Making Mind

Making Mind: Moral Sense and Consciousness in Philosophy, Science, and Literature. Rodopi/Brill (2014, Amsterdam) in their series on Consciousness and the Arts. ISBN: 978-90-420-3895-0. Bibliography and Index. 320 pages. At the Amazon site you can view up to about 20% of the contents. In the file cabinet below there is a handout that contains: Table of Contents; Preface; Section subheadings; Index.

Making Mind falls in line with Literary (Narrative) Theory, Evolutionary Studies (Consciousness), Philosophy (Moral). The central argument posits the genesis of narrative as an adaptive function stemming from consciousness and a moral sense. The book is unique with its idea of the individual character evolving narrative in relation to the group. Central to the argument is the claim that prehistorically consciousness and moral sense intersected to form what we would call narrative.

We are inherently sympathetic creatures to kin and allies but not necessarily moral as we understand that term; narrative arose to help the individual place himself in a social context and then to help the group of individuals understand norms and mores. That is, there seems to be a connection between the character-driven, biological imperative for narrative via consciousness and the human need for nurturing cooperation against a competitive tendency. For the first time, this book explores and explains those connections.

The individual stream of consciousness helps build a distinct mind from how neural networks and patterns are developed. Consciousness is a conduit building into mind – there is access to mind, in part self-constructed, in part evolutionarily and genetically inherited, via consciousness. Thus one’s consciousness affects one’s moral sense. As many psychologists note, these differences occur because of environment – physical surrounding, family, and peers. But science also asserts that there is something else, an inborn (genetic) difference that in part steers an individual in a certain direction to a certain environment to be with certain types of people. The book does not propound essentialism or determinism, but examines the two main layers of character: that which is inborn, given to one at birth, and that which is flexible, how one manipulates what is given. The book is an interesting study of how our species-inherited moral sense can differ dramatically from one individual to another. While mores pertain to a group, narrative comes from and is processed by the individual and reaches its high point in the novel. We see how or not the moral sense works in characters as a monitor, and we feel it operating in us as readers in terms of approval, or not.

No other book to date has brought together these various strands.

    The book covers large subjects such as:
  • Eighteenth-Century Thought, British Moralists of the Eighteenth Century, Moral Sense, Emotions, Origins of Social Emotions

  • Biological Science, Evolutionary Psychology, Theory of Mind, Neuroscience, Brain Science, Consciousness

  • The Evolution of Culture and the Adaptive Function of Narrative

  • Fiction, Novels, English Novels, Origin/History of the English Novel, the Eighteenth Century Novel

Key claims include (but are not limited to):

  • Character as individually expressed

  • Individuality and the making of a distinct mind

  • Moral norms as individually experienced

  • Evolutionary (biological, adaptive) function of morality

  • Adaptive function of narrative (via consciousness) as social integrator

  • Cognitive (theory of mind) test of mores

  • Individual reader response (sympathy and affect)

Making Mind is essentially a study of the adaptive nature of the individual moral sense as manifested in narrative. Literature (culture) is treated as a product of evolution, since the thrust of the argument comes from the perspective of evolutionary studies. More than addressing the origin of story, the book examines and explains the evolution of narrative.

Univ.-Prof. Dr. Anja Müller-Wood, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz:

"In this illuminating and wide-ranging study, Gregory F. Tague returns to a familiar chapter of English literary history in order to give it an evolutionary twist. His erudite account of morality in science, philosophy and the eighteenth-century novel hinges on the proposition that human beings are equipped with an inborn but culturally coded moral sense whose real-life manifestations have also had a bearing on the stories told by people since time immemorial. Typically providing a “narrative of self in relation to others”, the early English novel is a strikingly prescient medium for the imaginative reflection of how the social nature of Homo sapiens gives form to moral sentiments – prescient because it seems to anticipate what science has taught us about human nature in recent years. Tague argues this point persuasively by enriching his astute analysis of literature, especially Richardson’s Clarissa, with an impressive array of extradisciplinary research. Making Mind is a significant addition to the growing field of evolutionary literary criticism, illustrating not only the by now remarkable scope of this line of inquiry but also the fundamental applicability of evolutionary psychology to the study of literature." [September 2014]

David C. Lahti, Ph.D., Dept. of Biology, Queens College, CUNY, Doctoral Programs in Psychology and Biology, Graduate Center, CUNY:

“A biologist, a philosopher and a literary historian walk into a bar. The bartender asks, What makes a human? Making Mind is an immediately intense account of the ensuing discussion. No joke—Prof. Tague plays all three of these parts, covering an enormous amount of ground with an erudite slam, a masterful attention to disparate fields, supported by a blistering onslaught of references. He manages in the end to bring C. P. Snow’s two cultures together in a way I have never seen done before. Part of this complex project is to demonstrate a productive relationship between evolution and narrative, two buzzwords from either side of the science/humanities divide that are often pigeonholed as code-words for nature vs. nurture (but not here!). Another theme weaving through this dense account is the successful argument that the emerging consensus in human behavioral ecology, bolstered with recent cognitive science, nicely interdigitates with important developments in 18th century British literature in their descriptions of human moral nature. This book presents us with momentous themes and a balanced handling of big questions. Most refreshing in our currently fractured academic climate is Tague’s equal love for evolution and humanities: our past and our produce as human beings.” [October 2014]

Early, anonymous review (Fall 2013):  “The text is a sophisticated and broad-ranging exploration within current debates in literary, philosophical, and psychological studies on theories of mind and literary contexts of consciousness. It would be difficult to find fault with the concept and argument of the text or its presentation. Claiming to contextualize consciousness within the 'social, personal and moral bases of literature', the text expands existing works (as far as I am aware) and will make a valuable contribution to the series, and to the continuation of engaging consciousness studies within literary and dramatic debates, ranging as this text does from the great classics such as Milton’s Paradise Lost through the 18th century novel to more contemporary literature.”


A reader, more succinctly, called the book “timely and substantial.

From one of the publishers reader reports (January 2014). “This is an intriguing argument melding the three pillars of our world view: philosophy, science and literature. Its comprehensive research into the evolution of thought, mind, conscience and consciousness, self, character and personality, evinces a pathway providing an explanation for the adaptable function of the novel. Its exploration into philosophical and scientific thinking paints a complete picture of how far humanity has come in its constant struggle to place the self within a group environment. . . . Overall, this is an interesting read that solidifies Arts place in the evolutionary process.” I am grateful for the reader’s observations and criticisms.

Another reader for the publisher says (February 2014): “Overall I am actually quite happy to have read this manuscript because I think the author has done a good job of demonstrating how theories of consciousness and philosophies of the moral sense are integral to understanding 'why' humans tell stories.” There were some constructive comments, as well, and I thank the reader for them.

March, 2015. Nice review by Kathryn Francis, Cognition Institute (UK), in Leonardo (International Society for the Arts, Sciences and Technology).  

And a little notice posted on The Wire, MLA Commons.

Gregory Tague,
Nov 15, 2014, 9:41 AM