In two minds about body and soul

The Nature of the Mind - Philosophy of Mind
May 27, 2005

These two books represent very different approaches to producing a philosophy textbook. The Nature of Mind is described as “an introduction to major themes in the philosophy of mind”. The book is in fact “based on” Peter Carruthers’ earlier book Introducing Persons and, as is therefore to be expected, the focus is on metaphysical questions, in particular those concerning the metaphysics of the self.

There is a chapter on dualism, but also chapters that discuss the identity of a person over time, empiricist conceptions of the soul, and resurrection and reincarnation.

These are not questions that are often central to debates in the philosophy of mind. But this is not a failing of the book, which is clearly written, with a rigorous approach: it introduces students to the issues by carefully constructing and criticising arguments for and against questions such as “when would a disembodied soul after my death be my soul?” This is an ideal way to get students to start thinking philosophically, and the questions are of a kind that students find engaging.

Overall, it is an excellent introduction to issues in personal identity and the self, more suitable for a general introductory philosophy course than for a course whose aim is to introduce topics in the philosophy of mind.

The book does have shortcomings. Although much of the material is reproduced from the earlier version of the book, there are two new chapters, one on empiricist conceptions of the soul and the other on the theory-

theory conception of mental states. The second of these, in particular, which discusses how we should conceive of mental states, is somewhat out of place given that there is no antecedent discussion of the nature of mental states - no discussion, for example, of functionalism or of the propositional attitudes.

The further reading sections at the end of each chapter are brief and out of date, with some sections apparently simply reproduced from the previous version of the book. There is, furthermore, no indication of the relevance or usefulness of particular pieces of suggested reading, which would have rendered these sections far more helpful. The original version of this book was very good, but the new version has added little to it.

Philosophy of Mind is a substantial 50-chapter anthology of historical extracts and journal articles divided into 12 sections covering major topics in the
philosophy of mind. The coverage is fairly wide, but the emphasis is on metaphysical issues, with sections on behaviourism, the identity theory, functionalism, eliminitivism, reductionism, consciousness, and a nice selection of papers that discuss challenges to contemporary materialism.

Overall, this is a well-balanced collection, and considerable care has been taken in selecting papers. The aim seems to have been to provide a good overview of the debate in each area, and the articles have been well chosen to achieve this. Students who read the five or so papers in a section will be provided with a substantial introduction to the relevant issues.

Anthologies are attractive for teaching because introductory textbooks, no matter how good, are somewhat divorced from published articles: they present the author’s interpretation of an argument, rather than encouraging students to develop their own. Furthermore, students need to learn how to read and interpret philosophy papers,
and textbooks do not much help them to do that, at least not directly. But anthologies have their drawbacks: without guidance, students can find journal articles difficult to understand.

This anthology goes a long way to overcoming that problem, by the inclusion of a substantial introductory essay to each section. These essays are uniformly excellent. They do not provide a detailed breakdown of the argument of each paper; rather they explain the context of whatever debate the papers discuss; they give an indication of how the papers relate to one another; and they introduce and explain some of the more difficult concepts used in that debate.
In total, the introductory

material amounts to a short textbook of about 130 pages. It is written in a clear and straightforward way, and I think it will be enormously helpful to students. Each section concludes with a list of suggested further readings, prefaced with a guide that indicates the contents of the readings and how they relate to the anthologised papers, as well as their level of difficulty. The thought that has gone into producing this anthology makes it one of the best of its kind.

Matthew Nudds is lecturer in philosophy, Edinburgh University.

The Nature of the Mind: An Introduction. First edition

Author - Peter Carruthers
Publisher - Routledge
Pages - 308
Price - £60.00 and £16.99
ISBN - 0 415 29994 2 and 29995 0

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