Review of David Cockburn's 'Human Beings'
Graham (Gordon)
Source: Philosophy - 67/262 (October 1992)
Paper - Abstract

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  1. This collection of papers originated from a Royal Institute of Philosophy conference held at St David's College Lampeter in 1990. In his introduction David Cockburn explains that the idea of the conference, and of the collection, was to tackle afresh some of the most intractable of philosophical problems – those having to do with the relation of body and mind – by giving special attention to the concept of human being. Because the philosophical distinction between persons (minds or souls) and their bodies, and that between the mental and the physical have been fashioned by a long tradition of thinking, the very concepts we use force us into a dichotomy between dualism and materialism which creates more problems than it solves. This is why the compound notion of 'a human being' may be a specially fruitful one to explore in this context. And, Dr Cockburn observes, further interest lies in the fact that this approach may reveal connections between philosophy of mind and ethics which more familiar approaches to philosophical psychology tend to overlook.
  2. The remainder of the introduction summarizes each paper briefly in the light of this general theme, no easy task since the papers that follow are very diverse. This is true of form as well as content. Some are pretty much freestanding essays, some refer quite closely to each other and still others are actually grouped as symposia, one with the full panoply of reply and counter-reply. But the greatest diversity is in content. The collection includes some fairly straightforward discussion of standard issues in the philosophy of mind
    • Christopher Cherry and Oswald Hanfling on the idea of machines as persons,
    • E. J. Lowe on persons as a substantial kind,
    • P. F. Snowdon on personal identity and brain transplants1
    and some useful exposition and examination of philosophers whose work on these issues is less frequently considered
    • Fergus Kerr on Heidegger,
    • Ilham Dilman on Sartre.
    But it also includes some real novelty; in an initially implausible but in execution interesting essay,
    • John Haldane tries to use the logic of Trinitarian theology to overcome the dichotomy between materialism and dualism;
    • in another Stephen Clark continues his attack on the unwarranted presuppositions of modernism when he discusses cases of so-called multiple personality in his contribution to a symposium with Kathy Wilkes under the intriguing title 'How many selves make me?'.
  3. Overall, then, Cockburn is to be congratulated on gathering together many useful and interesting essays clearly meriting publication. But there is some doubt as to whether his editorial oversight has been severe enough. Collections of this sort are, usually, either records of conference proceedings, or sets of essays arising from a conference subsequently revised both in the light of discussion and with a view to greater coherence. This collection falls somewhere between the two. A few of the papers are clearly published as presented, others advertise themselves as being wholly different; some are close discussions of each other; others make reference to each other in little more than the way politeness requires conference contributions to do; and the theme of 'human beings' makes only a very fleeting, if any, appearance in a good many of the papers.
  4. In fact, the collection cannot really be said to be around this theme at all and this lack of unity is a pity because the central and pivotal paper of the collection is that by Geoffrey Madell, who argues, convincingly to my mind, that the idea of 'human being' is of no special value to the philosophy of mind at all. It would have been good to find the other side of the argument stated with the same clarity and cogency. But perhaps Cockburn thinks he has done this already, in his own very interesting monograph on Other Human Beings.


Review of "Cockburn (David), Ed. - Human Beings".

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