Dualism

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“The Knower and the Known” by Stephen Parrish, Part 2

kk-parrishStephen Parrish’s The Knower and the Known is not merely a critique of physicalism. As we noted in the review of the first part, that critique itself is a decisive, thorough demolishing of major physicalist theories of mind. Here, we will explore Parrish’s exposition of a theory of consciousness.

Thought and Consciousness

What does it mean to have a thought? Parrish notes several aspects which go into the very act of knowing. There must be an object of knowledge; there must be a subject to consider the object; there must be consciousness in order to apprehend concepts and aboutness; there must be a relationship between subject and object and consciousness; there must be understanding of that relationship; and finally there must be a view of the world in which all of this can occur.

Consciousness itself is an extremely complex notion which involves phenomenality: the actual experience of thought; intentionality: the turning of one’s thoughts to consider an object; subjectivity: an agent which is itself the subject of the thought; and rationality: the capacity to order thoughts in such a way as to make sense of them. (206-213).

Consciousness has certain phenomenal properties. That is, when we consider our own thoughts, there is a distinct feeling to them which allows us to differentiate them from simple sense perceptions. There is an aspect of inentionality or attending-to our thoughts which is itself irreducible. Moreover, we are able to comprehend things which are themselves non-physical, such as the nature of a logical argument like modus ponens (226-228).

Consciousness must somehow interact with the physical world. If one is a physicalist, it becomes a matter of reducing consciousness to purely physical explanations, eliminating consciousness, or offering a brute relationship between consciousness and the physical world.

Qualia are also extremely important when considering consciousness. How is it that we are able to see objects as objects with certain properties? What process allows for individual particles/rays of light to manifest themselves in phenomenal consciousness in such a way as to provide a coherent picture of an object? Moreover, “there is more to recognizing qualia than just having color in one’s sensory field; there is also our attention to said qualia, the judgments we make about them, the objects that they represent, and also our memory of them–and these factors can make all of the difference” (257).

Subjectivity is also extremely important to forming a theory of consciousness. It seems that subjects are, in fact, irreducible. For the physicalist, the concept of a subject is extremely difficult. After all, a subject at t1 is going to be different from that subject at t2 in a number of highly relevant physical ways. Their neurons are firing differently from t1 to t2. How is it that subjectivity is maintained. The substance dualist holds that subjectivity is maintained through unity of consciousness which may not be reduced to the physical (291). The unity is preserved through intentionality but more thoroughly through rationality. The use of reason is one of the primary ways to offer continuity of the self. For the subject, S, at t3 is considering both thoughts at t1 and t2 in order to come to a  conclusion at t4. Reason itself has aspects of intentionality which cannot be accounted for on a physicalist view of reality, for a physical object is capable of performing mathematical computations but not understanding the aboutness inherent in those computations (266-267).

Our Minds in the World

Parrish grounds his understanding of consciousness in a theistic worldview. There are numerous difficulties with an account of substance dualism which seem to only be soluble on a theistic interpretation. One of these is the problem of the interaction between body and mind. If God exists, then it seems inherently possible that a deity would be capable of forming the world in such a way that mind could interact with body. Parrish addresses several objections to the notion that an immaterial being could interact with a physical universe while also making an argument for non-physical selfs apart from God interacting in the universe (324ff).

The match of our minds with the world is something which must be accounted for. Parrish notes that if we ground ideal objects in an immaterial being like God, the difficulties with such objects existence and subsistence may be solved. Moreover, the glorious match of our mental life with reality is also explained, for a rational being is the source of all which we observe. If that is the case, then we no longer must appeal to simple brute fact to attempt to explain the phenomena of consciousness; instead, we may note that it is exactly as one might expect given theism (337ff).

And Then There was More…

Parrish concludes the work with a brief comparison of physicalism and substance dualism across multiple questions related to consciousness and the physical world. Finally, there are two appendices which address free will/agency and the theory of panpsychism, respectively.

Conclusion

In Part 1 of this review I outlined Parrish’s discussion of physicalism. Here, we have seen the structure of his substance dualism. It seems to me that Parrish’s deconstruction of physicalism is quite powerful. In particular, I noted that he makes a strong argument that physicalist theories ultimately boil down into either epiphenomenalism or mysterianism, neither of which is plausible. Moreover, his use of numerous examples and thought experiments throughout makes the work easier to comprehend while also providing a solid basis for grounding further discussions in philosophy of mind. Finally, the vast amount of research and documentation Parrish provides makes the work invaluable as a reference for physicalist writings alongside its clear value as a thorough critique of those same works.

The second major section, in which Parrish outlines his view of a theistic dualist ontology, is equally important. He provides a large amount of background for understanding how to put together various aspects of consciousness while also noting that, on theism, these observed phenomena cohere within an ontology, while on physicalism they are generally either discredited or ignored. The one thing the work may lack is a bit of cohesion in the section on substance dualism. Parrish has given a broad vision for how to hold a dualist ontology, but sometimes leaves it up to the reader to put the pieces together. The pieces are there, but not always assembled. I should note, however, that even here Parrish has provided an invaluable resource for those who wish to argue for a dualist vision of philosophy of mind.

