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Battle in the Mind Fields

“We frequently see one idea appear in one discipline as if it were new, when it migrated from another discipline, like a mole that had dug under a fence and popped up on the other side.” 

Taking note of this phenomenon, John Goldsmith and Bernard Laks embark on a uniquely interdisciplinary history of the genesis of linguistics, from nineteenth-century currents of thought in the mind sciences through to the origins of structuralism and the ruptures, both political and intellectual, in the years leading up to World War II. Seeking to explain where contemporary ideas in linguistics come from and how they have been justified, Battle in the Mind Fields investigates the porous interplay of concepts between psychology, philosophy, mathematical logic, and linguistics. Goldsmith and Laks trace theories of thought, self-consciousness, and language from the machine age obsession with mind and matter to the development of analytic philosophy, behaviorism, Gestalt psychology, positivism, and structural linguistics, emphasizing throughout the synthesis and continuity that has brought about progress in our understanding of the human mind. Arguing that it is impossible to understand the history of any of these fields in isolation, Goldsmith and Laks suggest that the ruptures between them arose chiefly from social and institutional circumstances rather than a fundamental disparity of ideas. 

656 pages | 27 color plates, 2 line drawings, 4 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2019

History: History of Ideas

Language and Linguistics: General Language and Linguistics

Philosophy: Logic and Philosophy of Language


"The research into this volume is quite breathtaking, running deeply into the nineteenth century and broadly across the disciplines to chart out the foundation upon which twentieth-century linguistics builds. [Goldsmith and Laks] give us characters and feelings as well as concepts. . . . You should read Battle in the Mind Fields. I cannot imagine any linguist, or aspiring linguist, or anyone with even a mild interest in the history of thought, not coming away feeling hugely gratified that they spent their time between the covers of this book."

Randy Allen Harris | Language

"John Goldsmith and Bernard Laks have written a wonderful book. Original and forceful in its methodology, conscious of the challenge it represents for its potential readers, Battle in the Mind Fields is all at once convincing, coherent, and entertaining. . . . Blending methods from the history of ideas, intellectual history, sociology of science, as well as a networked approach to the study of intellectual and cultural transfers, Goldsmith and Laks successfully produce a dense, lively fresco that both demonstrates and makes the case for the resolutely interdisciplinary, transnational and contextual approach to historiography they advocate."

Patrick Flack | Historiographia Linguistica

“In this adventurous and animated volume, Goldsmith and Laks invite us to collaborate with many forgotten and misinterpreted figures who share present passions about the importance of understanding the nature of language and the mind. Reminding us that many earlier thinkers have, in their own inspired and often idiosyncratic ways, anticipated our present directions and identified commanding alternatives, the coauthors demonstrate that the texture and content of older ideas and controversies are an indispensable and rewarding resource for contemporary research at a time of significant reevaluation for the guiding concepts, models, and methods in the field.”

Farrell Ackerman, University of California, San Diego

“We often pay a nod to the fact that our scientific models are molded by the historical and geographic environments in which they are forged. This book provides the authoritative and compelling argumentation that linguistic theory (and, eventually, the cognitive sciences) would have been otherwise if not for Napoleon, the Gospels, positivism, geology, Eurasianism, and numerous other underappreciated currents that influenced the dissolution and re-formation of the intellectual group identities that characterize two centuries of research in the language sciences.”

Andrew Nevins, University College London

“Considering that this is really a book about linguistics, the attention and space it gives to other fields is unusual and impressive. I don’t think there is any other work in the mind sciences that compares to the depth and breadth of this one. Battle in the Mind Fields is highly informative, rich, engaging, and a lot of fun to read.”

Ida Toivonen, Carleton University

Table of Contents


Chapter 1: Battle in the Mind Fields

In the Beginning
Soft Mentalism, Hard Mentalism  
Liberation Moments 
Our Kind of Science 
The World of Ideas and the World of Social Relations 
Group Identity 
Jehovah’s Problem and Noah’s Solution 
Credit Problem and Heroes 
Mind and Materialism  

Chapter 2: The Nineteenth Century and Language 
Introduction: History, Typology, Structuralism  
Deep Time 

Chapter 3: Philosophy and Logic in the Nineteenth Century
Logic: Boole, Frege, Russell
Chapter 4: The Mind Has a Body: Psychology and Intelligent Machines in the Nineteenth Century
Germany, the Homeland of Psychology in the Nineteenth Century 
Psychology Comes to the New World 
Psychology in France 
The Unity of Mankind—and the Differentiation of Types of Humans 
The Era of Machines 
Moving On
Chapter 5: Psychology, 1900–1940 
Structuralism and Functionalism  
John B. Watson and Behaviorism  
The Second Generation of Behaviorists 
Gestalt Psychology 
The Period Comes to a Close 

Chapter 6: American Linguistics, 1900–1940
Early American Anthropology 
Edward Sapir
The Phoneme 
Leonard Bloomfield 
Sapir and Bloomfield 
The Creation of Linguistics as a Profession 

Chapter 7: Philosophy, 1900–1940
Edmund Husserl
Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein 
Logical Positivism, Logical Empiricism  

Chapter 8: Logic, 1900–1940

Three Approaches to the Philosophy of Mathematics 
The Chrome Machine of Logic 
The Logicians’ Grammar

Chapter 9: European Structuralism, 1920–1940 

Nikolai Trubetzkoy 
Roman Jakobson 
Structuralism and the Prague Linguistic Circle 
Death, War, and Pestilence 

Chapter 10: Conclusions and Prospects 

Midnight in the Century 


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