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Rescher, Nicholas. Minding Matter: and Other Essays in Philosophical Inquiry.

Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2001. xii + 146 pp. Cloth, $60.00; paper, $21.95--All but three of the nine essays in this collection are reprinted from elsewhere, with varying degrees of modification. This volume is the thirteenth in the author's series of similar collections dating back to 1969. The three new essays are entitled, "The Rise and Fall of Analytic Philosophy," "Perspectives on Nature in American Thought," and "Nomic Hierarchies and Problems of Relativism."

There is no one theme or set of themes that holds this collection together as a unit. As a result, each essay is a more or less freestanding discussion. Other main topics from the earlier essays are the author's notion of conceptual idealism (that is, that the notion of what is real unavoidably always contains mind-invoking terms); the state of philosophy during and at the end of the twentieth century; the question of whether reasoning about values is circular; the burdens of human choice; and the problem of deliberations becoming gridlocked in a democratic political society. As a result this reviewer can elaborate on only a few points striking his interests.

Rescher argues trenchantly that analytic philosophy collapsed of its own internal weight because it could not deliver on its own basic promises and purposes. Its motivating claim was that traditional, and especially metaphysical, philosophical questions and teachings were actually vacuous pseudoissues caused by the sirens of human language. These questions were not to be answered but rather simply dissolved into nothingness by the sharp tools of logic and language dissection advocated by the analytic philosophers. But unfortunately half a century of such efforts always left some residue of substantive philosophical concepts and questions still standing, no matter how long and how fine-grained the analyses became.

On the positive side, the analytic philosophers have bequeathed to posterity a plethora of different logical and linguistic methods of analysis which have lived on as an enduring part of the philosophical milieu. But Rescher also sees this as a potential obstacle, since by the end of the twentieth century both the substantive concepts and the methods of analysis in the house of philosophy have become so "fragmented" (his oft-used term--perhaps "pulverized" would fit better) that the impetus to continue may be threatened by the sheer complexities of both content and method.

But when he looks beyond the analytic tradition, Rescher sees another current emerging as the twentieth century ended, namely, the beginnings of a reemergence of holistic and systematic philosophizing which is reminiscent of more traditional times. It is not clear precisely what he specifically has in mind here since no historical examples are given; perhaps Rescher's own work over the years could be a case in point. The lack of specific cases is related to another feature of the neo-systematization claimed by the author, namely, that it is a group-generated development and not the product of a single prominent philosopher as in the past. But if so, it is difficult to see how holistic thinking in terms of systems could survive a group's tendency toward fragmentation, which is lamented so often elsewhere in these essays.

Another topic worth pointing to is Rescher's careful delineation of a common thought pattern, ranging between ultimate aims and particular rulings, which is to be found in both rationality and morality. The borderlands between facts and values, between science and ethics, are very helpfully illuminated by the author's analysis. He even goes a step further (toward systematization?) when he suggests (pp. 86-8) that Peirce's pragmatic realism is fertile ground here, because of its incorporation of praxis, for an integral account of facts and values, a project which Peirce himself, for whatever reason, never explicitly developed.

If Rescher were to pursue this idea further, however, he would encounter a systematic tension which arises from his notion of conceptual idealism in the title essay. For Peirce the real is what it is independently of what any one thinks about it. For Rescher's conceptual idealism one must begin with one's own mind (since that is the only one of which one has direct awareness). To avoid the Cartesian egocentric predicament, one must also generalize (pp. 5 and following) by distinguishing what is personal from what is common to all minds. Rescher argues that language experience reveals this. But Peirce may well then ask whether this generalization presupposes that mind is what it is independently of what any one thinks about it. Does this differ from Peirce's notion of the real? If so, how does one adjudicate between Peirce's objective pragmatic realism and Rescher's conceptual idealism?--Richard J. Blackwell, Saint Louis University.
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Author:Blackwell, Richard J.
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 2003
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