I have already noted that Parrish’s The Knower and the Known is a tour de force in the realm of analyzing physicalist theories. However, the work is much more than a simple refutation of physicalism. Alongside that critique, Parrish has laid out the groundwork for substance dualism as a cogent alternative. Simply put, it is a must read for anyone with any interest in philosophy of mind. Comprehensive in scope, exhaustively documented, and interesting to read, The Knower and the Known is a must-have.

Source

Stephen Parrish, The Knower and the Known (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press, 2013).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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Book Review: “The Knower and the Known” by Stephen Parrish – Part 1

kk-parrishWhat is the mind? Are humans purely physical beings? What are we to make of physicalist/materialist philosophies of the mind? Do these debates have any relevance for the existence of God?

Stephen Parrish seeks to answer these questions (and more) in his work, The Knower and the Known (hereafter KK). Perhaps most importantly, Parrish explores issues which range beyond the philosophy and mind and get at the foundations of ontology. The tome therefore provides insights not only into a wide range of topics related to philosophy of mind but also provides applications into other fields.

The work is split into two major sections. The first is an exploration of physicalist/materialist theories of mind; the second is an exploration of consciousness and how theism provides the best explanation for our phenomenal consciousness (among other things). We shall explore these in order. In this post, I shall focus upon Parrish’s critique of physicalism.

Physicalism

Parrish introduces the major physicalist theories related to the mind-body problem. These include reductionism, eliminativism, supervenience, and emergence. In order to make sense of the claim that the mind is a purely physical substance, it is important to come to an understanding of what it means to be “physical,” and Parrish cites numerous philosophers in order to come to a fairly simple working definition: “to be a material object (to be composed of matter) is ultimately to have certain kinds of causal power over certain areas” (69). The definition must, necessarily, be more complex. Thus, various aspects of dimension, space, and the like are explored. Then, KK provides an explanation of the standard materialist/physicalist view of reality, which is essentially that “everything that exists… can be located within space and time…” (85, Parrish’s definition cites that of C. Koons, and is also lengthier, but for the purpose of this review I have left it at this).

The nature of physicalism must also be understood in order to analyze the claims of physicalists. How is it, exactly, that the physical is to account for the mental? Parrish explores numerous ways proposed to explain physically the connection. These are centered around various proposed psycophysical laws, which hold that there are certain ways in which conscious states relate relation to other physical states. There have been many different proposals about how these laws might work.

According to the nomological theory, there is a lawlike correlation between conscious and other physical states. A nomological theorist would note the correlation between neurons firing in the brain and various mental states. The proposal would then lead to a law of correlation (and perhaps causation) for brain states b1, b2, and b3 with conscious states c1, c2, and c3. Parrish notes a number of problems with this theory, however. Most notably is the fact that there are sometimes different patterns of neurons firing for the same thought. Of course, a physicalist could counter that there are different laws for these different patterns as well. In that case, notes Parrish, “there would have to be laws to regulate the relation of every brain state with the relevant phenomenological aspect of thought to which it is correlated” (89-90). Of course, this becomes even more problematic when one considers that there is an infinite set of phenomenological aspects of our consciousness. That is, we can focus our minds around thinking of numbers and continue counting from one to a billion and beyond. For nomological theory to be correct, there must be a specific brain state for each of these thoughts (along with whatever different brain states would need to exist for the variations which can produce the same number). So there would then need to be an infinite set of laws to account for our mental life.

Yet there is another difficulty, for “since it seems possible for different types of brains to have the same conscious phenomenal thought, and every brain is constructed somewhat differently from every other brain, there would have to be even more laws that accounted for conscious items to accommodate all of the brain states of all the different brains” (90). To say that such a theory of mind begins to make a bloated metaphysics seems something of an understatement. And this is not to even begin to consider the possibility of other intelligent life in the universe, which would also need these lawlike relations for governing their conscious states.

And all of this is not to take into account the problems with explaining how and why there could be different patterns for the same thoughts not only across species but also across brains of the same species and also across individuals. A number of other possibilities are examined, including accidental correlation theory, realizability, and identity. Each of these comes with their own set of problems which Parrish elucidates (92-97).

Parrish throws the gauntlet at physicalist theories of mind in the chapter aptly titled “Judging Physicalist Theories of the Mind.” In this chapter, KK provides a thorough critique of all the major physicalist theories of mind. For the purpose of this review, I will only provide the briefest of summaries for each of these critiques. Mysterianism is essentially the notion that we cannot know how consciousness and the brain relate, but we do know that physicalism is true. The problem with this position is that such a position basically pushes the burden of proof unto other physicalist theories of mind as opposed to providing its own explanation, and the theory in fact seems to be just another form of epiphenomenalism.

