Friday, June 21, 2013

Why I Am a Substance Dualist

I. Introduction

In this post I'm going to explain why I'm a substance dualist rather than a hylomorphic dualist. So the title might be an instance of false advertising, insofar as I'm not really going to explain in detail why I'm not a materialist of any sort. I will say that I think there is little evidence for reductive materialism/physicalism/naturalism, and that there is strong evidence for at least some minimal form of dualism. (See, just for a couple of examples, this and this.) I won't say much more than this here, other than that I find the sort of "classic" dualist objections from qualia, intentionality, consciousness, personal identity, etc. among others convincing, and I do not feel there has been a good reply. I don't mean to sound dogmatic, it's just that, based on the evidence, at this moment I don't consider materialism to be a very strong option. If anyone is genuinely curious about this or feels otherwise though, please feel free to ask.

II. Animalist & Substance Dualist Background

Before explaining my view, I should explain the views in question. The definitions should be clear enough, but they can be made more detailed and precise.

Substance dualism I take to be the theory that the soul is a substance distinct from the body, the soul is immaterial, and that we are identical to a soul. Hylomorphic dualism I understand to be the theory that we are identical to rational animals, which are composites of matter and form, and that our soul (which is the form) has immaterial components. Animalism is the view that human persons are identical to human animals. Clearly then hylomorphic dualism is a form of animalism. Since in characteristic scholastic fashion I basically believe all material substances are hylomorphic composites, and I'm a dualist, as far as I'm concerned establishing animalism is both necessary and sufficient for establishing hylomorphic dualism. So for me the dispute really comes down to deciding between substance dualism and animalism.

In modern times, the biggest proponent of animalism is probably Eric Olson. For those uninitiated into Eric Olson's papers, the argument he gives in its favor is basically as follows:

(a) There is an animal where you are.
(b) It is thinking and you are thinking
(c) There is only one thinking thing where you are; so,
(d) You are an animal.

(a) seems impeccable. Just look at your body: It is clearly alive and in the shape of an organism, it descends from an evolutionary history, and moreover all biologists think it belongs to the species 'homo sapiens'. (b) I am a bit more unsure of; maybe you will say that thinking and rationality cannot develop out of matter, so that no organism could have thoughts. However, clearly even lower animals have some sort of conscious perceptual experience, and thus at the very least you and the animal are both having conscious awareness. You could revise (c) to say there is only one conscious thing where you are (where consciousness means having some sort of experience), and the conclusion would still follow.

Since (c) is the only premise which appears not unquestionable, the cost of denying this argument's conclusion is to say there is more than one conscious subject wherever you are. This seems counter-intuitive to say the least. First of all, all sorts of new obligations follow which we generally would deny exist; for instance, whenever you are fasting, you are subjecting the animal which follows you around to fasting and such against its will. More generally whenever you subject yourself to pain, you subject the animal to it as well. Whenever you make love to a person, not only you but another animal are as well. Etc.

I'll be honest, I have found this to be the most compelling argument in favor of some sort of animalism, which says that rather than me being identical to a soul I'm identical to an animal. (But more on this in a moment.)

However, with all that said, I find this argument quite compelling for the thesis that I am not identical to an animal:

(1) Some disembodied conscious subject psychologically continuous with me continues to exist after death.
(2) I am this subject.
(3) The animal associated with me does not continue to exist after death.
(4) So I am not identical to the animal associated with me.

(1) I take to be a datum of Christian theology (at the very least it's Catholic teaching). (2) I take to be extremely hard to deny; suppose I am about to die, and before I die I begin to say in my head "IIIIIIIIIIII think, therefore I exist". It is extremely counter-intuitive to think that if I am holding the "IIIIIIIIIIII" syllable as I die, that before my death it refers to me, then after death it either ceases to refer or refers to something other than me. In effect, denial of (2) seems to be a denial of Descartes's "cogito"; for you could be thinking, but then a moment later cease to exist--while thinking the same thought! If one doesn't like this specific example, one could probably easily come up with something similar enough to get the point across, the main point being that it is very counter-intuitive to believe that I could be thinking, and meanwhile this same conscious subject turns into a person different from me. Since (3) is equally if not more obvious than (2), from all these three premises (4) follows.

