Barrett, William. Death of the Soul: From Descartes to the Computer. New York: Doubleday

 

Barrett, William. Death of the Soul: From Descartes to the Computer. New York: Doubleday
Anchor, 1986.

Here is one of the senior academic philosophers of this country writing about the history of
philosophy from Descartes to the modern era of the computer. He is not focused on fraud, quite
the contrary, but on the nature of human understanding. But what he does see quite clearly is that
the successes of the natural sciences have been a severe temptation to philosophers as well as to
scientists to escape from philosopher into scientism. Scientism has been a continuing threat to
both science and to philosophy and it is this threat which moves Barrett to characterize
contemporary philosophy as given over to a form of scientism in logical positivism and similar
absurdities.

Barrett's main studies have been of Nietzsche and it is those studies which provide him with a
handhold on the contemporary nihilism, whatever it be called (including deconstructionism), or
Satrean existentialism. What Barrett wants to reinsert into philosophy is the individual thinker as
a responsible person. And this is where he parts company with those who wish to understand the
world as if the observer were not in it, were not a major component-contributor to his own
creations, including philosophy or science. That is what he means, in his title, by soul; the dead
soul is that which has been eliminated by triumphant scientism and he sees that soul as still alive
and well though still embattered by the threat of scientism.

He ends the book with a paraphrase of a famous quote from the Bible: "What shall it profit a
whole civilization, or culture, if it gains knowledge and power over the material world, but loses
any adequate idea of the conscious mind, the human self, at the center of all that power." (p. 166)
That is the threat of scientism, the pretense that the power derived from science is the only power
there is.