Recognizing philosophers in book reviews

Structure and the Metaphysics of Mind: How Hylomorphism Solves the Mind-Body Problem

Bill Jaworski was my undergraduate philosophy advisor and mentor. His latest book was recently reviewed in Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews by William Seager, who deserves credit for giving a Jaworski’s views and arguments careful attention despite their fringe status among mainstream philosophers of mind, metaphysics, and science.

Part of the reason why I think that the review is thoughtful involves the specific criticisms and questions about the philosophical content that are offered. Since those are not likely to be of interest to a general audience, I will pass over them.

The other reason I say that the reviewer has given the book careful attention is the fact that I recognize Bill in several of the comments.

William Jaworski’s book is a splendid addition to this revival of hylomorphism, notable for its clarity, thoroughness of presentation and depth of analysis. It resolutely advances an avowedly anti-physicalist view which deserves the hylomorphic label.

Philosophers are always interested first and foremost in the truth, but if every book was reviewed according to the opinions of the reviewer, there would be very few if any favorable book reviews. In academic philosophy, then, the most favorable things I could imagine anyone saying about a book are that it is:

  • Clear
  • Thorough
  • Deep
  • Resolute

The fourth of these might be the most important qualities that Seager mentions given the space that he devotes in his review to criticisms of the theory that Jaworski defends, for it signals to the reader that an ongoing engagement with Jaworski’s hylomorphism is a worthwhile endeavor because it holds up well under scrutiny.

Seager concludes his review by making the same point again:

Jaworski is not unaware of these sorts of difficulties and my remarks barely skim the surface of his deep and thorough discussion of these and many more issues. His book will richly repay study by anyone interested in the mind-body problem and metaphysics in general.

The last aspect of the review that I will point out is the way that it captures some of Bill’s idiosyncratic qualities, like his fondness of lowbrow examples in his discussions of highly abstract and technical philosophical questions.

A frequent, if grisly, illustrative example deployed by hylomorphists is that of the ‘crushed human’. Jaworski’s version goes like this: ‘Suppose we put Godehard in a strong bag — a very strong bag since we want to ensure that nothing leaks out when we squash him with several tons of force.’ (p. 9)

One of the things that made Bill’s classes so enjoyable was his delivery of the material. He wasn’t only interested in lowbrow examples, and in fact probably used highbrow examples more frequently. But it was the juxtaposition of comments about, e.g., the Emperor Concerto and the body bag, that always struck a chord and gave his lectures a liveliness that was unique and never gimmicky. Seager’s recognizable portrait of the author is hardly the most important feature of his essay from a philosophical point of view. Even where the philosophical content is concerned, though, I have to think that if another reviewer had not given the book a fair hearing, by proffering facile criticisms as decisive refutations, I would attribute the failure involved to an inability to recognize the way that the philosopher who wrote it exemplifies the qualities of being clear, thorough, deep, and resolute.

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