Other arguments for dualism
Thomas (Janice L.)
Source: Thomas (Janice L.) - Mind and Person in the Philosophy of Religion
Paper - Abstract

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  1. Essential reading – 31
  2. Further reading – 31
  3. Introduction – 31
  4. Mere matter – 31
  5. Where am I? Out-of-body experiences1 and locating the subject – 32
  6. The ordinary linguistic practice argument – 34
  7. A Cartesian supplementary argument — different properties, different subjects – 35
  8. The survival of death2 argument – 36
  9. Learning outcomes – 37
  10. Sample examination questions – 37
  11. Tips for answering the sample questions – 37
Full Text
  1. Essential Reading
  2. Further reading
  3. Introduction
    • So far we have considered four arguments from Plato and three from Descartes designed to prove, or otherwise justify belief in, substance dualism. In the chapters and pages referred to above, Smith and Jones list eight arguments (to which they give letters A to H) and Van Inwagen gives five arguments. We have already discussed Descartes' main argument (which Smith and Jones call ‘H' and Van Inwagen treats first). In this chapter we will look at the remaining arguments in both books. Many of these are arguments which ordinary people rather than professional philosophers find persuasive.
    • Even if all the arguments we encounter were irreparably flawed it could still be that substance dualism is the right theory of mind and body. A theory is not disproved if its main supporting arguments are seen to be mistaken — although, of course, it lacks support. So, in this chapter, we will look at the other main criticisms that have been levelled against dualism which attempt to show that the doctrine itself is untenable or incoherent. The other arguments for dualism to be examined are termed here:
      … mere matter argument
      out-of-body3 argument
      … ordinary linguistic practice argument
      … different properties argument
      survival of death4 argument.
  4. Mere matter
    • Reading
      "Smith (Peter) & Jones (O.R.) - The Philosophy of Mind - An Introduction", 1986, 18-21.
      "Van Inwagen (Peter) - Metaphysics", 1993, pp. 157-64.
    • The arguments discussed in both books try to establish substance dualism starting from our instinctive feeling that mere matter — what takes up space in the world — is too humble, ordinary or undynamic to have or support a mental life. Some immaterial principle, over and above the stuff our bodies are made of, seems to be required in order to produce a thinking, acting subject of experience.
    • The typical argument runs:
      … Mere material objects (think of rocks or bricks) are incapable of thought, feeling or sensation (or deep, sublime thought, feeling or sensation).
      … But we persons with minds/souls definitely do think, feel and sense
      … … So we can conclude:
      … Persons (subjects with minds) are more than mere material objects (bodies).
  5. Criticism
    • The main criticism of this argument asks, ‘Why should we accept the first premise?' The critic of dualism should respond, ‘Of course, material things like rocks and bricks are incapable of thoughts and feelings (deep or shallow, trivial or sublime), but this is because such material things as rocks and bricks lack the appropriate sophistication and structural complexity. There is no reason why a complex, sophisticated physical system like a living organism with a developed brain and central nervous system should not be possessed of mentality and the capacity for rich sensory, intellectual, aesthetic, moral, religious etc. experiences.'
    • At the very least, we know that both injury to the brain and exposure of it to certain drugs are associated with specific deficits and losses of mental function. It is hard to resist the view that the brain and what happens to the brain are responsible for what happens to and in the mind, and that the sophistication of our mental life depends somehow on the physical sophistication and complexity of the human brain and central nervous system.
    • Smith and Jones, in their argument D, consider the further contention that ‘mere matter on its own is not capable of displaying the behavioural sophistication of human persons.' This, as they point out, simply begs the question against anyone who wants to claim that some exclusively physical device or artefact (like an advanced computer or robot) does behave or, at least, is capable of behaving with that sort of sophistication.
    • Remember that ‘begging the question' is ‘assuming what you have set out to prove'. This attempt to prove dualism just assumes that nothing exclusively material could behave with the sort of elaborate complexity that the actions of conscious, minded subjects display. Thus, it illegitimately guarantees in advance the conclusion that wherever such sophisticated behaviour appears there must be an immaterial agent.
  6. Where am I? Out-of-body experiences5 and locating the subject
  7. Moore's argument
    • This can be very simply put:
      … I am closer to my hands than to my feet. (Van Inwagen suggests that you look down at your hands and feet and ask yourself which of them seem closer to you.)
