- John Campbell's impressive book undertakes to map out the central conceptual skills that make up the human capacity for self-conscious thought and that distinguish human beings from other animals. These conceptual skills involve capacities to think not just about oneself, but also about space and time and the nature of physical objects. In attempting to plot the connections between these skills Campbell also undertakes to give an account of how the reference of the first person pronoun is fixed, to rebut the reductionist view of the self and to attack anti-realism about the past. It is a bold and ambitious work repaying close study. In this notice I confine myself to a very brief sketch of Campbell's overall position, followed by discussion of three central areas. First, though, some general comments about the book's approach.
- One of the distinctive features of Campbell's approach to the philosophy of mind is that he attempts to do justice to the central role which causality1 must play in our understanding of ourselves and of the world, while resisting the temptation to see a causal story as saying all there is to say. For example, one of the crucial features distinguishing genuine self-consciousness2 on Campbell's view is a capacity to think of oneself as causally structured in two dimensions (of which more later). But he is careful to resist any move from this to the sort of reductionist view of the self on which the self can be reduced to causal relations between experiences. Similarly, his account of one important (and basic) way of representing space stresses the way in which causal significance is assigned to places, but he is careful to distance himself from the radical empiricist claim that there can be no non-practical ways of representing space. In very general terms, Campbell's approach offers an alternative both to positions which stress the incommensurability of thought about ourselves and thought about the world, and to positions which seek to assimilate them.
- This is connected to the next point, which is that Campbell's project is in several important senses a Kantian project. Certainly the most direct intellectual influences are Strawson and Evans, but both they and Campbell accord central philosophical significance to the Kantian task of working out the connection between self-consciousness3 and our grasp of the objectivity of the world. And all three, like Kant, think that grasping the objectivity of the world involves grasping the objectivity of space, time and causality4, all of which are connected to each other. Methodologically too, Campbell is Kantian, employing forms of argument that are recognisably transcendental (albeit shorn of Kant's pretensions to apodeictic certainty).
- A third general point is that Campbell is at pains to integrate empirical work by cognitive psychologists, developmental psychologists and animal learning theorists into his philosophical arguments. This is an unusual step, given that Campbell's philosophical framework is set much more by 'pure' philosophy of mind than by cognitive science (where interaction between philosophers and psychologists is well established). But it is also a productive one, anchoring his discussion and helping him avoid the convoluted thought experiments5 that often dog debates about necessary relations between conceptual abilities.
Review of "Campbell (John) - Past, Space and Self".
Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
- Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2018
- Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)