C.B. Martin, The Mind in Nature

C.B. Martin, The Mind in Nature, OUP, 2007.

C.B. Martin died on October 23, 2008, barely a year after his magnum opus came out.  As Paul Snowdown writes in his obituary, Martin was one of the most “original, profound and important” philosophers of our time (hat tip Leiter Reports).  Yet for a number of accidental reasons, many philosophers have barely heard of Martin.  He deserves way more recognition than he gets.  To know why, you can get a good start by reading Snowdown’s obituary.

I recently finished a careful reading of Martin’s book.  It’s difficult to read but it’s a masterpiece–chock-full of deep and original philosophical ideas, organized into a coherent, appealing, and thought-provoking synthesis.

Martin starts with a realist account of properties as tropes possessed by objects.  His properties are both dispositional and qualitative at once:  their dispositionality is just the other side of the qualitative coin; in other words, the dispositionality and quality of a property are the same thing.  He then argues that there are no multiple levels of reality–there is only one fundamental level.  Yet he also argues that some properties emerge:  his emergence occurs at the fundamental level, rather than across levels like the usual emergence.

In the second half of the book, he deploys his ontology to account for intentionality (in terms of the dispositions instantiated in the brain) and consciousness (in terms of emergent qualities instantiated in the brain, which may or may not be reducible to more fundamental emergent qualities).  His ontology also offers the tools for a (mostly implicit) account of mental causation:   since the mental qualities are identical to dispositionalities, they are automatically causally efficacious.

In the last chapter, Martin argues that there is actually only one object, spacetime, which is the sole bearer of all properties, i.e., dispositions/qualities.

Of course, this brief summary does not begin to do justice to the book, which is a must-read for any serious metaphysician and philosopher of mind. 

Caveat:  the book is pretty hard to understand if you are not already familiar with Martin’s views.  You might consider reading Martin’s book after, or in conjunction with, John Heil’s From an Ontological Point of View (OUP, 2003).  Heil defends a view similar to (and explicitly influenced by) Martin’s, but Heil’s writing is much more accessible than Martin’s. 

One comment

Comments are closed.

Back to Top
%d bloggers like this: