Benjamin Libet's influential publications have raised important questions about voluntarist accounts of action. His findings are taken as evidence that the processes in the central nervous system associated with the initiation of an action occur earlier than the decision to act. However, in light of the methods employed and of relevant findings drawn from research addressed to the timing of neurobehavioural processes, Libet's conclusions are untenable.
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 . (shrink)
From the Upanishads to Homer -- Philosophy, did the Greeks invent it -- Pythagoras and the divinity of number -- What is there? -- The Greek tragedians on man's fate -- Herodotus and the lamp of history -- Socrates on the examined life -- Plato's search for truth -- Can virtue be taught? -- Plato's Republic, man writ large -- Hippocrates and the science of life -- Aristotle on the knowable -- Aristotle on friendship -- Aristotle on the perfect life (...) -- Rome, the Stoics, and the rule of law -- The Stoic bridge to Christianity -- Roman law, making a city of the once-wide world -- The light within, Augustine on human nature -- Islam -- Secular knowledge, the idea of university -- The reappearance of experimental science -- Scholasticism and the theory of natural law -- The Renaissance, was there one? -- Let us burn the witches to save them -- Francis Bacon and the authority of experience -- Descartes and the authority of reason -- Newton, the saint of science -- Hobbes and the social machine -- Locke's Newtonian science of the mind -- No matter? The challenge of materialism -- Hume and the pursuit of happiness -- Thomas Reid and the Scottish school -- France and the philosophes -- The federalist papers and the great experiment -- What is enlightenment? Kant on freedom -- Moral science and the natural world -- Phrenology, a science of the mind -- The idea of freedom -- The Hegelians and history -- The aesthetic movement, genius -- Nietzsche at the twilight -- The liberal tradition, J.S. Mill -- Darwin and nature's "purposes" -- Marxism, dead but not forgotten -- The Freudian world -- The radical William James -- William James' pragmatism -- Wittgenstein and the discursive turn -- Alan Turing in the forest of wisdom -- Four theories of the good life -- Ontology, what there "really" is -- Philosophy of science, the last word? -- Philosophy of psychology and related confusions -- Philosophy of mind, if there is one -- What makes a problem "moral" -- Medicine and the value of life -- On the nature of law -- Justice and just wars -- Aesthetics, beauty without observers -- God, really? (shrink)
At the beginning of the twenty-first century, it might seem that questions about the nature of the mind are best left to scientists rather than philosophers. How could the views of Aristotle or Descartes or Kant possibly contribute anything to debates about these issues, when the relevant neurophysiological facts and principles were completely unknown to them? This Oxford Reader shows that the arguments of philosophers throughout history still provide essential insights into contemporary questions about the mind and help to clarify (...) the underlying scientific assumptions. Contributions from thinkers ranging from Plato and Locke to Roger Penrose and Oliver Sacks show that appreciating the full complexity of debates about consciousness, intelligence, and perception demands attention to fundamental questions that have occupied philosophers for over two thousand years. (shrink)
"An American psychologist, Daniel N. Robinson, traces the development of the insanity plea...[He offers] an assured historical survey." Roy Porter, The Times [UK] "Wild Beasts and Idle Humours is truly unique. It synthesizes material that I do not believe has ever been considered in this context, and links up the historical past with contemporaneous values and politics. Robinson effortlessly weaves religious history, literary history, medical history, and political history, and demonstrates how the insanity defense cannot be fully understood without consideration (...) of all these sources." Michael L. Perlin, New York Law School "Daniel N. Robinson has written a graceful history of insanity and the law stretching from Homer to Hinckley. He attempts no final theory as to how the law should cope with the insane; he seeks, rather, to use the shifting notions of when madness exculpates criminal activity to illuminate the core self-perceptions of the cultures developing ever-evolving resolutions of the problem...[T]he grandeur of the theme...commands attention and respect." --Neal Johnston, The Nation . (shrink)