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Parrish, Stephen. The Knower and the Known: Physicalism, Dualism, and the Nature of Intelligibility.

PARRISH, Stephen. The Knower and the Known: Physicalism, Dualism, and the Nature of Intelligibility. South Bend, IN: St. Augustine's Press, 2013. 445pp. Paper, $40.00--This is an antinaturalist, antimaterialist, antiphysicalist manifesto. On nearly every page is at least one argument against one or another of these views, and frequently against all three as a package. Many of these arguments are quite brief, and none are very original. There are frequent appearances, for instance, of reasoning akin to Alvin Plantinga's evolutionary argument against naturalism, to Hempel's dilemma, and to classic qualia-based arguments: the knowledge argument, explanatory gap worries, and so forth. That the author's barrage of arguments against naturalism, materialism and physicalism pop up often with little prelude and in an order that is difficult to discern is just one confusing feature of this book. Indeed, its organization in general is flawed. The table of contents lists only chapter headings, not titles of individual subsections, and the introductions to each chapter offer little indication what they will contain. Even had the author corrected these problems, this would be a difficult text to follow. The author moves rapidly from topic to topic and sweeping claim to claim within subsections. He proliferates technical terms before explaining what he thinks they mean, and subsequently offers vague or multiple definitions. There is also an enormous range of issues under discussion.

These features also make the book difficult to summarize. In general, its first section (which is labeled section two) focuses on introducing terminology related to the mind-body problem and attacking both physicalism in general and some particular, mostly physicalist, theories of mind. The author's preferred argumentative strategies are mainly of the familiar types mentioned above, although his frequent assertions that versions of physicalism boil down to mysterianism indicate that he has the hard problem of consciousness chiefly in mind. The author makes obvious early in this section that he is a proponent of some form of dualism, but it emerges only gradually that he prefers Cartesian-style interactionist substance dualism. Indeed, it turns out in the second section of the book (labeled section three) that he prefers Cartesian dualism coupled with theism. This section is aimed at elaborating the author's own theory of mind. He declares that he will do so using "the philosophy of phenomenology, especially as developed by its founder, Edmund Husserl." In fact, Husserl is almost entirely absent from the chapters that follow. The author's own discussion of consciousness is frustrated by his tendencies to assimilate notions like intentionality, understanding and rationality to phenomenal consciousness, and to insist on the primitive status of the latter. For example: "It is something that one must either grasp or not. If one cannot understand it, that one does not have consciousness--in which case one will not be able to understand anything." In addition to ruminations on thought and consciousness, chapters six through eight contain scattered arguments against (to name a few): Michael Tye on mental representation and phenomenality, Daniel Dennett's elimination of qualia, disjunctivist theories of perception, and leading contemporary accounts of intentionality (Ruth Millikan's, Jerry Fodor's and Fred Dretske's). It is in the book's last chapter that theism crops up. There appear to be two reasons for this. First, the author thinks we are in cognitive contact with abstracta, and that the best available account of our getting in this way involves divine illumination. Second, he is impressed by Alexander Pruss's Leibnizian account of modality, which entails theism. The presence of the latter discussion (in the chapter's second subsection) is curious in a book focusing primarily on the philosophy of mind. I shall close with a few thoughts about the former discussion.

The book's title, which includes "the knower and the known" and "the nature of intelligibility," suggests that its focus will primarily be on understanding. Indeed its first sentence advertises that it "is about the metaphysical issues involved in the concept of intelligibility." There are many interesting questions regarding the compatibility of our capacities for belief, knowledge and understanding with naturalism, materialism or physicalism. A serious philosophical case for abstracta as divine ideas, and for divine illumination as the best account of certain cognitive abilities we possess, would be well worth reading. This book does not make such a case. The author demurs on defending realism over nominalism and admits that physicalism is consistent with the existence of abstracta. Nor does he explain why divine illumination is preferable to other accounts of understanding, whether theistic and dualistic or otherwise. It is true that the author at times offers C. S. Lewis/Alvin Plantinga-style claims that naturalism is self-undermining. As mentioned above, his primary focus is on phenomenal consciousness, in the light of which he believes our cognitive or rational features must be understood. This book's length and lack of originality make it an odd sort of manifesto. Its contribution to the field is unclear.--Adam Wood, Wheaton College.
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Author:Wood, Adam
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 1, 2014
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