HOW WE KNOW IT'S REAL AND WHY IT MATTERS
By J. P. Moreland, Christopher Reese
Moody Publishers Copyright © 2014 J. P. Moreland
All rights reserved.
A TOOLBOX FOR THE SOUL
Currently, there are two main positions taken on the *mind/body problem, as illustrated in the chart below.
The details of the chart are not important for now, and we will unpack them in later chapters. For present purposes, note that the two main views are *physicalism and dualism. The former claims that a human being is completely physical, whereas the latter maintains that a human being is, in some sense or other, both physical and mental. Dualism comes in two major varieties: *substance dualism and *property/ event dualism (more on this later). Physicalism comes in different varieties as well, but we will not explore them here. Our present purpose is to examine three key concepts that are essential to understanding the mind/body debate, and then briefly contrast dualism and physicalism. I will begin by clarifying the nature of *substances, properties, and *events.
A substance is an entity like an acorn, an electron, a dog, or an angel. A human person is a substance. Substances have a number of important characteristics. First, substances are particular, individual things. A substance, like a particular acorn, cannot be in more than one place at the same time.
Second, a substance is a continuant—it can change by gaining new properties and losing old ones, yet it remains the same thing throughout the change. An acorn can go from green to red, yet the acorn itself is the same entity before, during, and after the change. A human person can be thinking about lunch and later thinking about something else, but it is the same person engaging in both mental activities. In general, substances can change in some of their properties and yet remain the same substance. That very acorn that was green is the same acorn that is now red.
Third, substances are basic, fundamental existents. They are not in other things or had by other things. My dog Fido is not in or had by something more basic than he. Rather, properties (and parts) are in substances that have them. For example, Fido has the property of brownness and the property of weighing twenty-five pounds. These properties are in the substance called Fido.
Fourth, substances are unities of parts, properties, and capacities (dispositions, tendencies, potentialities). Fido has a number of properties like the ones already listed. He also has a number of parts—four legs, some teeth, two eyes. Further, he has some capacities or potentialities that are not always actual. For example, he has the capacity to bark even when he is silent. As a substance, Fido is a unity of all the properties, parts, and capacities had by him.
Finally, a substance has causal powers. It can do things in the world. A dog can bark, an acorn can hit the ground. Substances can cause things to happen.
In addition to substances, there are also entities that exist called properties. A property is an existent reality, examples of which are brownness, triangularity, hardness, wisdom, painfulness, being a neuron. As with substances, properties have a number of important features.
One feature is that a property is a universal that can be in more than one thing at the same time. Redness can be in a flag, a coat, and an apple all at once. The very same redness can be the color of several particular things all at the same time. Or, to take another example, roundness can simultaneously be in a watch, a wheel, and a pizza.
Another feature of properties is their immutability. When a leaf goes from green to red, the leaf changes by losing an old property and gaining a new one. But the property of redness does not change and become the property of greenness. Properties can come and go, but they do not change in their internal constitution or nature.
Moreover, properties can, or perhaps must, be in or had by other things more basic than they. Properties are in the things that have them. For example, redness is in the apple. The apple has the redness. One does not find redness existing all by itself. In general, when we are talking about a property, it makes sense to ask the question, "What is it that has that property?" That question is not appropriate for substances, for they are among the things that have the properties. Substances have properties; properties are had by substances.
Finally, there are entities in the world called events. Events are temporal states that occur in the world. Examples of events are a flash of lightning, the dropping of a ball, the having of a thought, the firing of a neuron, the change of a leaf, and the continued possession of sweetness by an apple (this would be a series of events). Events are temporal states or changes of states of substances. An event is the coming or going of a property in a substance at a particular time, or the continued possession of a property by a substance throughout a time. "This shirt being green now" and "this acorn changing shape then" are both examples of events. The central identifying feature of an event is the property involved in that event. For example, the event of "this shirt being green now" crucially involves the property of being green. Any event that failed to involve that property could not be the event of "this shirt being green now."
PHYSICALISM VS. DUALISM
Keeping these critical distinctions in mind, we can now move on to consider in more detail the basic mind/body views listed in our chart. Let's look at physicalism first.
