Farris responds to Common Objections to Dualism
Souls, Interaction Problem, Evolution, Embodiment, afterlife
ChatGPT offers several Objections to the view that we are souls. I respond to each one in the following in brief bullet point responses.
Objection 1. Interaction Problem: Critics argue that dualism struggles to explain how the immaterial mind and the material body interact, such as how mental events can cause physical actions.
The interaction problem is the most overstated objection to dualism in the history of philosophy.
The famed Gilbert Ryle popularly portrays dualism, or soul-body dualism, as the view where a ghost resides in a machine, or a little man sits inside a plane with controls, but, in many ways, this famous picture seems to be in part what is motivating the ‘sense’ that soul-body dualism encounters a greater challenge than do other views on offer that take it that we are one kind of thing.
This problem stands as one of the most common, and for some affirming a physicalist base for most of reality, and pressing challenges to dualism.
Furthermore, it is really a problem that stands under other conceivable or intuitive challenges that are commonly raised to dualism. If it succeeds, then, it could be powerful, but if not then so many worries are defused.
But that said, any theory that takes seriously the mind as an irreducible reality (whether as a set of properties instantiated by a physical object or a non-physical object) will be confronted with a challenge in providing a bridge between the two intuitively distinct sets of events, properties, and powers—namely those descriptive of bodies and those of minds.
In this way, its important to point out with Kenneth Einer Himma that what is a problem for all is a problem for none.
One would need to either find a successful reduction of mental events to physical causes or eliminate mental events in order to gain any edge over dualism. But, no successful reduction is in sight and eliminativism seems entirely implausible.
Objection 2. Occam’s Razor: Some philosophers contend that dualism introduces unnecessary complexity by positing two fundamental substances when a monist approach, like physicalism, could explain the same phenomena with one.
The question is, can monists explain the same phenomena—i.e., can they capture all the phenomena there?
The principle of simplicity is motivating this objection to dualisms and in favor of monism. But that principle must take into account all the phenomena under investigation.
If we take the mind seriously with the hallmarks of the mind being intentionality, phenomenal qualia, the privacy of the mental, then we must affirm some minimal version of dualism already—i.e., some version of property dualism that takes it that there are bodies (at least on physicalism) and mental events that have some real causal efficacy in the world.
But, once we posit property dualism, the real question is whether or not property dualism actually has advantages over substance dualism (i.e., the view that I am, at a minimum my soul or mental substance, with a body). Simplicity may be the only feature favoring property dualism.
The other question is if the mind is taken seriously, as both property dualists and substance dualists agree (especially in their rejection of behaviorism, identity physicalism, reductivism), then what else can we know or do we know about the mind?
Is the mind a substance? Well if it has no parts, it is not divisible into parts, then it can’t be an animal. Is there any garden variety physical object we can point to and say that’s me or you as a mental thing? No. Could it then be a property-bundle as some philosophers would suggest? It seems not because of the facts about it seem to be owned by something, grounded in something, and unified by a thing that makes the bundle one’s particular bundle.
This raises the further question about what it is that is logically presupposed as the unique particular making sense of the mental events themselves.
The interaction problem for dualism: "This argument may hold the all-time record for overrated objections to major philosophical positions." – William Hasker, The Emergent Self, 150.
Objection 3. Lack of Empirical Evidence: Dualism is often criticized for lacking empirical evidence that can support the existence of immaterial minds or souls.
This is an interesting objection, but it certainly confronts a challenge with out of body experiences and near-death experiences.
If we can take these as empirical evidences themselves, then there is something about me that is not explained by the body and brain that I have because I can exist without them or my body can exist in a distinct state apart from them.
But this assumes distinct modal properties for the body contrasted with the me, the subject of mental events etc, which, arguably, presumes a more fundamental particular that is the bearer of actually distinct properties (at least one distinct property that is able to persist distinctly).
Finally, there is a prompt about whether or not the ‘empirical’ is the end all be all in terms of knowledge and what it is that is real. In other words, ‘evidence’ shouldn’t necessarily be taken to be identical with the ‘empirical’.
Objection 4. Dependency on the Brain: Evidence from neuroscience suggests that mental processes and consciousness are closely tied to brain activity, challenging dualist separation of mind and body.
