Those of my few ‘followers’ who liked my recent review of Bryan Magee’s latest book may like to know that I lost a little sleep after posting it. Who was I, I said to myself, an amateur reader of philosophy, to be so bold as to criticise Magee? I shared my worries with the philosopher and London University don Peter Cave, and he reassures me that I’m not mad. Peter is, of course, a close friend, but a man of great integrity and high standing as chairman of The Humanist Philosophers Association. I do not believe that, despite his famous wit, he would put any thought into writing without meaning it. Nevertheless, my discomfort persists, though somewhat less intense, and I will therefore go on following the ‘mid-body’ debate among the philosophers. Links to Peter’s own books can be found on his website http://www.PeterCave.com .
I have read your review and it comes over as generous and thoughtful and admiring, even with the criticisms.
With regard to the criticisms, well, you are standing up for views held by many philosophers, yet also disputed by many. Yes, of course, the term ‘soul’ has religious connotations, but it can be used without them — to point to whatever the ‘I’ designates (if anything), to the self. Bafflements regarding how to handle the self persist, as do those regarding how we are to understand the relationship between consciousness and neural states and activities. I have sometimes written of concepts such as the self and free-will as muddled or mythical concepts that we cannot live without.
As for scientific progress regarding understanding the world, well, I’m inclined to proclaim: ‘who knows?’ Theories can have radical revision. So I would await with interest, though given my age, the wait will lack sufficient duration. A highly respected atheist philosopher, Thomas Nagel, for example, has recently published on why, in his view, neo-darwinism is probably wrong:
“… the widely accepted world view of materialist naturalism is untenable. The mind-body problem cannot be confined to the relation between animal minds and animal bodies. If materialism cannot accommodate consciousness and other mind-related aspects of reality, then we must abandon a purely materialist understanding of nature in general, extending to biology, evolutionary theory, and cosmology. Since minds are features of biological systems that have developed through evolution, the standard materialist version of evolutionary biology is fundamentally incomplete. And the cosmological history that led to the origin of life and the coming into existence of the conditions for evolution cannot be a merely materialist history. An adequate conception of nature would have to explain the appearance in the universe of materially irreducible conscious minds, as such. No such explanation is available, and the physical sciences, including molecular biology, cannot be expected to provide one. The book explores these problems through a general treatment of the obstacles to reductionism, with more specific application to the phenomena of consciousness, cognition, and value. The conclusion is that physics cannot be the theory of everything.”
Yes, lunch with Brian Magee is a splendid idea.