Alvin Plantinga has recently turned his attention to materialism. More precisely, he has turned his attention to the thesis that philosophers of mind call materialism. This thesis can be variously formulated. In this essay, I will take “materialism” to be the conjunction of the following two theses:
- Human persons – what human beings refer to when they use the first-person-singular pronoun – are substances. They are substances in the strict and philosophical sense: They persist through time, retaining their identities while changing various of their accidental properties; they are not grammatical fictions; they are not “modes of substance”; they are not logical constructs on shorter-lived things (they are not entia successiva); they are not abstract objects (they are not, for example, things analogous to computer programs); they are not events or processes.
- These substances, these human persons, are wholly material. They are (if current physics is to be believed) composed entirely of up-quarks, down-quarks, and electrons, so related by the electromagnetic and color forces as to compose matter in its solid, liquid, and gaseous phases. They are, in two words, living organisms – or, if not whole living organisms, then parts of living organisms (human brains, brains-plus-central-nervous-systems, brain stems, cerebral hemispheres, cerebral cortices – or perhaps even luz bones or tiny, almost indestructible material things unknown to physiology …). They have no immaterial part.
Van Inwagen’s (hereafter PVI) paper is a rebuttal of an argument in "Plantinga (Alvin) - Against Materialism". My comments below are brief reminders of the main points of Van Inwagen’s paper. See the paper itself (Link (Defunct)) for more detail.
- PVI is a proponent of (and Plantinga – hereafter AP – an opponent of) Materialism in the Philosophy of Mind.
- PVI takes it that Materialism in this sense consists in the acceptance of two propositions:-
- P1: Human Persons are1 substances.
- P2: These substances are wholly material.
- Both2 PVI and AP accept P1.
- PVI accepts, but AP rejects, P2.
- The version of P2 under consideration – the version that PVI accepts – is that I am identical to my body.
- Plantinga considers the rejection of P2 of great human importance, while PVI considers its acceptance only of great philosophical importance – provided only that its rejection doesn’t undermine the acceptance of the Christian doctrine of Resurrection. PVI doesn’t address the issue of the alleged human importance of P2 in this paper.
- PVI’s paper addresses Plantinga’s “Replacement Argument” from Section I of "Plantinga (Alvin) - Against Materialism". PVI summarises the argument – which comes in “micro” and “macro” versions, though PVI only directly addresses the “macro” version. “Macro” refers to the replacement of large body parts, “micro” to the replacement of cells.
- The argument alleges that “I” could be continually conscious (and therefore3 exist throughout) a procedure wherein the various parts of my body are serially and rapidly replaced.
- The difficult part of this (supposedly metaphysically possible) procedure assumes the (metaphysical possibility of the) idempotency of the cerebral hemispheres, and the metaphysical possibility of “transferring” the mental functions from one hemisphere to the other while the former is replaced (and then back again, when the other will be replaced).
- Both PVI and Pl agree that B (the body) does not survive the part-replacement process.
- Since (the argument goes) B does not survive, but I do (as there is a single conscious experience throughout the process (it is claimed)), then I am not identical to B.
- To be continued …
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Van Inwagen's website: published in "Baker (Deane-Peter) - Alvin Plantinga"; Link (Defunct); annotated hard-copy filed in "Various - Papers on Identity Boxes: Vol 18 (T-V)".
- “Are” - This little word will cause problems.
- PVI rehearses what a substance is. I’m happy that human beings “are” substances – as PVI says, “they persist through time, retaining their identities while changing various of their accidental properties”. The issue has to do with the reference of “I”.
- I agree that I am a person and that I am a substance. But the reference of “I” is to the human animal that I am. It is the human animal that is the substance. The fact that it is a person is a temporary matter – depending on just what the qualifications (Click here for Note) for being a person are.
- PVI has it that “I” refers to my body, to which I am (said to be) identical. I can’t remember his views on whether the (human) body is always a person (the classic statement of PVI’s views is in "Van Inwagen (Peter) - Material Beings"). Some people, while admitting that neonates and those in a PVS, don’t strictly satisfy the criteria for personhood, retain the honorific title of “person” for them as they either have the potential to attain personhood in the normal course of events, or have been persons. I’m not sure of the metaphysical implications of this ethical usage.
- Lynne Rudder Baker is entitled to say that Persons are substances – because she thinks they are ontologically separate from the human bodies that (temporarily) constitute them. But PVI does not accept this metaphysic of constitution in the form given by Baker.
- See his "Van Inwagen (Peter) - I Look for the Resurrection of the Dead and the Life of the World to Come". If we are (identical to) human animals, then resurrection is not likely to be metaphysically possible unless (at least) metamorphosis without loss of identity is possible. So (maybe) PVI is motivated to support the “body criterion” of personal identity, because the persistence conditions of “bodies” (whatever they are) may not be as strict as those for organisms; an organism terminates at death.
Footnote 3: The logic of this claim needs to be carefully considered. It (most likely) presupposes that “I” am a fundamentally psychological being, a claim denied by the animalists.
- Incidentally, both PVI and AP are Christians, and colleagues at the University of Notre Dame. While Notre Dame is a Catholic University, AP is a Protestant – the inventor of “Reformed Epistemology” – and so might PVI be, for all I know.
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