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Making Mind: Moral Sense and Consciousness in Philosophy, Science, and Literature

by Gregory F. Tague
Rodopi/Brill, Leiden, The Netherlands, 2014
314 pp. Paper, 68,00
ISBN: 978-90-420-3895-0.

Kathryn Francis
Cognition Institute, Plymouth University


Gregory Tague makes a significant contribution to the understanding of the moral domain; his interdisciplinary discussion of the birth of moral sense looks at the subject from multiple perspectives. The book's three sections each, in turn, discuss the adaptive function of narrative with regards to moral sense and consciousness in light of philosophy, science, and literature. Rather than disjointed discussions each section links with the previous and flows into the next; a contextually rich book bringing together otherwise unfamiliar discussions of morality.

In the introduction, Tague defines moral sense as "what is good and bad" arguing that it "pervades stories" (p. 18). He takes the perspective that this moral sense and even more broadly, human behaviour, is based in emotions. However, he balances this perspective with his later comment that rationality and sentimentality go hand-in-hand because "moral sensations and consciousness work together in tension" (p. 70).

In the philosophy section, Tague takes us on a journey from early philosophical arguments framing reason as the source of morality to the later emphasis on moral sense, in helping us to regulate behaviour. Whilst this seems like a generic place for any moral text to start, Tague enriches this context with references to evolutionary, biological, and neuroscientific theories (e.g. the importance of mirror neurons in regulating emotions). Tague also discusses a shared moral sense while emphasising the individual - "that originating mark that distinguishes each individual in salience of sensation and degree of perception" (p. 73) - something unfamiliar in the sciences where population averages are of interest. This segues into a discussion about 'character' in relation to the evolution of consciousness and the nature-nurture debate; "character...comes first...the emphasis should not be placed on environment" (p. 78).

In the science section, Tague expands the role of the individual in an evolutionary framework discussing the cooperative and selfish nature of the gene. Using social neuroscience and evolutionary theory, Tague argues that the origins of narrative arose from new and complex social environments; demanding that we learn to manipulate thoughts in relation to behaviours for conflict resolution among other things. Despite his focus on evolutionary theory, Tague emphasises the role of the individual; with no two brains being alike, consciousness is not found in one brain area. These differences drive our desires to learn about the self and to test our moral sense. In Psychology, the individual is not often considered in this sense, but Tague's message that "while there are brain parts, each complete brain has its own particular neural glue that holds together a mind" (p. 150) sits well with his discussion and explains the birth of narrative in light of our sense of self yearning to access the mind of another.

In his final section, Tague introduces the concept of literary character. He explores literary art as part of evolution through which we can understand our "complex social world" (p. 198). He goes on to discuss narrative as a way to educate the self and in addition, how it allows the exploration and development of our moral sense. Inserting the individual back into society, he says that we are all involved in "each other's moral lives, but...respect individual separateness" (p. 222). He discusses the novel as a model that we, the reader, can use to control our own behaviour; it is able to capture the conflicting nature of the real-world - the struggle between the individual and the universal moral sense - and from this, we see the literary character emerge. Tague produces contextually rich literary examples of these conflicts in Milton's Paradise Lost and Richardson's Clarissa whilst bringing in multidisciplinary explanations from biology and neuroscience. Tague writes that moral sense emerged as a theme in narrative to allow regulation of the self in relation to the complex moral landscape.

Overall, Tague meets his aims of engaging the reader in a rich and multidisciplinary discussion of individual consciousness, the moral sense, and their relation to narrative. The book successfully demonstrates how social, cultural and individual moral concerns link across philosophy, science and literature in the context of narrative genesis. As Tague puts it, "the moral ground has been scrutinized by the philosophers, examined by the scientists, but only put into real-life context by the authors of long narratives" (p. 281). The book, aimed at a broad readership, provides a rich moral discussion and illustrates how literary criticism can contribute to the advancement of evolutionary and psychological moral theories.

Last Updated 2nd Mar 2015

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