According to strict physicalism, a human being is merely a physical entity. The only things that exist are physical substances, properties, and events. When it comes to humans, the physical substance is the material body, especially the parts called the brain and central nervous system. The physical substance called the brain has physical properties, such as a certain weight, volume, size, electrical activity, chemical composition, and so forth.
There are also physical events that occur in the brain. For example, the brain contains a number of elongated cells that carry various impulses. These cells are called neurons. Various neurons make contact with other neurons through connections or points of contact called synapses. C-fibers are certain types of neurons that innervate the skin (supply the skin with nerves) and carry electrical impulses associated with pain. So when someone has an occasion of pain or an occurrence of a thought, physicalists hold that these are merely particular physical events—events where certain C-fibers are firing or certain electrical and chemical events are happening in the brain and central nervous system.
Thus, physicalists believe that we are merely a physical substance (a brain and central nervous system, a body) that has physical properties and in which occur physical events. My conscious mental life of thoughts, emotions, and pains is nothing but a stream of physical events in my brain and nervous system. The neurophysiologist can, in principle, describe these events solely in terms of C-fibers, neurons, and the chemical and physical properties of the brain. For the physicalist, I am merely a functioning brain and central nervous system enclosed in a physical body. I am a material substance characterized completely by physical properties and in which occur merely physical events, a creature made of matter—nothing more, nothing less.
What is matter? we might ask. There is no clear definition of matter, but examples of it are not hard to come by. Material objects are things like computers, carbon atoms, brains, and billiard balls. Material properties are things like negative charge, mass, and extension. Material events are items like the occurrence of a flash of lightning, the moving of an electron, the firing of a neuron in the brain.
To say more about material (or physical) properties, they are (1) publicly accessible in the sense that no one person is better suited to have private access to a material property than anyone else; any way you have available to you to know about the presence or nature of a material property (say, the weight of a chair), I have available to me as well; (2) such that an object must be either spatially located or extended to have a material property; (3) such that when a strictly material object has physical properties, that object does not engage in genuinely teleological behavior—that is, it does not undergo change for the sake of some end, purpose, goal, or final cause. Physical properties are the properties that one finds listed in chemistry or physics books. They are properties such as hardness; occupying and moving through space; having a certain shape; possessing certain chemical, electrical, magnetic, and gravitational properties; having density and mass; and being breakable, malleable, and elastic. A physical event would be the possession, coming, or going of one or more of these properties by a physical substance (or among physical substances).
Another very crucial observation to make about material substances, properties, and events is this: No material thing presupposes or requires reference to consciousness for it to exist or be characterized. You will search in vain through a physics or chemistry textbook to find consciousness included in any description of matter. A completely physical description of the world would be in the third person and would not include any terms that make reference to or characterize the existence and nature of consciousness. Assume that matter is actually like what our chemistry and physics books tell us it is. Now imagine that there is no God and picture a universe in which no conscious, living beings had emerged. In such an imaginary world, there would be no consciousness anywhere in the universe—no selves, sensations, beliefs, or thoughts. However, in this imaginary world, matter would still exist and be what scientists tell us it is. Carbon atoms would still be carbon atoms, electrons would still have negative charge. An electron is still an electron regardless of whether or not conscious minds exist in the world. In such a world, there could be mindless zombies with brains and nervous systems but without consciousness. This is what we mean when we say that the existence and nature of matter are independent of the existence of consciousness.
Dualists disagree with physicalists. According to them, genuinely mental entities are real. As with matter, it is hard to give a definition of mental entities to which all philosophers and scientists would agree. The most popular definition of a mental property or event is one in which the subject who is having it has privileged access, that is, a way of knowing it (through introspectively experiencing it in the first person) that is not available to anyone else (someone else cannot know directly by introspection what my mental states are). Physical properties like being square or hard and physical events like a flash of lightning are such that no one person has a special way of knowing something about it. Whatever ways you have for knowing something about a flash of lightning (measuring it, taking a picture of it) are available to me and vice versa.
While there is some dispute about a definition of the mental, examples of mental entities are easy to supply. First, there are various kinds of sensations: experiences of colors, sounds, smells, tastes, textures, pains, and itches. Sensations are individual things that occur at particular times. I can have a sensation of red after looking in a certain direction or by closing my eyes and daydreaming. An experience of pain will arise at a certain time, say, after I am stuck with a pin.
