Richard Wollheim has written a highly original book, which addresses the most basic questions about ethics and the ends of life. He deals with fundamental issues about what it means to be a person. But he takes up these issues from an unusual angle: what does it mean to “lead the life” of a person? The “simplest way” of expressing the scope of his inquiry, Wollheim says, is that “there are persons, they exist; persons lead lives, they live; and as a result, in consequence—in consequence, that is, of the way they do it—there are lives, of which those who lead them may, for instance, be proud, or feel ashamed. So there is a thing, and there is a process, and there is a product.” And he adds: “The central claim of these lectures is the fundamental status of the process. In order to understand the thing that is the person, or in order to understand the product that is the person’s life, we need to understand the process that is the person’s leading his life.”
In asking this question, Wollheim has made a shift that brings philosophical reflection into new territory, and has produced one of those rare works that extend the limits of philosophical analysis. We all lead our lives, and, of course, we put some considerable thought into doing so, even if only intermittently and inconsistently. But by virtue of its self-imposed limitations, philosophical analysis, at least in the Anglo-American world, has had the greatest difficulty dealing with the thinking we do in leading our lives, thinking in which all of us nevertheless as human beings irresistibly engage. Anglo-American philosophers have analyzed the metaphysical nature of persons—the abstract question of what it means to be a person—but a kind of cordon sanitaire has held philosophical reflection away from our condition as beings living in relation to past and future.
Certain Continental philosophers—notably Heidegger and Sartre—had made this their concern, but before Wollheim’s book adherents of the specifically “analytic” tradition to which he belongs have remained for the most part curiously debarred from doing so. So in asking his first question—what is it to lead our lives?—Wollheim is in a sense breaking through a barrier. The extension of philosophical territory that he proposes may not be an unalloyed good. There are enemies of philosophy who might see it as an unmitigated disaster, and even its friends are forced to admit that this kind of project may go badly wrong.
What has caused this resistance? Something, I think, deep in the tradition of empiricism and rationalism, which still has a powerful grip on Anglo-American thought, in spite of the frequently announced revolutions and liberations from it. This is the ideal of the person as a timeless, disengaged observer, who can inspect his own actions and life from the standpoint of eternity. This ideal, which Wollheim attacks, has been so powerful that it has ended up coloring not only philosophical analysis but even our own self-image.
One of the best places to see how this ideal has distorted our understanding of the person is in the work of David Hume. There is a certain irony in my choosing Hume as a target of Wollheim’s argument, because Wollheim himself confesses a quite different attitude: “The philosopher of the tradition,” he writes in the preface to his book, “to whom my intellectual debt is deepest is David Hume: I hope that this is obvious.” In a sense it is obvious, once one has read the book. For one of the most original aspects of Wollheim’s thought is his wish at once to remain within the tradition of antimetaphysical, antireligious naturalism that Hume so persuasively embodied and at the same time to free philosophy from Hume’s empiricist errors.
This is what makes the important difference between Wollheim’s work and that of those Continental philosophers, especially Heidegger, with whose antiempiricist philosophy Wollheim shows striking parallels, as I shall note below. In his attempt to promote a naturalism purged of empiricist errors—to rescue, as it were, Hume from his own bad theory of human knowledge—Wollheim reminds us of John Stuart Mill, who sought to rescue utilitarianism from Bentham’s one-sided understanding of the ends of human life, which he saw as the highest possible balance of pleasure over pain. As we shall see, Wollheim’s theory is open to the charge, frequently leveled against Mill, of trying to reconcile the irreconcilable. It is no accident that Wollheim feels a strong affinity for Mill’s philosophy, and vigorously defends Mill against this very charge.
The bad understanding of the person as a disengaged observer reaches an extreme expression—almost a parody—in Hume’s famous discussion of “personal identity,” of what it is to be a person. Hume approached this question as an empiricist and accordingly tried to discover observational evidence that such a thing as his self existed, much as he recommended we do when ascertaining the existence of anything else. He claimed, however, to be unable to find any experience based on “inner observation”—observation of his mind—which corresponded to the “self.” “For my part,” he wrote, “when I enter most intimately into what I call myself, I always stumble on some particular perception or other, of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure”;1 at no time did Hume succeed in perceiving or observing the self. He offered the notorious conclusion—which he confessed was not really satisfactory even to him—that, so far as he could ascertain, what is commonly called the self is nothing more than a name for a collection or “bundle” of such “perceptions” as he found when inspecting his own mind—heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred. In other words, to use Wollheim’s language, Hume argues that the identity of a person, and, by extension, the unity of a person’s life, can only be explained as a kind of “relation” that holds between independently identifiable “perceptions” of the kind Hume described.
