Armstrong The Nature Of Mind And Other Essays On Poverty

Louis Armstrong is one of the world’s most famous jazz musicians. The musical style of jazz became popular around the world largely due to his talent as a cornet[1] and trumpet player, his unique “scatting”[2] singing style, and his strong and charming personality. He was also an important African American public figure during the decades of racial tension[3] leading up to the Civil Rights Movement.

Music in Hardship

Armstrong was born on August 4, 1901 in New Orleans, Louisiana. His father left the family shortly after he was born, and his mother often left him in the care of his grandmother while she went to work. Armstrong himself had to leave school in 5th grade to work and earn money for the family. The neighborhood he lived in was so poverty-stricken[4] and run-down people called it “the battlefield.”

Armstrong first fell in love with music in 1913. He developed his skills at the New Orleans Colored Waif’s Home for Boys,[5] a facility he was sent a number of times, most notably for firing an empty round from his stepfather’s pistol into the air at a New Year’s Eve party. During his stay, he took cornet lessons and discovered his love for music. After he was released from the home he continued to play, sometimes in public, and gained recognition around New Orleans. Soon he was discovered by the best cornet player in the city, Joe “King” Oliver, who mentored him and let him play in some of his shows.Q1

A Rising Star

A few years later Armstrong took over Oliver’s spot in New Orleans’ most popular band, Kid Ory’s band. In 1919 he took a summer job playing the cornet on a riverboat. This gig[6] taught him how to read music and introduced him to the style of jazz, which he connected with deeply.

 In 1922 Armstrong moved to Chicago with Oliver to play in the Creole Jazz Band. Armstrong enjoyed certain luxuries, living in his own apartment for the first time and having his own private bath. Armstrong and Oliver became well known for playing duets, so they decided to produce some jazz records together. Over the next few years Armstrong also produced some records on his own as well as with some friends from New Orleans. Later he cut ties with Oliver and joined Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra in New York City. Henderson had a very different style and introduced him to swing music.[7] Henderson’s Orchestra was one of the first “big bands,” and they frequently performed for all-white audiences, which was unusual for African American musicians at the time.

Armstrong Takes the Lead

Armstrong didn’t play in New York for very long before moving back to Chicago and starting his own band, Louis Armstrong and the Hot Five. The artists who played with him enjoyed his fun personality and relaxed conducting style; he tried to feature each musician’s special talents. From 1925 to 1928 they produced over 60 records, some of the most important jazz records in musical history. During that time Armstrong switched from playing cornet to playing the trumpet. He also partnered with pianist Earl “Fatha” Hines to record duets. One of their pieces, “West End Blues,” is considered to be one of the most artful pieces of jazz, and it brought greater respect to the musical style and introduced it to a wider audience.

He faced several ups and downs in his career over the next few decades, but ultimately still remained popular and continued creating new music. He played briefly on Broadway[8] in the 1930s. But, in the same decade he had to take two years off from playing and recording because his lips hurt from playing the trumpet so frequently over the years. However, he did get to restart his career after taking a rest. In the 1940s he recognized that swing music’s days were numbered, so he formed a smaller band that he would play with for the rest of his career. After that, his popularity with international audiences earned him the nickname Ambassador Satch.Q2


Armstrong suffered a heart attack in 1959, but that did not stop him; he kept a rigorous[9] touring schedule throughout his life and into the 1960s. In 1967 he produced one of his most well-known songs, “What a Wonderful World.” In 1968 he first began having health problems, although he continued to perform sometimes. In 1971 Armstrong passed away from a heart attack he suffered while sleeping. The following year he was posthumously[10] awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award for having made creative contributions of outstanding significance[11] to the field of recording music. It is just one of the many honors and awards he received.

Armstrong was a significant African American celebrity. He was the first African American jazz musician to write an autobiography, the first to get top billing in a Hollywood movie, and the first to host a national radio show. His personality won over fans of all races, nationalities, and backgrounds. For many years he tried to keep his political and social opinions about the Civil Rights Movement private, but after he saw the consequences of school segregation[12] on TV, he made a public statement against segregation.

 He was also known for his unique musical style. He was very good at musical improvisation, not only on his trumpet but also in singing. “Scatting” is a form of improvisational singing he popularized, in which the singer does not sing pre-written, real words, but instead sings whatever sounds and notes they feel fit with the music in the moment. Armstrong made scat singing an important part of jazz and blues music. He revolutionized jazz from a folksy group performance to an individual performance. He influenced and set the bar for dozens of famous musicians after him, including Billie Holiday and Frank Sinatra. A star was unveiled on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960, and he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. Q3

“Louis Armstrong” by Jessica McBirney. Copyright © 2017 by CommonLit, Inc. This text is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

  1. Significance(noun): the quality of being worthy of attention
  2. Segregation(noun): the enforced separation of different racial groups in a country or community

"The Nature of Mind" is a philosophical essay by David Armstrong, originally published in The Nature of Mind and Other Essays in 1980.[1] In this essay, Armstrong outlines a philosophical account of the mind that is compatible with the Materialist scientific view of the mind. He arrives at a theory of Central-State Materialism, a synthesis between Descartes'dualism (the thesis) and Gilbert Ryle's dispositional behaviourism (the antithesis).

