Rethinking Human Nature: A Christian Materialist Alternative to the Soul
Corcoran (Kevin)
This Page provides (where held) the Abstract of the above Book and those of all the Papers contained in it.
Colour-ConventionsDisclaimerBooks / Papers Citing this BookNotes Citing this Book


Amazon Product Description

  1. What is human nature? is a question of perennial interest, one with which artists, philosophers, theologians, and social scientists continue to wrestle. As an alternative to the classic body-soul dualism or a reductionistic version of materialism that sees people as biological computers, Kevin Corcoran proposes the Constitution View1 of human persons, which suggests that humans are constituted by their bodies without being identical to the bodies that constitute them.
  2. "Perhaps the most outstanding qualities of this book are its clarity and its generosity. Corcoran is able to present often-complex arguments in ways that folks who are not intimate with these discussions should nonetheless be able to follow. He treats his conversation partners with genuine respect. The humility with which he presents and argues for his own case is exemplary."
    — Joel B. Green, Asbury Theological Seminary; editor, In Search of the Soul
  3. "Kevin Corcoran is a Christian. He is also a materialist. Both those who welcome this combination and those who suspect that it is impossible should read his challenging and well-written book."
    — R. William Hasker, emeritus professor of philosophy, Huntington University
  4. "Rethinking Human Nature is an excellent exploration of the nature of human persons. Corcoran defends a Constitution View2 of persons in which we are wholly made up of our bodies, yet we are not identical to them. While I do not, in the end, agree, the position he defends and the arguments he employs are extremely important for anyone thinking about the nature of human persons. Corcoran's book will spark a lively debate for years to come."
    — Gregory E. Ganssle, Yale University, Rivendell Institute
  5. Kevin J. Corcoran (Ph.D., Purdue University) is associate professor of philosophy at Calvin College, specializing in philosophy of mind, metaphysics and philosophy of religion. He is the author of many journal articles and the editor of "Corcoran (Kevin), Ed. - Soul, Body and Survival: Essays on the Metaphysics of Human Persons".

Amazon Product Description
  1. What are we3 as human persons? Are we immaterial souls capable of disembodied existence4 or merely animals destined to dust? For centuries, scholars have debated this issue, and that debate continues today.
  2. But the question of human nature can no longer remain a topic for discussion within the hallowed halls of the academy. End of life ethical decisions, human cloning, fetal tissue transplants5, and stem cell research all reveal the urgency and the importance of the question for ordinary people.
  3. Rethinking Human Nature offers a fascinating look at what it means to be human by defending the "constitutional view" which suggests we are constituted by our bodies without being identical to the bodies that constitute us.
  4. Grounded in Scripture, this book connects the theology and philosophy of human nature with the moral conundrums that confront us at the margins of life.

