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I recently came across a very positive five-star 2005 review of Leslie Dewart’s Evolution and Consciousness on amazon.co.uk by one Gregory Nixon. I am surprised I hadn’t seen it before, but for some reason my searches never turned up the UK site. Odd, but that’s the Internet. I quote the review in full:

Great Philosophy Demands to be Read!

This book is most certainly not a textbook and I very much doubt any undergraduate, no matter how advanced, could manage its depth & relative complexity. *Evolution and Consciousness* was written before the consciousness studies boom of the 90s (which continues in this decade) but it was a mistake for it to languish so ignored. Much of the confusion of more recent writings on consciousness could have been avoided if the lessons of this book had been given a wider reading. In my view, such wide reading never took place because of bad marketing and because, like all great philosophy, it is a damned demanding tome. This is a work of high philosophy indeed by one of our major intellects who sees clearly and unsparingly and truthfully. Leslie Dewart writes with such inexorable logic that I defy anyone to read this book without prejudgment (as much as possible) and find a way a to reasonably disagree with his primary theses. He demonstrates that what we mean by the term “consciousness” is what we know from our own experience to be consciousness. Dewart makes the case that such conscious experience is very, very different from experience in itself — without the quality of consciousness — undergone by infrahuman entities. Only with the assertion of ideas in actual speech is the door opened to what will become the discovery/creation of the self. Only then is conscious intentionality born; only then is memory consciously accessible and rearrangeable into imagination; only then is conscious cognition — inner speech — born. Speech and consciousness turn out to be two faces of the same entity. This is a powerful thesis written in exacting but beautiful prose. Anyone seriously interested in the origins and evolution of consciousness owes it to himself to the rich investment of reading Dewart.

One could quibble with Nixon’s technical summary locating “conscious cognition — inner speech” right at the end of the chain of derivation, as thought emerges earlier (along with conscious sense perception) in the context of pre-thematic speech, and it is full-blown understanding, inner thematic speech, which appears near the end along with self-definition. Also, it is not the assertion of “ideas” but of experience which kicks off the evolutionary and developmental process that leads to consciousness as we know it today. Still, I have yet to write such a terse summary which definitely captures the gist of it; my narrow critique is about as long as Nixon’s entire summary! I am in perfect agreement with the wider points articulated.

Nixon replies and the conversation continues on the Amazon site.

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