Raymond Tallis and the Alleged Necessity of a Body for Personal Existence and Identity (Critical Essay) by Appraisal

Raymond Tallis and the Alleged Necessity of a Body for Personal Existence and Identity (Critical Essay)

By Appraisal

  • Publication Date: 2009-10-01
  • Genre: Religion & Spirituality

Book Summary

1. Introduction Raymond Tallis' trilogy--The Hand, I Am, The Knowing Animal--is a profound and refreshingly anti-reductive study of human existence informed by both a wide range of empirical knowledge, especially in The Hand, and philosophical understanding which draws on analytical and Continental philosophy. (1) Yet, I shall suggest, Tallis goes too far in I Am as a result, paradoxically, of being too close to Descartes who is the main target of his criticism. For, like Strawson and Cassam, whom he often cites, he is concerned with securing the body against Cartesian scepticism regarding the 'external world', and so, again like them, he argues that embodiment is necessary to all self-consciousness and individuation and identification of the self, such that a non-physical yet personal existence would be impossible. (1) I do not quarrel with any of the arguments that Tallis offers or cites for the necessity of a body, and moreover a lived and living body, for perception of and action within a physical world. Indeed, Tallis explicitly repudiates any crass materialism or physicalism, and, as we shall see, appears to allow that there are aspects of self-awareness for which the body cannot account. Nor am I defending Descartes' or any other 'dualism'--his error lies more in being merely a 'dualist' and in recognising only matter and mind and not also the missing third between them of life, organic and sensori-motor existence, and also beyond mind the person himself, who uses his mental and bodily powers and can be 'out of his mind' when it operates without his personal and rational control. I seek to show only (a) that a physical body, while necessary for personal existence in a physical world, is not therefore necessary for existence in any and every world (though finite persons may need in any world some equivalent means of expression and interaction with each other), and (b) that even within a physical world such as this, the body cannot account for every aspect of personhood and is not the real basis of personal identity.

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