November 3, 2009

Dualism and Quantitative Intuitions

Filed under: Epistemology,Metaphysics — camcintosh @ 6:57 pm

Many important starting points and conclusions in philosophy rest on simple intuitions—non-inferential, non-sense-experiential seemings. Not every case of intuition has evidential value, but many philosophers are prepared to defend the claim that intuition provides prima facie evidence regarding the natures of real things in the world and not merely our concepts. So it is interesting when one finds oneself with conflicting intuitions. For example, I have a strong intuition that

(1) Human persons, considered individually, seem to be more than just physical organisms

which implies a kind of dualism. But I don’t have the intuition that

(2) Human persons, considered individually, seem to be (or have) immaterial substances

which may just be peculiar to me. Anyway, something like (1) and (2) is a very common and, I think, strong intuition. Human persons, considered qua individuals, impresses upon my mind that there is something about them more fundamental than matter. But I also find myself with the intuition that

(3) Human persons, considered collectively, seem to be just physical organisms

or, perhaps more accurately,

(4) Human persons, considered collectively, do not seem to be more than just physical organisms

I don’t know if there’s as significant a difference between (3) and (4) as there is between (1) and (2), but (4) does seem more intuitively true to me than (3). When I survey large crowds of people, such as in sporting events or other mass public gatherings, it is not just easy for me to see them as just a collection of physical organisms, like insect gatherings, but they also seem to be no more than such. The intuition is even stronger upon viewing crowds in disaster situations, where many of them are squashed and/or are at the mercy of forces larger than they (also like insects). Maybe the intuition underlying (4) is the same as the one that suggests that any view that implies insects and lower life forms have souls doesn’t seem right. But then maybe what I am really intuiting in (1) is that human persons are fundamentally not like insects (surprise!), despite the perspectival similarities I can make between swarms of people and swarms of insects, which could be the source of the intuition behind (3) and (4).



  1. Have you considered some form of emergentism?

    Or if you want to go on a vastly more adventurous route, there is the medieval concept of spiritual matter (i.e. non-physical but at the same time material substance)?

    I’m just throwing some bones that I myself have been interested in pursuing. The former certainly has philosophical interest. The latter, if nothing else, attracts my historical interest.

    Comment by Josh Gulley — November 6, 2009 @ 5:11 pm | Reply

  2. I’ve been thinking lot about this lately. In fact, I just got back from a lecture on issues in neuroscience that seriously suggested that clear-cut distinctions between mind and body, as far as interaction is concerned at least, are very difficult to draw.

    I’ve also just finished going through Kevin Corcoran’s book Rethinking Human Nature, where he argues for a constitutional view of persons (persons are not numerically distinct from but not identical to their bodies in the same way that, say, “The Thinker” is not numerically distinct from the bronze of which it is made but yet not identical to it–if we reshaped it, “The Thinker” would cease to be). I find this view suggestive, but I’m not sure how far I’d be willing to run with it (scripturally, philosophically).

    But yes, I am definitely finding myself much more drawn to emergent dualism. I recently picked up a copy of Hasker’s Emergent Dualism and am planning on going through it soon.

    But then there’s John Foster’s Immaterial Self

    I have never heard of the concept of spiritual matter. Let’s just say that I am much more open to different views in this area than I have been in the past. I’m willing to be persuaded either way.

    Comment by Chad McIntosh — November 6, 2009 @ 6:19 pm | Reply

  3. It’s very interesting to me that Christian philosophers have such diverse views on this subject. Plantinga, for example, is a mind-body dualist, whereas Peter van Inwagen is a committed materialist.

    I think one of the reasons that viewing a crowd of people gives the intuition of materialism is that we don’t *share* (in the technical sense) the same experiences as others. In other words, I can only experience my own consciousness, and you yours. That may be one reason for the dualistic intuition some of us have of ourselves, and the materialistic intuition some of us have of others.

    That kind of reminds me of Jean-Francois Lyotard’s comment about our inability to fully comprehend subjective experiences. What truth-value does “the gas chambers were horrific” have for those who have never experienced such a thing. Obviously, historical fact is relevant, but we really can’t share the experiences of others, and that goes a long way with respect to something as great as another individual’s consciousness.

    In any event, I find myself persuaded by arguments (in addition to intuitions) in favor of mind-body dualism.

    Comment by Doug — November 9, 2009 @ 2:49 am | Reply

  4. I believe Descartes was a substance dualist in that he believed in physical substance and spiritual substance. I don’t really know if I would consider the soul to be a “substance” the way he did, as he almost saw it as another kind of matter. But I definitely find myself thinking that it is more than just an abstract idea or a concept. My only problem with emergentism would be that you could be led to a mind-brain type identity theory in that the mind is the “same” as brain processes with certain properties “emerging” to make it impossible to use the same words to describe them. I feel that the mind/soul is a separate entity from the body but that the two are very connected and interact with each other to a pretty great degree.

    This would be my only hesitation, because I don’t want to say that the brain processes even cause the mind, but that they are different altogether. I will have to check out Emergent Dualism though as well.

    Comment by Michael Sorentino — February 5, 2010 @ 12:59 am | Reply

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