It is against this theory, or rather its contemporary derivatives, such as the one argued by the Oxford philosopher Derek Parfit in his recent book,2 that Wollheim argues persuasively. The unity of a person’s life, he says, cannot be understood by the relations between the events that make it up, such as my feeling pain or pleasure today and hatred tomorrow. On the contrary, he says, it is not possible to identify two events as part of the same person without already referring to that person, or presupposing that person’s existence. But if this is so, then any “relational” theory is a mistake. As he writes, “once it is recognized that persons necessarily enter into the events that make up the lives of persons, a purely relational theory of a life will not do. For, in addition to the relation that holds between different events in the same life, some supplementary requirement must be laid on who enters into these events.” And “what should be required is that one and the same person enters into each and every event that belongs to the same life.”
The basic error of viewing the person as a bundle of impressions was already nailed by Kant. Hume’s entire analysis, he noted, assumes that the person can be exhaustively understood through passively registered experiences—the sort of “perceptions” Hume experienced when he tried to observe his own self. Hume said that he always stumbled on some particular perception without ever observing his self. But Kant noted that what is irreducible to such passive perceptions is the fact that we, as persons, do more than passively receive perceptions; we do things, we act. More specifically, as human agents, we are aware that it is up to us to act, and that certain issues concerning our lives and how we are to lead them lie before us—not only issues of abstract philosophy but such commonplace issues as what job we are to take or what political group we should join. If this is so, Kant said, human life can never be understood by a mere enumeration, however exhaustive, of passive experiences such as feeling hot. Any adequate description of human life must make reference to our projects and careers as active beings. The Humean view unavoidably leaves out any sense of the shape of the issues that face us, and it is only because these issues include those concerning our lives as a whole that we have the peculiarly central notion of self and personal identity that we do have. For beings who can undergo identity crises, the question of “personal identity” cannot be understood just according to the criteria by which we group passive observations.
With his opening question—what is it to lead a life?—Wollheim brings us onto the terrain Kant has prepared for us. What can philosophy say here? One thing it might do is to help define the general scope and form of the issues that typically make up human lives. Wollheim makes three important preliminary points concerning what it is to lead a life.
The first point Wollheim argues is that at issue for me, among other things, is the shape not just of segments of my life but of my life as a whole—my career as an active being pursuing projects that are important to me. It follows from this point that I must see my life as a unity, a whole. It is a mistake bred from the discredited Humean conception of a person, Wollheim says, to think that I might just as well decide not to see my life as a unity, and to treat my remote past and distant future as though they belonged to someone else—a suggestion recently renewed in Parfit’s book.
Some might think that we can, in thinking about personal identity, follow the kind of strategy we occasionally use in discussing the identity of physical objects like pencils or cars. From the perspective of an observer of such a physical object, we can always imagine identifying their boundaries differently, depending on our interest, and so at arriving at different, but not incompatible, descriptions of what these objects are. For me, a car is one indivisible functional unit; but for a garage mechanic it may be a collection of varied pieces. The important things for him are carburetors, or transmissions, not Mercuries or Toyotas. It might appear that we could exercise the same freedom in defining persons, and thus to look at ourselves, as Parfit does, as complicated collections of events.
Why does Wollheim think this is a mistaken approach? Because when we see how we lead our lives as agents pursuing projects of concern to us, we become aware that we face certain issues we cannot get away from, issues that concern how we are going to live the rest of our lives, and what, as a consequence, our careers as a whole will amount to. If I have an unsavory past, I might decide to treat it as something so foreign to my present identity that it may as well be that of another person. Or I might have a philosophy of living for the moment and not concerning myself for the distant future. But these are not ways around Wollheim’s point; they are unsatisfactory answers to the inescapable question of how I am going to lead my life. They are ways of interpreting my life as a whole—as marked by a radical break, or as the life of a Sybarite.
Wollheim’s second point, which follows from the answer to the first, is that death plays a central and yet paradoxical part in our lives. “Without introducing death,” he writes, “we should not have a complete picture of what it is to live as a person. The thought of death…exerts a large and creeping influence over the process of living.” Death is the boundary without which there wouldn’t be a whole, whose nature and shape is such a matter of concern to us.
