email page print pageAll Topic Reviews
50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God50 Voices of DisbeliefA Companion to Buddhist PhilosophyA Companion to Muslim EthicsA Frightening LoveA People's History of ChristianityAdieu to GodAn Ethics for TodayAristotle's ChildrenAugustine's "Confessions"Bad FaithBehind the GospelsBig DreamsBig GodsBody Piercing Saved My LifeBrains, Buddhas, and BelievingBrief Inquiry into the Meaning of Sin and FaithBuddhism and ScienceBuddhist Boot CampConfucianismConfucianismConfucius and ConfucianismContemplative ScienceCorporal Punishment, Religion, and United States Public SchoolsCourage to SurrenderCross and KhoraDarwin's Gift to Science and ReligionDarwin, God and the Meaning of LifeDeath and the AfterlifeDebating DesignDeeper Than DarwinDivinity of DoubtEmbracing MindEncountering the DharmaEngaging BuddhismEsalenEscape Your Own PrisonEvidence for PsiEvilEvolution and ReligionExplorations in Neuroscience, Psychology and ReligionFaithFaith and Wisdom in ScienceFingerprints of GodFor The Bible Tells Me SoForgivenessFrom Shame to SinGod & TherapyGod Is Not GreatGod Is Not OneGod: The Failed HypothesisHereticHidden DimensionsHooked!Hours with the MysticsHow to See Yourself As You Really AreHow Would Buddha Act?Incorporating Spirituality in Counseling and PsychotherapyInto Great SilenceIslam and the Future of Tolerance: A DialogueJewish DharmaLife After FaithLiving DeeplyLiving with a Wild GodLiving with DarwinMaking Chastity SexyMedicine and Health Care in Early ChristianityMedicine and ReligionMedicine of the PersonMysticism & SpaceNature and the Human SoulNothingOn Life After DeathPanpsychism and the Religious AttitudePathways to SpiritualityPeaceful Death, Joyful RebirthPhilosophers without GodsPhilosophical Myths of the FallPorn UniversityPray the Gay AwayPsychotherapy without the SelfRadical GraceReason, Faith, and RevolutionRecruiting Young LoveReligion without GodReligious and Spiritual Issues in Psychiatric DiagnosisSaving GodScience and NonbeliefScience and Religion at the CrossroadsScience and SpiritualityScience vs. ReligionSecular Philosophy and the Religious TemperamentSelf Hypnosis for Cosmic ConsciousnessSelf, No Self?Sex and the Soul, Updated EditionSmile of the BuddhaSpirit, Mind, and BrainSuperstitionTen Lectures on Psychotherapy and SpiritualityThe Accidental MindThe Belief InstinctThe Bodhisattva's BrainThe Cambridge Companion to AtheismThe Cambridge Companion to Science and ReligionThe Case for GodThe Chosen OneThe Dao of NeuroscienceThe Dark Night of the SoulThe Delight of Being OrdinaryThe Fundamentalist MindsetThe God DebatesThe God GeneThe Hero with a Thousand FacesThe Improbability of GodThe Joy of SecularismThe Language God TalksThe Language of GodThe MiracleThe New AtheismThe New Religious IntoleranceThe Philosophy of ReligionThe Power of FaithThe Power of ForgivenessThe Power of Religion in the Public SphereThe Psychology of Religious FundamentalismThe Psychology of SpiritualityThe Puppet and the DwarfThe Secular OutlookThe Sense of SelfThe Spirit of the BuddhaThe Spirit of Tibetan BuddhismThe Tibetan Book of the DeadThe Trauma of Everyday LifeThe Watkins Dictionary of Religions and Secular FaithsThe Watkins Dictionary of SymbolsTheology, Psychology and the Plural SelfThoughts Without A ThinkerTop SecretUnifying HinduismWays of KnowingWhat Is Buddhist Enlightenment?What Should I Believe?When the Impossible HappensWhy I Left, Why I StayedWilliam James on Ethics and FaithWriting as a Sacred PathYoga, Karma, and RebirthZealot
Buddhism is famous for denying the existence of the self. In this captivating collection of essays, we learn that this deceptively simple idea is the basis for a rich exploration of the nature of consciousness and the nature of the self. The editors did a wonderful job of collecting essays that represent a diverse range of perspectives. Two aspects of this collection are especially noteworthy. First, the authors are obviously familiar with one another's work and frequently refer to other essays in the volume. This feature makes the reader feel part of an ongoing conversation. Second, all the authors are well versed in at least two of the traditions and the comparisons between various traditions feel organic rather than forced.
