This is the best book I have read in a long time, and by far the most important. Mathews writes poetically, and I found myself putting the book down after every few paragraphs, first to catch my breath, then to absorb yet another revelation with which I positively resonated--often to the point of exclaiming out loud and feeling the need to get up and walk around. I assure you that not many books move me so. The last line brought tears to my eyes.
In For Love of Matter, Mathews attempts to overcome, in my view successfully, the central metaphysical conumdrum of Western philosophy: the Cartesian duality between mind and matter, which polarizes philosophy into an unresolvable dialectic between idealism and realism, and arguably lies at the heart of the ecological and existential crises that vex contemporary civilization. Her way of doing so is so simple, and yet so unexpected: by postulating that the duality is not real. That subjectivity is not something that is uniquely associated with (human) consciousness, but a dimension inherent to the material universe itself. If you think about it you will realize that all the ostensible reasons not to take this view are based entirely on assumption. That is why skeptics of both metaphysical idealism and metaphysical realism have never been swayed to the other's point of view, and never will be.
But if you take subjectivity to be inherent to nature itself, the problem goes away. Instead a fresh new problem emerges, which is how do we proceed if we accept the premise that our own mortal subjective self is but one of many differentiated manifestations of the One encompassing subjective self. The approach advocated by Mathews is one of erotic encounter, which takes the place of discursive explanation that has so dominated the techno-scientific Western world, generally in the service of subjugation. The danger with this approach of course is that it makes one more vulnerable to suffering. But it is a price worth paying, as erotic encounter is potentially far more rewarding than anything the discursive (repressive) approach to the world has to offer.
This is a tightly argued, beautifully written work. I read it a month ago and have kept chewing it over and refering back to it ever since. A fascinating progression from Mathews' earlier book, The Ecological Self. I particularly like her use of the Eros and Psyche myth.
Freya Mathews has provided us with a book that is beautifully expressed and thoroughly scholarly. It contains so many eloquent and lyrical passages that one is tempted to consider it in its corpus a poem rather than a philosophical tract. Nevertheless her depth of research and philosophical understanding would be enough to satisfy any philosopher. I particularly like her almost off-the-cuff remark about the need not to express one's spirituality on p. 186, note 6, so appropriate in this age of degradation of the spiritual.
I would take exception, however, to her way of approaching the subjective-objective division which she rightly confronts as the big elephant-in-the-room that has been obstructing philosophy since Descartes. Her approach is to overcome the division by extending its one side, the subjective pole, to everything that is considered to be objective, to the universe as a whole. In her "panpsychism," matter itself becomes subjective; and it "calls on us" to recognize it as such. Thus the subjective-objective split is overcome.
But is this not a regression simply to the mythological thinking that we have been at such pains to move out of? And in doing so, indeed, have produced the subjective-objective division? In this earlier mythological world outlook, "
"objective" is not yet being distinguished from "subjective," a fact that accounts for such characteristics of this thinking as word magic and superstition. It took many centuries to evolve from the mythic mentality, centuries that slowly led to the establishment of "reason" in the face of what could be illogical, and was often - - and still is - - enshrined in religious and philosophical belief systems that are crushing to the human spirit. This development has been slow: Plato had to combat Homer, the enlightenment had to combat the authority of the church, and today, still, science has to combat the myth of creationism. Mathews is much too sophisticated not to recognize the value of this march to reason; but it seems to me that trying to return to this previous mentality is fraught with the danger of returning again to the unreasonable.
I think a better path is to not to abolish the subjective-objective division through its dedifferentiation - - through undoing what we have through the centuries accomplished - - but to preserve it in recognition of its importance to stepping into rationality. We should attempt, instead, to go beyond it. The path to this kind of solution is pointed to in Kant's Copernican revolution where we change our focus from "being" to "knowing." The subjective-objective division becomes then a template (form, category) that we use for organizing our experience; alongside such other templates as space, time, and number, it becomes simply a principle of ordering. This path is best represented in the Philosophy of Symbolic Forms of the neo-Kantian, Ernst Cassirer, where he examined the way in which all these templates were developed in the course of cultural history.