Soul, Body and Survival: Introduction - Soul or Body?
Corcoran (Kevin)
Source: Corcoran - Soul, Body and Survival, Introduction
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Introduction (Full1 Text)

  1. Aristotle said that philosophy begins in wonder. Reflection on facts such as that you and I are persons — thinking, feeling, intending, relational, moral beings — is sufficient to inspire such wonder. We are, in fact, human persons — beings at the very least contingently bound up with biological bodies through which we sense and act on the world. But are we nothing more than extremely complex physical organisms, as many contemporary Anglo-analytic philosophers are inclined to think? Or are we instead essentially immaterial beings and so only contingently embodied, as Plato and Descartes seem to have thought? Are there alternatives to Cartesian dualism and reductionistic versions of physicalism? And what of the relationship between particular metaphysical views of persons and the belief in post-mortem survival2. Must some version or other of dualism be true if we human beings are to have any reasonable hope of surviving death? As the essays in this volume amply demonstrate, these questions are not the relics of some bygone era of scholastic speculation. Contemporary analytic philosophers are exploring these issues afresh with renewed rigor and offering provocative and sometimes even surprising answers.
  2. Twenty years or so ago Daniel Dennett assessed the then current state of research into the nature of human beings and the philosophy of mind, offering us a glimpse into the shape of future research3. Dennett said then two things that are especially noteworthy.
    • First, he summarily dismissed dualism as "not a serious view to contend with."
    • And second, he forecast that the lines of research into the nature of mind would converge on some physicalistic version of functionalism, a consensus that would be only short lived and soon enough replaced by other physicalist doctrines.
  3. Within two years, Saul Kripke published Naming and Necessity. In one of the lectures that make up that book, Kripke had this to say about research into philosophy of mind and the nature of human persons:
      "I regard the mind-body problem as wide open and extremely confusing4”.
    Kripke accurately describes how things presently stand with respect to research into the metaphysics of persons. Not only are there now a myriad of physicalist alternatives to functionalism, with no particular one being the terminus ad quem of a convergence, but dualism is making a comeback. In fact (perhaps to Dennett's surprise) there are today a variety of dualisms to choose from. And there are also many views on the person-body relation that attempt to steer a path between physicalism and dualism, views that attempt to incorporate the insights of each without giving into the excesses of either. In short, the so-called mind-body problem is presently "wide open" if not also "extremely confusing."

I. Cartesian Dualism
  1. The first part of this volume contains a discussion of what is standardly called Cartesian dualism5. According to Cartesian dualism, properties can be divided into those that are mental (for example, being in pain, desiring an ice-cream cone, or believing some proposition) and those that are physical (for example, having a certain weight, shape, and mass). That is dualism about properties. Cartesian dualism, however, is a dualism about substance also. Cartesian dualism follows from accepting property dualism together with the claim that a single thing can have properties of only one sort. Hence, the Cartesian dualist claims that there are two fundamental kinds of substance with fundamentally distinct natures — unextended thinking substance (soul) and unthinking, extended substance (body). The appropriate bearers of mental properties are thus unextended, thinking substances (souls or minds), and the appropriate bearers of physical properties are unthinking, extended substances (bodies). Descartes famously argued that he is essentially a thinking thing. And if that is so, then Descartes is a soul.
  2. On the Cartesian dualist view, the relation between a soul and its body is analogous to the relation between a room and a thermostat. A rise of temperature in the room causes changes in the thermostat, whereas changes in the thermostat affect the room, raising or lowering its temperature. Souls and bodies are thus causally related. But also on the Cartesian dualist view, although it is true that I am now in some sense inextricably bound up with this particular body, my existence does not depend on my possessing either this or any other body; that is, I can exist without having any body at all.
  3. See "Foster (John) - A Brief Defense of the Cartesian View".
  4. See "Kim (Jaegwon) - Lonely Souls: Causality and Substance Dualism".
  5. The other difficulty associated with Foster's argument concerns his move from
    • (i) Mental items are neither identical with nor reducible to physical items and
    • (ii) Mental items require a subject, to
    • (iii) This subject is unextended and simple.
    Isn't there room in conceptual space for a view according to which (iii) is false even if (i) and (ii) are true? Isn't this precisely what views that are monist with respect to substance but dualist with respect to properties claim?
  6. See "O'Connor (Timothy) - Causality, Mind, and Free Will".
  7. See "Taliaferro (Charles) - Emergentism and Consciousness: Going Beyond Property Dualism".
  8. See "Olson (Eric) - A Compound of Two Substances".
  9. See "Goetz (Stewart) - Modal Dualism: A Critique".
  10. Goetz, Kim, O'Connor, and Olson discuss some of the important challenges facing Cartesian-inspired arguments for dualism. As Foster and Taliaferro amply demonstrate, however, Cartesian dualism is not without the theoretical resources to mount a defense. Cartesian dualism is not, contrary to Dennett's judgment, a view that can be dismissed with a mere wave or the hand. Nevertheless, even those who approach the Cartesian view with the seriousness and respect it deserves often feel moved to propose alternatives. The essays that comprise the second part of this book discuss some of those alternatives. Although these views differ in important respects from Cartesian dualism, as we will see, they are still dualist6 in spirit.

