Book Review of the Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Mind
Stephen P. Stich and Ted A. Warfield (Editors). The Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Mind. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2003. ISBN 0-631-21775-4.
Mainstream science still is not very interested in theories that start from a fundamental, ontological difference between body and mind. According to dominant models, consciousness would be completely determined by the brain and it would therefore be a priori unthinkable for a person to still have subjective experiences while his or her brain demonstrates a flat EEG.
Unfortunately, many scholars seem to consider this view as the rational outcome of scientific research, whereas it really is a position within the so-called 'philosophy of mind' that rather precedes empirical investigations, at least implicitly and serves as an ontological framework for empirical theory.
The Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Mind offers an introduction to this branch of philosophy. The book is divided into 16 chapters about a specific topic, written by influential Anglo-Saxon philosophers.
The general level of the book is high, which means that only readers who are accostumed to reading academic literature will really be able to understand its contents. The individual chapters can be read as thorough introductions to several specific compartments within the philosophy of mind, but also as independent articles in which an author shares his most recent insights.
In Chapter 4, Howard Robinson shows that (Neo-)Cartesian substantialist dualism still seems to be the best candidate for solving the mind-body problem despite the well-known physicalist objections. Dualism is also taken seriously in Chapter 5, namely by the celebrated philosopher David Chalmers who declares he no longer wishes to dismiss the notion of an interaction between consciousness and the brain out of hand.
However, many other chapters have certainly been written from a 'naturalist' viewpoint, i.e. that they are based on the idea of a mind that is completely determined by the brain. Thus, we can read about attempts to harmonise the existence of concepts and meaning with the nature of our nervous system. Several authors try to explain away the non-physical properties of consciousness or reduce these to physical properties of the brain. Particularly apalling in this respect is Chapter 14, written by John Bickle. He complains that philosophers do not take enough notice of neurological data and he confidently claims that a total theoretical reduction of consciousness to physicalist neuroscientific concepts is feasible. According to Bickle, such a materialist reduction is even more important than the quests of genetics.
In general,The Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Mind amounts to a useful, broad introduction to this important field of contemporary analytical philosophy for anyone who wants to deal at this level with the philosophical bases of empirical theorical research into the mind and consciousness.
It offers a good overview of the state of affairs: there are still a lot of outdated reductionist magic tricks but there is also some refreshingly confident counterbalance from the anti-physicalist camp.
English translation of Dutch review in Terugkeer.