Given (4), the best way to make sense of all these facts seems to me to be substance dualism.

III. Substance Dualist Rejoinder

For a while I've sort of been at a fork in the road, not really sure which way to go; to me, both arguments have seemed very good on the face of it. However, on re-examining it, I think that Olson's argument will not appeal to substance dualists, because of his premise (b) that both the animal is thinking and you are thinking. For the animalist, the motivation behind this premise is that it seems animals can think, and thus the animal associated with you should be able to as well. However, I think the substance dualist can plausibly deny that animals think per se, if 'animal' is just taken to be the biological organism. Rather, substance dualists can plausibly say that animals have souls too; since they are also conscious, the same sorts of arguments for the immateriality of our minds would apply to theirs just as well. Hence, it is the animal's soul which thinks, properly speaking. So all Olson can really justifiedly say is that both you and an animal's soul are thinking, from which it follows you are identical to an animal's soul; but the substance dualist will have no problem agreeing that we are identical to some animal's soul.

Note what saying animals have souls does not mean: It does not entail that humans are basically just like lower animals. Human souls and lower animal souls may be very different, insofar as one possesses intellect and the other does not. It also does not entail that animals will survive death, though it may entail the possibility of their doing so. Finally, it does not entail anything really more weird than hylomorphic dualism does: For even on hylomorphic dualism it is common to say that animals (and even plants) have souls, the difference being that humans possess a rational soul including intellectual capacities, whereas lower animals have only the capacity for sensation. The substance dualist seems to me to be saying something very similar.

IV. Conclusion

There is a lot more that could be said about substance dualism: How exactly does it fit into an Aristotelian metaphysical framework? What are the deeper metaphysical, epistemological, and even ethical implications? Does it fit in with Christian theology in other areas, like Christology or the Resurrection? Doesn't it just make us out to be angels? How does the soul interact with the body? What is the nature of the union between the soul and the body? While I think these are all good questions and replies can be given to all of them, I don't want to try to answer everything in this post. Answering all these questions would probably turn into a book-length project. All I want to do is explain why I've chosen substance dualism over hylomorphic dualism: While I am open to other arguments as well as hearing other options, as of now I have found the arguments in favor of substance dualism convincing, and the arguments in favor of animalism, which I take to be the key consideration, wanting.


David Braine said...

if my essence was such that I am a soul, there would be no need of a resurrection but we would be altogether as the angels are, not only no longer marrying or being given in marriage, but without bodies at all.
People do not realise that what was essential to the Thomistic view of man was not that the soul depended on the body except in their essential link in coming into existence in unity, but that the body depends upon the soul for its organisation form of life, nd identity and existence as what and which it is. It is the body which depends in all these respects upon the soul, not vice versa

awatkins69 said...

Thank you for commenting Prof. Braine. I will frankly admit I have only had a chance to read a few sections of your book on this topic, but I will read the whole thing as soon as possible.

With that said, I do not think it follows that we are angels or that we need no resurrection.

With regard to the point about angels, it is consistent with my definition of substance dualism to affirm that we are souls but our mind is of an entirely different type than angels: For instance, I can say that angels have knowledge by direct intuition, whereas we only know through discursive reasoning i.e. reasoning step by step. So our minds are lesser than the angels, and we are not angels. I can even affirm that whatever is in the mind is first in the senses; so in order to have any cognitive or mental activity we must have first been embodied. This is a second difference with angels. Furthermore, I can say that angels do not have sensory capacities and necessarily only know by direct intuition. This would be a third difference with angels. Many more could be produced. So I don't think from the fact that neither us nor angels are essentially embodied it follows that we are the same as angels.

With regard to the resurrection, I can also affirm (and this is another difference between us and angels) that we are most perfectly exercising our capacities when we sense, when we are united with our bodies, when we are interacting with the material world, etc.; in other words, that we are teleologically ordered toward being embodied, even if we are not *essentially* embodied. Hence, the resurrection.

As regards what you have said about the Thomistic view of the soul, I agree that on this view the soul does not depend on the body to subsist, but that is not so much my worry. My worry is more that when I die, on the Thomistic view it is no longer *me* which continues to exist, but it is *only my soul*. I think this is problematic for the reasons stated in my post.

