Persons and Personal Identity: A Contemporary Inquiry ed. by Arthur Peacocke and Grant Gillett (review)
- The Thomist: A Speculative Quarterly Review
- The Catholic University of America Press
- Volume 54, Number 4, October 1990
- pp. 746-750
- View Citation
- Additional Information
746 BOOK REVIEWS they he systematic, well-founded, inter-subjective, free, and critical. Unfortunately for the argument, such criteria require a theory of the good as well as of the true. No survey of the literature alone will yield these criteria; reasoned decisions about larger matters must be made. Vroom's inability to decide the meta-questions about truth and goodness is less significant in his final chapter on inter-religious dialogue, where he looks for a schema of mutual understanding rather than for norms of successful communication. The stress on family resemblance helps him to avoid two mistakes. First is the idea that all religions are variations on one universal human activity, a position made untenable by the multitude of concerns embraced by every religious tradition and the absence of any one integrating feature. The second mistake he escapes is the belief that every religion is a unit having no overlap with any other and that consequently dialogue is impossible. Religions and the Truth traces the major world traditions so carefully that the overlap is obvious, hut it also makes clear that the overlap is various and fluctuating. Vroom has made a major contribution to the understanding of religion and to the conversation of religious people. My one wish is that he had been brave enough to take a stand on the basic philosophical questions and that he had set in motion an interaction between these questions and his detailed analysis of religion. An investigation of these deepest and richest quests for the true, the good, and the beautiful would result in an even better view of religion. La SaUe University Philadelphia, Pa. MICHAEL J. KERLIN Persons and Personal Identity: A Contemporary Inquiry. Edited by ARTHUR PEACOCKE AND GRANT GILLETT. Ian Ramsey Centre Publication , no. 1. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1987. Pp. ix + 222. $39.95 (cloth). This hook contains thirteen papers given at a seminar series and workshop on " Conceptions of the Person and Their Ethical Implications " held under the aegis of the Ian Ramsey Centre in Oxford, Eng· land, in 1985-86. The Ian Ramsey Centre, founded in 1985 and based at St. Cross College in Oxford, is directed by Arthur Peacocke, one of the editors of this hook. The Centre has as its aim " the interdiscipli· nary study of both ethical problems arising from scientific and medical research and practice and the underlying philosophical and theological BOOK REVIEWS 747 issues" (p. vii). The range of contributions to this volume shows that this aim is being taken seriously. Five contributions are by philos· ophers, three by theologians, and one each by a chemist, a psychologist, a psychiatrist, a literary critic, and a legal theorist. In addition, some of the papers have appended to them a partial record of the discussions they prompted, and the participants in these discussions represent a still broader range of disciplines. One of the chief strengths of this collection is thus the unusually wide spectrum of iITtellectual interests it covers. This is also its weakness; diversity can easily become disjointedness . The dominant tone of the collection nevertheless is philosophical, and the parameters of the philosophical debate are set by the first two con· tributions. In the first, Peter Atkins presents a radically scientistic materialism as the only possible view of what human persons are. Science , he claims, is omnicompetent and simple; purposelessness and chaos are fundamental in the cosmos; and physicalist reductionism. is capable of explaining everything. Atkins attempts to show, in the body of his paper, that these claims are true by offering a physicalist explanation of qualia and intentionality. Atkins's paper is remarkable both for the fervor of its rhetoric and the implausibility of its conclusions: any position that is not radically scientistic and physicalist is dismissed as sentimental wishful thinking (p. 13). But Atkins never establishes that nonphysicalist explanations of some phenomena are made less plau· sible by the fact that physicalist explanations can also be offered. Richard Swinburne, in the second paper, gives us the opposite end of the philosophical spectrum. He argues that if it is logically possible that I, as a conscious person, can exist without a body, then it follows that I have a soul (see...