Eliminativism is a simpler theory in which it is simply asserted that consciousness does not exist (133ff). Such a theory seems patently absurd on its face, yet some physicalist philosophers continue to maintain that despite any appearance to the contrary, “there are no conscious aspects, objects, properties, or events at all” (136). The difficulty with such a position is that it is “self-referentially incoherent” (137). That is, it cannot be consistently believed (whatever it means to “believe” something) that there are on mental state when, in order to have such a belief, one must have some sort of mental state. Parrish further offers a scenario to describe our world in terms of an eliminativist worldview, which would yield a kind of “zombie” world in which our fictional mental states have no relation to the world around  us (149-150).

Identity theory basically asserts that consciousness just is identical to the brain. Much work must be done to analyze this theory by noting which theory of identity one might hold to, along with how such a theory of identity might play out. KK provides just such an exploration and comes to conclude that any of these identity theories falls to a number of objections, including the arbitrariness of the connection between the physical and the [identical] consciousness (162-163). Supervenience theory, which holds that somehow the mental supervenes upon the physical, suffers from providing no actual explanation for how this should be the case and thus basically devolves into one of the other physicalist theories.

Functionalism is the theory that “the conscious mind is the brain functioning in a certain manner” (171). Again, the difficulty here is that this seems to boil down largely into a bare assertion and how closely related to (and probably reliant upon) eliminativism it is.

Higher order theories of mind posit that consciousness is something like the brain scanning itself. However, this provides no explanation for how consciousness could arise and thus is again parasitic upon other varieties of physicalism, most notably eliminativism.

Epiphenomenalism is at the core of Parrish’s critique, for throughout the work he shows in numerous ways how the other physicalist theories of mind are ultimately mysterian or epiphenomenal in nature. Epiphenomenalism is basically the view that consciousness is causally inefficacious. Thus, it is the brain which “does the work” while consciousness is some kind of byproduct of brain activity. However, such a theory does not adequately explain how consciousness may itself arise, nor does it provide any attachment for our thoughts to reality. It thus suffers again from self-referential incoherence, for our mental states have no causal attachment to our brain states or reality. They are, again, merely “epiphenomena” which somehow are generated by our brains. If our mental states happen to line up with reality, that becomes a merely happy accident, for our mental states do not control our brain states but are rather generated by them. This is not to imply that mental states must control brain states to give rise to coherency, but rather to note that unless our mental states are causal in some sense, the very process of rational thought is illusory, for our prior mental states have no connection to our past mental states other than to be generated in a certain temporal order.

Conclusion

We have outlined Parrish’s critique of physicalism. Next week, we shall explore his defense of dualism and his case for theism from the nature of intelligibility. However, by way of conclusions for this section, it is important to note the insights which Parrish has offered in KK. The arguments he presented seem devastating to physicalism. In particular, the fact that so physicalist theories of mind all seem to either ultimately appeal to mystery or reduce consciousness beyond causal powers undermine the physicalists’ ability to explain reality sufficiently. If a worldview cannot even account for something as basic as our thoughts, such a deficiency seems to bode ill for the rest of that view. As noted, we shall note a powerful alternative which Parrish argues for in the latter part of the book, theistic substance dualism.

Parrish, of course, offers much more thorough critiques of every position listed here (along with many that were not included in this outline). The work is extremely important in not only its comprehensiveness but also its thoroughness for exploring theories of mind.

Stephen Parrish’s The Knower and the Known is a tour de force in philosophy of mind. Comprehensive in scope, thoroughly researched (and referenced), and lucid in its insight, this is a book which must be on the shelf of anyone who is remotely interested in the areas it touches.

Source

Stephen Parrish, The Knower and the Known (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press, 2013).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Against Christian Materialism

central nervous systemIs it possible for Christians to be materialists? A number of Christians say that yes, it is. Here, I will argue that the conjunction of Christianity and materialism is indefensible.

The Biblical Witness

Having read a bit on this topic, I realize that many who are Christian materialists do not think that the Biblical data is conclusive. However, granting that this is their position, I would maintain that the Biblical evidence is very strong: we are more than a material body. Here, I will examine only a small collection of texts.**

Matthew 10:28- “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (NIV)

What does this text mean if the soul and the body are not different things which compose the human being?

Ecclesiastes 12:7- “and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.” (NIV)

When we die, our bodies–made of dust–return to the earth, but our spirit returns to God. What does this mean on materialism? Which part of our material selves go to God?

Revelation 6:9- “When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained.” (NIV)

The souls of those killed for their faith cry out for justice from under the altar. The objection may be made that this is apocalyptic language. In answer, I would simply point out that even then it makes no sense on materialism even in that context. What are the souls that are crying out in this vision? What is the referent for the alleged metaphor?

In Matthew 17:1-8, Jesus speaks with Moses and Elijah, who have died. Did God raise them bodily, and did they then die again immediately afterwards and decompose when they are no longer visible?

1 Peter 3:18-19- “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits…”

What was Jesus proclaiming the Gospel to? What is imprisoned? Where are the physical/material bodies in this passage? (Note that in context it is talking about those alive in Noah’s day–so again, where did their bodies go?)