As far as the body depending upon the soul, I do affirm as the Church teaches that the soul is the substantial form of the human body (Descartes, as a faithful Catholic, affirmed this as well) How I interpret this though would probably be the way J.P. Moreland (and possibly Francisco Suarez) do: The soul is the substantial form of the human body insofar as the soul's being united with the human body makes it (a) to even be a *human* body and (b) gives it its distinctly human causal powers as a human body.

Leo M said...

Thanks for the post, Alfredo! Re: your proposal about animals (that they have immaterial thinking souls, too), I wonder if you couldn't press a sorites-style objection. Plainly, there are animal species which don't think, like some sponges, and animal species that clearly do, like apes. What's more, you can line up species in a descending order of how clear a case of thinkers they are: beavers would come near the high end, slugs somewhere near the low end. Unless you adopt a strange position like epistemicism, presumably you'll run into genuinely vague or indeterminate cases, where an organism doesn't determinately think or not think.

Here's the problem: suppose a member of each species in this sequence from apes to sponges is placed in a box, one after the other. At any given time, there will be a set of just those things which are a.) in the box and either b.) an organism or c.) an immaterial soul. In the case of the sponge, the set would be the singleton of the sponge in the box. In the case of the ape or human, it would be the set of the organism and its soul. But what about the vague cases of whether the organism thinks? What're their sets' cardinalities? A set can't have a vague cardinality, presumably, without making membership vague, and in turn making identity vague. But it's generally thought that vagueness of identity is impossible. But if the cardinality of such a set is two or greater, then there (determinately) is a soul in the box, which presumably means that the animal is (determinately) capable of thought, just like the ape.

Does that argument make sense? Like I said, I really liked the post, so I don't think this is necessarily a knock-down argument, just a problem your view might face.

awatkins69 said...

Thanks for reading and commenting Leo. A lot of what I've written here is basically taken from previous conversation with you.

Now, your objection makes perfectly good sense, and I do have some thoughts.

I should first note that "think" is a bit of a fudge word, and I prefer to just use the phrase "sensory experience." I think any organism which is having some sort of sensory experience is going to have a soul in some way like ours (an immmaterial substance), since I think the common dualist arguments from qualia and consciousness will apply just as well to them. (Side-note: I feel this is another good reason against hylomorphic dualism; it is not clear about the status of qualia/phantasms and whether HD is committed to their materiality or not.) So if our criterion for having a soul is just having some sort of sensory experience, maybe this is not so vague. It's not so clear what it would mean to be "half-sensing" or "semi-sensing".

Second, while the cardinality of a set cannot be vague, when you are defining a set intensionally the description you use can certainly be vague, and thus may not pick out determinately any particular set. So if your criterion is vague then that doesn't contradict anything about the cardinality of sets or the determinateness of identity, it just shows your terms do not pick out a particular set. And the vagueness of the reference or denotation of some terms does not seem to me to be a particularly substance dualist issue.

Finally, I feel I should note the "tu quoque" you might have seen coming. On hylomorphic dualism, things can be divided into those with vegetative souls, sensitive souls, and rational souls. Now the criterion for whether some non-human living thing counts as having a sensitive soul is whether it can sense or not, which is the same criterion as mine for the lower organism's having an immaterial soul. So if the criterion for whether something counts as having a soul on my view is vague then the criterion for whether something counts as having a sensitive soul is vague as well.

Now, let's modify your thought experiment a bit. Suppose I have my box and my zoo lined up, but I also have a rock. I put my rock in the box, then I start putting in my pets one by one. At any given time, there will be a set of just those things which are a.) in the box and either b.) a rock or c.) an animal with a sensitive soul. Now, with my ape, the cardinality of the set will be 2, with my sponge, the cardinality will be 1. But then if there are vague cases about whether the organism is sensing, and this makes it unclear about the cardinality of the set in your example, then it is just as unclear here what the cardinality of the set will be in my example.

So, while well thought out, it seems to me this is not a damning objection, and even if it is then it is not one which will help me to choose hylomorphic dualism over substance dualism.