Amazon Customer Review
  1. Corcoran presents a "Christian materialist" alternative to commonly held beliefs about human nature and the soul. He refers to his position as the "constitution view6" (CV). Unlike other types of physicalism, CV7 maintains that the human body is not identical with the human person. Yet bodies constitute persons like marble or wood constitute tables. Another example that Corcoran gives regarding the CV8 is dollar bills: paper constitutes dollar bills, but is not identical with them.
  2. The word "identical" is used as a technical term in order to reference things being numerically identical with one another and not replicas. Clark Kent is numerically identical with Superman because the former and latter are one and the same object. Other examples include books which are numerically identical or a car that remains identical (the same object) through time. What allows us to make identity claims of an object (X)? What justifies the belief that a thing (X) maintains its numerical identity9 year after year or second after second? Corcoran discusses the subject of numerical identity10 as well as the role that persistence conditions11 play in the belief that X is numerically identical within a spatio-temporal context. He points out that the relevant persistence conditions12 for X depend on exactly what X is. For example, the persistence conditions13 of a human body are not the same as those for a banana.
  3. Corcoran also distinguishes between
    1. substance dualism;
    2. compound dualism or hylomorphism and
    3. emergent dualism.
    He perceives logical deficiencies in each type of dualism. Corcoran labels Plato and Descartes as substance dualists, and Thomas Aquinas as a compound dualist: "According to Aquinas' Compound Dualist view, a human soul is a kind of form, and forms are dynamic states" (p. 36). This view (hylomorphism or compound dualism) also contends that soul and body constitute one thing, namely, a person.
  4. William Hasker is an emergent dualist. Emergent dualism is demarcated from other forms of dualism insofar as it allows for mind to emerge from complex physical systems. Hasker even contends that it is logically possible for mind to exist apart from its generating physical source (i.e. the brain) after the physical death of a biological organism. Corcoran is critical of emergent dualism on two fronts. First, while Hasker posits an intimate and natural connection between body and soul, it appears that he believes mind or soul is not causally dependent on the body (a physical system) since its continued existence in this life or the next does not require causal dependence on a physical system (p. 43). Second, the emergent dualism of Hasker apparently splits the human person or human being "into two disparate entities" (ibid). Therefore, while emergent dualism may be able to set itself apart from substance dualism, it retains problematics seemingly indigenous to substance dualism.
  5. Corcoran also outlines the conditions for personhood in multiple ways:
    1. the capacity for a certain range of intentionality;
    2. the capacity for a first-person perspective;
    3. persons are essentially constituted by means of bodies;
    4. persons are persons in relation to other persons.
    He believes that nothing a priori keeps persons from being defined in fully embodied terms. But is Christian materialism able to supply the resources needed to protect the human fetus14? Corcoran admits that CV15 alone cannot provide the metaphysical resources needed to generate moral obligations that serve to protect a human fetus16. But he also contends that dualism cannot generate such obligations either.
  6. JP Moreland and Scott Rae (p. 85-87) argue that materialism cannot produce a suitable ethic revolving around personhood. Instead, they maintain that a dualist account of personhood is required to develop a proper moral account regarding abortion17, human cloning, euthanasia or fetal research. But Corcoran maintains that one must supplement both dualism and materialism in order to produce a suitable ethic of life. What is needed? Corcoran argues that God's benevolent intentions toward creation are requisite. Without this foundation for an ethical system, the necessary metaphysical resources to protect a human fetus18 are lacking.
  7. Corcoran introduces the notion of immanent causal condition (ICC) in this work. ICC can potentially account for a thing remaining identical while experiencing gaps in existence. According to ICC, an earlier stage of pre-gap existence must be causally relevant to a later post-gap stage of existence in order for a thing (X) to remain numerically identical. A state (Y) must bring about changes (Z) within an object (A) rather than a numerically distinct object (B) in order for one to speak about ICC occurring within an object. Corcoran insists that ICC is a diachronic condition of a thing which means that it persists through time as a causally relevant mechanism for the biological organism
  8. Corcoran's book is a tightly argued work, it's accessible and he makes distinctions well. There are formal parts to satisfy professional logicians. His work also contributes to discussions on human nature or the study of personhood. I recommend this work for those interested in questions about anthropology and the post-mortem condition for humans. But the approach in this work is more philosophical than biblical.

    Acknowledgments – 9
    "Corcoran (Kevin) - Rethinking Human Nature: Introduction - What Kind of Things Are We?" – 11
  1. "Corcoran (Kevin) - Dualist Views of Human Persons" – 23
  2. "Corcoran (Kevin) - Nothing-But Materialism" – 47
  3. "Corcoran (Kevin) - The Constitution View" – 65
  4. "Corcoran (Kevin) - The Stem Cell Challenge" – 83
  5. "Corcoran (Kevin) - I Believe in the Resurrection of the Body and the Life of the World to Come" – 119
  6. "Corcoran (Kevin) - The Constitution View and the Bible: Some Final Thoughts" – 135
    Index – 149


Baker Academic (1 Jun. 2006)

"Corcoran (Kevin) - Rethinking Human Nature: Introduction - What Kind of Things Are We?"

