DEATH OF THE SOUL: From Descartes to the Computer by William Barrett

DEATH OF THE SOUL: From Descartes to the Computer

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We all have a mind, consciousness, a personal identity that coheres from day to day. Or do we? These may be facts Of everyday experience but the brunt of modern philosophy denies their existence, according to Barrett (an American philosopher and the author of Irrational Man) in this slim, peppy critique. In essence, Barrett scrutinizes the primary arguments of every significant philosopher from Descartes to Wittgenstein, paying particular attention to what they say about the nature of the human self. A generous man, he finds something to praise (and something to blast) in everyone he examines; however, it's abundantly clear that some thinkers--Locke, Hume, Russell, the early Wittgenstein--make him queasy, while others--Leibnitz, Berkeley, Kant, Kierkegaard--act as a bracing tonic. The litmus test is whether they advance or retard belief in the reality of a sustained individual ego or soul. Barrett hints at one point that he is a Christian; whether this be the ease, he clearly holds dear the existence of a concrete self that actively participates in the functions of consciousness. While most philosophers' words are lumps of lead, Barrett's phrases soar off the page and into the understanding. In less than 2000 words, he manages to explain and then demolish deconstructionism, that latest French philosophical fad that has triggered migraines in a whole generation of graduate students. A little later, he reveals why a computer may someday write a pseudo-poem but will never be a poet. No doubt professional philosophers of the positivist camp will find much to argue with here, but common-sense thinkers and believers in the soul will applaud this chatty, cheerful, somewhat elementary survey.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1986
Publisher: Doubleday