Saturday, February 21, 2009

Philosophy of Mind: A Short Introduction

Edward Feser’s Philosophy of Mind: A Short Introduction is an excellent introduction to the philosophy of mind. As he brings out in his book, philosophy of mind is deeply interconnected with other areas of philosophy. It is also an extremely active area in contemporary philosophy. (Indeed, Feser appears to have already produced an updated version of the book.)

As is natural, given the subject, Feser starts with Descartes. Actually, he starts with the film The Matrix whose people-in-vats-sharing-a-virtual-reality is an updated version of Descartes how do you know what’s real? question – after all, everything you perceive might be delusions foisted on you by a malignant deity. (The modern version being you might be a brain in a vat being stimulated by Superscientist.)

Each chapter covers an area (or, in the cases of the second and third chapters) an approach in the philosophy of mind. So the first chapter is Perception, then Dualism, Materialism, Qualia, Consciousness, Thought, Intentionality, Persons: a logical progression that allows Feser to take us through the arguments and counter-arguments in the philosophy of mind in a remarkably thorough way.

Each chapter ends with a helpful suggested reading list. At the end of the book is a useful glossary of terms.

While the book is structured to introduce the reader to modern philosophy of mind, it is not an easy book. Feser covers a lot of ground and many of the issues are inherently difficult. But the language is precise without being convoluted, jargon-ridden or unnecessarily verbose.

That Feser, as a Thomist and Catholic, does not share the dominant contemporary philosophy of materialism is helpful, because it minimises the chance of falling prey to presumptions of correctness. Feser points out that many contemporary debates are re-visitings of previous arguments stretching back to Aristotle and earlier.*

Feser is careful and thorough in his presentation of arguments and counter-arguments. Philosophy of Mind: A Short Introduction is a very useful text.

(* A common feature of philosophy. For example, indeterminacy of meaning was a hot topic to Socrates and the boys.)

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