Source: Corcoran (Kevin) - Rethinking Human Nature, Introduction

  1. Introduction
  2. A Little History1
  3. A Road Map2
  4. Christian Philosophy3
  5. Audience:
    • This book is aimed at two audiences.
      1. On the one hand, it is aimed at students of philosophy and theology interested in the current debate surrounding human nature. While I hope that professional philosophers and theologians who keep up with discussions in the latest professional journals might find something useful in these pages too, such philosophers and theologians are not my primary aim.
      2. The other audience I am interested in reaching is the audience of inquisitive and intelligent lay persons interested in the issues taken up in these pages. To this audience, I make no apology for the level of intellectual energy the following chapters require. Reading this book will not be like passively watching a television show.
    • I take for granted a reader who is first of all interested in the issues addressed here and who also finds a fairly rigorous intellectual workout something of a pleasure.
  6. A Confession:
    • We are almost ready to jump in, but before we get started, I want to make a few things clear.
    • First, in rejecting dualism, I am not rejecting the claim that we human persons are created in the image of God, nor am I rejecting the claim that something sets us apart from the rest of nature. I am rejecting only the claim that we are identical with, or partly composed of, an immaterial substance.
    • Second, considering things like the doctrine of the resurrection and the metaphysical nature of human persons is difficult business. Despite what some may claim, whatever the truth regarding these issues, it is not transparent and obvious. Even so, some philosophers are prepared to speak in bold and authoritative terms. I myself am hesitant to speak in such a way. I have thought long and hard about these matters and am committed to the truth of the views I hold. However, it is conceivable that I should one day learn, perhaps in heaven, and certainly to my chagrin, that not my view but one of the views I reject is the truth about our nature. Then I should be like the ancient Greek astronomer Ptolemy, who did his level best to seek the truth and weigh the evidence about the heavenly bodies but whom, for all of that, was nevertheless mistaken in his geocentric view of the universe.
    • This book, therefore, is not offered in the hope of providing the final word on the issues it entertains. It is not even offered as the final thoughts of its author. It is, rather, offered in the hope of stimulating further debate and reflection on the age-old question of human nature and the important, contemporary ethical issues of stem cell research and human cloning. Like all views on issues of fundamental human concern, what I say in these pages is open to criticism, correction, and revision.

In-Page Footnotes ("Corcoran (Kevin) - Rethinking Human Nature: Introduction - What Kind of Things Are We?")

Footnote 1: The Church’s response to Marcion’s “antipathy for the body”.

Footnote 2: This contains the chapter abstracts, which I have extracted as (indeed) the Abstracts for the various Chapters.

Footnote 3:
  • This is an important section, which I’ve not reproduced, but will summarise.
  • As I’ve said elsewhere (see my notes on "Moreland (J.P.) & Craig (William Lane) - An Invitation to Christian Philosophy"), I think there must be a dissonance between analytic philosophy and any ideology, Christian or otherwise, in that the fundamental rule of such philosophy is that any belief is subject to questioning and requires support. It is not a tool for providing clever reasons for sticking to what you originally believed.
  • Anyway, Corcoran talks about his Christian beliefs forming concentric circles, with the Nicene Creed at the centre. These are non-negotiable, while notions such as the immortality of the soul are not essential, even if they have in practice been held by most Christians.
  • This allows him to humbly correct errors without the charge of heresy, though he admits that the greater the weight of tradition, the harder his job is. He comes up with a “just so” story about why dualism became popular – ostensibly a way of affirming the specialness of humankind.
  • He does not, however, say where his Christian beliefs lie, as far as concentric circles go, with the sort of beliefs Quine takes as foundational, or at least the most securely established.
  • To be fair to him, his purpose in introducing the concentric circles is just to prioritise Christian doctrine, standard ecumenical stuff, and is not an appeal to Reformed Epistemology, which takes theism (and maybe the Nicene Creed) as a basic belief.
  • Even so he does seem to adopt this approach, because if his philosophy conflicts with the central dogmas of Christianity, the philosophy has to go. He takes the central beliefs as defeaters of any claim that contradicts them.
  • Hence, for Corcoran, the central dogmas of Christianity are beyond evidence and argument, for they automatically defeat any counter.
  • This is intellectual suicide and defeats the purpose of thinking philosophically, which is to follow any argument where it goes.

"Corcoran (Kevin) - Dualist Views of Human Persons"

Source: Corcoran (Kevin) - Rethinking Human Nature, Chapter 1

Author’s Abstract1
  1. The first chapter examines three versions of dualism:
    • Substance Dualism,
    • Compound Dualism, and
    • Emergent Dualism.
  2. What all these dualisms have in common is a belief that human beings are composed of immaterial souls, either in the sense of being identical with immaterial souls or in the sense of being a compound of immaterial souls and material bodies. Dualists are also committed to the belief that we can, in some sense, survive the death of our bodies.
  3. I point out the philosophical problems confronting these versions of dualism and argue that, although each is compatible with key Christian beliefs, they are nevertheless mistaken views of human nature.