Leo M said...

Glad to be able to comment, Alfredo. Some of your remarks did sound pretty familiar. :)

On thinking vs. sensorily experiencing, I'm still not entirely convinced that you avoid vagueness by opting for the latter as a criterion for having an immaterial soul. I assume, for example, that the evolutionary history of animal senses must have been something like a sorites case: clear non-sensers one end, like a vegetative mass with a single freak photosensitive cell, and clear sensers on the other, like vertebrates with developed eyes, with only infinitesimal changes from generation to generation, making a clear cut-off implausible again. So, we can imagine the zoo to consist of all my ancestors, down to that first vegetative mass.

You're spot on about my cardinality argument: the way I defined it, it just doesn't work. I think it can be remedied, though. Placing each animal in my zoo one by one, you can take the set of *substances* in the box each time, which will land you with the same problem as before, since the organism and soul are each presumably a substance. Making some assumptions, though, I think you could even take the concept "substance" out of the equation and make the argument work.

Assume classical extensional mereology is true and there is no gunk, for example. Then at any time, there will be a set of just those things that are in the box (a predicate we can stipulate to be perfectly precise). In cases where there determinately is not a soul-having animal, the cardinality of that set will one less than the cardinality of the power set of the set of all the organism's atoms (every possible fusion of the atoms minus the null set), while in cases where there determinately is an ensouled creature, the set will be larger than that. Since the only predicate used to define the set is by stipulation non-vague, in each case the description will pick out a set. In the vague cases, it would seemingly have to be vague whether the cardinality of the set of all boxed objects is or is not one less than the cardinality of the power set of the set of all the organism's atoms.

I'm not sure whether hylemorphic dualism faces the objection in this form, because I'm not clear whether Aristotle is always ontologically committed, in the sense necessary, to the relevant soul. Aristotelians like to point out that the form of a substance is not in general a "further thing" beyond the substance, for example.

I suppose I should put it out there that questions about non-human animals are what have always inclined me against qualia-based dualistic arguments and substance dualism: not only is it weird to think of the rabbits I saw this morning by the lakefront having separate substances as souls, animals in general having souls raises awkward questions like those above about vagueness. But maybe the substance dualist should just admit to being okay with vague identity: Terence Parsons defends it pretty ably, for one, or at least has given strong arguments that it's not *more* problematic than vagueness in general.

Leo M said...

BTW, I don't think the no-gunk assumption and CEM are necessary to that version of the thought experiment. It's just easier to assume them, and tweak it if you disagree (as you probably should lol).

Anonymous said...

I picked this (blog) up from a friend on Fb and have read it (several times) with interest. Thank you Alfredo for posting it.
Since I take the view that if anything 'has' a soul (anima) an animal does (virtually by definition)and furthermore that if any creature is immortal, an animal is (not having sampled the forbidden fruit, and become more mechanoid than animated)I am not sympathetic towards talk of 'lower' species (except arguably vis a vis angels, but even then with grave reservations). I do not subscribe to Thomist metaphysics or the view that scholasticism represents (the best) Catholic philosophising because it seems to me (too) reliant on Aristotle rather than the Gospels (though it's a good framework for undergraduates to exercise on). What has Athens to do with Jerusalem, I want to know (like Shestov, I suspect very little, and this pontificating about animals' inferiority - however it is 'explained' - seems a measure of the distance (or abyss) between the two 'cities')
Does this make me an animalist? I don't think so (though monism in a Spinozist sense has always fascinated me, I'm far too Spanish to disagree with Unamuno)

awatkins69 said...

Hey Leo, sorry for taking a while to reply. So, first, I want to get clear on what the general form of your argument is. Is it supposed to be like this:

(1) If substance dualism is true, then it is vague how many substances (or things) there are in the box.
(2) It is not vague how many substances (or things) there are in the box.
(3) So substance dualism is not true.

And in support of (1), you have given the various thought experiments. In support of (2), you have given objections from cardinality and vague identity. Against (1), I have tried to make the point that 'having sensation' is not obviously vague, and also tried to say that just the description you are using to define your sets is vague. And I have also tried to say that if the argument can be run against substance dualism then it works just as well against hylomorphic dualism, and if I should reject one I should reject the other. I am only recapping this so as to get clear on what is going on; you can tell me if this is correct and if this accurately represents the argument as you see it.