Verses like these could be multiplied continually. Perhaps more telling is that the reasoning I’m using here regarding the texts and the distinction between body and soul is similar to the arguments put forth to justify the Trinity. That is, texts which discuss the Father and Son as different entities or even have all three persons of the Trinity in the same context are used to demonstrate that there really are three distinct persons in the Godhead. Yet this is exactly the type of argument I am here making for body and soul. They are used too many places together to be the same thing.

It seems to me utterly clear from the Biblical text that human beings are not purely material entities. Again and again texts can be shown to refer to the body on the one hand and the soul on the other. This is not to say that humans are necessarily one or the other; instead, it is to point out that humans are (at least) body and soul. (I say “at least” because there is a long tradition of trichotomy in Christianity wherein people hold that humans are body, soul, and spirit. I remain neutral in that debate and here only wish to show that humans are not merely material entities.)

The Philosophical Debate

Suppose that one maintains that the Biblical evidence is inconclusive. What then? Could we then say that Christianity and materialism are compatible, for materialism is not explicitly ruled out by the text? Here, I will offer two arguments against these conjoined propositions.

Identity Through Time

How do we maintain identity through time? Here, the problem must be answered by all materialists, not just Christian materialists.

The problem is, of course, that our bodies don’t maintain physical identity. We are continually replacing the physical parts of our body over time. Now, I am hesitant to make the oft-repeated claim that our entire bodies are replaced every so many years, as I have been unable to find any research confirming it. However, it simply is the case that large portions of our body are replaced. Given this fact, how do we maintain identity? What is it that keeps us the same person over time?

Another major problem is this: to which part of our body are we identical? Or, to put it another way, which parts of our body do we need to keep in order to be the same person? Here we can appeal to a thought experiment. A mad scientist has us captured and he wants to see how long we can maintain identity. Slowly, he replaces each part of our body with a new one with the exact same DNA, structure, etc. As he replaces these parts, he discards the old ones and destroys them. He starts with the legs. Then he moves to the midsection, replacing one organ at a time. Then the heart, the arms,  the ears, the eyes. When he gets  to the brain, he goes through and replaces only single neurons at a time.

The question is pretty obvious: When do we stop being the same person? The materialist simply has to admit that we are our bodies (for what else could we be?). But given that fact, to which part are we identical? The brain? If so, at one point in the experiment do we cease to exist? 51% of our brain is gone? 70%? All but one neuron? So is our identity grounded in that one neuron? If so, which one? Or is it just grounded in having any one neuron as the same? If so, how?

Frankly, I think this problem is devastating for materialists, but especially those who are Christians. Why would it be more acute for Christians? Well…

800px-Caravaggio_Doubting_ThomasIs There Hope in the Resurrection?

Central to the Christian hope is the hope for a future resurrection. The question which must be asked is this: Is this hope grounded in reality?

Suppose materialism were true. If that is the case, then humans are identical with their bodies in some fashion. I am intentionally vague here because I admit I’m not convinced as to how identity works within a Christian view of materialism (see above). If this were the case, then when we die and our material body decomposes, it may go on to become all sorts of different things, which themselves later pass away (plants may grow from the nutrients broken down from the body; then those plants may be harvested and eaten by other humans/animals/etc, which then die and are broken down, etc.). In the resurrection, then, God creates our body anew, complete–I assume–with our memories, experiences, etc. built in (perhaps they are simply functions of our brain, which God recreated perfectly, which thus contains our experiences).

Is there actual hope on this scenario?

Suppose the mad scientist were to come and kidnap you. He gleefully announces that he is going to use you for excruciatingly painful experiments which will take place over several years until you die. But, do not worry, because once you die, he is going to create a new body which is an exactly perfect copy of you, which will of course have all your experiences (minus this torturous one) and memories in place, and then he is going to give you billions of dollars.* Would you be comforted by this scenario? After all, you’re not going to remember the pain and you are going to come out the other end extremely rich!

Well there is a problem: the new body is not you. It is just a copy. For any materialist, this is problematic. We seem to know that identity transcends the body. But let us not delve into that difficulty right now. Instead, we will focus on Christian materialism. Now, it seems to me that this problem is almost the same for the Christian materialist with the Resurrection. After all, we are going to die. But we are told, don’t worry, we will be raised bodily by God! But whose body is going to be raised? How will God gather the material from our body (and at which time of our body–see above) in order to recreate us? And will not this body purely be a copy, rather than actually us?

There is a real disconnect here. Christian materialism cannot offer us the hope of the resurrection, without which our faith is worthless (1 Corinthians 15). Instead, it offers us the hope for our future copies, which will themselves have our memories and experiences, but will not be us. Our bodies will die and distribute throughout various portions of the world (even the universe–who knows if an asteroid might hit and distribute the molecules which made up our body elsewhere?). Then God will create us again in some fashion, and that body will live on in the Kingdom. But that body is not us. It will be a new body. This isn’t begging the question, it is merely stating a fact. The body that will be raised is not the body I have now. Thus, if I am my body, I am not raised.