  1. Substance Dualism: Plato
  2. Substance Dualism: Rene Descartes
    1. The Initial Argument
    2. The Separability Argument
    3. The Divisibility Argument
    4. The Simple Argument
  3. Problems for Substance Dualism
  4. Compound Dualism: Thomas Aquinas
  5. Compound Dualism: Substance Dualism After All?
  6. The Trouble with Compound Dualism
  7. A New Kind of Dualism: Emergent Dualism
  8. Emergent Dualism Challenged
  9. The Problem of Re-Embodied Souls
  10. Materialism, Unity of Consciousness, and Spatial Souls
  11. Conclusion

In-Page Footnotes ("Corcoran (Kevin) - Dualist Views of Human Persons")

Footnote 1: Taken from "Corcoran (Kevin) - Rethinking Human Nature: Introduction - What Kind of Things Are We?".

"Corcoran (Kevin) - Nothing-But Materialism"

Source: Corcoran (Kevin) - Rethinking Human Nature, Chapter 2

Author’s Abstract1
  1. In chapter 2 I examine the claim that we human persons are identical with our bodies. I consider two views people may mean to express with that claim and argue that neither view is true.
  2. One of the views discussed in this chapter is the view known as animalism2. This view identifies human persons with human animals3. According to this view, you and I are essentially animals and only contingently persons, which is to say that while we could not exist and fail to be animals, we could exist (and in fact at one time did) without being persons.
  3. In other words, according to animalism4, the property of being a person is like the property of being married or single. During some stages of our existence, we may be married, while during other stages of our existence, we may be single. During our fetal lives, we were not persons; now we are. If things should go badly for us, we may end up once again as nonpersons. For example, according to animalism5, if the upper part of my brain should suffer traumatic damage, such that I completely lack all capacity for a psychological life, but the lower part of my brain remains intact, such that the biological functions necessary for biological life continue, then I should continue to exist (as an animal) but cease to be a person.
  4. I will argue that there is an important sense in which it is true to say that we are human animals6. Nevertheless, I argue that there is an equally important but different sense in which it is true to say that we are not human animals7. The sense in which it is true to say that we are not animals is the sense in which it is true to say that we are not identical to our biological bodies. So, in this chapter I show why it is a mistake to identify human persons with human animals8 and, therefore, why I believe that animalism9 is false.
  5. At the end of chapter 2, we find ourselves in a puzzling situation. For while I do not identify myself with an immaterial soul or a compound of soul and body, neither do I believe I am identical with the physical object that is my biological body. But how can that be? If I am not an immaterial soul or a compound of soul and body, how could I possibly be a material object if I am not the material object that is my body?

In-Page Footnotes ("Corcoran (Kevin) - Nothing-But Materialism")

Footnote 1: Taken from "Corcoran (Kevin) - Rethinking Human Nature: Introduction - What Kind of Things Are We?".

Footnote 3: See "Olson (Eric) - The Human Animal - Personal Identity Without Psychology" (1997); and "Merricks (Trenton) - Objects and Persons" (2001).

"Corcoran (Kevin) - The Constitution View"

Source: Corcoran (Kevin) - Rethinking Human Nature, Chapter 3

Author’s Abstract1
  1. Chapter 3 seeks to explain what I realize sounds like an odd claim. The view I articulate in this chapter is known as the Constitution View2. According to it, we human persons are constituted by3 our bodies without being identical with the bodies that constitute us.
  2. To claim that human persons are constituted by bodies without being identical with the bodies that constitute them is not to make a special pleading for human persons. Lots of medium-sized material objects stand in constitution relations. For example, statues4 are often constituted by pieces of marble, copper, or bronze, but the statues5 are not identical with the pieces of marble, copper, or bronze that constitute them. Likewise, dollar bills, diplomas, and dust jackets are often constituted by pieces of paper, but none of those things is identical6 with the pieces of paper that constitute them.
  3. This chapter provides reasons why this is the case and, in particular, why human persons are constituted by, without being identical with, the material objects that constitute them.

