aims to contribute
and draw on the fragile sciences.
The Individual in the Fragile Sciences 5

In everyday life human agents are our paradigm example of individ-
uals. We take for granted human agents in our everyday lives, and they
feature centrally in our myths, histories, literature, and artistic represen-
tations. They are perhaps the most familiar part of our landscapes and our
memories. Individuals are not some theoretical abstraction or posit, but
perceived and known things. They are something that we can feel sure
about, something basic or foundational, something beyond question.
Individuals have also been taken for granted within the various ex-
planatory enterprises that form part of contemporary science. But here
the sense of security and surety can begin to dissipate as we register some
of the variation that exists in just how human agents are thought of within
the domain of the human sciences. Within evolutionary biology, human
agents are conceived as animals with a phylogenetic history and a par-
ticular range of ecological niches. Within anthropology, human agents
are interpreters of meaning and creators of culture. Within cognitive sci-
ence, they are the locus for computational programs and modules. Within
economics, rational decisionmakers, optimizers of utility. The claim that
individuals play a central role in these sciences is platitudinous. Yet recog-
nition of the various roles that individuals have in these sciences, and of
the presuppositions and implications of such roles, have been limited
enough to warrant using the platitude as a focal theme for a broader
discussion of the individual in the fragile sciences.
So my ¬rst point about individuals and science is that while we can
readily accept human agents as paradigmatic individuals, how such indi-
viduals are conceptualized varies across different sciences. This should
occasion no real surprise, given that these sciences have developed with
considerable autonomy from one another, and the central role that “the
individual” plays in each. There are, however, various kinds of project
that might take this as a point of departure. For example, there are his-
torical investigations of speci¬c conceptions of the individual, detailed
comparisons of distinct traditions and thinkers across these disciplines,
and synthetic overviews that weave a narrative revealing af¬nities and
ruptures within these ¬elds of thought. While the kind of project that I
am undertaking incorporates historical, comparative, and synthetic per-
spectives, the unifying structure to it lies in the interplay between the role
and conception of individuals and the way in which the corresponding
sciences have developed.
In both common sense and the sciences we have a ¬rm grip on what
individuals are: They are individual human beings like you and me, and
by extension, individual thinkers, organisms, and agents. What warrants
Disciplining the Individual and the Mind
6

re¬‚ection, however, are the various ways in which these thinkers, organ-
isms, and agents have been construed, respectively, in psychology, biology,
and the social sciences. For these construals are pivotal to many of the
most important and controversial topics in those sciences and the sort of
sciences they become.
This brings me to a second point. How one conceives of individuals and
the role that one ascribes to individuals structure and constrain how any
“individual-focused” science is theorized and practiced. We can illustrate
both of these points with an example from the biological sciences, that
of the role of individuals in the theory of natural selection.
In the traditional Darwinian theory of natural selection, the individual
organism plays the central role as the agent on which natural selection
operates. Organisms are the individuals that bear phenotypic traits, that
vary in their ¬tness within a population, and that, as a result, are selected
for over evolutionary time. Organisms are the bearers of adaptations,
such as thick coats in cold climates, or porous leaves in humid climates.
They are the agents of selection. On Darwin™s own view, units larger than
the individual, such as the group, were (more or less) unnecessary, and
units smaller than the individual, such as the gene, unknown.
By contrast, in the postsynthetic view of evolution by natural selection
that is often glossed in terms of the concept of the sel¬sh gene, individuals
play a very different role. On this view, it is genes rather than individuals
that are the agents of selection, and that come to play many of the roles
(and have many of the features) that are ascribed to organisms on the
traditional Darwinian view. On this view, individuals are not much more
than ways in which genes get to propagate themselves. In terms that
Richard Dawkins uses, they are the vehicles in which the real agents of
selection, genes, the replicators in the story of life, are lodged. Genes are
the bearers of adaptations, and the units between which variations in
¬tness provide the basis for the process of natural selection. Furthermore,
not only is the individual organism no longer the agent of selection, but as
Dawkins has also argued, it is only an arbitrary boundary for phenotypes,
which should be seen as extending into the world beyond the organism.1
Each of these conceptions of the role of the individual in the theory
of natural selection carries with it implications for a number of issues to
which that theory is central. I shall mention just two here.
The ¬rst is what is usually called the problem of altruism. Altruistic
phenotypes and behaviors are those that decrease the relative ¬tness
of the organisms that bear them. On the traditional Darwinian view of
natural selection, focused as it is on organisms and their reproductive
The Individual in the Fragile Sciences 7