Interestingly, Peter van Inwagen, a Christian philosopher who is himself a materialist, concedes the point I made in this section. In order to escape this extreme problem for Christian theology, he comes up with a rather unique solution: “Perhaps at the moment of each man’s death, God removes each man’s corpse and replaces it with a simulacrum which is what is burned or rots. Or perhaps God is not quite so wholesale as this: perhaps he removes for ‘safekeeping’ only the ‘core person’–the brain and the central nervous system–or even some special part of it… I take it that this story shows that the resurrection is a feat an almighty being could accomplish. I think it is the only way such a being could accomplish it…” (Van Inwagen, 121, cited below).

What response can we have to this? Well surely, it is possible for God to do this, but it raises all kinds of speculation. First, what Biblical evidence do we have to support that our bodies or our brains/nervous systems are  transported by God somewhere in order to preserve them? Honestly, I think that someone who posits this kind of miraculous working holds a burden of proof to support it. Second, where is this storage yard of brains/nervous systems? This question is not intended to beg the question. Instead, my intent is to point out that they would have to be somewhere in the physical universe. Thus, we should be able to find a planet where all the brains/central nervous systems of everyone who ever died are being stored. Third, given this, could we potentially destroy this planet and thus destroy all possibility of the resurrection? Fourth, other than as a completely ad hoc measure to preserve the possibility of hope, what possible justification (philosophical, theological, and/or Biblical) do we have for this?

On the whole, it seems to me that Peter van Inwagen’s proposed solution fails. It fails because it is extremely ad hoc and because it may not even solve the problem it is intended to solve. Thus, it seems to me that Christian materialism fails as a worldview. 

Conclusion

I have offered several arguments against the conjunction of Christianity and materialism. I think any one of these arguments is successful on its own (I should note that I also think the argument from the ego is successful–I have argued here against atheistic materialism, but this argument would be equally successful against Christian materialism). If any one is successful, the conjunction of Christianity and materialism must be false. Frankly, I think all the arguments are successful. I leave the Christian materialist to justify their position.

Links

Like this page on Facebook: J.W. Wartick – “Always Have a Reason.”

If Materialism, are there Subjects?- I contend that a materialist worldview cannot account for subjects. This post was written specifically to address atheistic materialism, but is perfectly relevant for theistic materialism as well.

Sources

*I am indebted to Alvin Plantinga and Stephen Parrish for this type of argument.

**I am indebted to Kevin A. Lewis for his list of texts provided in his “Essentials of Christian Doctrine II” syllabus.

Peter van Inwagen “The Possibility of Resurrection,” International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, 9:2 (1978), 114ff.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

If materialism, are there subjects?

In this post I seek to establish one premise: If materialism is true, there are no subjects.

There has been much extended discussion in my post on atheism’s universe, wherein (in the comments) I asserted that, on atheism, there are no subjects. It is high time I clarified my position and drew out its implications.

Materialism and Atheism

My argument is based upon a materialist or physicalist view of reality [I use the terms 'materialism' and 'physicalism' interchangeably here--I realize they are sometimes used to delineate differences between hard and soft materialists, but for the sake of this post one may assume that any time I mention "physicalism" I mean materialism at large]. I am asserting that: if physicalism is true, there are no such things as “subjects.” I’ve briefly argued elsewhere (see the post linked above) that the only consistent atheism is materialistic. For atheists who are not materialists, I leave it to them to show that their view consistently allows for immaterial entities.

The Nature of a “Subject”

One constant objection to my position is that I never defined what I meant by “subject.” One reason I did not seek to define the term is because  I did not want the debate to boil down into a semantic war over the meaning of subject. There are some features of “subjects” which most parties agree upon, but how to lay out those features is hotly debated. Further, I did not wish to beg the question against the materialist by defining a subject in such a way that no materialist ontology could even attempt to approach it (suppose I defined a “subject” as a “wholly mental feature of reality which acts as the center of consciousness”; in such a case, I’ve added nothing to the discussion because I’ve excluded materialism from the debate without argument).

There is no easy way to define what is meant by “a subject.” I will seek now to define it as broadly as possible, so as to avoid any questions begged.

A Subject: 

  1. Is the referent of the term, “I”
  2. Endures from moment-to-moment as one being. A subject would be the same subject at T2 as it was at T1.
  3. Accounts for any mental states–whether they are actually aphysical or physical.

Hopefully these terms are agreeable to both sides. I’m sure people on either side will want to flesh out the notion of “subject” more, but it seems to me that these points can be acknowledged by all. The first point seems to be fairly clearly true. It is “I” who experience x and not someone else. The second point is necessary for subjects because otherwise “I” would be a different “I” from T1 to T2, and in fact not be the same being at all. The third point, likewise, seems fairly obvious, because it seems mental life is what comprises a subject to begin with. Whether the image in my mind of a cat is a purely physical phenomenon or not, any theory of the mind must take it into account.

Materialism Fails to Account for One and Many

On materialism, what is it that is the referent of the term “I”? Is it my brain (only)? Is it my body? What am “I”? I will here offer a brief argument that no materialist account can take seriously the notion that “I” am distinct from other entities. It is, basically, an offshoot of the “one and the many” problem in philosophy.