Structure and arguments[edit]

The essay begins with the simple assertion that "men have minds",[2] and Armstrong suggests that modern science may be the best tool with which to investigate the nature of the mind. He says that it seems that scientific consensus is converging on an explanation of the mind in "purely physico-chemical terms".[2] He acknowledges some disagreement on the matter, but says that dissent tends to be on primarily non-scientific grounds. Armstrong writes that the purpose of his essay is to outline a Materialist account of the nature of the mind - one that is compatible with the scientific view of an entirely physico-chemical mind.

The Authority of Science[edit]

Armstrong states that science can achieve consensus among experts on controversial matters after prolonged investigation. This, he says, makes science the authority on the nature of the mind and other matters. It is recognized that science can make mistakes, and that some claim that science has a limited sphere of inquiry. He puts forward science as the best hope we have in understanding the mind.

Defining the Mental[edit]

Returning to the search for a Materialist account of the mind, Armstrong considers Behaviourism, which holds that the mind "is not something behind the behaviour of the body, it [is] simply part of that physical behaviour".[3] While Behaviourism fits nicely with a Materialist view of the mind, it has significant flaws - it is possible to feel or think something without acting on this feeling or thought. For instance, one can feel angry but not express anger.

Armstrong looks at Gilbert Ryle's refinement of Behaviourism, Dispositional Behaviourism. Armstrong illustrates Ryle's idea with a description of glass - brittleness is the disposition of materials such as glass to shatter under certain circumstances. Whether or not the glass shatters in a particular instance, it has the disposition to do so. In the same way, a mind can have a disposition towards anger, but it may only express this anger under certain circumstances. Armstrong quotes Ryle's The Concept of Mind:

"To possess a dispositional property is not to be in a particular state, or to undergo a particular change, it is to be bound or liable to be in a particular state, or to undergo a particular change, when a particular change is realized."[4]

— Gilbert Ryle, The Concept of Mind, 1949'

While this dispositionalism quite successfully deals with the objection that one can feel or think one thing and do another, it is not enough - "it seems obvious as anything is obvious that there is something actually going on in me that constitutes my thought".[5] Ryle's Dispositional Behaviourism denies this, and so Armstrong declares it to be "unsatisfactory as a theory of mind".[5] Though he rejects Behaviourism, Armstrong suggests that it is useful to say that the mind and mental states are "logically tied to behaviour".[5] He says that "thought is not speech under suitable circumstances, rather it is something within the person that, in suitable circumstances, brings about speech." He thinks this view is compatible with a Materialist view of the mind, though it is also compatible with non-Materialist views, such as Descartes'.

Armstrong modifies Ryle's Behaviourism by suggesting that the mind's dispositions may be explainable by science in Materialist terms, in the same way that glass's brittleness can be explained in terms of molecular structure. Armstrong offers this view as a true account of the mind. It is more fully developed in Belief, Truth and Knowledge (1973), ch. 2, sect. 2.

Armstrong brings together two earlier conclusions: that the mind is "that which stands behind and brings about our complex behaviour";[6] and that the Behaviourist's dispositions are "states that underlie behaviour and, under certain circumstances, bring about behaviour",[6] and reaches "a conception of a mental state as a state of the person apt for producing certain ranges of behaviour".

The Problem of Consciousness[edit]

Armstrong now addresses what he calls 'the problem of consciousness': how can the personal experience of consciousness be explained by his Materialist theory of the mind? Armstrong considers times when the brain goes on 'auto-pilot' - during long drives without breaks, one might suddenly 'come to' and realize that while one has stayed on the road, stopped at red lights and operated the clutch, one was completely unaware of doing so. This shows that it is possible for mental processes to take place without conscious experience.

Before considering how this can be the case, Armstrong describes a method by which a psychologist may determine whether an animal can distinguish between two colours by training it to perform a task that requires this perception. The animal's behaviour would indicate its perception of the colours. While a Behaviourist would say that the animal's behaviour was its perception, Armstrong describes the perception as a state of the animal's mind. It is implied that one could test for consciousness using a similar method.

Further illustrating his idea, Armstrong gives an analogy in which perception is a key to a door, the door being action. The unlocking of the door, and therefore action, is optional, but one cannot open the door without the key. A blind man, for instance, lacks certain keys. As a result, he cannot operate in an environment in the same way that a sighted man can.

Using this conception of perception as a state, Armstrong characterizes consciousness as "perception or awareness of the state of our own mind",[7] or "a self-scanning system in the central nervous system".[8] He sees consciousness not as an external construct that interacts with the body and brain, but a self-aware state of the physical brain.

Publishing history[edit]

Notes and citations[edit]


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