Wollheim presents us with the paradox that while death is a misfortune, it is also, in some sense, a necessary misfortune, and he explores this paradox with great acuity and sensitivity. There is, he says, a temptation either to think that we could do without death—that it would be an unalloyed boon should life just go on forever—or to go to the other extreme and deny, as Epicurus did, that death is a misfortune, on the grounds that when it happens we are no longer there to suffer from it. For Wollheim both views of death suffer from the same error, an error that overlooks our role as active beings as much as did the Humean misconception of the person as a disengaged observer.
Wollheim argues that immortality as just endless continuation of life is objectionable because it renders the choices we make in ordinary life superfluous. But he thinks that choice is valuable, not just in what it produces, but also “for what leads up to or surrounds it: the consideration of alternatives, the matching of them against our inclinations and aspirations, the testing of them in imaginary situations, identification with what is chosen…. To lose all this would be to lose something.”
This is a loss that those who view leading a life as a passive experience cannot appreciate. And the Epicurean error in its way grows out of an earlier, preempiricist philosophy of passive experience as well. To see why, imagine that De Gaulle suffered the fate of General Sikorski and died in a plane crash in 1943. Could anyone argue that this would not have been a misfortune, at a moment when what had become De Gaulle’s great aim—liberating France with honor—was still in doubt? Only if you believe that what we do with our lives is of no significance whatever can you take seriously either the view that immortality would be desirable or Epicurus’s denial that death is a misfortune.
Wollheim’s discussion of death in his final chapter shows extraordinary parallels, in spite of all their differences, to Heidegger’s treatment of it in his Being and Time.3 And so does his third point, about what it is to lead the life of a person, which grows out of his first two. This point concerns the way in which leading one’s life is bound up with time. According to Wollheim, “a person leads his life at a crossroads: at the point where a past that has affected him and a future that lies open meet in the present.” Living as a person involves being related, in a different way, to present, past, and future, and these relations have to be understood together. A person lives under the influence of the past, which enters into his present state, while he is also self-concerned for his future state; the three relations cannot be dissociated from one another.
These three leading ideas about what it is to lead the life of a person—the “process” of leading a life—bring us to the threshold of Wollheim’s original theory of the way such lives should be led—the ends of life. While a great many philosophers who have liberated themselves from empiricism of the Humean sort may agree with his three preliminary points, his own views about the ends of life are much more contentious. Wollheim’s theory is heavily indebted to psychoanalysis, of the rather orthodox variety associated with Melanie Klein. This is a branch of inquiry which, in the late twentieth century, threatens to wrest from economics its long-held title as the dismal science. Wollheim shows that this reputation of psychoanalysis has more to do with those who expound it than with the doctrines themselves. What he manages to do is to use certain basic theses of psychoanalysis to build a rich and suggestive theory of human fulfillment.
If I understand him, the “crossroads” or temporal crux in which we always stand as human agents—influenced by the past, entering into the present, self-concerned for the future—is central to this theory of human fulfillment. This is so not just because Wollheim holds that we inescapably find ourselves, when acting or contemplating action, at these crossroads. He also holds that we intrinsically desire to be there. Referring to the experience of being at this temporal crux with the far from self-explanatory term “phenomenology,” Wollheim says that we have an “insatiable thirst” for it. And earlier, when arguing against Lucretius’s view that death is not a misfortune, he says that what death deprives us of is not
some particular pleasure, or even of pleasure. What it deprives us of is something more fundamental than pleasure: it deprives us of that thing which we gain access to when, as persisting creatures, we enter into our present mental states and which, from then onwards, we associate in some special way with our past mental states and our future mental states. It deprives us of phenomenology, and, having once tasted phenomenology, we develop a longing for it which we cannot give up: not even when the desire for the cessation of pain, for extinction, grows stronger.
But what is “phenomenology,” which is central to Wollheim’s theory of the ends of a human life? In an early chapter in his book, Wollheim gives us a definition of phenomenology in relation to what he calls “intentionality” and “subjectivity.” Among the most important of mental phenomena, he says, are the episodic and transient phenomena he calls “mental states,” such as “perceptual experiences, attacks of dizziness, dreams, and moments of terror, amusement, lust, or despair.” One of his examples of a mental state is my “seeing the eucalyptus trees bending in the wind.” Such a mental state, he says, will possess “intentionality” or “thought-content” because the state is of, or about, something, namely the eucalyptus trees bending in the wind.
