Wahman, Jessica. Narrative Naturalism: An Alternative Framework for Philosophy of Mind

By Cahoone, Lawrence | The Review of Metaphysics, June 2016 | Go to article overview

Wahman, Jessica. Narrative Naturalism: An Alternative Framework for Philosophy of Mind


Cahoone, Lawrence, The Review of Metaphysics


WAHMAN, Jessica. Narrative Naturalism: An Alternative Framework for Philosophy of Mind. Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2015. xv + 191 pp. Cloth, $85.00--In the early twentieth century, George Santayana was the most prominent of the new American naturalist philosophers, only later eclipsed by Dewey. His poetic materialism defied inherited categories and open new avenues for thought. But since mid-century he has been largely absent from debates about that characteristically American product, nonreductive naturalism.

Jessica Wahman has organized a sophisticated and well-written Santayanan counterattack. Her aim is to show that Santayana's naturalism is suited to contribute to current debates over reductionism and the philosophy of mind. Wahman rejects mechanism and physicalism as philosophical misinterpretations of the natural sciences. She employs careful arguments in epistemology and neuroscience to display Santayana's scheme as an alternative to both reductive physicalism and emergence.

Wahman begins by mobilizing Santayana's pragmatism as a theory of knowing which recognizes the relational and interest-related nature of scientific theorizing, bringing construction, metaphor, and narrative into our knowledge of nature. The objects of our consciousness ("essences," we will see below) are not material things or aspects thereof, nor are they copies of such things or properties of consciousness. Human (and animal) knowing does not picture or correspond to its objects: it creates a sensory-cognitive model in response to the organism's somatic transaction with the material environment as a pragmatic, relational gambit for achieving its needs. We inevitably, and legitimately, hold our explanatory hypotheses valid of material existence by "animal faith."

Santanyana was a materialist, unlike almost all the other American thinkers at the time (the Canadian R. W. Sellars being his lone companion here). Wahman points out that for him matter is existence itself, and is refractory to human control and cognition. We can form valid hypotheses about it, but its contingency is never exhausted. In contrast, consciousness or spirit exists outside matter. This may appear to conflict with most current forms of naturalism, not to mention neuroscience. But for Santayana the psyche, the process of all experience, thought, and feeling, along with the life functions of the organism, is part of the material world. Psyche is causal, but consciousness is not. This is consonant both with the neuroscientific view of consciousness as a higher-order processing of sensory-motor material, and, as Wahman points out, psychoanalytic theory.

Spirit's objects, which it intuits, are essences, the characters of things. …

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