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BOOK REVIEWS 533 Mind in Action: Essays in the Philosophy of Mind. By AMELIE OKSEN· BERG RORTY. Boston: Beacon Press, 1988. Pp. x & 378. This volume assembles essays written over a period of fifteen years (1973-1988), dealing with topics grouped into the following four areas: (1) persons and identity, (2) the nature of psychological activities, (3) problems in philosophy of mind such as fear, self-deception and akrasia, and (4) issues of virtue and character in social context. Rorty's approach to these topics is governed by a " commitment to the primacy of the particular" (ix). Her style, consequently, is rich in detail , in the exhibition of differences between related issues (e.g., between personal identity and identity of human being), and in the dis· play of the importance of context for setting the philosophical problems concerning mind. Indeed, she writes: " If there were a great ontological table of contents, neither mind nor individ"Ual minds would be likely to appear on the list of independent substances " (5) . Thus the collec· tion does not set out a substantial theory of mind; rather, it exhibits a set of commitments and preoccupations-in the author's words, " a point of view." The value of the collection lies in its wealth of discriminating exposition of intricately related issues, and in the display of a philosophical intellect whose consistency survives the strategic pre· disposition to analyze by distinguishing contexts. The first grouping of essays is "Persons and Personae." The title essay "Persons and Personae" (1987) argues that there is no over· arching synthesis that will reconcile the several concepts of a person. Rorty argues from the premise that any concept of person is rooted in and reflects the characteristic central activities of a society: "primary, privileged activities, the activities that are thought to express human excellence and tasks " (25) . This unpacks into three parts: (1) that there is no such thing as the concept of a person; (2) that concepts of persons are always reflective of some particular society; and (3) that the element of a society that defines its concept of self will be its list of central human activities, be they religious, political, economic, or moral in nature. Rorty analyzes seven such concepts, and concludes by eschewing what she calls a "vulgar Wittgensteinian" approach; namely, simply advising philosophers to be cured of the yearning for one metaphysical concept of person. Instead, briefly, she acknowledges that yearning and recommends inquiry into its roots and recommends scrutiny of the various overlapping but uncoordinatable concepts of person in the various areas of life that give rise to them. In "The Transformation of Persons" (1973) she argues that the question " Is this the same person? " may have multiple admissible 534 BOOK REVIEWS answers. The question of personal identity through change has, she argues, typically given rise to either psychological, memory-based criteria , or to criteria based on reidentification of the same physical agent. Her claim is that either of these, pressed hard enough, presupposes the other. She dismisses the potentially dismal construal of this conclusion, holding that a recognition of the interdependence of psychological and physical criteria of identity is in fact beneficial, as both kinds of criteria tend to emphasize our notion of persons as (at least) the "irreducible units of responsible agency " (57). The argumentation supporting this contention of criterial interdependence is, however, thin. In "Persons, Policies, and Bodies" (1973) Rorty moves her concerns further toward the issues of responsibility. She examines the theory that a person is a locus of rational agency, that is, one who operates according to deliberately adopted policies that guide particular choices. She notes that if this theory holds, the concept of a person is conceptually distinct from the concept of an individual human being and from an individuated self as a subject of experience. But it does not hold, according to her, at least in any robust sense. She discloses difficulties in fleshing out the notions of choice and rational agency required by the theory, arguing that attempts to salvage it by resorting to rationality as a matter of degree or as a potential tend to vitiate the theory instead of saving it. Rather, her view is that...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2473-3725
Print ISSN
0040-6325
Pages
pp. 533-542
Launched on MUSE
2017-04-05
Open Access
No
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