Author’s IntroductionIn summary, Murphy should take us to be “spirited animals, essentially alive”, for
- Nancey Murphy argues that Christians have nothing to fear from physicalism. We can reject dualism without contradicting biblical accounts of our nature, abandoning belief in our distinctiveness, denying that we are free and responsible, or giving up the hope for an afterlife1. The benefits are less mystery, more scientific respectability, a spirituality less absorbed with inwardness and otherworldliness, and a greater concern for community.
- As a Christian physicalist I hope that she is right; however, I am not as confident as she that soul theories are in such bad shape or that her favored physicalist account of embodiment, identity across time, and resurrection is free of major problems.
- Hershenov starts by summarising Murphy’s sanguine assessment of physicalism from a Christian perspective.
- We are “neither identical to a soul nor have one as a part. ”
- “We are physical bodies, though very complex organic ones. ”
- “Soul” refers to “the whole living person”.
- We are “spirited bodies” – where “spirited” is “aspective rather than partive” … “ ‘Spirit’ stands for the whole person in relation to God, not a part of his nature. ”
- Murphy’s intentions are to keep Christian accounts of human nature “in keeping with current intellectual developments in the sciences”. Fine – but a bit of a hostage to fortune. Better, her claim that the NT doesn’t intend to teach us anything about human metaphysical compositions, so we’re free to follow the truth where it leads.
- Hershenov issues warnings about a couple of Murphy’s specific objections to dualism3:-
- Conservation of energy: Hershenov asks whether the mind might influence merely the distribution of energy. Has this been discussed anywhere? It sounds fishy to me – while we might get away without violating the first law of thermodynamics, moving energy about effortlessly violates the second law.
- God’s intervention at the quantum level: this, apparently, “doesn’t violate statistical laws of physics”. How so? Hershenov’s objection is that the dualist can also use a similar wheeze, but he doesn’t spell out how.
- How would disembodied4 souls communicate? If this is an objection to dualism, it’s an objection to God and angels communicating, so a Christian5 can’t make use of this objection
- Hershenov notes the intended audience – upper undergraduate and graduate students in theology, plus Christian teachers and Church professionals – will find her section on physicalism and free will “especially useful”.
- It seems that Murphy has an affinity with Hobbesian spiders as for at free will is concerned.
- “… the freedom that we want is just the freedom to act for reasons”
- “Any more freedom of the libertarian6 bent she thinks is untenable and perhaps even incoherent. ”
- So far so good – “controversial but plausible”, but Hershenov thinks the wheels fall off in the last section of the last chapter ("Murphy (Nancey) - What are the philosophical challenges to physicalism? Human distinctiveness, divine action, and personal identity") where personal identity and resurrection are discussed.
- She’s stopped reading the literature with Wiggins in the early 1970s.
- She doesn’t give a clear account of identity, dithering between psychological (memory) and physical (brain) accounts and wanting to add “same moral character” to the mix.
- It seems that Murphy wants to have her cake and eat it. She wants us to be living animals, but won’t accept the consequences of this and tries to add in a contradictory psychological aspect.
- Hershenov points out that the psychological element would:-
- Mean we were never mindless embryos7 or infants.
- Raise problems about what happens to this mindless being8 when our psychology develops.
- We couldn’t survive severe amnesia, even if re-trained (say, after a stroke).
- Certain modal9 claims normally considered true would be false: eg. you couldn’t have been brought up a Muslim.
- So, we’ve ended up in something of a muddle. We started off with us being human animals10, but Murphy’s account ends up with psychological persistence conditions that are inconsistent with this.
- Hershenov thinks that Murphy’s account of resurrection11 – where we acquire new bodies – is more akin to reincarnation12, and (it seems) is contrary to the Apostles’ Creed in that the same body isn’t restored. There’s a long quotation from Murphy is which she states:-
- That spatio-temporal continuity – while necessary for the persistence of material objects – is only a contingent part of our concept of a person, since are psychological characteristics are only contingently supported by a material object.
- So (she says) there’s no reason why a numerically distinct but qualitatively similar body shouldn’t preserve these same characteristics.
- This “recognition” allows us to finesse the “torturous attempts as in the early Church to reconcile resurrection with material continuity. ”
- Hershenov wants to know what sort of physical being (which Murphy starts off claiming we are) can switch bodies. In particular – he claims – “No organism, no living being that is essentially alive13, can acquire a new body. ”
- Hershenov now tries to repair14 Murphy’s analysis of human personhood. He can think of two15 options:-
- Constitution: this is Lynne Rudder Baker’s Constitution View16. Hershenov’s rejection17 of the CV is necessarily too brief18 in this small space. It comes down to:-
- A person is “derivatively and contingently an animal for it is now constituted by an organic body thought it might not be so in the future”, but this isn’t enough “since persons are supposed to be a kind of material object and thus should be subsumed under the latter’s nature”.
