Monthly Archives: September 2021

Consciousness from Descartes to Ryle by David Berman

David Berman has a new book out on Consciousness. He describes it as follows:

“My book, Consciousness from Descartes to Ayer contains my fullest and clearest account of what I take to be the dualist and monist types. 

The book consists of four chapters and an Epilogue.  Its main thesis, put forward in chapter one, is that all humans have one of two basic forms of consciousness, one that is monistic, the other is dualistic. Yet it is universally believed that all humans have one basic and natural form of consciousness. This is what I call the Assumption, which I take to be profoundly untrue. Yet I do accept that all humans have a mode of consciousness that has arisen through nurture and is a mixture of the monistic and dualistic in the way that green is a mixture of yellow and blue.  The greenish mode of consciousness is what I call socio-linguistic, because it is constituted by language and required for living in society. And it is this socio-linguistic mode of consciousness that has largely occluded the monistic and dualistic. 

Chapter one is foundational, and the following three chapters build on its foundation.  Chapter two, entitled ‘Irish Philosophy: Past and Future’, begins with an account of the one period when Ireland was at the cutting edge of world philosophy. This was the golden age, which was born with John Toland’s Christianity not Mysterious (1696), grew with the answers to his challenge, culminating in the work of Francis Hutcheson, Edmund Burke and especially George Berkeley, and then came to a close in the late 1750s. One thesis of this chapter is that Ireland might again be at the cutting edge if it follows the lead of its two greatest thinkers, Toland, the great monist, and Berkeley, the great dualist.  But the more important aim of this chapter is to display the two basic types as exemplified by Berkeley and Toland. 

Chapter three is on David Hume, another great monist, and his use of what I call the Art of theological lying, as found most clearly in his celebrated account of miracles. However, my more important and controversial thesis, which is the main focus of this chapter, is that Hume also uses the Art in his alleged retraction of his monistic theory of personal identity, according to which theory a person is only a bundle of perceptions with no perceiver of these perceptions.  In short, what I try to show is that Hume’s alleged retraction of his monistic theory in the Appendix to his Treatise was not sincere but Artful and strategic lying. And this is both explained and supported by my account of monism and dualism in chapter one. However, if my main claim in chapter three is accepted- which I think it should be, since powerfully supported by the available evidence- then that would show the power of typal theory developed in chapter one.  

Chapter four is chiefly on A.J. Ayer, who, like Hume, was a monist. But while Ayer followed Hume in many ways, what I try to show is that he can be considered a clearer and more complete monist than Hume.  Another aim of this chapter is to show how much tangle and confusion there is in 20th century philosophy, but how the tangle can be untangled once we see the importance of the dualist and monist dichotomy as described in chapter one. 

In the conclusion of this work, the Epilogue, I address what, it is generally agreed, distinguishes human beings from other animals, namely that we are the most social animal, which is shown in our ability to live and operate in huge numbers.  But whereas most biologists and anthropologists trace this to our genetic makeup, I trace it to a cultural development which occurred circa 30,000 to 70, 000 years ago, when Homo sapiens learned to speak, that is, understand and teach symbolic language.  This is the kind of language which no other animal has acquired; for their use of language is limited to signs, such as that of danger, which is largely instinctive and genetic. Whereas symbolic language, which we human beings alone have, is and was a cultural acquisition that must be taught and learned if it is not to be lost.  And this cultural acquisition I argue, drawing on the 2010 breakthrough in evolutionary genetics and my account of basic types in chapters 1-4, arose from the successful mating of Homo sapiens with the Neanderthal 30,000 to 70,000 years ago and, more specifically, the (temporary) emergence of hybrids.”