Review of 'Contemporary Dualism: A Defense' by Andrea Lavazza and Howard Robinson, Eds
Baker (Lynne Rudder)
Source: Baker's website. Book published by Routledge in 2014
Paper - Abstract

Paper SummaryNotes Citing this PaperText Colour-Conventions


  1. This is a brave book. Dualism, the editors tell us, "has a bad reputation," and the editors seek to revive mind-body dualism as a "progressive research programme." Despite its "bad reputation" among mainstream philosophers today, dualism retains vibrancy that this book manifests.
  2. With fourteen different papers (including the introduction), the absence of a single specific thesis of dualism is not surprising. With some exceptions (e.g., Fürst), the authors seem to think that we all know what physicalism or materialism is, and they have various conceptions of what physicalism or materialism (allegedly) cannot explain.
  3. The collection is divided into four sections:
    1. The Limits of Materialism (Meixner, Lavazza, Lund);
    2. Dualism and Empirical Research (Manzotti and Moderato, Stapp, Fürst);
    3. Cartesian (Substance) Dualism (Swinburne, Robinson, Walker);
    4. Non-Cartesian Dualism (Taliaferro, Hasker, Skrbina, Lowe).
  4. Many of the papers have novel and thought-provoking claims and arguments. I shall discuss three at some length, and then the others more briefly.
    1. One of the most intriguing papers is “Neuroscience: Dualism in Disguise” by Riccardo Manzotti and Paolo Moderato. Manzotti and Moderato argue that neuroscientists implicitly accept a view that they explicitly reject: dualism.
    2. Another thought-provoking paper is Henry P. Stapp’s “Quantum Theory of Mind.” Stapp is a quantum physicist at Berkeley. He argues that orthodox quantum mechanics as formulated by Von Neumann in 1932 should be interpreted as describing causal connections “between our minds and their associated quantum physically-described brains.” The theory can be consistently interpreted as describing a reality that has “mental and physical aspects, with the mental aspects not determined by the physical ones.”
    3. One of the most intriguing papers in the collection is E.J. Lowe’s “Why My Body Is Not Me: The Unity Argument for Emergent Self-Body Dualism.” Taking a self or person (Lowe uses the terms interchangeably) to be a self-reflecting subject of thought, Lowe asks what is the fundamental ontological category of a self or person?
    4. Martina Fürst, in “A Dualist Account of Phenomenal Concepts,” is very well-versed in the relevant literature of arguments concerning physicalism that are based on the phenomenal character of consciousness, and she is a careful writer. Focusing on Jackson’s well-known “knowledge argument,” Fürst gives a fine survey of physicalists’ efforts to explain away anti-physicalist conclusions; then she gives an account of the formation and cognitive role of phenomenal concepts, and finally, she argues that phenomenal concepts “have the explanatory power to imply non-physical referents.”
    5. Andrea Lavazza’s argument in “Problems of Physicalism Regarding the Mental,” although difficult, points out the implications for physicalism of the tension between the necessity of logical laws and the contingency of the way that the human brain is wired.
    6. In “Materialism, Dualism, and the Conscious Self,” David Lund sees occurrent consciousness to be the obstacle to nondualism. He surveys several forms of materialism and finds them all lacking (as do I).
    7. Uwe Meixner’s “Against Physicalism” takes physicalism to be the thesis that “Every non-abstract individual is completely physical”, where physicalism is taken to be the token-identity theory. Unlike some physicalists and nonphysicalists alike, Meixner explicitly rejects the construal of physicalism in terms of dependence of the mental on the physical (or supervenience).
    8. Richard Swinburne’s paper defending substance dualism has an intriguing title, “What Makes Me Me?” and I wish more philosophers would ask and answer this question. Swinburne’s answer to the question is that my soul, which has its own thisness, different from the thisness of anything else. We persons, says Swinburne, are pure mental substances, who can “exist logically independently of physical substances.”
    9. Howard Robinson in “Naturalism and the Unavoidability of the Cartesian Perspective” quotes Dennett on the unavoidability of the intentional stance. Robinson takes the inevitability of the intentional stance to be the inevitability of the Cartesian perspective on oneself, the unavoidability of the thought, “I think therefore I am.”
    10. In “On What We Must Think,” Ralph C.S. Walker1 starts with the Kantian view that “rational beings must... think of themselves as capable of being moved by reason itself, and not always reacting to causal forces.” Walker argues that we must think of ourselves as able to respond to the demands of reason, and that, if so, we need not take seriously the mere logical possibility that we are under an illusion.
    11. In “The Promise and Sensibility of Integrative Dualism” by Charles Taliaferro tries to meet three challenges of physicalists:
      1. their belief in the primacy of the physical and the third-person point of view;
      2. their belief that dualism involves a radical bifurcation; and
      3. their charge that there can be no dualist causal interaction.
      Taliaferro argues for the primacy of the mental (against (i)), the functional unity of the embodied person (against (ii)), and a recommendation to reverse standard approaches to mental-physical interaction by beginning with the mental (against (iii)).
    12. In “The Dialectic of Soul and Body,” William Hasker looks first to Thomas Aquinas and then to J.P. Moreland for accounts of the soul-body relation. Both are ultimately found wanting. Hasker presents his own view of emergent dualism, according to which the soul develops “naturally from the structure and functioning of the organism.”
    13. David Skrbina, in “Dualism, Dual-Aspectism, and the Mind,” urges us to do justice to the ideas of both mind and body, ideas that he says have been in play since the Egyptians around 2350 BCE. Skrbina proposes what he calls ‘dual-aspectism’ that describes a monist reality in terms of two distinct aspects, mental and physical, that have equal standing.
  5. To conclude, overall these papers exhibit a forceful battery of arguments for various kinds of dualism. Some of the papers here are not as clearly or succinctly written as they should be. (I found the Introduction difficult to follow.) Some papers are repetitious. Other papers, however, e.g., Uwe Meixner’s, are clear and straightforward, and therefore, easy (even exciting) to contend with. In the current intellectual climate, where physicalism and naturalism hold sway, it is useful to have a volume that surveys a number of contemporary dualistic positions, and this book is a good start.


See Link.

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1: Maybe Ralph Walker, or maybe not!

Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)

  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2018
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)

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