This is one of the reasons advanced in favor of some form of monism.
In particular, the identity physicalist thesis are advanced as favorably explaining this set of data because if mental events just are neural events, then there is a simplicity to explaining the data comprehensively, but, of course, as we have seen we know there is more to the nature of mental events from phenomenal experience that is neither identical to neural events nor reducible to them. If there is no successful reduction, then we have something unaccounted for in purely neural terms as well as purely neural events.
So what more can we say?
Well there are different notions of dependence.
Of course, common-sensically we have reasons for believing that the brain effects the mind or soul when we hit our heads on dashboard of the car upon a collision with another car.
And, of course, science seems to support what appears to be the correlated data between our brains and our minds.
But, this doesn’t rule out dualism.
It raises questions about what kind of dualism one should embrace.
Dualists in contemporary discussions generally affirm that there is a tight integrated relationship between the mind and the body that can plausibly situate the data that we have from experience and the ‘seeming’ data supplied by neuroscience.
These really are not issues for the dualists.
Objection 5. Problem of causal closure: Physicalism proponents argue that if everything has a physical cause, dualism’s non-physical mind would be unable to influence the physical world.
Kim: “any physical event that has a cause at time t has a physical cause at time t.”
This of course raises the question as to whether or not the natural world is closed.
Is the natural world grounded in fundamental brute forces, impersonal, mindless forces that are rooted in physical stuffs mechanistically explained all the way up— with the possibility for a variety of linguistic explanations at higher levels yet with no minds no personal explanations!? I don’t think so.
So, the big ideas that would undermine the causal closure principle is if qualitative experiences have physical effects say on the brain and the body. Do my beliefs causally effect my body?
Further, are some physical events explained by reasons that have some teleological goal? If some are, then that undermines the principle of physical causal closure and opens the door to further explanations of the natural world.
Further, physics just doesn’t seem to be the sort of thing that can explain all happenings in the world.
What you the audience must contend with is whether or not ‘reasons’ are real or illusory. In other words, do they have causal efficacy in the natural world? Or are ‘reasons’ solely determined by brute, mindless, causal forces that comprise them? Are reasons then reducible to deterministic or probabilistic forces in the natural world?
Objection 6. Evolutionary Perspective: Critics argue that dualism doesn’t align well with our understanding of human evolution and the development of consciousness.
What is the real concern here? Is it the idea, as the Churchland’s have stated, that ghosts, disembodied spirits, angels, gods are spooky forces that don’t have any place in a scientific picture of the world? Is that the concern?
Or is the concern something to do with the principle of physical causal closure with higher-order empirical realities from physics and chemistry that completely explain what we are in biological evolution?
If we have really good reasons for rejecting the principle of causal closure, then the picture that evolution is comprehensively unified and explained by way of physical causes and effects is undermined already. There is more to the picture than what a wholly naturalist physicalist picture of the world offers.
And, in fact, that seems to be the case.
Now, if the concern is more refined in such a way that biological evolution includes a picture of minds as part and parcel of the explanatory mechanisms governed by psycho-physical laws, then that’s a different picture and not one that is altogether problematic for the most, if any, versions of dualism.
At its worst, it might seem to cause problems for conceiving of the possibility that a strong version of dualism following someone like Rene Descartes’ version might be true. But, that deserves further exploration. On the other hand, it might just continue to poke holes in the evolutionary picture that evolution and its biological mechanisms are sufficient explanations of persons, minds, and varying events in history. That there is something more to be explained that moves us beyond mere linguistic description to some real things in the world that are more than bodies, physical things, physical pulley’s, blood and guts etc.
Objection 7. Problem of identity: Dualism faces questions regarding the identity of the mind/soul over time, especially in cases of amnesia, brain damage, or mental disorders.
In fact, if dualism is true, and identity of persons is predicated on some simple thing, then dualism supplies a more natural explanation as to how it could be that you and I are the self-same persons at a time and across time.
Now, some will point to the overlocking nature of the mind/persons with the neural and physical structure of humans such that some cases seem to suggest that physical alterations to the body and the brain do actually cause insuperable problems for dualists because of how tightly intertwined the person is with her body.
But, this really raises a more fundamental question about the nature of personhood and what it is that carries along personal identity.