- As far as it goes, it’s OK for our “possibly not being alive in the next world with a numerically distinct, transformed body where the laws of nature will not hold and thus ‘we cannot answer in advance questions about digestion, metabolizing and so forth.’”
- Contra Baker’s protestations (elsewhere), Hershenov thinks that the CV involves a commitment to “a new physicalist dualism” with two physically indistinguishable material bodies with different properties in the same place at the same time.
- In particular, it falls prey (he says) to the Thinking Animal Argument19.
- Identity: we persons are not constituted by – but are identical to – a body that is only contingently alive.
- Hershenov thinks there are two ways of unpacking this idea:-
- Contingent20 Identity: Now I’m identical to one organic body; in the “next life21” I’m to be identical to a numerically distinct body.
- Phase Sortals22: Numerically the same body is at one time alive and at another not so. Hence, “being organic” is like “being an adolescent” – not an essential property of bodies.
- So, how do these possibilities fit in with Murphy’s claims?
- Satisfies “a replica of my body could be me”; and “a transformed version of my body could be me”.
- Satisfies only the first of the above claims.
- And what are the problems?
- Either way, Murphy must abandon her psychological criterion, as the pre-mortem body initially had no psychology.
- She has to posit a disjunctive account of our persistence conditions – either a living body or psychological continuity23.
- Hershenov agrees that the dualism24 of persons and bodies is indeed avoided, but at the cost of either contingent identity or having us as the only animal that’s not essentially alive.
- Hershenov has an interesting paragraph detailing the additional problems with the “contingent identity” interpretation.
- There’s an “unwarranted leap” from organisms’ admitted ability to survive the replacement of matter to the wholesale replacement of matter by “different stuff” in the resurrected replica.
- It is usually taken as a metaphysical necessity that “property instantiations (modes or tropes) can’t25 switch substances”.
- Also, “too large or too quick a replacement26 results in a duplicate rather than the same substance composed of different matter”.
- “Thus new matter must be gradually assimilated to preserve continuity of substance and person preserving property instantiations27.”
- Hence, the resurrected replica28 is a duplicate rather than the pre-mortem body transformed.
- Hershenov doesn’t think Murphy should adopt either of the above construals of the body/person relationship – either constitution or identity – as neither is required either by physicalism or the need for resurrection.
- Instead, she should drop her claim for our psychological traits being necessary for our persistence and just:-
- “trust God to resurrect us in a manner that restores our mind to the manner it was last29 in when in working order. ”
- “if we had died in utero, which seems to have been a possibility30, trust that God would resurrect us and allow us to develop into conscious, moral and loving human beings and introduce us to our family. ”
- Murphy – says Hershenov – should also drop the idea that we are only contingently alive, as follows:-
- “We don’t have to transform our notion of being an animal in order to make sense of how we could possess a body31 that will serve us without end in the afterlife32.
- All that is needed is for God to ‘mask’ those dispositions of our organic makeup that would otherwise lead to our eventual decay.
- Homeostatic and metabolic functions could be perfectly maintained by the ‘divine doctor33.’
- Surely this can happen for resurrection is a miracle and eternal life may indeed mean the many of our laws of our world don’t hold34.
- “This seems … to be what it is to take embodiment seriously and avoids problems of:-
- colocation and too many thinkers35,
- contingent identity,
- human animals36 with bizarre disjunctive persistence conditions, and
- property modes switching bodies.
- Such an approach takes our biological nature seriously but
- Doesn’t deny that we are distinct37 from the rest of the animal kingdom in being free, rational and moral creatures that can know God. ”
Footnote 2: These aren’t intended to be in any way complete.
Footnote 3: Hershenov – despite being a materialist – suggest that dualism may be in better shape than Murphy makes out.
Footnote 6: I think this goes along the lines of not just wanting to do what we will, but will what we will.
- Hershenov says “presents no new difficulties”, which is fair enough.
- The question is, should a Christian be worried?
- For all we know, angels are material – they are certainly represented as being able to take human form.
- As, of course, is God.
Footnote 7: I have a note on Fetuses (Click here for Note) but not – it seems – for Embryos.
Footnote 8: This is a general problem – much beloved of extreme pro-lifers like Hershenov – with any account of our identity that doesn’t insist we come into existence at conception.
- I’ve not heard this point before against certain versions of the PV (Click here for Note).
- But is this objection correct?
- Hershenov claims that the TE (Click here for Note) would violate the transitivity of identity.
- He also claims (correctly) that the child would develop psychologically in very different ways, and that the adults in the two possible worlds would not be psychologically connected.
- But this may just be confusing psychological continuity with psychological connectedness (Click here for Note)?
- It’s a bit like Reid’s “Old Soldier” argument against Locke, which also raises issues about the logic of identity (Click here for Note).
- This is answered by friends of the PV by invoking “quasi-” psychological attributes (Click here for Note), but it’s not clear to me what the response is in this case.