success, the existence of altruism represents a puzzle. If organisms are
the agent on which natural selection operates, then natural selection will
select those organisms that have a relatively higher level of ¬tness. Thus,
organisms adapted to increase the relative ¬tness of other organisms,
that is, decrease their own relative ¬tness, could not evolve through this
process, except as incidental by-products. The problem of altruism, in
this view, is how to explain the existence of organism-level altruism.
On the gene-centered view of natural selection, by contrast, this prob-
lem does not exist. Or, rather, it is solved by showing how altruism,
so conceived, is a result of the process of natural selection operating
on genes and maximizing their reproductive success. For copies of the
same genes can exist in different organisms, and so altruistic behavior
would be predicted by a gene-centered view of natural selection where
organisms share signi¬cant proportions of their genes, such as when they
are kin.
A second issue for which the individual- and gene-centered views of
natural selection have implications is how important higher-level selec-
tion is in shaping the tree of life. Such selection operates on agents larger
than the individual, anything from temporary dyads, to demes, to species,
to whole clades. Both the traditional Darwinian and the gene-centered
view are skeptical about the need to posit higher-level selection, and posit
higher-level selection only when explanation at their preferred level is not
empirically adequate. On the traditional Darwinian view, these higher-
level agents are conceptualized very much as organisms in that they are
seen as sharing many properties ordinarily ascribed to organisms. But
on the gene-centered view, groups, species, and clades are simply larger
pools of genes, different sized vehicles, if you like, but never truly the
agents of selection.2
This example brings out another dimension to discussion of the in-
dividual in the cognitive, biological, and social sciences. Human agents
are the paradigmatic individuals in these sciences, but they are neither
the only entity that serves as an individual nor always the most central
such entity. Entities both smaller (for example, information-processing
modules) and larger (for example, whole species) than our paradigm in-
dividuals are sometimes conceptualized either as individuals or as having
many of the properties possessed by paradigmatic individuals, and thus
as being like individuals. Sometimes it is these entities that are central
to the relevant sciences, with our paradigm individuals receding to the
background. We can raise the same questions about the conception and
role of such entities as we have about our paradigm individuals. As I will
Disciplining the Individual and the Mind
8

argue in the ¬nal chapters, this may be true even when our focus is on
cognition, and where the relevant individuals are groups of some kind.


3 the fragile sciences
I have introduced “the fragile sciences” as shorthand for the cognitive,
biological, and social sciences, and here I want to say something about the
neologism itself. Given that human agents are paradigmatic individuals
in these sciences, one might think that “human sciences” is descriptively
more informative. But like “behavioral sciences” or “special sciences,”
this is a term whose connotations are more misleading than helpful, and
whose extension differs from that of the range of sciences that I have in
mind.
The ¬rst respect in which this is true is that “the human sciences”
denotes simply those sciences that attempt to understand human nature
in one or more of its dimensions: biological, psychological, behavioral,
social. The term thus suggests continuities between humanistic studies of
human nature that precede the disciplinization of the psychological and
social sciences in the nineteenth century and subsequent, disciplinary-
based research that I shall not discuss at all. Roger Smith™s The Norton
History of the Human Sciences is an excellent work with this focus, but
my concern is largely with conceptions of the individual that postdate
the formation of psychology and the various social sciences as distinct
disciplines.
A second but related reason for not speaking of the human sciences is
that even if human agents are paradigmatic individuals in the cognitive,
biological, and social sciences, their conceptualization here seldom even
attempts to capture the essence of humanity or to grapple with the loftier
goals of earlier inquiries, such as “man™s place in nature.” The conceptual-
ization of the individual has become more partial and less encompassing,
but also more closely tied to models, techniques, and research strategies
in particular sciences. It is these ties, rather than the study of human
agency or human nature, that interest me.
A third reason to coin a term rather than make do with an existing one,
such as “the human sciences,” is that the greater part of the biological
sciences, as well as a sizable portion of the cognitive sciences, have at least
as much to say about nonhuman as about human agency. The scienti¬c
study of intelligent capacities has sometimes been used as a brief charac-
terization of cognitive science, to which arti¬cial intelligence, the study
of such capacities in machines, has been, historically and substantially, a
The Individual in the Fragile Sciences 9

major contributor. Human beings constitute one special object of study
within zoology. If “the human sciences” is taken, as it often is, to refer to
psychology plus the social sciences, then we need a term that refers to
these plus the biological sciences.
But why fragile sciences? Two brief reasons. The ¬rst is that it both par-
odies and transcends traditional divisions between the sciences: between
the natural and social sciences, hard and soft science, and the physical
and human sciences. As a sometimes philosopher of science, I have found
these dichotomies too often driving views of the nature of science, and as
inevitably privileging the natural, the hard, and the physical over the so-
cial, the soft, and the human. “Fragile sciences” serves as a partial counter
to these tendencies pervading not only philosophy but also education,
popular culture, and science itself. The second is the cluster of ideas that
fragility calls to mind. Fragile things can be easily broken, are often deli-
cate and admirable in their own right, and their labeling as such carries
with it its own warning, which we sometimes make explicit: Handle with
care! But they are also both strong and weak at the same time, and their
fragility lies both in their underlying physical bases and in how it is that
we treat them. No doubt, “fragile sciences” triggers other meanings, and
should two reasons not be reason enough, let that be a third. Welcome
to the fragile sciences!


4 individualism in the cognitive, biological,
and social sciences
One way in which the role of the individual has been made prominent in
the fragile sciences is via the defense of one or another form of individu-
alism. I have examined individualism in psychology in detail elsewhere,
concluding with the suggestion that the relationship between the various
individualistic theses in psychology, biology, and the social sciences de-
served substantive exploration. While that exploration does not exhaust
the content of either Boundaries of the Mind or the broader project of
which it is a part, the relationship between these individualisms consti-
tutes a reference point for discussion of individuals in the fragile sciences.
I shall begin to discharge the promissory note that there is something to
be gained by considering “the individual” across the fragile sciences by
sketching a common, simple framework in terms of which these forms of
individualism can all be understood.3
In psychology and the cognitive sciences, more generally, individual-
ism is the thesis that psychological states should be construed without
Disciplining the Individual and the Mind
10

reference to anything beyond the boundary of the individual who has
those states. This is the thesis that Jerry Fodor has called methodolog-
ical solipsism, and it requires that one abstract away from an individ-
ual™s environment in taxonomizing or individuating her psychological
states. A more precise and common expression of individualism in psy-
chology says that psychological states should be taxonomized so as to
supervene on the intrinsic, physical states of the individuals who in-
stantiate those states. (A property, A, supervenes on another, B, just if

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