Review of Minds, Brains and People by T. E. Wilkerson
McGill (V.J.)
Source: Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. 35, No. 4 (Jun., 1975), pp. 577-578
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  1. Wilkerson's systematic, closely reasoned book finds that the person must be considered "logically primitive" both to mind and body (p. 21), i.e., it cannot be analyzed in terms of either or both, and is "irreducible." Cartesian dualism is dismissed without regrets. We can identify persons only through their bodies, and "no non-materialist account can guarantee that a particular person (and so a particular mind) is not reduplicated1," i.e., that it is "unique" (pp. 51-2). On the other hand, many difficulties are found in the materialist2's position. Since (or if) he equates personal identity with bodily identity, he cannot admit the possibility that two contrasting personalities, with unlike expectations, etc., could exchange bodies overnight. If each started talking out of the other's mouth, he could describe the state of affairs only as "a spectacular coincidence." This diagnosis is said to be "implausible" (p. 158), but to this reviewer it is at least conceivable, whereas the body switch, except for a dualist perhaps, is not. However, if he is to avoid absurdity the materialist3 must make the identity of mind with body contingent, but "it cannot be contingent that my states of consciousness are mine, as it is that my car is mine" (p. 31). They could not possibly be yours. They are necessarily mine or they are not experiences at all. Furthermore, must I not distinguish mind from body in order to assert mind=body, and does this not already defeat the identity? Here the "elimination" theory is suggested as the best answer for the materialist4.
  2. Wilkerson, in fact, answers quite a few of the arguments against materialism5, and the favorite ones he calls "feeble" (p. 129): Sense data talk might be replaced on the lines of an "information-flow model" (p. 123), the asymmetry between the first person and the other cases could be taken care of by "the scanning of one part of the brain by another" (p. 125), and "successor" physical properties could eventually answer for distinctive human properties now taken as nonphysical. Indeed, "if physicalism6 is merely the thesis that all mental events are identical with certain physical events, then physicalism7 is obviously true" (p. 182). Although the author does not say so, what he is here accepting at the end of the book is Feigl's "rawfeel physicalism8," a universe of physical events, all possessing physical (M) properties, but some possessing both M and mental or personal (P) properties; what he is rejecting is the physicalism9 (or materialism)10 which reduces all P to M properties. Even this reduction can succeed in large measure, but fails and fails "disastrously" in the case the P properties distinguishing actions which are intentional, or for a reason or purpose. To substantiate this claim Wilkerson defers mostly to the work of other philosophers and his own a priori line of argument, which is not as subtle as elsewhere, does not seem strong enough to override or withstand possible future advances in sciences such as behaviorism and cybernetics.


Review of "Wilkerson (T.E.) - Minds, Brains and People".

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