Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews
Janice Thomas, The Minds of the Moderns: Rationalism, Empiricism, and Philosophy of Mind, Acumen, 2009, 293pp., $27.95 (pbk), ISBN 9780773536388.
Reviewed by Stephen Puryear, North Carolina State University
Excerpt from review:
In the chapters devoted to the nature of consciousness,
Thomas contends that Spinoza, Locke, and Hume offer few insights. Indeed she
roundly criticizes Spinoza and Locke for deficiencies in their views. One
problem with Spinoza's theory, she says, is that he seems committed to denying
that human minds are conscious subjects. For if God is the only substance, it's
hard to see how he could fail to be the only conscious subject (81-82).
Moreover, she adds, if the divine mind is just a bundle of ideas, as Spinoza
appears to hold, it's hard to see how even God could be a conscious subject
(Ibid.). Thomas objects to Locke's view on the
ground that his account of memory conflicts with his belief that we are always
conscious of all our ideas (156-59).
On the positive side, Thomas sees Descartes and Leibniz as
proposing accounts of the nature of consciousness -- accounts that may be viewed
as precursors of the sort of higher-order thought approaches that some advocate
today. She also argues that many early modern philosophers recognize, even if
only tacitly, different kinds of consciousness.
For instance, on her reading Descartes, Leibniz, and Hume all distinguish at
least implicitly between what contemporary philosophers would call 'perceptual
consciousness', 'access consciousness', and 'phenomenal consciousness'; and
Descartes further distinguishes between 'organism consciousness' and
'introspective consciousness'. Thomas appears to be rather impressed by this
point; however, I believe it rests on a faulty inference. In each case she
starts with the banal observation that a philosopher recognizes consciousness of
different kinds of things, and from this infers the substantive conclusion that
he believes in different kinds of consciousness. This is clearly a non-sequitur.
Consciousness of different kinds of things does not imply different kinds of
consciousness, and in the absence of any explicit evidence that these
philosophers drew such distinctions, we should not be so quick to suppose that