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
Paper - Abstract

Paper StatisticsBooks / Papers Citing this PaperNotes Citing this PaperColour-ConventionsDisclaimer


Full Text

  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 materialist'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 materialist 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 materialist.
  2. Wilkerson, in fact, answers quite a few of the arguments against materialism, 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 physicalism is merely the thesis that all mental events are identical with certain physical events, then physicalism 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 physicalism," 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 physicalism (or materialism) 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.

Comment:

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

Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)

  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2020
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)



© Theo Todman, June 2007 - Oct 2020. Please address any comments on this page to theo@theotodman.com. File output:
Website Maintenance Dashboard
Return to Top of this Page Return to Theo Todman's Philosophy Page Return to Theo Todman's Home Page