The Immaterial Self: Defence of the Cartesian Dualist Conception of the Mind
Foster (John)
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Amazon Book Description

  1. Dualism argues that the mind is more than just the brain. It holds that there exist two very different realms, one mental and the other physical. Both are fundamental and one cannot be reduced to the other - there are minds and there is a physical world. This book examines and defends the most famous dualist account of the mind, the Cartesian, which attributes the immaterial contents of the mind to an immaterial self.
  2. John Foster's book exposes the inadequacies of the dominant materialist and reductionist accounts of the mind. In doing so he is in radical conflict with the current philosophical establishment. Ambitious and controversial, The Immaterial Self is the most powerful and effective defence of Cartesian dualism since Descartes' own.

Amazon Customer Review 1
  1. Why is substance dualism seemingly out of business? Whatever the reasons are, the neglect of books like this might be a candidate. This book is too little read and discussed. Foster is a deep thinker, but he writes clearly. Throughout the book, his excellent understanding of the issues and the precision and rigor of his arguments shine forth.
  2. Foster starts off by defining the position which he means to defend - that the mental realm is both CONCEPTUALLY and METAPHYSICALLY fundamental. He then goes on the offensive against different versions of materialism/physicalism. While Foster offers sustained attacks against these views, his conclusions are well-reasoned, and he does not stoop to the use of rhetoric. Rather, these views are carefully analyzed and evaluated: eliminative materialism, analytical reductionism, analytical behaviorism, analytical functionalism, the type-identity thesis, the token-identity thesis and metaphysical reductionism. Against each of these views, Foster offers several objections, and upon considering whether the materialist has a comeback to these objections, also shows which objection or combination of objections is fatal to a particular view. This takes up the first half of the book.
  3. Having dealt with the problems materialists face, Foster moves on to consider common objections to an interactionist view of dualism - particularly with regard to how, given that the mental and physical are fundamentally different substances, they could causally interact. These include a priori objections to causal interaction, problems related to casual pairings (briefly: 1. causal relationships between events are always constituted by certain non-causal properties of the situation, together with the relevant covering laws, and 2. only be taking mental events to be physical can we, in cases of duplication1, envisage laws which cover the causal pairings in the way which 1. requires), Davidson's argument against strict psycho-physical laws, and the argument from science that the physical realm is casually closed. Foster ably deals with each of these objections and argues that the interactionist can successfully deflect them.
  4. The next step Foster embarks on is to give a positive thesis about the mental subject. He considers the potential problems in defining what a mental subject is, and goes on to look at the contrasting views of Descartes and Hume on the subject. Foster ends up defending the Cartesian ontology of basic subjects, with mental items as elements in their biographies, as opposed to the Humean view of mental items as ontologically autonomous. Follow these are some deep investigations into the nature of the self, and here Foster develops his theory of the mental subject.
  5. Finally, in the last chapter, Foster shows how his notion of the mental subject and dualism in general can deal with the problems of personal identity and free will. He argues that there are viable criteria of personal identity and coherent notions of libertarian freedom given a mental subject.
  6. Overall, this book is an excellent piece of analytic philosophy. At times, the book does get rather technical, and these areas might be difficult for the layman or a novice with regards to philosophy. As such, it is not recommended as an entry-level introduction to substance dualism. However, the inclusion of more technical issues does not come across as redundant or excessive. Foster is dealing with a deep metaphysical problem here, and he is not afraid to plumb its depths. Rather than using vague terms to gloss over the inherent difficulties in the mind-body problem, he responds with incisive analysis that does justice to the issues involved. As a result, the whole work is imbued with original insights and powerful grounds that constitute reasons for embracing substance dualism. Together with "Swinburne (Richard) - The Evolution of the Soul", this book is a testament to the fact that substance dualism can very much stand on its own rational basis. Given books like The Immaterial Self, the relative paucity of substance dualists speaks sadly of non-rational factors in motivating philosophical views. Anyone who is serious about philosophy of mind should give this book honest and serious consideration.

