Graduate studies at Western
Journal of Consciousness Studies 18 (5-6):23 - 34 (2011)
|Abstract||I have learned a lot from Evan Thompson’s book — his scholarship is formidable, and his taste for relatively overlooked thinkers is admirable — but I keep stumbling over the strain induced by his selfassigned task of demonstrating that his heroes — Varela and Maturana, Merleau-Ponty and (now) Husserl, Oyama and Moss and others — have shattered the comfortable assumptions of orthodoxy, and outlined radical new approaches to the puzzles of life and mind. The irony is that Thompson is such a clear and conscientious expositor that he makes it much easier for me to see that the ideas he expounds, while often truly excellent, are not really all that revolutionary, but, at best, valuable correctives to the sorts of oversimplifications that tend to get turned into mantras by sheer repetition in the textbooks and popular accounts of these topics in the media. Philosophers have a delicate task: squeezing the tacit assumptions and unnoticed implications out of every ill-considered dogma without lapsing into nitpicking or caricature. Thompson does better than most; he is not a gotcha!-monger or sea lawyer, but he does set up a few strawmen (strawpersons?) which I will duly expose as such, while showing that his revolutionaries are not really so revolutionary after all. Reformers are the bane of would-be rebels, of course, taking the wind out of their sails just as they get started, and in the cases I will discuss, reform-minded critics — myself among them — have already pointed out the caveats that pre-empt these assaults on orthodoxy. Might these caveats and concessions be mere lip service? Have the reformers underestimated the seriousness of the challenges, papering over the cracks that will in due course bring down their edifice?|
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