Materialism holds that all which exists is matter. Thus, “I” am composed of matter. The problem is distinguishing between everything else and me, for ultimately “I” am just a rearrangement of matter. Suppose that all matter is referred to as (M), and I am referred to by (I). Ultimately, on materialism, (I) is reducible to (M), which is really just all real being on materialism. Why suppose there are separate entities, (I) and (I2) and (I3) when all are, ultimately, (M)? It is much simpler to just suppose that (M) is all and that (I), (I2), and (I3) are (M) in rearranged forms.

Now I don’t suppose for a moment this isn’t highly contentious. Some will come along and say that their own experience is enough to confirm that they are a different being from every other. But why suppose this? Ultimately, that conscious experience is reducible to the brain, which is reducible to matter, which is everything. On materialism, there really is just one “thing”: the material universe as a whole. The “parts” of this “thing” are ultimately reducible to smaller and smaller particles which comprise all the “things” themselves. Ultimately, all is matter, merely arranged in different ways at different times. I’m not suggesting that matter is some kind of single entity. It is particulate. But matter is also one kind of thing. Ultimately, on materialism, all things are just this kind of thing: material. The only way to differentiate between them is by time and place, but even then every individual thing is itself composed of particles of matter. All things are reducible to the same thing.

What can save materialists from this? Materialists would have to embrace a robust metaphysics in order to supply a way out for the problem of “the one and the many.” Yet it seems to me that no materialist can take seriously a robust metaphysics, because they would then have to posit distinctions between entities that are aphysical. Positing such entities or properties would be decidedly contrary to materialism. For example, one solution is that entities are distinct in that all share being itself, but they also have essences which distinguish them from other things (see Clarke, 72ff, cited below). For a materialist to embrace this, they would have to hold that each individual person has an immaterial essence which is such that it makes it distinct from other entities. But of course, that would fly in the face of materialism. It seems to me, therefore, that materialism has no way to answer the problem of “the one and the many.”

Materialism Fails to Provide Enduring Identity

On what basis can a materialist affirm that I, J.W., am the same subject now as I was 20 years ago? All my matter has been replaced. There is no material component of me which is the same as it was back then. Yet my experience tells me that I am the same subject.

How can materialists account for this?

One possibility is that they can simply point out that I am numerically identical to my past self. Although the individual pieces of matter which comprise me are not the same as they were 20 years ago, they were replaced only in portions, during which my body endured as a totality.

The difficulty with this scenario is that it only serves to underscore the problems with materialism. Imagine a mad scientist, who, over the course of a day, cuts my brain into 24 pieces. Each hour, he removes one piece of my brain and places it into another body, which has no brain. He simultaneously replaces the piece of brain with an exact molecular copy. After the day, there is a body which has my brain in it, and my body, which has a copy of my brain in it. Which is me? And, if that question can be answered on materialism (which I doubt), when did my body/brain cease being me and transfer to the other body/brain?

Materialism simply cannot answer these questions. The worldview is baffled by them. Yet in order for something to be a subject, it must endure through time. On materialism, I have not endured through time at all. My entire being–from my fingers to the hairs on my head to my brain–is material, and has been replaced by new material. Where am “I”?

Materialism Cannot Account for Mental States

There are at least five features of mental states which materialism cannot take into account. They are:

  • The feeling of “‘what-it-is-like’ to have a mental state such as a pain”
  • Intentionality
  • Inner, private, and immediate access to the subject
  • Subjective ontology which is irreducible to the third person
  • They lack spatial extension, location, etc. (Adapted from Moreland, 20, cited below)

While delving into these in great detail is beyond the reach of this post, I have already addressed a few of them in my post arguing for Substance Dualism against Monism. It seems that, on materialism, one must embrace supervenience and epiphenominalism in order to preserve mental states. Consider the following:

When I experience thought A’, it is because of a prior brain state, A. My mental states are either identical to, or supervenient upon, the physical state of my brain. The problem with this is that it relegates mental states to epiphenomenalism… This is because the mental state is entirely dependent upon (or identical to) the brain state. On physicalism, a mental state does not occur without a brain state occurring prior to, or in conjunction with, it.

…If it is always the case that Brain state A=> Mental state A’, then Brain state A causes whatever actions we take, for the brain state entails the mental state, which itself is identical to or supervenient upon the brain state to exist. But then, if we cut mental state A’ out of the equation, we would still have Brain state A and the action. Thus, consciousness is entirely superfluous. (Wartick, http://jwwartick.com/2010/11/10/against-monism/)

Reflection upon the supervenience of the mental on the physical leads materialist philosopher Jaegwon Kim to writes:

To think that one can be a serious physicalist and at the same time enjoy the company of things and phenomena that are nonphysical [by this he is referring to consciousness, the causal powers of thought, etc.], I believe, is an idle dream. (Kim, 120, cited below)

Objections

Objection 1: One of the most common objections I have encountered when I reason in this fashion is the common sense objection: “I think, therefore I am a subject!” or, as one commented on another post, “I’m an [atheist]. I have meaning. It’s possible.”

