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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Interesting subject, but very poor writing, February 16, 2005
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This review is from: Merely Mortal?: Can You Survive Your Own Death? (Hardcover)
The idea for this book is a good one. Most people, without thinking about it, have accepted as their notion of personal identity a form of the Platonist/Cartesian dualism approach. That is to say that most people think of themselves as a little homonculus sitting inside a head cavity, linking their personal identity to a "soul" or "mind" and concluding that their survival (including survival after death) is linked to the fate of that incorporeal "stuff".

When you call into doubt this common belief, three excellent questions are presented. First, what is personal identity (i.e. what makes me "me"?) Next, how does personal identity continue over time (i.e. how am "I-now" the same as "I-then"?) Finally, can this personal identity continue past death?

These are very interesting subjects, but unfortunately Dr. Flew does a poor job of writing about them. I've read some very dense contemporary philosophy in recent years, and some lighter reading geared towards the lay person. There are good ways to write either style. This book fails by either standard.

The organization of topics is downright awful. Dr. Flew loosely structures the book as an examination of various schools of thought about the mind-body problem throughout history. Within these sections, however, he switches readily on and off topic.

His paragraph structure reads like Ralphie's essay assignment in the holiday film "A Christmas Story", a series of non sequiturs with nothing to bind them together. A philosophy book needs to make arguments, and it requires an author who is adept at organizing arguments into written paragraphs. Even a high-schooler knows that an effective persuasive paper requires that you make a proposition at the beginning of the paragraph, fill the middle with discussion of facts directly bearing on that proposition, and conclude by restating the proposition. Whatever style of writing one chooses, the key is that the reader must be able to follow from point to point without being lost in endless diversions. Dr. Flew's writing style is muddled, confusing, difficult to follow, and causes the reader to lose sight of whatever point he is ostensibly trying to make.

An old entertainer's rule goes: "Tell the audience what you're going to do, do it, and then say it has been done." All good philosophy writing obeys this rule as well.

I'm sure Flew is a very bright guy, and he's chosen a great set of topics, but he simply doesn't know how to write a book.

If you're interested in the topic, I can make another recommendation. Surprisingly, the best treatment of these topics I've read is in Dr Richard Hanley's "The Metaphysics of Star Trek," not quite as trite a book as you may expect from the title. No no, stop laughing for a second. Dr Hanley is a philosophy professor at University of Melbourne and uses pop culture like Star Trek to teach. His treatment of the personal identity/continuity issue spans several chapters, and it is well-structured, organized, easy to follow, and entertaining in addition to being thought-provoking. Hanley gives a good overview of the various issues that philosophers have addressed on this topic. An excellent book written for the lay reader is far more valuable then a terribly-written book that confuses blandness and unreadable paragraphs for scholarship.
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C. Wynes
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Location: Dyersburg, TN

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