Amazon Customer Review 2
  1. In The Immaterial Self John Foster defends the substance dualist theory of the mind as an immaterial substance. I think that Foster is one of the most original and insightful analytic philosophers around, and the Immaterial Self may be his most significant work, though it is hard to judge against his gem2, The Divine Lawmaker.
  2. Foster is engaged on two fronts. First, he rejects versions of physicalist reductionism, according to which the mind is not an immaterial substance. Eliminativism, behaviourism, functionalism, and type- and token-identity theories are each carefully explained, and attacked with numerous objections.
  3. Secondly, Foster defends the substance dualist theory about the mind. He first responds to problems of mechanism, showing that substance dualism faces no special problem in accounting for psycho-physical causation3. Next the argument for the dualist theory of the mind is presented. Foster argues that if there is a mental subject, then it is essentially immaterial; and against the Humean bundle4 theory and in favour of the Cartesian theory that there is a mental subject.
  4. The final chapter of the book is devoted to the subjects of personal identity and embodiment, and a defence of a libertarian account of free will.
  5. Foster's coverage of contemporary analytic philosophy of mind is comprehensive and detailed. His arguments are generally set forth clearly and are often original.
  6. The book is often subtle, sophisticated and very difficult, though I think that it will appeal to upper-level undergraduate and graduate students in the philosophy of mind as well as professional philosophers.
  7. In my opinion, Foster's book has not received the attention it deserves because it defends a position that is unpopular among contemporary analytic philosophers of mind. Nevertheless, in my opinion, it is one of the finest books ever written in the philosophy of mind. Whether or not one ultimately agrees with Foster, I think that there is a lot to learn from this book. I recommend it strongly.

In-Page Footnotes ("Foster (John) - The Immaterial Self: Defence of the Cartesian Dualist Conception of the Mind")

Footnote 2: Footnote 4: Crumbs – even Hume admitted that this theory was “disastrous”.


Routledge, London, 2005 paperback reprint

"Foster (John) - The Dualist Doctrine"

Source: Foster (John) - The Immaterial Self: Defence of the Cartesian Dualist Conception of the Mind, 1991, Chapter 1

  1. The Five Claims.
  2. The Interpretation of the Claims.
  3. The Two Theses.
  4. Degrees of Dualistic Commitment.

"Foster (John) - Nihilism and Analytical Behaviorism"

Source: Foster (John) - The Immaterial Self: Defence of the Cartesian Dualist Conception of the Mind, 1991, Chapter 2

  1. The Project.
  2. The Reality of the Mental Realm.
  3. The Nature of Analytical Reductionism.
  4. Analytical Behaviourism.
  5. The Problem of Context-Dependence.

"Foster (John) - Analytical Functionalism"

Source: Foster (John) - The Immaterial Self: Defence of the Cartesian Dualist Conception of the Mind, 1991, Chapter 3

  1. Introduction.
  2. The New Ontological Approach.
  3. Complications and Refinements.
  4. The Knowledge Argument.
  5. Function Without Mind.
  6. Mind Without Behavioural Function.

"Foster (John) - The Type-Identity Thesis"

Source: Foster (John) - The Immaterial Self: Defence of the Cartesian Dualist Conception of the Mind, 1991, Chapter 4

  1. Introduction.
  2. Type-Identity and the Functional-Profile Theory.
  3. The Problem of Identification.
  4. Lockwood’s Hypothesis.

"Foster (John) - Token-Identity and Metaphysical Reductionism"

Source: Foster (John) - The Immaterial Self: Defence of the Cartesian Dualist Conception of the Mind, 1991, Chapter 5

  1. Introduction.
  2. Token-Identity: the Prima Facie Problem.
  3. Metaphysical Mental Reductionism.
  4. Why the Reductionist’s Position is Untenable.
  5. Conclusion.

"Foster (John) - Token-Identity and Psychophysical Causation"

Source: Foster (John) - The Immaterial Self: Defence of the Cartesian Dualist Conception of the Mind, 1991, Chapter 6

  1. Introduction.
  2. Dualistic Causation1: the Traditional Objection.
  3. The Problem of Causal Pairing.
  4. Davidson’s Argument.
  5. The Science-Efficacy Argument.

"Foster (John) - The Mental Subject"

Source: Foster (John) - The Immaterial Self: Defence of the Cartesian Dualist Conception of the Mind, 1991, Chapter 7

  1. The Issues.
  2. Can Corporeal Objects be Basic Subjects?
  3. Descartes versus Hume.
  4. Filling a Gap.
  5. The Nature of the Self.
  6. Non-human Animals.

"Foster (John) - Personal Identity, Embodiment, and Freedom"

Source: Foster (John) - The Immaterial Self: Defence of the Cartesian Dualist Conception of the Mind, 1991, Chapter 8

  1. Persons in the Ordinary Sense.
  2. Personal Identity.
  3. Embodiment.
  4. Freedom and Agency.

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