Such notions are scoffed at by materialist philosophers. Paul Churchland, the famed materialist and philosopher of mind, writes:

You came to this book assuming that the basic units of human cognition are states such as thoughts, beliefs, perceptions, desires, and preferences.  That assumption is natural enough: it is built into the vocabulary of every natural language… These assumptions are central elements in our standard conception of human cognitive activity, a conception often called ‘Folk psychology’ to acknowledge if as the common property of folks generally.  Their universality notwithstanding, these bedrock assumptions are probably mistaken.

In other words, the notion that “I’m a subject! I have meaning!” is nothing more than a philosophical dinosaur, a remnant of our ‘folk psychology’ which we should cast off now that we know the truth of materialism. Those who object in such a fashion as materialists seem to be blissfully unaware that they stand aligned against the vast majority of materialistic philosophy of mind. They must justify their position, but cannot, as they arguments above have shown.

Objection 2: Neuroscience has shown that the brain is the center of consciousness. When we think things, we can observe specific areas of activity in the brain. 

This objection is clearly mistaken. The previous arguments have sought to establish the premise: On materialism, there are no subjects. I could easily grant Objection 2 without doing any damage to my arguments. Sure, when we “think thoughts” we may be able to observe effects in the brain. How does it then follow that “we” are subjects? All that this has done–assuming I grant it–is show that our consciousness is somehow related to our brains. It doesn’t demonstrate that mind is identical to brain, nor does it justify the position that “I am a subject.” In fact, it seems to undermine the notion that materialism can explain subjects, because it implies, once more, that “I” am reducible to “my brain” which is, of course, reducible to its component matter as well.

Conclusion: That There Are No Subjects on Materialism and the Implications Thereof

Any one of these problems provides insurmountable problems for materialists who believe they are, themselves, subjects. There is no way, on materialism, to distinguish the one from the many; there is no way for subjects to endure; mental states are reduced to causally inert epiphenomena; and there is no way to account for mental phenomena.

Thus, if atheism is committed to materialism, and materialism cannot account for subjects, it  follows that, without question, there is no meaning on atheism. There cannot even be subjective meaning, for to reference something as a “subject” is, itself, illusory.

Sources

Jaegwon Kim, Mind in a Physical World (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000).

J.P. Moreland, The Recalcitrant Imago Dei (London, UK: SCM Press, 2009).

Paul Churchland,The Engine of Reason, The Seat of the Soul: A Philosophical Journey into the Brain, (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1996).

W. Norris Clark, The One and the Many: A Contemporary Thomistic Metaphysics (South Bend, IN: Notre Dame, 2001).

SDG.

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Omniscience, Substance Dualism, and Private Access

I recently attended a seminar on God and Time with William Lane Craig (view my post on it here). One topic (among many) that caught my interest was Craig’s denial of one of the arguments for substance dualism, namely, the “private access” of some truths.

J.P. Moreland argues for private access in his work The Recalcitrant Imago Dei: Human Persons and the Failure of Naturalism. He argues that mental states have an “ofness or aboutness–directed towards an object” which is “inner, private, and immediate to the subject having them” (20, emphasis his). Basically, the claim is that even were someone else to know everything about J.W. Wartick, they could not say that they know what it is to say “I am J.W. Wartick”, because they are not J.W. Wartick. Certain truths and facts are such that only the knower can know them. I cannot say I am Abraham Lincoln, because I am not him. Nor could I say that I was Abe Lincoln even were I to comprehensively know everything about Abe Lincoln from the events that occurred in his life to the exact synapses in his brain. There is something about a phrase like “I am Abe Lincoln” which only Abe Lincoln can know.

Interestingly, Craig denied that there was such a thing as “private access.” He argued that, were this the case, it would mean God is not omniscient.

Why should it follow that God is not omniscient? Well, Craig defines omniscience as “Knowledge of any and all true statements” (definition from my lecture notes). Due to the fact that God would not know true facts which have private access, argued Craig, there is no such thing as private access. This seemed like an odd way to go about denying private access in regards to substance dualism. The argument seemed to be:

1) Omniscience =def.: God knows any and all true statements.

2) God is omniscient.

3) Truths available only through private access would entail truths God does not know

4) Either God is not omniscient or there are not truths available only through private access (1, 2, 3)

5) God is omniscient (2)

6) Therefore, there are no truths available only through private access (4, 5)

The argument would work, if one agrees with the definition of omniscience in (1). But I find it more likely that omniscience is analogous to omnipotence, which is defined as God’s ability to do anything logically possible. Why should it not be the case that God can only know things which are logically possible to know? On such a view, then, private access would not challenge omniscience whatsoever, because it would be logically impossible for God to know truths only knowable to their subjects.

