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Western Conceptions of the Individual.

This ambitious book examines the conceptions of the human subject held by numerous Western thinkers from various disciplines. The study begins with Descartes and ends with Derrida. For the forty-six principal authors covered, Morris gives a brief biography (except in the case of living authors), an overview of the author's thought in its historical context, an anlysis of the author's theory of the human individual as presented (implicitly or explicitly) in a major work (for example, Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Marcuse's Eros and Civilization), and a critique of that theory. Writers in addition to these forty-six are also discussed, but in less detail. As in not surprising in a work that spans the fields of philosophy, psychology, anthropology, sociology, and sociobiology, the expositions and critiques rely considerably on secondary sources (for example, on Copleston's History of Philosophy).

Morris divides his study into ten chapters, each presenting a distinctive approach to the topic of the human person: mechanism (the principal figures being Descartes, Hobbes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Hume, Kant), voluntarism (Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Freud), empiricism (Darwin, Watson, Skinner, Wittgenstein, Edward O. Wilson), neo-Kantian antropology-psychology (Dilthey, Wundt, Boas, Benedict, Margaret Mead), Hegelianism-Marxism (Hegel, Marx, Lukacs, Lev Vygotsky), sociology (Comte, Durkheim, A. R. Radcliffe-Brown, Leslie White, Louis Dumont), pragmatism (James, Dewey, George Herbert Mead, Erving Goffman), critical theory-psychoanalysis (Kierkegaard, Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty), and structuralism and post-structuralism (Levi-Strauss, Piaget, Althusser, Foucault, Derrida).

In the course of each chapter, Morris explains why he considers all the authors in that chapter to share the same general approach to the human subject. He does not, however, provide a concluding chapter pointing out similarities, differences, and connections among the ten approaches described in the individual chapters. Morris's only general statements about his project occur at the end of his brief introduction, where he states that his study focuses on writers who have adopted a standpoint of empirical naturalism rather than that of religious belief (pp. 3-4); and at the end of the first chapter, where he states that Kant is the "turning point," synthesizing the rationalist and empiricist philosophies that preceded him and giving rise to the major subsequent movements in Western thought (neo-Kantianism, Hegelian-Marxism, positivism, pragmatism, and phenomenology) (p. 58).

One cannot but admire the breadth of learning and research reflected in this study (the list of primary and secondary works cited covers forty-seven pages). But while each of the ten chapters is unified by virtue of its illustrating a particular approach to the human individual the book as a whole seems to lack any unity other than the fact that all the chapters deal with a specific way of approaching the same general topic. Consequently, the book is more useful as a reference work on particular approaches to the human subject and on individual theorists, especially the anthropologists and sociologists included, than as a volume to be read from cover to cover.
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Author:Abel, Donald C.
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 1, 1993
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