      … Thus I occupy a different region of space from that occupied by my body.
      … Therefore, I am a different thing from my body.
    • Notice what Van Inwagen says about Moore's argument actually not being an attempt to prove that I am two sorts of substance, one physical and the other non-physical. As far as Moore's argument is concerned the ‘I' could be a physical thing (my brain, or part of it, for example) while my whole body is just a second, distinct (equally physical) thing.
  8. Out-of-body7
    • But the argument involving out-of-body experiences8 would — if successful — establish the strongest kind of substance dualism. Look again at Graham's summary/paraphrase of a typical out-of-body experience9 (22). Graham's Gloria says, ‘I was just floating up near the ceiling. It was a weird feeling because I was up there and this body was below.' To look down on your body as a spectator is, apparently, to be a different, distinct substance from your body since you can be somewhere it is not. If you can leave your body, you and your body are not the same substance.
  9. Criticisms
    • Why have critics not been persuaded of the distinctness of mind and body by either Moore's argument or the out-of-body10 argument?
  10. Against Moore's argument
    • Van Inwagen points out that we naturally tend to locate ourselves at the centre of the environment reported on by our bodily sense organs. You will probably feel, before you come to think carefully about it, that you are where your major sense organs (especially your eyes) are to be found (i.e. in your head). But this is an entirely subjective matter. Someone endowed, untypically for a human subject, with touch but not with sight or hearing (like the blind, deaf American woman, Helen Keller) might well locate herself more where her hands and arms were and think of her head as comparatively remote from herself.
  11. Against the out-of-body11 argument
    • Smith and Jones make the point that if a report of an out-of-body experience12 is to have a chance of providing a reliable foundation for the pro-dualist position, some way needs to be found of escaping the judgement that all out-of-body experiences13 are hallucinatory. To believe or feel (however vividly) that you have left your body and seen your body from a distance is one thing: actually to have done so is another.
    • A friend of dualism who was persuaded that reports of out-of-body experiences14 are (at least sometimes) genuine reports of episodes in which an immaterial self leaves its material body might suggest the following way to disprove the charge of hallucination. Arrange for there to be information out of reach of the body which remains at ground level, information which only an observer at ceiling level could perceive. If someone can produce that information after a putative out-of-body experience15 where his or her body was known to have remained down below, then this might seem to confirm the hypothesis of separation of two distinct substances.
    • There are reports of experiments conducted by an American psychologist doing research on sleep16 and dreaming in which a subject who was prone to what seemed to him to be out-of-body experiences17 in sleep18 was able to read and memorise a four digit number that had been randomly generated by the experimenter's colleague and placed behind a shield at ceiling level above the subject's bed from outside the room after the subject was asleep19. The trouble is that this experiment has never been successfully repeated with different subjects or with that subject at a later period.
    • On the other side of the debate, neurophysiologists and pharmacologists have in recent years made substantial progress towards understanding the many and various chemicals manufactured by and affecting the different parts of the brain. There is some evidence that specific chemicals typically released in the brain in moments of severe trauma can induce images and subjective feelings very similar to those that are described by those who feel that they have had out-of-body experiences20.
    • Until there is substantial, repeatable and unequivocal experimental evidence on one side or the other, it might be argued that the verdict of ‘not proven' is the only safe judgement to reach about the claim that out-of-body experiences21 are real evidence in support of substance dualism rather than hallucinations induced perhaps by the subject's own neurochemical activity.
    • Smith and Jones, however, go further than this ‘not proven' verdict. They contend that we are prone, unreflectively to judge that the self, the subject of experience, is located at the point from which we perceive whatever objects are experienced. But they find this unreflective judgement unwarranted (their reason is clearly set out on 23).
    • A further reason for rejecting it might be the following. If at a sporting event or parade, say, a spectator sees the action with the aid of a periscope or if a security guard has the job of keeping tabs on a shop or bank using closed circuit television, the spectator or guard will, in a sense, see what is happening from a place or point of view other than where his or her body is located. But in such a case we do not conclude that the person has departed from his or her body to occupy the second mirror of the periscope or the remote control camera. Just because we do not know what the mechanism of remote perception might be in alleged out-of-body experiences22, that should not make us think that an immaterial substance somehow leaves the body. We should judge (as Smith and Jones do) that our only legitimate conclusion is that the subject somehow sees further than we do.