But not only this, it will also have “subjectivity,” which he explains as “how the phenomenon is for the subject,” or as he also puts it, “what it is like for the subject to have that particular mental phenomenon.” Intentionality concerns what a mental state is about or of; subjectivity, what it is like for the person who has it. Once we have described what a person was aware of, or what the content of his thoughts were, there may still be something important to say about his mental state, namely what it was like for that person to have that particular state. One could know, Wollheim believes, to take the extreme example provided by Thomas Nagel, that bats navigating in darkness are somehow aware of surrounding objects through sonar without really knowing what it would be like to perceive the world as they do.4
For Wollheim, we may think of “intentionality and subjectivity as conjointly forming something called phenomenology.” It might be described as our intentional states as they are lived through by us—lived through at the crossroads at which we find ourselves active beings.
Now to speak of our having an insatiable thirst for phenomenology, so defined, seems to be a way of referring to the familiar fact that we are attached to life in an unconditional manner. That is, our urge to go on living is normally not based on expectations of success or pleasure, though we can be driven to desire death by severe suffering. Wollheim goes further than the common-sense intuition that we simply desire to live. He offers an analysis of what it is that we are irresistibly drawn to when this desire to live expresses itself. He thinks that what we are drawn to is living our lives through in a way that draws together our past and our future.
The important difference this analysis makes to Wollheim’s views becomes apparent when we turn to his theory of morality, or of what is good and bad and how we should conduct our lives. It is an essential feature of the modern tradition of moral naturalism, which descends from Hobbes through Hume and the utilitarians, that it seeks to derive morals from facts about human nature and human psychology, without appealing to supernatural powers like God or to abstract moral conceptions like “virtue” which are not defined as arising from facts about nature. In consequence, moral naturalism makes our fundamental attachment to life, or the continuation of experience, or to pleasure, central to morality, instead of sidelining these as secondary goals, to be set below some higher form of life, such as that of “virtue” or some abstract “obligation.” Naturalists since the Enlightenment have seen this as a salutary rebellion against the guilt-ridden and self-punitive forms of morality that have accompanied metaphysical and religious illusions in earlier ages. The trouble with naturalist theories of morality, however, has tended to be that the grand revolutionary gesture that often accompanies their formulation lands us with a too stripped-down language of morality, a language that makes it hard to mark the moral distinctions we want to go on affirming between better and worse forms of life.
Wollheim wants to stand in this naturalist tradition. This accounts for the affinity to Hume which he expresses in the preface to his book, and which transcends the radical differences between his and Hume’s conceptions of human knowledge. And, like earlier antireligious naturalists, including Hume, he groups under the “great illusions…against which both philosophy and psychology should recruit themselves,” among others, “religion, particularly in its monotheistic tendency.” But while earlier versions of naturalism were open to the objection that they reduced the central goods of life to mere biological life (as in Hobbes) or to mere pleasure (as in Bentham), Wollheim offers the basis for a much richer and more resourceful theory of human fulfillment than they provide.
The insatiable desire for “phenomenology” which Wollheim, like all naturalists, wants to affirm, is not just a desire for biological continuation, or for brute pleasure, but rather a desire for leading our lives. He believes that what we desire is to bind the past and future through the process of deliberation and choice that marks our lives as human agents. This process of pursuing our projects and careers through action gives rise, moreover, to the basis for discrimination of better and worse actions, plans, courses of conduct. For we can learn to choose with greater or less confusion, greater or less insight. We can be more or less chained to the infantile past and its unrealizable fantasies; and we can be more or less clear in understanding what it is to lead a life. For Wollheim, the “phenomenology” that we desire is therefore by its very nature something susceptible to being qualitatively transformed by insight and by experience.
The parallel with the thought of John Stuart Mill comes irresistibly to mind once one has grasped this part of Wollheim’s moral theory, for Mill also wanted to introduce qualitative discriminations of better and worse courses of conduct, or ways of leading lives. Mill wished to introduce such discriminations into the utilitarian theory of Bentham, which had been irreducibly hostile to them. For Bentham’s form of utilitarianism, what is good and bad can be calculated by purely quantitative considerations of “utility”—by which he meant units of pleasure. That which is good could, he thought, be defined as the course of action that promises a greater balance of pleasure over pain. Mill moved to introduce a more sophisticated, qualitative variety of discrimination into this theory, while nevertheless retaining the quantitative language of Bentham in adhering to the view that human beings “maximize utility,” and ought to do so.
