The Act of Thinking
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The Act of Thinking

By Derek Melser

A new theory proposes that thinking is a learned action.

A Bradford Book





A new theory proposes that thinking is a learned action.

In this remarkable monograph, Derek Melser argues that the core assumption of both folk psychology and cognitive science—that thinking goes on in the head—is mistaken. Melser argues that thinking is not an intracranial process of any kind, mental or neural, but is rather a learned action of the person.

After an introduction in which he makes a prima facie case that thinking is an action, Melser reviews action-based theories of thinking advanced by Ryle, Vygotsky, Hampshire and others. He then presents his own theory of "token concerting," according to which thinking is a special kind of token performance, by the individual, of certain social, concerted activity. He examines the developmental role of concerted activity, the token performance of concerted activity, the functions of speech, the mechanics and uses of covert tokening, empathy, the origins of solo action, the actional nature of perception, and various kinds and aspects of mature thinking. In addition, he analyzes the role of metaphors in the folk notion of mind.

While intending his theory as a contribution to the philosophy of mind, Melser aims also at a larger goal: to establish actions as a legitimate philosophical given, self-explanatory and sui generis. To this end, he argues in the final chapter against the possibility of scientific explanation of actions. The Act of Thinking opens up a large new area for philosophical research.


$8.75 S | £6.99 ISBN: 9780262134460 304 pp. | 9 in x 6 in


  • academic cliché but the work of a mature, sophisticated and profound thinker...



  • The position Melser defends, a neo-behaviorist solution to the mind-body problem, flouts all received doctrine in philosophy of mind and cognitive psychology. There is precedent for his view in the mid-twentieth-century works of Ryle and others, but his version of it is entirely original, and his case for it highly so. What is particularly distinctive is that Melser's argument incorporates a novel error theory—indeed, a novel kind of error theory. He argues that all non-behaviorist mental talk is metaphorical, and even provides an illuminating general essay on metaphor to back up that claim. An extraordinary work, and well argued too.

    William G. Lycan

    William Rand Kenan, Jr. Professor of Philosophy, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

  • It is Derek Melser's claim that we learn not only how to think but also how to be conscious beings—that neither thinking nor consciousness occurs in us naturally. They develop as a result of the interweaving of two aspects of our joint activities with others, which he calls the concerting and the tokening of our actions. We act in unison with those around us while gesturing or pointing toward the next, as yet untaken, step in our actions. From these, he develops an account of thinking and consciousness that connects them with readily identifiable acts occurring in our collective world. This important book indicates (or tokens) a whole new social direction for cognitive and consciousness studies.

    John Shotter

    Professor Emeritus of Communication, University of New Hampshire

  • While many have begun making the case for 'embodied cognition'—resituating the mind in the body—Derek Melser takes the next step: resituating the embodied mind in its social milieu. Cognition is argued to be something that people do, and is thus publicly observable in their interactions rather than hidden away inside their heads. The Act of Thinking is a pivotal book and a significant contribution to the 'second cognitive revolution.'

    Andy Lock

    Professor of Psychology, Massey University, New Zealand