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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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