In-Page Footnotes ("Corcoran (Kevin) - The Constitution View")

Footnote 1: Footnote 2: See:- Footnote 6:

"Corcoran (Kevin) - The Stem Cell Challenge"

Source: Corcoran (Kevin) - Rethinking Human Nature, Chapter 4

Author’s Abstract1
  1. Chapter 4 is in many ways the most important chapter, for one of the things that emerges in the course of chapter 3 ("Corcoran (Kevin) - The Constitution View") causes many people (unnecessarily, I will argue) grave misgivings with respect to the Constitution View2.
  2. It turns out, according to the Constitution View3, that no early term human fetus4 constitutes a person. It also turns out that any entity once possessing but having lost all capacity for the relevant kinds of psychological states also fails to constitute a person. Therefore, some human organisms in so-called persistent vegetative states5 (PVS) no longer constitute persons.
  3. One important objection to the Constitution View6, therefore, is that it has horrific ethical consequences, particularly at life's margins.
  4. And in this chapter I show why this objection is unfounded and how appropriation of key theological doctrines (such as the doctrines of creation, incarnation, and resurrection) offer the resources for mounting a strong case in favor of life.

In-Page Footnotes ("Corcoran (Kevin) - The Stem Cell Challenge")

Footnote 1: Taken from "Corcoran (Kevin) - Rethinking Human Nature: Introduction - What Kind of Things Are We?".

"Corcoran (Kevin) - I Believe in the Resurrection of the Body and the Life of the World to Come"

Source: Corcoran (Kevin) - Rethinking Human Nature, Chapter 5

Author’s Abstract1
  1. In addition to ethical worries generated by the Constitution View2, some think it is also ill equipped to deal with the afterlife3. The criticism is usually put like this. Bodies peter out and eventually cease to exist. And according to the Constitution View4, one's body is necessary (though not sufficient) for one's existence. How can a body that peters out and ceases to exist somehow turn up in the new Jerusalem? Worse, if the deceased immediately join the Savior in heaven, how can that fact be squared with the apparent fact that the corpse is often right before our eyes? Dualists do not have such problems to embarrass them, since immaterial souls are not subject to the vagaries of bodily demise.
  2. In chapter 5 I argue that if the issue is simply one of postmortem survival then dualists do in fact have a much easier time accommodating such a doctrine. But if one is both a dualist and a Christian, then that person faces one of the same problems as a Christian materialist, namely, how to make sense of the Christian doctrine of the resurrection of the body. It is precisely that doctrine that needs to be addressed by Christians, dualists no less than materialists.
  3. Chapter 5 calls attention to the fact that none of the ecumenical creeds of the church confesses belief in a doctrine of soul survival. The Christian doctrine has been understood as the doctrine of bodily resurrection. Telling a story of how a body that apparently suffered a martyr's death can be numerically the same as a body that enjoys resurrection life, it turns out, is not the special preoccupation of twenty-first-century Christian materialists. This has been, at least until recently, a concern for dualists too.
  4. The chapter thus provides an account of the resurrection that is compatible with both a doctrine of intermediate, conscious existence between death and resurrection and the belief that at death we cease to exist and come back into existence at some time in the future. The account also has the virtue of being neutral with respect to dualist and materialist views of human nature and can thus be embraced by dualists as well as materialists.

In-Page Footnotes ("Corcoran (Kevin) - I Believe in the Resurrection of the Body and the Life of the World to Come")

Footnote 1: Taken from "Corcoran (Kevin) - Rethinking Human Nature: Introduction - What Kind of Things Are We?".

"Corcoran (Kevin) - The Constitution View and the Bible: Some Final Thoughts"

Source: Corcoran (Kevin) - Rethinking Human Nature, Chapter 6

Author’s Abstract1
  1. The sixth and final chapter rehearses the main lines of argument developed throughout the book and considers how the Constitution View2 developed in chapter 3 ("Corcoran (Kevin) - The Constitution View") coheres with the biblical narrative concerning human nature.
  2. I suggest that the view coheres surprisingly well.

In-Page Footnotes ("Corcoran (Kevin) - The Constitution View and the Bible: Some Final Thoughts")

Footnote 1: Taken from "Corcoran (Kevin) - Rethinking Human Nature: Introduction - What Kind of Things Are We?".

Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2020
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)

© Theo Todman, June 2007 - Sept 2020. Please address any comments on this page to File output:
Website Maintenance Dashboard
Return to Top of this Page Return to Theo Todman's Philosophy Page Return to Theo Todman's Home Page