Some critics have thought, as noted earlier, that Mill sought to reconcile the irreconcilable. But for Wollheim, the crucial insight Mill added to earlier utilitarian theory was that our understanding of what utility itself is can develop and be enriched through what “Mill called, in a famous phrase to be taken literally, ‘experiments of living.’ ” Wollheim believes that Mill held not only to utilitarianism proper—the view that we should maximize utility—but also to what Wollheim calls “preliminary utilitarianism,” which is committed not to the advance of utility itself, but “to the advancement of people’s conceptions of utility,” and which “urges upon us those social conditions in which people are likeliest to be able to devise and test and maintain their own conceptions of utility, and in which they can most readily come to respect other people’s.”
It follows that for Mill, as Wollheim interprets him, judgments of better or worse, good or bad, while they indeed concern utility and its “maximization,” nevertheless concern “not utility impersonally conceived but utility as this is fixed in different persons’ conceptions of it, reached through the evidence of their lives.” Once we understand this, Wollheim claims, there is no contradiction between Mill’s commitment to utilitarianism and to the interests of man as a “progressive being” who can improve himself by pursuing (and learning from) his self-appointed projects and activities. Mill’s critics, Wollheim says, “accuse him of inconsistency when in fact he was guilty of nothing worse than subtlety.”5
In his own theory of human fulfillment, Wollheim wants to hold on to, and make compatible, two basic theses: the first is that the roots of our deepest fulfillment lie in the most primitive level of the psyche. All value—our ascriptions of good or bad, better or worse—“originates in the projection of archaic bliss, of love satisfied.” The second thesis is that there can be such a thing as a progressive change in our moral thinking as we mature—there can be moral evolution—and that it depends in part on the attainment of insight into ourselves.
This is where psychoanalytic theory takes on major importance for Wollheim. Our moral evolution depends, he says, above all, on our ability to make ourselves free of what he calls “the tyranny of the past,” and that means we must make ourselves free in particular from our most archaic desires and from the fears and cravings of the earliest phases of our psychic development. As noted earlier Wollheim believes that the “core” of the process of living “is to be found in three characteristic interactions: one, between the person’s past and his present, and between his present and his future; two, between his mental dispositions and his mental states; and, three, between the conscious, preconscious, and unconscious, systems of his mind. And these interactions, which take place in a continuing body, interrelate; for instance, they collude.” One way in which they work together is that “the influence of the past is carried by mental dispositions that are set up in the person and persist. Examples of such dispositions would be beliefs, desires, emotions, memories, phantasies.”
Some of these dispositions which influence us so greatly are unconscious and yet continue to exert an influence on how we lead our lives. How such dispositions have come to be unconscious—and how they might be brought into consciousness—Wollheim thinks is illuminated by psychoanalytic theory and therapy. For Wollheim, psychoanalytic theory can provide us with a schematic account not only of our archaic desires but also of our psychosexual development, which he in turn links to our development as moral beings; psychotherapy, he further thinks, may help us in freeing ourselves from the tyranny of the past. The greater part of his book is concerned with the painstaking analysis necessary to make clear just what is involved in these claims. One can describe the book in the phrase Wollheim tells us was used about it by Hilary Putnam: it aims “at a philosophy of mind, or a philosophical anthropology, of a kind that psychoanalytic theory requires.”
Whether or not Wollheim has managed to develop a nonreductive naturalist account of mind and of morality is too large a question to be addressed here in full. Still, there seem to me to be large unresolved problems in Wollheim’s theory of human fulfillment. One of them is that his account of value—of what is good and bad in a human life—is incomplete. By giving action and choice their proper place in our understanding of what it is to lead a life, Wollheim has provided a part of the basis for our engaging not just in the mechanical quantitative discriminations of good and bad that classical utilitarianism stressed, but in the qualitative discriminations we actually make.
However, one problem with the conception of value that is found in Wollheim’s book is that it seems to rest for the most part on our desires or intentions. Wollheim also needs, it seems to me, some notion of what is good in itself, of what one could call “intrinsic goodness.” By this I mean a good which we recognize ourselves as being committed to unconditionally, where the commitment is independent of variations in our desires or intentions, as we might recognize, for example, the goodness of truthtelling and the badness of murder. Such intrinsic goods would remain so whether people acknowledged them or not, as against goods like vanilla ice cream, which cease to be good when people lose their taste for them. My turning away from such an intrinsic good does not disestablish it as a good; rather it shows me up as in some way morally lacking.