Further, sensations are natural kinds of things that have, as their very essence, the felt quality or sensory property that makes them what they are. Part of the very essence of a pain is the felt quality it has, which is very different from an itch or a taste; part of the very essence of a red sensation is the presentation of a particular shade of color to my consciousness, which is quite different from a smell. Sensations are not identical to things outside a person's body—for instance, a feeling of pain is not the same thing as being stuck with a pin and shouting, "Ouch!" Sensations are essentially characterized by a certain conscious feel, and thus, they presuppose consciousness for their existence and description. If there were no conscious beings, there would be no sensations.
A second type of mental entity is called a *propositional attitude: having a certain mental attitude involving a *proposition that is part of a "that-clause." For example, one can hope, desire, fear, dread, wish, think, or believe that P, where P may be the proposition, "The Royals are a great baseball team." A proposition is a declarative sentence that is either true or false. Propositional attitudes include at least two components. First, there is the attitude itself. Hopes, fears, dreads, wishes, thoughts, etc., are all different attitudes, different states of consciousness, and they are all different from each other based on their conscious feel. A hope is a different form of consciousness from an episode of fear. A hope that it will rain is different from a fear that it will rain. What's the difference? A hope has a very different conscious feel from a fear.
Second, they all have a content or a meaning embedded in a proposition—namely, the propositional content of my consciousness while I am having the attitude. My hope that P (for example, that I am having eggs for breakfast) differs from my hope that Q (say, that it won't rain today) because P and Q are different propositions or meanings in my consciousness, even though the attitude (hoping) is the same in each case. My hope that it will rain is different from my hope that taxes will be cut. The contents of these two hopes have quite different meanings. If there were no conscious selves, there would be no propositional attitudes.
A third type of mental entity is acts of free will or purposings. What is a purposing? If, unknown to me, my arm is tied down and I still try to raise it, then the purposing is the "trying to bring about" the event of raising my arm. Intentional actions are exercises of active power by conscious selves wherein and whereby they do various things. They are free acts of will performed by conscious selves.
To summarize, dualists argue that sensations, propositional attitudes, and purposings are all examples of mental entities.
In addition to these differences between physicalists and dualists, there is also an intramural debate between mere *property dualists and *substance dualists.
Mere property dualists believe there are some physical substances that have only physical properties: For example, a billiard ball being hard and round. They also maintain that there are no mental substances. On the other hand, they contend there is one material substance that has both physical and mental properties—the brain. When I experience a pain, there is a certain physical property possessed by the brain (a C-fiber stimulation with chemical and electrical properties) and there is a certain mental property possessed by the brain (the pain itself with its felt quality). The C-fiber event may cause the pain event, but they are two events, not one. The brain is the possessor of all mental properties and events. I am not a mental self that has my thoughts and experiences. Rather, I am a brain and a series or bundle of successive experiences themselves. Moreover, property dualists claim that, just as wetness is a real property that *supervenes or emerges upon a group of water molecules, so mental properties supervene/emerge upon brain states.
In contrast with property dualism, substance dualism holds that the brain is a physical thing that has physical properties, and the mind or soul is a mental substance that has mental properties. When I am in pain, the brain has certain physical properties (electrical, chemical) and contains certain physical states (e.g., C-fiber firing events), and the soul or self has certain mental properties (the conscious awareness of pain) and contains certain mental events (a pain state, an episode of thinking). The soul is the possessor of its experiences. It stands behind, over, and above them and remains the same throughout my life. The soul and the brain can interact with each other, but they are different entities with different properties. While in the body, the soul's functioning may depend on the proper working of the brain or other organs (e.g., the eyes). Since the soul is not to be identified with any part of the brain or with any particular mental experience, the soul may be able to survive the destruction of the body. Substance dualists accept the existence of both mental properties and substances. So substance dualists are also property dualists (they believe consciousness is a mental property), but substance dualists are not mere property dualists (those who deny a spiritual soul or self). (Continues...)
Excerpted from THE SOUL by J. P. Moreland, Christopher Reese. Copyright © 2014 J. P. Moreland. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
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