Regarding the point about the criterion 'having sensation', I think there is something to be said for there being a clear cut off line. Suppose we have our animals in evolutionary history all lined up. I do not find it implausible to say that you will have one animal who is not sensing, and a sharp cut off point where there is one who is. If you look at each animal, I don't find it implausible to think you can answer, for each of them, the question of whether it is having an experience or not. It's either got some phantasm in its head or it doesn't. It might be a real dark or amorphous phantasm, but if it's a phantasm then the organism is sensing. If I'm right about this, then this is enough to defuse the objection.

As far as the point about substances, I think you may have a bit of a point here. If you think the soul and the body are distinct substances, and it's not clear whether there is a soul, then it's not going to be clear But, for one, you could modify your view (and still be a substance dualist under my definition I gave above) and say that the body is a substance if and only if there is no soul united with it (this may be a substance dualist way of saying the soul is the form of the body; I do intend to work on this more, since I want to make my substance dualism consistent with the Faith). So the consequence is, supposing we have some vague case of an animal where it's not clear whether it's sensing or not, we can still be assured there is definitely exactly one substance there (since if the animal is sensing, the only substance is the soul, if the animal is not sensing, the only substance there is just a body).

awatkins69 said...

As regards the example with 'things in this box', if by stipulation this predicate is non-vague, then I have to ask what you mean by this predicate. You can of course stipulate your predicate to be non-vague, but then it won't obviously correspond to the normal meaning of the term. And, in its normal everyday meaning, 'thing' can mean a lot of things. ;-) It's not clear to me in these normal everyday meanings the term 'thing' is not going to be vague. And it seems to me your argument is only going to be able to go through if by 'thing' you do intend one of these everyday meanings. One of these everyday meanings is, of course, 'substance', but then I'd basically appeal to my previous reply. Another one is something like 'whatever exists that we can talk about'. But then it seems to me sensitive souls will be things in this sense, and your argument will apply just as well to hylomorphic dualism.

A more general point I feel I should make is that I think any theory which gives a criterion for something's being P in terms of that thing's sensing is going to have issues. For instance, if on hylomorphic dualism something is an animal just in case it can sense then you're going to have a problem with how many animals there are. This just seems to me to be a particular instance of the question of vagueness, which is an interesting question, but I think pretty much any theory is going to have to deal with the problem of vagueness.

Though of course so much more could be said, with all that said (and it is a mouthful) I'm going to have to respectfully bow out on this post. While I've only made a few comments here, I've already consumed a lot of time responding to others in the Thomism group as well! I'm going to make another post soon though (in the next couple of days) and I would certainly be interested in hearing your thoughts there. Last word is yours!

Johannes said...

While I hold the hylomorphic position, I find the Thomasian assertion that a disembodied human soul is not a human person completely unacceptable, starting with it being counter-scriptural (e.g. Lk 16: 23-28 "I have five brothers", not "the person where I used to indwell had five brothers").

The Catholic reference on this matter is this CDF letter:

which is magisterial as it has papal endorsement:

"At an audience granted to the undersigned Cardinal Prefect, the Supreme Pontiff John Paul II approved the present Letter, decided upon at an Ordinary Meeting of this Sacred Congregation, and ordered its publication."

and which says:

"3) The Church affirms that a spiritual element survives and subsists after death, an element endowed with consciousness and will, so that the "human self" subsists. To designate this element, the Church uses the word "soul", the accepted term in the usage of Scripture and Tradition."

The letter has no Latin original, but in Italian, the most likely original language for it, "human self" is "« io » umano", i.e "human « I »".

On the other hand, I do hold that I am this rational animal, i.e. this animal animated by a soul. My soul is the core of me, but not the whole of me.

So I could modify your thesis e.g. this way:

(1) Some disembodied conscious subject psychologically continuous with the core of me continues to exist after death.
(2) I am this subject plus some more, where the "some more" has no significance at all after death.
(3) My animal component does not continue to exist after death.
(4) So the "some more" that is lost after death resides in my animal component.