James D. MADDEN.  Mind, Matter & Nature: A Thomistic Proposal for the Philosophy of Mind.  Catholic University of America Press, 2013.  Pp. xiii+307. $31.46 pb.  ISBN 978-0-8132-2141-0.  Reviewed by Michael Horace BARNES, University of Dayton, Dayton, OH 45469-1530

An unusual combination: modern philosophical theories about the nature of mind grounded in questions arising from brain studies, here meets Aristotelian hylomorphism and a Thomistic analysis of the body-soul identity of the human person.  Both aspects are presented in complex detail, but with clarity and balance, along with a touch of wit.  It is easy to perceive the classroom teacher at work here offering a step-by-step argument with images designed to keep an undergraduate alert.  A great virtue of Madden’s approach is to make his case cautiously and carefully, noting degrees of plausibility in this theory rather than arguing flatly which theory is right or wrong.

Madden reviews a good number of philosophical attempts to give an account of the human mind.    He finds neither raw materialism  nor a materialism qualified by forms of emergentism free of serious flaws.  These are forms of the naturalistic (all events are due to natural and physical causes alone) theories of most modern scientists.  Philosophers of mind have tended to opt for some type of dualism.  These include property dualism, in which the properties of the mental are not identical to solely physical properties; emergent dualism, in which mental properties emerge from the purely physical but are nonetheless themselves not purely physical; and the usual form of substance dualism.  This last is the sort found in Descartes, for whom the human person is two kinds of substances joined together (perhaps through the infamous pineal gland).  Madden complains that both materialists and substance dualist are rather thoroughly mechanistic in their understanding of physical reality, as though everything physical were material machines grinding blindly along.

Madden seeks to replace a cartesian substance dualism with the Aristotelian hylomorphism of Thomism.  In this the human body and soul are not two substances but rather the matter and form of the whole person.  Madden first makes a general case for the value of hylomorphism in accounting for substantial change of any kind, a Sisyphean struggle, perhaps, in the face of a modern physics which does not find the concept of  “substance” to be useful. On that foundation he builds a case for the spiritual nature of the soul, as form of the body but also with the power of abstract concepts (and conscious free choice) and therefore not tied to physical limitations.  This in turn implies an immortal soul.

Though it was almost comforting to this former Thomist to watch Madden journey again over familiar trails, he seems to share with many current philosophers, particularly those Owen Flanagan has called “the new mysterians,” a strong resistence to the possibility that human mental life, the life of inner experiences of “qualia” and of self-awareness, could be the product of brain processes alone. The mental just does not feel, appear, seem, present itself as physical operations.  As the philosophers of mind often do, Madden overlooks the developmental history of each person, which includes years of training in turning endless series of sensations, protracted experimenting with reality, inculturation through a language or languages, ongoing brain growth and modifications, into a fairly well-functioning five year old human child.  Then add ten more years of similar development after which the brain may have learned to perform extraordinary feats with ease. Some people can even do calculus!  “May have learned” is still the right phrase, of course.  There is much yet to learn about the mind.  Madden’s work is a good place to start to learn about philosophies of mind today; other sources on empirical studies of brain and personal development should supplement it.