Footnote 14: He says “construe … the relationship between persons and their animal bodies that might make sense of Murphy’s claims”.
- It is interesting that Hershenov treats “life” (Click here for Note) as a strictly biological activity of organisms (Click here for Note), essentially involving metabolism and the like.
- While I quite like this way of treating “life”, it does need to be spelled out clearly.
- It is natural to assume that anything that is not “alive” is “dead”, but this isn’t what Murphy has in mind. She presumably imagines that in the next world the post-mortem individual, while not needing to metabolise, can still function, be conscious, and have all the benefits of “life” while not being alive, strictly speaking.
- We need a new term for “non-biological ‘life’”.
- It would apply to God, and the angels – and (maybe) to whatever the transhumanists (Click here for Note) can dream up.
Footnote 15: Which these two are isn’t very well signposted. The first is clear, but the second not.
Footnote 18: He deals with it at length in "Hershenov (David) - Problems with a Constitution Account of Persons".
Footnote 21: In what sense of “life” is the “next life” life?
- For contingent identity Click here for Note.
- CI usually refers to possible but non-actual situations, but in this case the situation is supposed to be actual.
- It is the case though that under this supposition I’m not necessarily identical to this organic body, so – as I am supposed to be currently identical to it – I must be only contingently identical to it.
Footnote 24: This was the claim – probably false – against the first “CV” interpretation.
- I agree, but this is very “quick”, in that it might not be readily apparent what he means by “property instantiations (modes or tropes) can’t switch substances”.
- A “mode” is an enlightenment term for a property of a substance.
- A “trope” (at least in metaphysics) is an individuated property.
- So, the thought is that the person – being a property of a substance (the human animal) – cannot hop from one substance (the human body) to another (the resurrection body), any more than a particular smile or dent could: the numerically-distinct object might be smiling or dented, but it wouldn’t be the very same smile or dent.
- But – true though this is – the objection depends on this interpretation of just what a person is.
- A holder of the CV wouldn’t accept this analysis.
- This metabolic assimilation requirement is very reasonable, but may be hard to make precise.
- It also seems to apply to non-metabolising objects – artifacts (Click here for Note) for instance.
- But, just what speed of replacement is “too quick” or chunking of matter “too large”?
- Presumably both are relative to the “pace of life” and size of the organism / object?
- Also, is there any principled reason for all this, apart from an intuition?
Footnote 28: The fact that the term “replica” is used must mean that Murphy denies any identity-claims for the bodies, and must be adopting a constitution view (given that she’s a physicalist).
- The last four words of this sentence – “person preserving property instantiations” – require some exegesis.
- But I’m not sure what this should be!
Footnote 30: Several points here:-
- All accounts of resurrection are a bit obscure about just what stage of our being is the most appropriate to “restore” us to – if this is the right term, or suggestion.
- But at least on this proposal, if the mind just comes along with the body, that’s one problem finessed.
Footnote 31: So, Hershenov thinks that it’s this very body.
- Firstly, this again reflects Hershenov’s ultra-Catholic pro-life stance. Every scrap of human life has eternal value which must be recognised as having a right to achieve fulfilment.
- It is at least consistent, modally speaking, with the OT:-
- Job 10:19: “If only I had never come into being, or had been carried straight from the womb to the grave!”
- Ecclesiastes 6:3: “A man may have a hundred children and live many years; yet no matter how long he lives, if he cannot enjoy his prosperity and does not receive proper burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he.”
- So, he has Biblical support for the anti-PV approach – though whether the writers really thought that they would be numerically identical to a still birth is uncertain. See Gill: “For though it cannot be said absolutely of such an one, an abortive or untimely birth, that it is a nonentity, or never existed; yet comparatively …”
- However I doubt there’s any support for Hershenov’s rosy account of post-mortem development from a presumed blank slate.
- Also – as Hershenov’s a keen advocate of purgatory (eg. "Hershenov (David) & Koch-Hershenov (Rose J.) - Personal identity and Purgatory") – ought he not to think of limbo as the home for the unbaptised innocent? It seems though that there’s no longer clear Catholic teaching on this matter – and that “Limbo of Infants” isn’t an official doctrine (Link).
Footnote 33: This would seem to be rather “hands on”. It’s all pure speculation, of course, but if you go along with this essentially materialist and naturalist approach, you’d be better off positing a change in the laws of nature, rather than eternal tinkering (unless you think that’s what’s already happening).
Footnote 34: Indeed. How could it be otherwise, unless we wanted an eternal mess rather than only a temporary one
- Is this a saltation, or just a matter of degree?
- What would be Hershenov’s guide on this matter?
- In particular, is there any animalist motivation for a difference of kind rather than just of degree?
- It is, though, admittedly difficult to know how non-linguistic animals could “know God” – even if they might (to a degree) be “free, rational and moral” but maybe God has a way.
Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
- Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2018
- Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)