I brought this up to Craig, and he responded by saying that my definition of omniscience made it into a modal property, and omniscience is not a modal property. I don’t see why omniscience could not be a modal property. In fact, it seems to me as though it is necessarily modal. Omniscience entails that any being which is omniscient would have to know all possible truths about all possible worlds (for any being who did not know truths for all possible worlds could be outdone by a being which knew about more possible worlds), which is clearly a modal claim. So it seems to me omniscience is clearly a modal property, and there is no problem revising Craig’s definition to:

(7) Omniscience=def.: A being is omniscient if it knows everything it is logically possible to know.

Further, a denial of (7) would seem obviously contradictory because one who denies (7) would have to assert:

(7`): Omniscience=def.: A being is omniscient if it knows everything, including things it is logically impossible to know.

And this would lead to contradictions about omniscience. So I don’t see any reason not to revise Craig’s definition of omniscience to note that God can only know that which it is logically possible to know (for a denial of this would imply God’s knowledge could be contradictory). But then private access provides no challenge to omniscience, and Craig’s denial falls apart.

Finally, “private access” seems like an intuitively obvious feature of knowledge. How could one deny that there are truths such as “I am J.W. Wartick”? It seems clear that only I can experience what it is to be J.W. Wartick. So I think it is necessary to modify Craig’s definition and simply deny his argument, both because God cannot know or do the logically impossible, and because “private access” is such a well-established phenomenon.

Edit: See the interesting discussion in the comments below. I am forced to modify the definition I presented in this post in the comments below due to an insightful comment by Midas. Those interested can read below or just read my modification here: “A being is omniscient iff it knows all truths which are not delineated by private access [of others] or experiential knowledge [of others].”

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation and provide a link to the original URL. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

The Case for Dualism: Against Monism

Substance dualism seems to be the most reasonable position when it comes to consciousness. I’m going to be exploring the reasons for this throughout several posts.

Substance dualism is the idea that our conscious self is a combination of both a physical and non-physical reality. That is, our consciousness is not just neurons firing in the brain, but also some kind of phenomenal self, which is separate from the physical realm.

One reason for holding to substance dualism is that it avoids the problems of monistic physicalism. Physicalism argues that our conscious self is literally the brain. There is nothing but neurons firing in the brain (okay, it’s a lot more complicated than that, but the general idea is that our brain is our “self”).

Physicalism, therefore, leads to a kind of monism–everything is matter. Depending on which physicalist philosopher one prefers, this can lead to all sorts of problems. We can see this when we examine what exactly composes a “thought.” On dualism, a “thought” is a non-physical, phenomenal experience of the “self”–which is generally referred to either as “mind” or “soul.” On physicalism, a “thought” is identical with a brain state.

In other words, on Physicalism:

Brain state A => Mental state A’

Brain state B => Mental state B’

And so on.

When I experience thought A’, it is because of a prior brain state, A. My mental states are either identical to, or supervenient upon, the physical state of my brain. The problem with this is that it relegates mental states to epiphenomenalism. That is, if a mental state is wholly dependent on a brain state, the mental state is superfluous. This is because the mental state is entirely dependent upon (or identical to) the brain state. On physicalism, a mental state does not occur without a brain state occurring prior to, or in conjunction with, it.

This, in turn, leads to epiphenomenalism because the mental state is, as  I said, superfluous. If it is always the case that Brain state A=> Mental state A’, then Brain state A causes whatever actions we take, for the brain state entails the mental state, which itself is identical to or supervenient upon the brain state to exist. But then, if we cut mental state A’ out of the equation, we would still have Brain state A and the action. Thus, consciousness is entirely superfluous.

Another problem with this is that it also means consciousness doesn’t have to have any connection with the actual world. Our brain states could be causing all kinds of wild mental states which are completely unconnected to what is happening outside of our “self,” but we would never know it or act differently. I could be having the mental states of pigs flying and eating buffaloes as I write this, but it wouldn’t matter because the brain state is what is causative. The mental state is simply a byproduct of the brain state. Or, we could all be zombies, without any kind of phenomenal consciousness, and yet still be performing the same actions.

Yet another problem, on the physicalist perspective, is that there seems to be no reason for our mental states to line up with reality. Why is it that despite the fact that our brain state is causing all of our actions, or mental state seems to line up with those actions? There doesn’t seem to be any reason our mental states should line up with reality. One response could be that we have no reason to suppose they do line up with reality, but then we have no reason to trust anything we “think” and should give up whatever positions we do hold.

Of course, monistic physicalism actually argues that there is no mental state A’ generated by brain state A, but I don’t see any reason for believing this is true, for they are of two completely different kinds. One is gray mush, the other is a phenomenal image of a cat. One is composed of neurons shooting impulses to and fro, the other is the idea that “I wish I had eaten breakfast.” The law of identity states that A = A. But, according to monistic physicalism, my gray mush/neurons firing = image of cat. This is simply false.

So, I have no reason to accept physicalism on any of these formulations, and every reason to reject it. Physicalism is epiphenomenal, gives us reasons to doubt our basic intuitions, and makes any thoughts we have completely arbitrary.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation and provide a link to the original URL. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

 

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