Consciousness and Mental Life

Columbia University Press (2008)
Abstract
Reviewed in: The Journal of the History of the Neural Sciences, 2011 (vol. 20, no. 2) Consciousness and Mental Life by Daniel N. Robinson This book is a refreshingly philosophical treatise on a topic that frequently falls victim to the predatory nature of the scientist's red herring. Not to detract from the merit of this pervasive red herring, but many volumes ostensibly about consciousness end up being little more than books on “mental life.” Expounding on the anatomical and cognitive fascinations that lure so many into the various fields of the neurosciences, the discourses neglect to directly address “consciousness” itself in the process. By sticking to the realm of philosophy, Robinson successfully avoids this misrepresentation of the titular topic “consciousness.”...The author sets out to defend an elite selection of classical philosophers — including Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Hobbes, Descartes, Locke, Hume, Kant, Dewey, Russell, Wittgenstein — while also introducing more contemporary theories and examples. Robinson is honorably unbiased through most of this pursuit. He defends ideas that have earned their place in history while accomplishing exactly what he sets out to accomplish...When he does build an argument on questionable basic tenets, he is unequivocal: Whether one agrees with Robinson or not, readers at the very least will know whether they agree or disagree. Robinson is quite clear about where he stands, and his arguments allow the reader to further develop their own stance, regardless of whether the reader and Robinson are standing on separate planes. One of the attractive features of this book, and perhaps the strongest bolster to Robinson's defense lies in his provision of background and zeitgeist information in the early chapters. For example, in a chapter devoted to Descartes and his influence, the reader is briefly presented with Descartes’ education and the intellectual culture surrounding his work. Because the absence of such information has often been the cause of misunderstanding and neglect, this remembrance is a good scaffold for Robinson's points that follow. As to the style of the writing itself, it is nonpedantic and includes passages of great prose...I would frequently read a couple paragraphs, already have a question forming in my mind, and then be delighted, even awed, that the next few paragraphs addressed the question I was evolving...The book is not meant to be a comprehensive evaluation of all the philosophical viewpoints or musings on consciousness. It is a refreshing look at ideas that are no longer fresh for most readers...For the expert or well-versed person in theories of consciousness, Robinson's book is an asset...It requires concentration. But the effort will be duly rewarded... Christy M. Kelley Department of Neurological Sciences Rush University Medical Center, Chicago
Keywords consciousness  the gap  Cartesianism
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ISBN(s) 0231141009   9780231141000   0231512805
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