Wednesday, January 23, 2013

What I'm Reading: The Problem of the Soul

This is still another book I've owned for over a year but haven't read yet. I actually picked this up right after (or right before) I finished my philosophy not-a-thesis on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? as the title suggests it would be relevant to the topic at hand. Needless to say, I never got around to reading it and so whatever helpful insights Flanagan may have had never made it into my paper.

I'd even read an essay of Flanagan's before, in a junior-year philosophy course, though I can't recall what he argued or even what he wrote about. I still have that textbook, so once I finish this I'll have to look him up for some comparing and contrasting.

Flanagan charts the course between the perennial philosophy's view of the self and the physicalist/naturalist view of the same. Eventually I assume he proposes a thesis about the self compatible with both views, or that at least represents a compromise between the two. Being only halfway through the book, however, it hasn't come up, so I can't quite judge him on it either way. He occasionally frames his views in the context of Zen Buddhism, which is interesting but hardly surprising. Whenever philosophical talk turns towards the soul or the self, it seems that Eastern mystic traditions come up a lot.

Despite Flanagan's academic credentials, The Problem of the Soul is very much a "pop philosophy" sort of read. I mean that in all the positive ways, and none of the negative. Flanagan communicates his ideas clearly enough, with a minimum of academic jargon (always explained if necessary) that any intelligent layperson should be able to reason with (or against) him. I applaud, especially, his criticisms of evolutionary psychology, though I think his criticisms of Stephen Jay Gould's NOMA are unwarranted.

It's not quite as light and breezy as A History of the Mind, but then it's also attempting a bit more. Nonetheless, the two read quite nicely alongside each other.

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