    • These last points (about the as-yet-provisional and exploratory neurochemical research and the argument about the relationship between the location of the perceiver and his or her point of view) are being allowed by their proposers to decide the argument with a verdict against substance dualism. Their proposers do not claim these points are decisive in the way that a deductive argument is decisive. Deductive arguments guarantee (entail) their conclusions. But these two arguments invite us to judge that the balance of probabilities is on the side of what they would no doubt describe as the less extreme, more plausible position.
  12. The ordinary linguistic practice argument
    • Reading: "Smith (Peter) & Jones (O.R.) - The Philosophy of Mind - An Introduction", 1986, pp. 24-25.
    • Many of the things we would normally and naturally say about a person are precisely things we would not normally or naturally say about a person's body. We say, for example, that ‘Jack (the person) solved a quadratic equation' or ‘Jill (the person) met the Prime Minister', but we do not say ‘Jack's body solved an equation' or ‘Jill's body met an eminent political figure'. Yet, surely, if the word ‘Jill' and the phrase ‘Jill's body' denote the same thing we ought to be able to use these expressions interchangeably, saying now ‘Jill' and now ‘Jill's body', whichever we prefer at the moment. Since we clearly do not regard ‘Jill' and ‘Jill's body' as perfectly interchangeable in speech, perhaps we should realise that a person and her body are distinct things.
  13. Criticism
    • The anti-dualist has only to repeat the point made in reply to Descartes' third argument above (Smith and Jones 24): Jill (the person) and Jill's body are different things, but so far there is no proof that they are different substances or that either is an immaterial substance.
    • As Smith and Jones rightly say, the two expressions denote separate aspects of Jill: ‘Jill's body' denotes ‘Jill in so far as her more corporeal aspects are concerned' while ‘Jill' denotes the whole person but principally her subjective side - her personality, character, sense of self and so forth.
    • Finally, as Smith and Jones conclude (28), not only does the argument fail to show that our ordinary linguistic practice commits us to dualism but even if it were shown that our everyday ways of talking were dualist, that would go no way towards showing that dualism is true. Common sense ways of doing or saying things can be profoundly wrong.
  14. Activity
    • Notice the ways in which, when you are not studying philosophy, you find yourself — and hear and see others — talking and writing about individual persons and their various aspects. Does there seem to you to be an ordinary language bias in favour of dualism? If you know, and regularly use, a language other than English it may be particularly interesting to see whether the bias (if there is one in either direction!) is as strong in that language as some have found it to be in English.
  15. A Cartesian supplementary argument - different properties, different subjects
    • Reading: "Smith (Peter) & Jones (O.R.) - The Philosophy of Mind - An Introduction", 1986, pp. 17-18.
    • Although he did not regard it as a proof of dualism, Descartes was much impressed by the persuasive power of a thought which often seems to move ordinary people in the direction of the substance dualist view of the nature of persons. This is the thought that if you find two radically different sorts of activity going on (or two very different sorts of property being exemplified) it is a common sense inference to make that these different properties and activities are being performed by or are grounded in numerically different subjects.
    • So if, on the one hand we have something which is thinking, feeling, sensing and reasoning, and on the other hand we have something which is 5'2", weighs eight stone and is sitting, writing then we would be right to conclude that the two somethings are distinct, individual things. Thinking and taking up space are such different properties or activities that it is only sense, on Descartes' view, to think they must be the properties or activities of different subjects.
  16. Criticism
    • Descartes is right not to think of this as any kind of proof. For one thing, it leaves unanswered the crucial question, ‘How different (and in what ways) must one property be from another before it guarantees (or even suggests) a numerical difference between the subjects of the two properties?' Surely a thing which is coloured will also have a shape (one thing can have both colour and shape), and yet colour and shape seem very different sorts of property. The same point could be made about the psychological properties or activities of, for example, ‘fearing a drought' and ‘thinking of a friend'. Surely one single mind could easily — perhaps even simultaneously — have both thoughts or feelings.
