Locating Conscious Properties in a Material World
A philosopher offers a non-physicalist theory of mind, revisiting and defending a key doctrine of emergentism.
The presence of sentience in a basically material reality is among the mysteries of existence. Many philosophers of mind argue that conscious states and properties are nothing beyond the matter that brings them about. Finding these arguments less than satisfactory, Gerald Vision offers a nonphysicalist theory of mind. Revisiting and defending a key doctrine of the once widely accepted school of philosophy known as emergentism, Vision proposes that conscious states are emergents, although they depend for their existence on their material bases.
Although many previous emergentist theories have been decisively undermined, Vision argues that emergent options are still viable on some issues. In Re-Emergence he explores the question of conscious properties arising from brute, unthinking matter, making the case that there is no equally plausible non-emergent alternative.
Vision defends emergentism even while conceding that conscious properties and states are realized by or strongly supervene on the physical. He argues, however, that conscious properties cannot be reduced to, identified with, or given the right kind of materialist explanation in terms of the physical reality on which they depend. Rather than use emergentism simply to assail the current physicalist orthodoxy, Vision views emergentism as a contribution to understanding conscious aspects. After describing and defending his version of emergentism, Vision reviews several varieties of physicalism and near-physicalism, finding that his emergent theory does a better job of coming to grips with these phenomena.
Hardcover$8.75 S | £6.99 ISBN: 9780262015844 258 pp. | 9 in x 6 in
Few works of philosophy are read because the reader has been assured that the work is correct. What we often want is progress and opportunities for insight or illumination. Vision's book provides both. Indeed, Re-Emergence shows that emergentism remains (or is finally becoming) a promising competitor among theories of mind, and it draws some clear lines that allow one to test it against the other views.
Essays in Philosophy
Vision is clearly resourceful, and shows stamina in addressing various objections.
Re-Emergence is an original work that contains a number of creative and interesting arguments.
Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews
Re-Emergence presents a synoptic picture of the place of consciousness in the material world, and in doing so argues for the general viability of an emergentist metaphysical framework....It is a valuable work and will be of interest to students and professionals working in the metaphysics of mind—and indeed, the metaphysics of the natural world more generally. It is written in an accessible and engaging manner, and might even be useful to the engaged novice as an introduction to how contemporary philosophers approach the mind-body problem.
Gerald Vision brings to Re-Emergence an impressive mastery of the issues and aspirations that have been driving the continuing surge of interest in emergence, an idea that refuses to go away. Recent debates, however, are more notable for disunity, fragmentation, and a lack of direction than solid advances. This clear-headed, well-argued book is a timely and most welcome contribution to the field. It offers a strong and serious defense of the emergentist approach to consciousness; more, it provides a coherent and unified framework for the emergence debates yet to come.
Emergentism has been sitting in the background, often scoffed at for its incompleteness or mysticism, but as other approaches are failing to have explanatory power, it is gradually creeping into the mainstream. Vision's timely book offers an extensive treatment of the issue that casts it in light of the central debates in the philosophy of mind and the philosophy of cognitive science. It is a significant contribution to the field.
Anthony F. Beavers
Professor of Philosophy and Director of Cognitive Science, University of Evansville