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  • Reconstructing Reason and Representation
  • David Bourget (bio)
Murray Clarke . Reconstructing Reason and RepresentationMIT Press. x, 192. US $35.00

As its title indicates, Murray Clarke's Reconstructing Reason and Representation tackles the ambitious project of rethinking the foundations of the theory of knowledge and the philosophy of mind. He invites philosophers to shed their traditional, a priori views on the nature of knowledge, justification, rationality, and representation to make place for a naturalistic approach to these disciplines. As such, his project is part of a growing stream of proposals to naturalize such diverse matters as ethical norms and human consciousness.

The book begins with a defence of John Tooby and Leda Cosmides's thesis that the mind is composed of domain-specific modules which have evolved to solve narrow problems throughout the natural history of mankind. There is little doubt that perception and motor control are implemented in the brain by specific, well-delimited modules, but Tooby, [End Page 153] Cosmides, and Clarke go further: they hold that the mind is almost completely modular. According to them, for instance, we have modules for such tasks as negotiating with others and finding our way in a natural environment. At the risk of oversimplifying, the rest of Clarke's contribution to the naturalization project consists primarily of an attempt to shed light on other issues which are central to it against the backdrop of this massive modularity thesis.

Clarke applies his massive modularity thesis to three important philosophical problems. The first is the disjunction problem (also known as the problem of error or misrepresentation). Clarke's solution gives central place to the notion of natural function, but it goes further than previous teleological approaches by integrating teleology and modularity. The second problem concerns the interpretation of psychological data showing that subjects generally fail to follow the norms of logic and probability theory. Here too Clarke relies on the massive modularity thesis to shed light on the limitations of the human mind. The third problem is that on which internalists and externalists (more specifically, reliabilists) are divided in epistemology. Clarke takes sides with reliabilists, but he concedes that philosophers of the internalist tradition have made good points. He suggests that what is correct about this approach can be recovered within a naturalistic framework once we properly distinguish between the meliorative and non-meliorative notions of justification. He then uses the massive modularity thesis to articulate his own reliabilist account of knowledge and justification, in which there is not one kind of knowledge but several kinds which correspond to the brain's specialized modules.

Clarke successfully weaves together seemingly disparate issues into an intelligible whole. The empirical studies he discusses provide a solid basis for his properly philosophical project, and the book is a good exemplar of its kind. However, it is not for everyone. Little background is provided on the views of some authors Clarke discusses (e.g., Jerry Fodor, Fred Dretske, Ruth Millikan, and Alvin Goldman). Also, much of the text presupposes rather than defends the naturalistic approach to representation and knowledge. In other words, Clarke's concern appears to be to adjudicate debates in which naturalists engage with one another more than to discuss the fundamental questions on which they are opposed by many philosophers. To be fair, he offers a brief defence of the naturalistic approach to the theory of knowledge, but it would have been interesting to hear more along such lines, especially on the topic of semantics. Overall, Reconstructing Reason and Representation should be of interest mainly to professional philosophers with some faith in the naturalization project, who will appreciate its subtle balance of scientific and philosophical content. [End Page 154]

David Bourget

David Bourget, Department of Philosophy, University of Toronto

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 153-154
Launched on MUSE
2006-02-10
Open Access
No
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