    • More importantly, the whole issue between substance dualists and their opponents is the question of whether a single subject can be the subject of both physical and psychological (mental) properties. In trying to answer this question, we could employ the analogy of a craftsman with two tasks he wants to perform. The question arises, ‘Is there a tool which will do both jobs?' Some tools are multi-purpose and can do many jobs. (An example might be a knife-grinder which can also be used to cut keys and repair shoes.) Some tasks are so specific that it is hard to imagine a tool which could do that and also be turned to some other very specific task. (Could a tool capable of incising a pattern on crystal also be adapted so it could be used to fell trees?)
    • Everyone recognises that being afraid and weighing a certain amount are very different kinds of property. The question is whether one multi-purpose subject is enough. Could something that can have feelings also weigh a certain amount? Descartes does not try to promote his commonsensical observation into an argument because he knows that it would simply become another instance of begging the question.
  17. The survival of death23 argument
    • Reading: "Smith (Peter) & Jones (O.R.) - The Philosophy of Mind - An Introduction", 1986, pp. 28-29.
    • Suppose that you hold, as an article of religious faith, that although your body will be destroyed at or not long after your death, you yourself will survive and live on after that time. You might then argue, using the version of Leibniz' Law24 we looked at earlier:
      … I will survive my body's death.
      … My body will not survive my (body's) death.
      … Therefore, I am not my body.
    • Smith and Jones find that this argument is valid ('The move from the premises of this argument to its conclusion looks safe enough', 28) but, of course, point out that it depends crucially on the truth of its first premise. Unless a proof of that premise is forthcoming, the whole argument simply begs the question against the opponent of substance dualism (i.e. it, like so many others we have met, simply presumes the dualism it is designed to prove).
    • Smith and Jones also discuss the possibility that some Christian authorities (whatever other religious authorities may say) construe the promise of eternal life in the following way. They distinguish ‘ordinary death' from ‘the final destruction of the body' and affirm the resurrection of the body for believers at some point after this life has ended in ‘ordinary death'. If your body is not going to be destroyed by death (although it may be transformed or renewed in some way) then the second premise above is false and dualism is not proven by the argument. As Smith and Jones put it, ‘the promise [of eternal life] can be redeemed even if dualism is false' (29).
  18. Criticism
    • Some critics of the survival of death25 argument are much harsher. They simply deny even the logical possibility of life after death26 or survival of death27. This is to deny premise one outright. For Anthony Flew, for example, the expression ‘survival of death28' is like ‘round square'. For a figure to be round it must be the case that every point on it is equidistant from the centre of the figure. But if a figure meets this requirement, it simply cannot (logically cannot) meet the requirements a figure must meet if it is to be square — for example, it cannot have four straight sides. So a round square is a logical impossibility.
    • Flew would maintain that survival of death29 is impossible for just the same sort of reason. For someone to be a survivor seems clearly to require that the person in question be still living. But to be still living just is not to have died. To meet the condition for dying just is to do what contradicts the very essence of survival.
    • Some thinkers who follow Flew this far would go further and argue that, if there is a person who is living after your death — no matter where and no matter how similar to you in physical appearance or apparent memories or personality — that person cannot be you surviving because your death will be followed by some time (at least an instant, probably much longer) when you do not exist and (as they would say) ‘temporal gaps extinguish identity'.
    • This whole question of what is required for personal identity or persistence over time and the question of the logical possibility of survival of death30 needs detailed investigation and discussion and will form the subject matter of Part 2 of this guide.
  19. Learning outcomes: After working through the topics in this chapter you should be able to:
    • Summarise each of the five arguments discussed in this chapter.
    • Outline the defences offered by their supporters for each of the arguments.
    • Outline and evaluate the criticisms of each.
  20. Sample examination questions
    • Would out-of-body experiences31 (if there were such things) prove that soul and body are distinct substances?
    • Criticise the argument that because I am going to survive my death and my body is not, my soul and my body are different, distinct substances.
  21. Tips for answering the sample questions
    • An answer to the first question should start with an explanation of what is meant by the phrase ‘out-of-body experience32'. You should say (giving your reasons) whether or not you think anyone has ever had an experience which would correctly be described using that phrase. Then you should discuss what would be implied about substance dualism by a genuine, non-hallucinatory case.
    • Both questions expect an answer which mentions Leibniz' Law33 and the way in which it can be used to prove non-identity.


Part 1 (The Metaphysics of Mind and Body); Section 1 (Dualism); Chapter 3. Hard copy filed in "Various - Papers on Religion Boxes (Heythrop)".

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