Undoubtedly, there are cases of physical malfunctioning, brain malfunction, brain-splitting that seem to cause deep problems in memory, perception and personality, but these all are secondary to the more fundamental question about personal identity and do not themselves undermine personal identity.
In fact, a dualist view that takes seriously the mental-bodily functional integration and the fact that bodies and brains supply structures to minds, can make sense of severe impairments to the brain that ensue structural changes to the soul’s functionality and personality.
Objection 8. Problem of other Minds: It’s challenging to verify the existence of other minds or souls, leading to skepticism about dualism’s claims.
This is a challenge for dualists, but it seems to be an epistemic problem and not a metaphysical problem.
In other words, it could be the fact that my soul/mind exists and only I have access to it. The same goes for you.
But, that would be a metaphysical fact about me and a metaphysical fact about you.
Is that a problem? No.
Epistemically, if you and I can only have access to our own minds, then there might be a concern that we lack justification for believing in other minds.
But, surely, we can, at a minimum, infer to the best explanation that other minds exist based on empirical evidence that these objects we interact with have higher-order rational capacities, make choices, have experiences and enter into deep and meaningful experiences.
We could say that minds are simply known by way of our cognitive processes functioning properly, which would presume an externalist notion of knowledge regarding other minds.
Further, we could say that other minds are known in second-personal ways through inter-relationship and the like.
But, apart from that, there’s not much of a challenge here it seems.
Objection 9. Problem of location: Dualism struggles to explain where the mind/soul is located or how it relates to specific parts of the body.
This concern really seems to be related to other problems already mentioned.
It seems to be a problem of conceivability, but one that is, in many ways, a simpler problem than the others addressed already.
What would be the problem exactly?
It may be something like conceiving what it would be exactly for a mind or a soul to be located, but if there is a more fundamental problem with being able to conceive of causation more generally as pointed out by David Hume, then this isn’t really a powerful concern. But, its important to point out that this is a problem for physical things as well as non-physical or immaterial things.
In fact, like the problem from interaction, once we take seriously the fact of minds as having some causal efficacy in the world, the problem of conceiving this issue dissolves and is resolved. For if location is a problem of conceiving of causation, then this is just predicated on another more fundamental problem of causation generally. Souls that have a singular relation, a basic relation to their bodies just do have causal efficacy in the world. Not much of problem.
If the problem is one of being able to pair a soul with parts of the body or the body more generally, and the assumption is that all things that act causally in space must be located in space, then there are solutions to that problem. Simply put, souls are in space, which is a common view amongst many contemporary dualists today including Charles Taliaferro, William Hasker, Stewart Goetz, J.P. Moreland and many others. But, I am not sure how much this does for them. Is it required to make sense of soul’s being causally efficacious at points in space? I don’t see why its necessary to make soul to body causation intelligible. And, I don’t think there’s any overriding reason to think otherwise.
Objection 10. Lack of Coherent Explanation: Some argue that dualism doesn’t provide a satisfactory explanation for various mental phenomena, like memory, emotions, and perception.
This is quite a complicated set of issues.
There are numerous proposals on offer from dualists that try to make sense of memory, emotions, and perception.
This is especially true of Neo-Aristotelian and Thomist dualists in the recent literature that attempt to make sense of the tele-causal relation between matter and form that would actually make better sense of phenomena like memory, emotions, and perception. There are other dualist proposals that seem to account in similar ways because of the intimate, fine-grained relation between souls and bodies as with versions of emergentism etc.
Howard Robinson develops a quite complicated and sophisticated theory of the soul-body in his article, “A Dualist Account of Embodiment,” The Case for Dualism ed. by John R. Smythies and John Beloff (University of Virginia, 1989).
That to say, there is not an obvious objection here or any reason to think that physicalism provides some superior account of memory or perception. In fact, quite to the contrary, the reality of the mind as a transcendent entity that has an integrated system with bodies and can integrate sense-perception with ideas, reasons etc., has more resources than physicalism to make sense of this highly complex material.
In short, there are no overwhelming objections to substance dualism. At most, there are challenges to the view as there are with every other view on offer. With that said, the ability to account for and capture all the data is, arguably, best explained by dualism or the view that are we are minds as distinct from our bodies.