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  • Mind, Matter, and Nature: A Thomistic Proposal for the Philosophy of Mind by James D. Madden
  • James Brent O.P.
Mind, Matter, and Nature: A Thomistic Proposal for the Philosophy of Mind. By James D. Madden. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2013. Pp. xiii + 307. $34.95 (paper). isbn: 978-0-8132-2141-0.

James Madden has provided a great service for contemporary philosophers interested in the unique merits of Aquinas's hylomorphism over and against the variety of accounts of human constitution on offer in the contemporary philosophy of mind. When speaking among themselves, Thomists often claim (sometimes nonchalantly) that Aquinas's hylomorphism is much more than just one more theory on offer within the philosophy of mind. Rather, the claim goes, Aquinas's hylomorphism belongs to a different tradition of philosophical inquiry, with different background principles, starting parts, and framing questions. Sometimes, a bolder claim is made that the Thomist tradition is completely different (a different paradigm?) from the whole problematic of contemporary philosophy of mind. The latter problematic need never have arisen and has proven over time that it goes nowhere in the end.

These are very large claims indeed, and vindicating them before a contemporary audience would require (1) a thorough understanding of the problematic and positions of contemporary philosophy of mind, (2) a thorough understanding of the Thomistic tradition of the philosophy of human nature (which would require a good understanding of Aquinas's philosophy of nature and metaphysics), and (3) the ability to speak across the traditions to the extent possible according to the terms, principles, and methods of each in such a way as to be intelligible and potentially persuasive. Given such understanding and skill, one might reason and write in analytic idiom, walk a reader through the problematic of the contemporary philosophy of mind, stake out the various positions involved, point out their problems, gradually build a case that every which way one turns is a dead end, tell a historical tale of how the problematic need never have arisen, and, finally, propose a radical alternative: Aristotelian-Thomistic hylomorphism. One might also point out very serious differences between contemporary philosophy of mind as a whole and Aristotelian-Thomist hylomorphism, and introduce the reader to the latter as an alternative but promising tradition of inquiry. In his book, James Madden undertakes just this project, and his work is impressive indeed.

Madden argues in the analytic idiom for some of the large claims that Thomists like to make about the philosophy of mind, for example, "I agree that there is little hope for a fully satisfactory philosophy of mind: given the way the debate is typically framed, it is unlikely we can ever avoid the dead ends we have encountered" (219). He does not say this nonchalantly. He walks the reader through a long dialectical movement, starting from the contemporary issues and leading to the radical alternative on offer in the Thomistic tradition. Yet Madden stops short before making the bolder claims that the philosophy of mind and Thomistic philosophy of human nature are completely different, or [End Page 150] incommensurate paradigms, or like two cities of God and man between which one must choose. Rather, he affirms more moderately that "though there is sometimes a bewildering disparity in terminology and philosophical methodologies . . . Thomistic and analytic traditions of philosophizing are ultimately commensurable" (221-22 n. 2). Madden aims to further on all sides our humanly shared discussion of what human beings are, and, according to his subtitle, he offers a Thomistic proposal for the philosophy of mind.

The walk through the philosophy of mind toward hylomorphism begins in chapter 1 with a discussion of naturalism and its variants. Madden presents his own work primarily as a response to naturalism. Chapter 1 is an excellent introduction to naturalism, ancient and contemporary, except that it fails to outline the "argument from the success of science" in favor of naturalism. In chapter 2, Madden presents property dualism and substance dualism, and makes a case for the latter with the modal argument and the difference argument. But in chapter 3, he raises for dualism the interaction problem, the causal closure...


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