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A Review of Raymond Tallis Michelangelos Finger Michelangelos Finger: An Exploration of Everyday Transcendental by Raymond Tallis, 2010, London: Atlantic

Books, xxii + 166 pp. 18.99 (hbk), 10.73 (pbk). ISBN: 978 184887 119 9 (hbk), 1848871198 (pbk) Ali Paya National Research Institute for Science Policy (Iran) & Centre for the Study of Democracy, School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Languages, University of Westminster (UK)

Analytic philosophy in its rather short history which marginally exceeds a century has undergone many changes. It started its life mostly in terms of a linguistic turn; an instrument for analysis of the language of scientific theories as well the ordinary language used by people in everyday life. But it has long moved away from its mostly philosophy of language period to deal with real issues and phenomena in various fields; from science to society and from art to religion. This change of tack has enabled analytic philosophy to make great contributions to our understanding of various aspects of reality which cannot be explored by empirical means. Analytic philosophers through their vigorous analyses of conceptual issues concerning entities, processes, phenomena, theories, and methodologies pertinent to various field of study which fall under the general category of first order knowledge and through highlighting mistaken ideas, approaches, and assumptions in each of these fields have improved and enriched our reservoir of knowledge. Many of practioners in this tradition, perhaps to some extent in contrast to their counterparts in the continent of Europe and in what is generally known as continental philosophy, have had official training in other fields of knowledge such as natural and social sciences, mathematics and logic apart from their expert knowledge in philosophy. This augmented intellectual horizon has enabled analytic philosophers to enter into meaningful and fruitful dialogues with practioners in other fields such as science and religion. Moreover, familiarity with science, maths and logic has impacted upon the style of philosophising of analytic philosophers: They are more rational and critical in their philosophical investigations and tend to favour piecemeal examinations of evidence to grand system buildings which resembles the epic yarns of story-tellers. The above characteristics allows one to draw parallels between the rational tradition of philosophising during the Golden Period of Islamic Civilization in which philosophers such as Farabi, Ibn Sina, Ibn Rushd, and Tusi were well versed in the sciences of their days (especially medicine and astronomy), fully acquainted with logic, and at home with various philosophical doctrines. It seems this rich and diverse background played an important role in the healthy development of the rational tradition of Islamic philosophy. Decline of scientific spirit in the Islamic lands and rupture between scientific investigations and philosophical speculations adversely impacted upon the intellectual ecosystem in Muslim countries by the end of the Golden Age.

Raymond Tallis, in the good old tradition of analytic philosophy, and somewhat like the great figures of Islamic philosophy during the Golden Age of Islamic civilisation, wears, at least, two hats: he is a philosopher and a medical doctor, and as far as one can judge by the available evidence, a competent practitioner in both professions. He is also a literary man: apart from many titles in the philosophy of mind and philosophical anthropology he has published three volumes of poetry, and books on literary theory, the nature of art and cultural criticism1. Michelangelos Finger is part of a more comprehensive project whose aim is to shed light on delicate relationship between mind and body and the way human being manage to acquire knowledge about themselves and the world. Tallis has already explored some aspects of the central issue of this project in his other works including The Hand: A Philosophical Inquiry into Human Being (Edinburgh University Press, 2003), I am: a Philosophical Inquiry into Firstperson Being (Edinburgh University Press, 2004), and The Knowing Animal: A Philosophical Inquiry into Knowledge and Truth (Edinburgh University Press, 2004). The question which Tallis has set for himself to investigate is various aspects and implications (e.g. philosophical, political and religious) of the act pointing. From a philosophical point of view a major question which has vexed the minds of great philosophers and thinkers in the West and in the East, including the Islamic lands, from the dawn of philosophy has been the following: what is the relation between language and the world (which includes texts and other sorts of information-bearers)? This question can be formulated in many different ways each would highlight some aspects of the main problem. For example, it can be asked that how do we manage to use language to communicate with others; how can sets of sound waves or strings of symbols which constitute our language represent the world and its furniture; what is the meaning of meaning? Concern about the meaning of the words and terms is not restricted to philosophers alone. Jurists, judges and fuqha, writers, poets, and politicians, as well as ordinary people in the street are also interested in the issue. The expert in usul al-fiqh for example, discuss, at great length, various aspects of meaning and the relationship between the signifier and the signified. Meaning, however, has proved to be a very hard theoretical nut to crack. Despite centuries of intellectual efforts to make sense of this phenomenon, and especially despite concerted efforts of the philosophers of language in the twentieth century to decipher the secrets of this perplexing entity, it has remained, by and large, an unconquered territory. In the words of one analytic philosopher who has surveyed the development of philosophy of language and mind between 1950 o 1990: The torrent of talk about a theory of meaning has come to seem a bit nave. All the approaches to meaning seem to have some merit in bringing to light some aspects of the complex notion. The metadiscussion of what might be involved in a theory of meaning has been of genuine philosophical interest. But nothing that could be called a theory has elicited much agreement It may be


