In Search of the Soul: A Philosophical Essay

Princeton Univ. Feb. 2020. 192p. ISBN 9780691174426. $22.95. PHIL
Modern scientific thought recognizes the human self as a material, mortal thing “inhabiting a tiny temporary speck of the vast cosmos.” But, eschewing abstract, reductionist naturalism for a more humane philosophy, the esteemed British philosopher and Descartes scholar Cottingham (emeritus, Univ. Reading; King’s College, London; How To Believe) argues that consciousness reveals something of great value, the soul or self as a “subjective centre of conscious reflective awareness.” Over half way through the book Cottingham asks readers to be open to theism, with which—though it cannot be proven—many convictions about the soul click into place and make sense of naturalism’s conundrums. Nonetheless, he stops short of endorsing immortality and finds “supernaturalism” an unhelpful concept, favoring instead an Aristotelian-inspired hylemorphism.
VERDICT In the end, Cottingham’s humane philosophy is like an enjoyable conversation with a friend about an important, personal topic. While nonreligious readers may be irritated by his theism, and religious readers will wish for a more vigorous embrace of a supernatural immortality, all will feel engaged by a warm and thoughtful scholar, always ready to draw inspiration from Romantic poets, early modern philosophers and thoughtful writers. Recommended.
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