Friday, August 22, 2008

Raabe, Peter B. "Review of Sara Heinamaa, et al., eds. CONSCIOUSNESS." MOR August 12, 2008.

Heinämaa, Sara, Vili Lähteenmäki, and Pauliina Remes, eds. Consciousness: from Perception to Reflection in the History of Philosophy. Dordrecht: Springer, 2007. The fourteen essays collected in this book discuss the similarities and dissimilarities in the concepts related to consciousness from ancient to medieval, Enlightenment and nineteenth and twentieth century philosophy. As the title suggests the history of consciousness is documented roughly from when it was thought to be the recognition of one's own awareness of one's perceptions of external objects, to when it was seen as a more internal, reflective activity of mind not necessarily involving any external objects of attention, and finally to when it was and is seen as a more esoteric mode of being human or human being. This book doesn't deal exclusively with consciousness as such. Much of it is devoted to the historical run up to, and philosophical precursors to, what we today call consciousness. The early chapters deal with how the writings of many of the early philosophers--among them Plato, Aristotle, Avicenna, Scotus, Ockham, Augustine, Descartes, and Spinoza--discuss the human mind. The authors point out how the ancient and early modern philosophers did indeed touch on many of the problems associated with mental states despite the fact that they didn't have an established vocabulary for that 'thing' we today call consciousness. (I use the simple word 'thing' to refer to consciousness strictly as a convenience because one of the main issues in this book is the fact that philosophers, both in the past and present, disagree as to exactly what sort of term is correct when referring to consciousness.) These authors do a good job of explaining where the word 'consciousness' might have been applied if those early philosophers had been in possession of the concept of consciousness as a distinct 'property' of the human mind or 'aspect' of personhood, and if they had had the use of both our modern insights and vocabulary necessary for its discussion. But I found reading the first two thirds of this book somewhat tangential because it seemed to me that the authors were discussing consciousness from the position of 'what might have been' if only those early philosophers had been aware of this or that perspective on the human mind--which we now are. It was like reading book reviews about books that were never written but could have been, if only. In my opinion the title of the book Consciousness accurately represents only the essays from chapter ten onwards. The first two thirds of the book would be better titled "The Early History of the Concept of Mind." But having said that, I'm sure the first nine chapters will be of interest to historians of philosophy. . . . Read the rest here:

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