All moral views seem to make use of notions of intrinsic good, and it is hard to see how one could do altogether without them. Wollheim himself needs at least something similar at many points in his theory. We can see this, for instance, in his discussion of what it is for a person to find life “worthwhile,” which he says is “a matter of the opportunities it promises him for the satisfaction of those desires or plans of his which he thinks important.” He means, I think, not just the strong desires or plans a person happens to have but those he values as important in themselves.
It is central to Wollheim’s purpose not only that he be able to make room in his theory for the distinction between intrinsic and other goods, but also (if he is to retain his naturalism) that he can show how they derive from our “archaic,” undiscriminating, earliest desires. His strategy for doing so is twofold. On one hand, he tries to distinguish between “morality” in a narrow sense, “which has obligation at its core,” and “value.” He believes that we can and should repudiate the first, while accepting the second.
He argues, in fact, that morality, in his narrow sense, and value have fundamentally different “sources.” Morality “derives from introjection,” by which he means the psychic mechanism whereby, for instance, a child incorporates or internalizes through fantasy some figure, or belief, or standard, in the outside world into himself. Value derives from “projection,” in which something inner is projected onto the outer world. “One is in its origins largely defensive and largely coercive, the other is neither. One tries to guard against fear, the other to perpetuate love. These are all exaggerations, but worth making.” The second part of his strategy is to try to show, through psychoanalytically influenced argument, that both of these aspects of what we normally understand as moral consciousness derive from the original desires of human beings. If he can do this, then he will have shown that what we call intrinsic good can be explained within his naturalistic theory.
But both parts of this strategy are questionable. First, it is doubtful whether Wollheim can repudiate as much of the morality of obligation as he wants to. He denies that our thoughts about what others ought to do—as opposed to what we direct ourselves to do—clearly express binding obligations; and he later says of such thoughts that they often “represent the presumptuousness, the arrogance, for which morality is such a traditional medium of expression.” But this seems to violate much of our notion of moral obligation. It is hard to see how propositions about how we ought to behave ourselves can avoid entailing propositions about how others should behave, thus in effect reintroducing what Wollheim wishes to avoid: objective moral obligations that bind everyone. I might want to say about Dr. Goebbels, for instance, that he ought not to have prostituted his talents in such a despicable cause as that of promoting Hitler’s Third Reich. I don’t see how I could change this judgment without abandoning certain views about how I ought to live.
As to the second part of Wollheim’s strategy, large doubts surround the psychoanalytic derivation of value as “the projection of archaic bliss.” For example, does psychoanalytic theory really offer a convincing explanation of the origins of guilt, as Wollheim supposes, by deriving it from primitive responses of love, fear, rage, and aggression? It is easy to understand the conflict that can arise from rage at a person one also loves, and on whom one is completely dependent, as a child is dependent on his parents. But that this should take the form of guilt, of the sense of having done wrong, is much more difficult to explain. Just to say that the guilt arises out of the conflict and fear, as the psychoanalytic theory appears to do, is to presuppose what needs to be derived. Because surely for the child to have a sense of having done wrong is for him to have some sense of intrinsic good and bad.
A solution to this kind of difficulty might be to consider guilt nothing more than the confused feelings through which a conflict between love and rage might express itself in us. But the consequence of this way of explaining guilt would be that there is no rational guilt, that is, no pain that arises specifically from the recognition of one’s doing something wrong in itself. This seems too much to swallow.
If I am right, Wollheim’s book does not resolve all the problems that have faced naturalists in their efforts to derive morality, including the notion of intrinsic good, from psychological and other features of human nature. Perhaps what we need above all is fresh insight that can transform the terms of the debate between naturalists and others. If anyone can provide this from the naturalist quarter, it will be Richard Wollheim, because at the source of his analysis lies a powerful moral vision, a moving sense of human fulfillment. It is this animating force which makes The Thread of Life so arresting, important, and original a work.
November 22, 1984
A Treatise of Human Nature, Book I, part 4, section 6. ↩
See Derek Parfit, Reasons and Persons (Oxford University Press/Clarendon Press, 1984), which was reviewed by P.F. Strawson, in The New York Review, June 14. ↩
Division 2, chapter 1. ↩
See T. Nagel, “What is it like to be a bat?” in Mortal Questions (Cambridge University Press, 1979). ↩
See another development of this argument in Wollheim’s “John Stuart Mill and the limits of state action,” in Social Research, vol. 40, no. 1 (Spring 1973), pp. 1–30. ↩