Dennett wears his philosophical hat in this short volume, based on lectures given at University College, Dublin and Canterbury University (New Zealand). As a result, there is more intellectual gameplay here than late news from the neuroscience front, making for a volume that is sometimes stimulating, but often frustrating. Dennett (Center for Cognitive Studies/Tufts Univ.) is a clever writer and has written insightfully about mind matters in Consciousness Explained (1991) and evolution in Darwin's Dangerous Idea (1995). But in assuming the philosopher's stance here he admits to raising more questions than answers. At the same time he introduces into these lectures a welter of specialized languages and theories, including the vocabulary of ontology, epistemology, and a string of associated concepts, such as intentionality; the notion of an agent or doer or a ``mind-haver''; physical and design stances; associationism, behaviorism, and connectionism (as in neural networks), referred to as ABC learning and so on. To what avail? Simply, it seems, to come to some conclusions about where in the Darwinian scheme of things thinking and consciousness (and self-consciousness) come into being. In the end, Dennett strongly supports the notion that only with language comes thought. Further, we only arrive in the abstract multidimensional world of ideas by means of written language and the ability to extend our intelligence through the artful inventions of culture and its representations in books, computers, and records (our external mental ``prosthetic'' devices). So nix on intelligent chimps and dolphins, but maybe a kind word for dogs as having been bred to respond to humans. Not a book that will be embraced by animal champions. And not Dennett at his best.

Pub Date: July 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-465-07350-6

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Basic Books

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1996



This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955


A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

A teacher and scholar of Buddhism offers a formally varied account of the available rewards of solitude.

“As Mother Ayahuasca takes me in her arms, I realize that last night I vomited up my attachment to Buddhism. In passing out, I died. In coming to, I was, so to speak, reborn. I no longer have to fight these battles, I repeat to myself. I am no longer a combatant in the dharma wars. It feels as if the course of my life has shifted onto another vector, like a train shunted off its familiar track onto a new trajectory.” Readers of Batchelor’s previous books (Secular Buddhism: Imagining the Dharma in an Uncertain World, 2017, etc.) will recognize in this passage the culmination of his decadeslong shift away from the religious commitments of Buddhism toward an ecumenical and homegrown philosophy of life. Writing in a variety of modes—memoir, history, collage, essay, biography, and meditation instruction—the author doesn’t argue for his approach to solitude as much as offer it for contemplation. Essentially, Batchelor implies that if you read what Buddha said here and what Montaigne said there, and if you consider something the author has noticed, and if you reflect on your own experience, you have the possibility to improve the quality of your life. For introspective readers, it’s easy to hear in this approach a direct response to Pascal’s claim that “all of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Batchelor wants to relieve us of this inability by offering his example of how to do just that. “Solitude is an art. Mental training is needed to refine and stabilize it,” he writes. “When you practice solitude, you dedicate yourself to the care of the soul.” Whatever a soul is, the author goes a long way toward soothing it.

A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-25093-0

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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