Making Spirit MatterNeurology, Psychology, and Selfhood in Modern France

Making Spirit MatterNeurology, Psychology, and Selfhood in Modern France

Larry Sommer McGrath

Print publication date: 2021

ISBN: 9780226699790

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


The connection between mind and brain has been one of the most persistent problems in modern Western thought; even recent advances in neuroscience haven’t been able to solve it satisfactorily. Historian and anthropologist Larry Sommer McGrath’s Making Spirit Matter studies how a particularly productive and influential group of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century French thinkers answered this puzzle by showing the mutual dependence of spirit and matter. The scientific revolution taking place during this moment in history across disciplines, from biology to psychology and neurology, located our spiritual powers in the brain and offered a radical materialist reformulation of the meaning of society, freedom, and the self. Tracing connections among thinkers such as Henri Bergson, Alfred Fouillée, Jean-Marie Guyau, and others, McGrath plots alternative intellectual movements that revived themes of creativity, time, and experience by applying the very sciences that seemed to undermine metaphysics and theology. In so doing, Making Spirit Matter lays out the long legacy of this moment in the history of ideas and how it might renew our understanding of the relationship between mind and brain today.