II. Alternatives to Cartesian Dualism
  1. Cartesian dualism holds, inter alia, that souls (or minds) are capable of disembodied existence7. Why? According to Descartes, the fundamentally dissimilar natures of souls and bodies accounts for this. Descartes notes that nothing in the nature of soul requires for its existence the existence of a body. Nor is there anything in the nature of body that requires for its existence the existence of a soul or mind. To be a soul is to be simple, unextended, and thinking. To be a body is to be complex, unthinking, and extended. Thus Descartes reckoned it possible for each kind of substance to exist without the other.
  2. Emergentism like that advanced by O'Connor is an alternative to Cartesian dualism that is not obviously compatible with Descartes's disembodiment thesis. But O'Connor's emergentism is only one species of a more general view. The more general view makes two claims.
    • First, all emergentists claim that consciousness and mentality do not appear until physical systems reach a sufficiently high level of configurational complexity. Just as liquidity and solidity are features that require matter to be suitably arranged before they are manifested, so too does the mental. According to emergentism in the philosophy of mind, mentality causally depends for its existence on a physical system of appropriate complexity.
    • Emergentists want to claim more, however. The second claim made by all emergentists is that mentality is in some important sense irreducible. It is with respect to this irreducibility that mentality is unlike liquidity and solidity. For the latter are nothing over and above organizational / causal features of matter. But the mental is said by emergentists to be a novel feature of the world, something that in a very important sense cannot be reduced to the neurobiological processes that cause it.
  3. In what sense is consciousness and the mental irreducible? Well, one important sense which the mental is said to be irreducible is simply the sense in which it is true to say that a complete neurobiological account of consciousness would fail to capture its first-person, subjective, qualitative features. Take a toothache, for example. Knowing all of the neurobiological facts about toothache is not to know the ache of toothache. The ache hurts and that pain would not get captured in a complete neurobiological account at toothache.
  4. See "Hasker (William) - Persons as Emergent Substances".
  5. See "Leftow (Brian) - Souls Dipped in Dust".
  6. Each of the alternatives to Cartesian dualism so far discussed are still dualist in spirit. What about alternatives to dualism that are, on the contrary, materialist in spirit?
  7. See "Lowe (E.J.) - Identity, Composition, and the Simplicity of the Self".
  8. See "Baker (Lynne Rudder) - Materialism with a Human Face".

III. Does Life after Death8 Require Dualism?
  1. The question concerning the prospect of personal survival into an afterlife9 is a vexing one. Much about our lives leaves the unmistakable impression that we are physical beings, not in Baker's sense of being merely contingently constituted by a human body, but in the much more seemingly problematic sense that we are, if not strictly and literally human animals10, then at least essentially constituted by the human bodies that do constitute us. From this perspective it might seem that the possibility of survival sinks or swims with dualism. For it might seem that if dualism (in all of its permutations) should turn out to be false, then human beings have no reasonable hope for survival. After all, experience seems to teach us that human bodies at some time or another cease to exist. So if I am a human body, and not simply contingently constituted by one, then one day I shall cease to exist. And if I will one day cease to exist, how is it possible that I shall live again?
  2. See "Merricks (Trenton) - How to Live Forever Without Saving Your Soul: Physicalism and Immortality".
  3. See "Corcoran (Kevin) - Physical Persons and Postmortem Survival Without Temporal Gaps".
  4. See "Cooper (John) - Biblical Anthropology and the Body-Soul Problem".
  5. See "Davis (Stephen T.) - Physicalism and Resurrection".
  6. What are we11? We are human beings, of course, embodied entities with aims, dreams, and aspirations, persons. But what are we12 essentially? Are human persons immaterial or material? And if they are material, then are they identical with their bodies? And what is the connection between our answer to the question. What are we13? and the possibility that we survive the death of our bodies? The essays in this volume probe these questions. Is there a convergence of answers on the horizon? It would appear not. For there are at present many answers and not all fall neatly into the two mutually exclusive views commonly discussed: Cartesian dualism and reductionistic physicalism. Nor is it obvious, despite what we may have been inclined to think, that physicalism with respect to human persons is incompatible with the doctrine of post-mortem survival14. If anything is clear after reading the essays in this volume, it is this: the mind-body problem remains wide open.



In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1: Note that comments on specific Chapters have been removed to the Chapters themselves: follow the links.

Footnote 3: See his "Dennett (Daniel) - Current Issues in the Philosophy of Mind", APQ 15 (1978); 249-61.

Footnote 4: See "Kripke (Saul) - Naming and Necessity", (Oxford; Blackwell, 1980), 155 n. 77.

Footnote 5: Whether or not Descartes himself actually held the view I am about to describe, or how consistently he did, is not my concern here. The view I mean to pick out with the name 'Cartesian Dualism' is a view very frequently associated with Descartes, whether or not he actually held it. In point of fact, in the course of the sixth meditation, Descartes speaks both of the real distinction between soul (or mind) and body and also of his being intermingled with his body, soul and body forming a single unit. For more on this point, see Eric Olson's essay in this anthology ("Olson (Eric) - A Compound of Two Substances").

Footnote 6: Corcoran later seems to contradicts himself, as he states that the essays by Lowe and Baker are materialist in spirit, in contrast to those that are dualist in spirit, as they indeed are; but he claims that Baker is effectively a crypto-dualist.


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