Here are just three examples of the broad range of topics covered in the collection. Jonardon Ganeri combines 4th century CE Buddhist philosophers' explanation of what underlies the use of the first person with arguments in the analytic tradition about how the pronoun 'I' refers to explain why first person reports are immune to the error of misidentification (the idea that when I think to myself that "my legs are crossed" I can't go wrong about whose legs I'm referring to). Wolfgang Fasching relies on the phenomenological tradition to defend the Advaita Vedanta (a Hindu school) claim that there exists an abiding experiencing consciousness that is distinct from other types of mental states against Buddhist objections, claiming Advaita Vedanta better captures the nature of the first person experience. And Matthew MacKenzie argues that a Buddhist inspired enactivist conception of the self, a conception of the self grounded in the relationship between the organism and her environment, finds middle ground between views that the self is a fiction and views that the self is an independent, substantial entity.
Two of issues receive more attention than others in this volume. The first is whether we should understand consciousness as necessarily reflexive, and what, precisely this would mean. In the analytic tradition, reflexivity is sometimes called the self-intimating character of consciousness. Philosophers often point out that experiential states are distinct from other mental states because they have a particular phenomenal character, that is, there is something it is like to be in them. So, for example, "what it is like" to experience biting into a crisp apple differs from "what it is like" to eat a banana. Many philosophers think that it makes no sense to think about what an experience is like without thinking about what the experience is like for someone. In other words, conscious experiential states require a subject. One way to make sense of this idea is through the reflexivity thesis: the structure of conscious experience includes an awareness of itself. The reflexivity thesis should be distinguished from the idea that all conscious states must be the object of another mental state. The latter process involves a relationship between two mental states. The reflexivity thesis, on the other hand, is a claim about the internal structure of individual mental states. The reflexivity thesis has been debated in the Indian tradition for centuries, where it is characterized by the metaphor of illumination. The self-illuminists believe that conscious states are like lights; they illuminate both themselves and the objects around them. The other-illuminists deny the coherence of this position (they point out, for example, that a knife cannot cut itself) and argue that the conscious states are illuminated by being the target of another mental state.
The other focus in this volume is how we should best understand the nature of the self, given the famous Buddhist denial that there is such a thing. There are many possibilities, ranging from the kind of minimal self (espoused by Dan Zahavi) to more robust characterizations, like the narrative concept of self (discussed by Joel Krueger) or the personal ownership view (discussed by Miri Albahari). On a minimal self view, the self is seen merely as the subject of the experiences, understood not as an independent entity, but as the subjectivity of the experience itself. The narrative or personal ownership conceptions are arguably closer to our ordinary understanding of the self as an independent agent who directs actions, makes decisions, and fulfills goals.
The Indian tradition of philosophizing about the self lies at the center of the book and in this tradition the concept of self and the nature of consciousness are inseparable. I'd highly recommend the collection to scholars interested in consciousness and the nature of the self. As someone trained in the analytic tradition with scant knowledge of the Indian traditions, I thought the authors were admirably clear in their expositions of the Indian philosophers and views. The volume is suitable for graduate or very advanced undergraduate students. For the general reader who is willing to put in some serious intellectual effort, the volume would provide an interesting introduction to contemporary discussions about the nature of the self. (For the general reader, I'd advise skipping the introduction, which I found a bit perfunctory, until you've read some of the essays.)
© 2012 Emily Esch
Emily Esch, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Philosophy, College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University
Welcome to MHN's unique book review site Metapsychology.
We feature over 7800 in-depth reviews of a wide range of books and DVDs written by our reviewers from many backgrounds and
We update our front page weekly and add more than thirty new reviews each month. Our editor is Christian Perring, PhD. To contact him, use one of the forms available here.
Can't remember our URL? Access our reviews directly via 'metapsychology.net'
Metapsychology Online reviewers normally receive gratis review copies of the items they review.
Metapsychology Online receives a commission from Amazon.com for purchases through this site, which helps us send
review copies to reviewers. Please support us by making your Amazon.com purchases through our Amazon links. We thank
you for your support!
Join our e-mail list!: Metapsychology New Review Announcements: Sent out monthly, these
announcements list our recent reviews. To subscribe, click
Interested in becoming a book reviewer for Metapsychology? Currently, we especially need thoughtful reviewers
for books in fiction, self-help and popular psychology. To apply, write to our editor.
Metapsychology Online Reviews
Promote your Page too
Metapsychology Online Reviews