- The Body/Body Problem: Selected Essays
Anyone acquiring this book solely on the basis of Arthur Danto's reputation as an art critic might be disappointed. The testimonials on the back of this edition are somewhat misleading in emphasizing his track record as an art historian, since there is little, if any, specifically aesthetic theory in this collection of philosophical essays, spanning some 30 years. With a Library of Congress data classification of "Representation (Philosophy)," the question of how ideas about the world are held in the mind is clearly one of Danto's central preoccupations here, along with history, science and the nature of bodily action. The matter of art, therefore, is dealt with more obliquely through general problems of representation, although Danto often uses examples from art history to illustrate more philosophical points.
As the title declares, this is a book of problems, and the problems are largely tackled through the methodology of analytical philosophy—that branch of enquiry that proceeds by trying to decompose complex processes into a sequence of logically coherent statements. Thus Danto frequently frames propositions in the algebraic style typical of this discourse. Sentences like, "Let the unconscious element be W(p) . . . Let the manifest element be W(p*)" (p. 134) might not endear him to the general reader but are, nevertheless, some guarantee of the authenticity of Danto's philosophical voice.
The 12 essays collected here cover an impressive range of subjects, some of little more than local concern to the field of academic philosophy, while others push at the very bounds of our self-knowledge. Within the confines of this review, it would not be possible to do any more than indicate some recurrent themes before considering what are some of its most significant ideas.
In the introduction, Danto says, "Here I am concerned primarily with the philosophical anatomy of beings composed of representations—of beliefs and thoughts, feelings and intentions, desires and regrets" (p. 13). Like other philosophers in his tradition, he tries to arrive at some clear truth about our composite representations—a notoriously difficult task, given the ambiguities and paradoxes of the vehicle of language through which those truths have to be expressed.
We are immediately confronted with problems in the first essay, "Representational Properties and Mind/Body Identity," in which Danto critiques the implausibility of the Materialist position that thoughts (mental representations) are identical with "brain-states." This quickly becomes a discussion on the categorization of certain properties of representations in terms of their relation to reality. Here, art becomes an illustrative case study in defining the connection between an object and its representation that, for Danto, is analogous to the connection between the brain and thought. He concludes that the implausibility of Materialism does not necessarily invalidate it, implying that dualism, by contrast, is impotent: "If a bit of mere paint can be of the Passion of the Lord, why on earth cannot a state be of our brain?" (p. 30).
This theme is extended in chapter six, "Depiction and Description," which addresses various "immanentist" theories of depiction in relation to early Wittgenstein. Immanentism, in the sense used here, refers to the belief in the presence of the object in its representation or, as Constantine V argued at an Ecumenical Council called to ponder the matter: "An image is made of the same substance as the original," which Danto terms the "iconodule thesis" (p. 101). In the Tractatus, Wittgenstein wrote something similar: "In the picture and the pictured there must be something identical" (p. 105). Danto is mainly concerned here with the distinction, first drawn by Plato, between depictive representation (mimesis) as compared with descriptive representation(diegesis), and whether in fact a purely pictorial language would be able to describe the world for us; he concludes it would not.
Danto tackles wider problems of representation in several other essays, arguing consistently that both history and science, and especially the history of science, are representative as much as explanatory. In "History and Representation," he warns against...