Mind, Matter & Nature: A Thomistic Proposal for the Philosophy of Mind

By Besong, Brian | New Oxford Review, November 2014 | Go to article overview

Mind, Matter & Nature: A Thomistic Proposal for the Philosophy of Mind


Besong, Brian, New Oxford Review


Mind, Matter & Nature: A Thomistic Proposal for the Philosophy of Mind. By James D. Madden. Catholic University of America Press. 307 pages. $34.95.

Under the influence first of logical positivism, later of W.V.O. Quine, and perhaps concurrently the so-called spirit of Vatican II, the English-speaking world was deprived for a time of serious, mainstream philosophical defenses of Thomism. No longer. While it may miss the mark to say that we are now experiencing a new springtime of Thomism - the movement seems more mature than that - it is nonetheless true that Thomism is enjoying a resurgence of popularity in philosophical circles. Catholics reap the benefits, for despite being the "Common Doctor," St. Thomas's thought is often difficult for nonspecialists to understand.

James D. Madden's Mind, Matter & Nature is one of the fruits of this ripening crop. Subtitled A Thomistic Proposal for the Philosophy of Mind, the book is one part serious philosophical defense of Thomism and one part introductory survey to contemporary Anglophone philosophy of mind - i.e., that branch of philosophy interested in explaining the underlying metaphysical nature of the mind.

Designed ostensibly for an undergraduate course in the philosophy of mind, Madden's book is exceptionally straightforward and clear in its presentation of the current debates, assuming little to no philosophical background on the part of the reader. While offering somewhat of a challenging read to an absolute philosophical novice, Madden has done an outstanding job of reserving the challenges for where they really lie: in the philosophical issues themselves, rather than in their presentation. As such, Mind, Matter & Nature comprises a perfect complement for Catholic undergraduates taking philosophy courses at universities that do not take the Thomistic project seriously - which is far too common even at purportedly Catholic universities - but interest should not be reserved to these only. Readers of all backgrounds who want to understand the serious problems facing both the culturally predominant materialism on the one hand, and the sort of mind-body dualism that appears to prevail in books of pop spirituality on the other hand, will find a comprehensive guide here.

Madden begins by locating the reader in the contemporary debate, discussing briefly the naturalist proposal for explaining the nature of the mind. (Surveys suggest that approximately 55 percent of contemporary philosophers accept or lean toward a view like this, with slightly higher support among philosophers whose primary area of research is the philosophy of mind.) Then the reader is introduced to key problems with the naturalist's proposal that make some form or other of mind-body dualism philosophically attractive. Next, Madden makes a case against dualism, focusing particularly on the sort of dualism (i.e., Cartesian dualism) that one is most likely to find presented - and refuted - in a variety of contexts, notably those media through which the discoveries of contemporary psychology, neuroscience, and cognitive science are disseminated. …

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