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By: J. Matthan Brown

Also posted on: Truth is a Man

Since the rise and dominance of metaphysical naturalism in both science and philosophy, many academics have rejected the traditional Judeo-Christian understanding of the soul.  To be sure, substance dualism–the view that both immaterial and material substances exist–is not a popular position amongst contemporary philosophers of mind.  However, substance dualisms’ fall from grace is not entirely due to naturalistic philosophy.  Another reason for its failure has been its persistent association with Cartesian dualism.[1]

The linkage between substance dualism and Cartesian dualism in contemporary philosophy of mind is unfortunate for two reasons: (1) most philosophers believe Descartes arguments have been soundly refuted, and (2) the Cartesian form of dualism exhibits significant conceptual difficulties.  It seems, then, that it is not substance dualism, per se, that modern philosophers find repugnant, but its widespread Cartesian formulation.

Thankfully, while Christians are committed to some form of substance dualism, they are not necessarily committed to a Cartesian view.  As Eleonore Stump explains, Cartesian dualism is hardly the only game in town for orthodox Christians:

As a matter of historical fact . . . it is not true that a Cartesian sort of dualism has been the view traditional espoused by all major monotheisms.  Aquinas, whose views surely represent one major strand of one major monotheism, is familiar with an account very like Cartesian dualism, which he associates with Plato; and he rejects it emphatically.[2]

Unbeknownst to many, Aquinas proposed a form of substance dualism significantly different from both Plato and Descartes; one which naturalistic philosophers may find harder to refute.

This paper will introduce Thomistic dualism, compare and contrast it with the Cartesian view, and offer several reasons why Christian philosophers should favor this form of substance dualism above the Cartesian model.  It will accomplish this by: (1) outlining Descartes understanding of the mind and the body and posing two formidable difficulties facing it, and (2) outlining Thomistic dualism and explaining how it better addresses the problems facing the Cartesian view.

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By J. Matthan Brown

Also Posted on Truth is a Man

In my recent post Abortion and the Philosophy of Mind I made this comment:

“In all of the debates raging over the status of the fetus I have yet to come across material which articulates the connection this issue has with the philosophy of mind.”

I am happy to report that I’ve found an excellent book which deals with this very issue from a dualist perspective.  The title of the book is Body & Soul: Human Nature & the Crisis in Ethics by J. P. Moreland and Scott B. Rae.  I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in an articulate account of the nature of human beings, the philosophy of mind, and bioethics from a Christian perspective.

I shall write more on this subject myself in the very near future; until then, please enjoy this great book!

By:  J. Matthan Brown

(also posted on Truth is a Man)

In all of the debates raging over the status of the fetus I have yet to come across material which articulates the connection this issue has with the philosophy of mind.  This strikes me as odd, because one’s theory of mind is inextricably tied to one’s anthropology.  More to the point, one’s theory of the mind will have a dramatic impact on how he views the fetus.

The most pertinent topic in the philosophy of mind relating to this issue is the so called mind/body problem—which deals with defining what a mind is and how it relates to the brain.  Philosophers tackling the mind/body problem usually fall into two camps: dualists-those who believe both immaterial and material substances exist–and physicalists—those who believe only material substances exist.   In more common language, dualists believe human beings have a soul and physicalists do not.  In relation to issues regarding the fetus, the question boils down to this: if souls exist, does a fetus have a soul?  And how does this impact the abortion debate?

How one answers the mind/body problem will not only have a dramatic impact on how he views the fetus, but on how he views a full grown human being.  This is because one’s theory of mind reflects his general ontology of the human being.  For example, if one adheres to a physicalist theory of the mind then he believes that a human being is nothing more than matter and energy—the hapless byproduct of billions of years of evolution.   Under this scheme, human beings are not endowed with any special or unique importance or value-our existence is just a brute fact of nature.

In contrast, those who hold to some form of substance dualism—that both material and immaterial substances exist—believe human beings have a soul.   If human beings have a soul, this entails the existence of a transcendent immaterial being—namely God.  In natural theology, this forms the basis for the so called Argument from Consciousness which has recently been reformulated by J. P. Moreland (Consciousness and the Existence of God, Routledge Studies in the Philosophy of Religion.)   If the argument from consciousness is sound, then God exists; and if human beings are a special part of his creation, it stands to reason that human beings have a purpose—a reason for existence–and that they are inherently valuable.

So we see how foundational our theory of mind is to the status of the fetus.  If the fetus is merely matter and energy, and God does not exist, then the fetus has no intrinsic or objective value or importance.  But, according to the physicalist scheme, this is true for the full grown adult as well.  In essence, there is no ontological difference between a fetus and a full grown human being under the physicalist perspective—both are simply matter and energy and neither one possess intrinsic value or dignity.

However, if substance dualism is correct, then there is a strong possibility that God exists.  If God exists, man has a purpose and is intrinsically valuable.  Like the physcialist, the dualist theory does not delineate an ontological difference between the fetus and a full grown adult.  Both posses a human soul, both are made in the image of God, and therefore, both are intrinsically valuable.

It becomes obvious that the position one holds on the status of the fetus and abortion is inextricably tied to ones theory of the mind.  If a fetus is simply matter and energy then it is ontologically equal to a full grown human being—that is, it possesses no intrinsic value or dignity.  As such, there is no objective reason why abortion is wrong—and for that matter there is no objective reason why the killing of a full grown human being is wrong either.

Conversely, if the fetus is made up of more than matter and energy—if it has a soul—then it is ontologically equal to a full grown human being.  More importantly, if a fetus has a soul, it has intrinsic value and worth—and this is true of the full grown human being as well.  Accordingly, there is an objective reason why abortion is wrong; because it is the killing of a human being; the destruction of a life endowed with the same value, dignity, and worth of a full grown adult.

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