The Counsel of Trent

writing is thinking

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Resources in Philosophy of Mind

A friend recently wrote me regarding good reading in the philosophy of mind from a Christian perspective. I paste in my recommendations below.

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You've been reading some serious stuff. I like Pinker's work on the language instinct--though in an oblique way (similar to my attitude about E.O. Wilson)--but his philosophy of mind is whack. His work is adrift with "just so" stories. There are two good critiques I know of by good philosophers.

This one is by Edward T. Oakes an insightful Jesuit thinker. This one is by Simon Blackburn a very renowned philosopher from Chapel Hill (at least one of my profs studied with him). They are both pretty well written and witty (though at times acerbically so).

McGinn is very fascinating as an individual and thinker. Perhaps you’re familiar with his intellectual autobiography _The Making of a Philosopher_.

Now you asked for a Christian “scientists” take on the subject. I’m not sure with what strictness you were meaning to use that term. McGinn certainly isn’t one and if Pinker is one, he is so only in a fairly loose sense. So I’ll answer first strictly, then less so.

There is no question as to the best writing on consciousness by Christian scientists. (1) Part V of Stephen M. Barr’s _Modern Physics and Ancient Faith_. He is—with only one fairly close second—by far my favorite writer on science and religion. His articles on evolution in First Things are the sanest things written in English on the subject. He’s off-the-charts successful as a physicist as is (2) John Polkinghorne—of whom I’m sure you’re aware (but he is seriously one of the more accomplished physicists living) who is the aforementioned close second in the first chapter of his early classic _Faith of a Physicist_. Both address the issue of quantum models of consciousness. They only touch on it but Roger Penrose—of _Emperor’s New Mind_ fame—goes into great detail in his fairly recent _Shadows of the Mind_.

Other Christian thinkers of great import who’ve weighed in on consciousness are Robert Adams in “Flavors, Colors, and God” collected in his delightful and diverse volume _The Virtue of Faith_. Renowned Christian philosopher Richard Swinburne goes farther down essentially the same path in his _The Evolution of the Soul_, recently out in a revised edition (Swinburne is el Capitan in philosophy of religion).

Two fairly recent books by Christian authors deserve mention here, one defending substance dualism, the other critiquing it and offering an emergence alternative. Both address the philosophy of mind via freedom and rationality (a la Lewis in _Miracles_) rather than via consciousness. The first is J.P. Moreland’s _Body and Soul_. It has one section on theory and then a second section applying the results of the theory to bio-ethics. The second is William Hasker’s _The Emergent Self_. Hasker basically takes up a defense of Lewis’s argument in _Miracles_.

Finally, I want to mention two other books which, though I’ve not read them, I find cited a lot in the books I do read. 1. Kevin Corcoran’s Soul, Body, and Survival: Essays on the Metaphysics of Human Persons. (he’s also got a piece in one of those “four views” books here) 2. Agents Under Fire, Materialism and the Rationality of Science by Angus Menuge.

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