Thursday, March 30, 2006

Intrigued by the constitutional view

Kevin J. Corcoran. Rethinking Human Nature: A Christian Materialist Alternative to the Soul. Baker Academic, 2006. 160pp.

Description: What is human nature? is a question of perennial interest, one with which artists, philosophers, theologians, and social scientists continue to wrestle. Augustine and Descartes are classic examples of proponents of body-soul dualism; they contend that human persons are immaterial souls. Today, however, the dominant position among philosophers and scientists views human persons as identical with human animals, that is, humans are nothing more than "biological computers."

As an alternative to dualism or a reductionistic version of materialism, Kevin Corcoran proposes a position known as the Constitution View, which suggests humans are constituted by their bodies without being identical to the bodies that constitute them. Although this view can be traced back to Aristotle, it wasn't applied to persons and bodies until the twentieth century. Corcoran situates the Constitution View theologically and philosophically, arguing for the view's moral relevance by developing an ethic of compassion and care--exemplified in discussion of implications for genetic and reproductive technologies--and demonstrating the theological superiority of the Constitution View over dualism by showing its connection to the Christian doctrine of the resurrection.

This book will be useful for provoking class discussion in a fresh way, especially in theological anthropology, philosophy of religion, and ethics courses.

Kevin J. Corcoran (Ph.D., Purdue University) is associate professor of philosophy at Calvin College, specializing in philosophy of mind, metaphysics, and philosophy of religion. He is the author of many journal articles and the editor of Soul, Body, and Survival.

Endorsements: "Perhaps the most outstanding qualities of this book are its clarity and its generosity. Corcoran is able to present often-complex arguments in ways that folks who are not intimate with these discussions should nonetheless be able to follow. He treats his conversation partners with genuine respect. The humility with which he presents and argues for his own case is exemplary."--Joel B. Green, Asbury Theological Seminary; editor, In Search of the Soul

"Rethinking Human Nature is an excellent exploration of the nature of human persons. Corcoran defends a Constitution View of persons in which we are wholly made up of our bodies, yet we are not identical to them. While I do not, in the end, agree, the position he defends and the arguments he employs are extremely important for anyone thinking about the nature of human persons. One particular strength of his book is that he connects his position to critical issues in traditional theology and contemporary ethics. Corcoran's book will spark a lively debate for years to come."--Gregory E. Ganssle, Yale University, Rivendell Institute

"Kevin Corcoran is a Christian. He is also a materialist. Both those who welcome this combination and those who suspect that it is impossible should read his challenging and well-written book."--R. William Hasker, emeritus professor of philosophy, Huntington University

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