Research in Psychology and Behavioral Sciences
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Research in Psychology and Behavioral Sciences. 2014, 2(2), 24-42
DOI: 10.12691/rpbs-2-2-1
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Neurosciences and Philosophy of Mind: A Reductive Interpretation of the “Mirror Neurons System” (MNS)

Nicola Simonetti1,

1High School Teacher, PhD Student in Cognitive Science, University of Siena

Pub. Date: May 14, 2014

Cite this paper:
Nicola Simonetti. Neurosciences and Philosophy of Mind: A Reductive Interpretation of the “Mirror Neurons System” (MNS). Research in Psychology and Behavioral Sciences. 2014; 2(2):24-42. doi: 10.12691/rpbs-2-2-1


The first group of reflections I want to develop is about the way in which the mind/body problem is placed within the sciences that, in virtue of a well-established convention, are unified under the name of “neurosciences”. I turn now to a second set of considerations that enter into the merits of mind/body problem. In order to this problem, like many other scholars, I support a thesis to which I give the name of “ontological monism”. From the ontological point of view, mental activity must necessarily (almost under an irrefutable postulate) be thought as a product of the work of the brain. The two neurobiological and mental conceptual systems may come into relation only if we place some ad hoc assumptions which work as a bridge between the two systems, allowing to relate psychological knowledge with neurobiological one. Another group of preliminary reflections concerns the distinction between possession and use of mental functions. In relation to higher mental functions (perception, attention, memory, language, thought, aimed behavior, etc.) I think very useful, both for theoretical investigation and for clinical distinction, between possession and use of the function. One of the richest and most exciting books in reporting experiments and implications arising from this important discovery is Rizzolatti and Sinigaglia (2006). The central argument around which the seven chapters of the book are articulated is that «the brain that acts is also and above all a brain that understands» (Ib., p.3). MNs, or “cerebral cells of empathy”, as they are sometimes called, are in these last years the focus of an important debate between many scientists, namely V.Gallese and A.Caramazza. Pascolo, anticipating in a study of 2008 the criticism of the research group of Caramazza about the existence or, at least, the cognitive role played by mirror neurons, criticized in a radical way the theories of Rizzolatti and his collegues at the University of Parma about the existence and the role of mirror neurons.P. Jacob underlies the fact that MNs are not able to explain all the cognitive functions which are necessary to make possible the understanding of intentions in other people and the complex phenomenon of empathy.L. Boella, Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Milan, states that the discovery of mirror neurons has certainly contributed to the actual and popular success of neurosciences. From Boella’s point of view this success has been favoured by the special evidence and simplicity of the result of this discovery. By this way MNs discovery has spread through many disciplines, being interpreted beyond the specific context of the experimental research. MN activity, on my view, is more closely related to understanding goal-directed behavior than intentional actions. Now I’m going to show the theoretical concordance of this discovery with a reductive theory of mind, and particularly with the supervenience reductive theory of mind claimed by Kim (1993, 1996, 1998, 2005).

mirror neurons neurosciences philosophy of mind supervenience reductionism mental causation Rizzolatti Gallese Jacob Pascolo Caramazza Boella Kim

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