that the problem is too complex and simply needs more time. Or it may be that a theory of meaning in anything like the accepted sense is not possible. Philosophers of language who have worked on meaning have usually wanted and even presumed that they must have a theory that reduces meaning to something more basic or scientifically respectable. They have wanted a theory that explains what meaning is in other terms. But the notion may not be suitable to such explanation or reduction. It may be too multifaceted. There may be no general notion of meaning that will serve as explanadum. Various associate subnotions may be more suitable. Or the notion (s) of meaning may be too basic so that a theory of meaning may be less appropriate than theories that make use of various notion of meaning.2 A case which nicely displays the complexity of the notion of meaning and philosophers disagreement over various aspects of this mysterious concept is a theory about the way we understand the meaning of words. It is called the theory of meaning by ostension. The theory, in a nutshell, says that we acquire meaning of the words through the act of showing, or pointing towards, their referents. We may point to an actual ice cream in response to the question asked by our little child who is asking what ice cream means. Ludwig Wittgenstein in his Philosophical Investigations ascribes this theory to, among others, St. Augustine and then moves on to show that why the theory does not and cannot work: any object, whether an ice cream, a chair, a tree, a house, a horse, has too many (in fact infinitely many) aspects, it would be impossible to indicate to our interlocutor which aspect of the referent we have in mind when referring (pointing) to it in its totality. Now, Wittgensteins argument seems to be commonsensical and therefore cogent. In fact, some other philosophers have also produced similar arguments in rejecting the notion transmission of meaning by means of ostensive definition. Wittgenstein went on to suggest an alternative theory for meaning acquisition: he suggested that meaning is learnt through using words in particular forms of life and within the boundaries of particular language games. But it is here that Tallis, making use of recent developments in cognitive psychology and neurosciences and especially studies on the ways newly born babies develop their language skills, argues that contrary to what Wittgenstein and others have said about the act of pointing, it is not the case ostension plays no role in teaching meanings of words. However, to appreciate its role, one needs to take into account the fuller picture: So, while St. Augustine overstated the role of stand-alone pointing in language acquisition, ostension does allow visible objects to be associated with certain word sounds and this is the royal road (but not the only route, and it is metalled by other cognitive activities and capacities) to language. While there is no way that the complex syntactical and semantic system that is language could be pointed out pointing does play an important role in bringing language to bear on the here and now. While it is too much to expect of the

Tyler Burge, Philosophy of Language and Mind: 1950 1990, The Philosophical Review, Vol. 101, No, 1992, pp. 26-7.

unaided index finger to point literally to the link between the words and the meanings they have, it is clearly an enormously important aid to the process of inducting a child into common human cosmos3 Tallis notes that pointing is so important in the cognitive development of children that failure of this neurodevelopmental landmark, particularly in the context of apparently otherwise normal physical and mental development, may be an ominous sign, and nonpointinh children may go on to develop features of autism. (p. 54) He rightly emphasises on the role our hands in general, and the index finger and the thumb, play in developing our cognitive abilities: poor hand-brain coordination hampers proper and holistic cognitive development of the individual. Tallis book, while containing many interesting and profound ideas, has been written in a way which is accessible to non-specialist readers. In fact, while the author has developed his technical ideas in some of his other works (some of which were referred to above) in this book he has the lay reader in mind. However, his accessible language does not mean that he has lowered his analytical guard and has resorted to sloppy arguments. In the last chapter of the book, entitled The Transcendent Animal: Pointing and the Beyond, Tallis argues that the very act of pointing which is, by the way, peculiar to human beings and no other animal shares it with us, takes us beyond this world beyond sense experience to the ultimate Hidden the idea of God who sustains our days and underpins all that is, the Creator hidden behind his Creation. (p. 139). Michelangelos Finger is a rich work full of thoughtful ideas which succeeds in introducing readers to an extended network of inter-related concepts in different intellectual fields and provides them with useful theoretical tools for making better sense of many of the everyday phenomena.

Raymond Taliss, Michelangelos Finger, pp. 85-6.