Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Mind-Body Problem

1) Fred Freddoso has an article entitled "Good News, Your Soul Hasn't Died Yet," at
Freddoso is professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, and a committed Catholic. Below is a portion of this
article, a paper he read at a plenary session of the 2001 meeting of the American Catholic Philosophical Association. Fredosso rejects both dualism and physicalism, claiming that "Human beings are unified substances with an immaterial formal principle" (what I've called a "compound theory").

Dualism denies our essential embodiedness and animality, while physicalism cannot account for the self that tries to study itself. In both cases, the human self is isolated from its physical surroundings and can very easily come to see itself as the sole source of whatever value and significance is had by an otherwise meaningless corporeal reality. In short, the last four centuries, despite the splendor of their scientific achievements, seem to have left many in confusion about just what human beings are and about just what value to assign to human life and action--a confusion which contemporary political liberalism simply (but not coincidentally) takes for granted, and the results of which are being played out in what Pope John Paul II has called the "culture of death."

...What we need, then, is the conceptual space to forge a metaphysical alternative to physicalism and dualism that gives us some hope of overcoming the intellectual, moral, and social consequences of them both.

2) Nancy Murphey, professor at Fuller, argues for "non-reductive physicalism" at Though she resists it, I cannot see any difference between what she is calling "non-reductive physicalism" and epiphenomenalism.
Be aware that her presentation of medieval philosophy (and Thomas Aquinas in particular) is superficial at best.

The Person in Hebrew Scriptures

It is now widely agreed that the predominant understanding of the human being in the Hebrew scriptures is holistic and nonreductive physicalist. Jewish scholar Neil Gillman writes:
anthropology knows nothing of this dualistic picture of a person which claims that a human being is a composite of two entities, a material body and a spiritual or non-material soul. . . .
The [Hebrew] Bible, in contrast, portrays each human as a single entity, clothed in clay-like flesh which is animated or vivified by a life-giving spark or impulse variously called ruah, nefesh, neshamah, or nishmat hayyim. . . .
In the later tradition, these terms came to be understood as synonymous with the Greek "soul." But this identification is not in the Bible.

For example, nefesh first meant neck or throat; by extension it signified a living being. Neshamah and ruah both mean breath or wind. Since death is the going out of the breath, it was possible to identify "something that goes out when one dies" with Plato's soul.

The Person in The New Testament

There is somewhat less agreement on New Testament conceptions of human nature. Most scholars now agree that the New Testament generally supports a holistic and nonreductive physicalist account of the person. However, some argue that the New Testament presupposes dualism, since there are a few passages appearing to support a doctrine of "the intermediate state." This intermediate state, it is said, assures Christians that between death and the general resurrection they survive to await judgment. Therefore, the person must be "constructed in such a way that at death it can `come apart,' with the conscious personal part continuing to exist while the organism disintegrates." Some of the biblical texts cited to support this are Matthew 10:28; Matthew 27:50; Luke 16:19-31; Luke 23:42-43; John 12:25; 1 Peter. 3:19-20; and Revelations 6:9-11. Several questions have to be settled in regard to these texts and their relevance for the "intermediate state." Again, one question concerns translation. For example, when it is said of Jesus in Mt. 27:50 that he "gave up his spirit," is this to be taken literally, or as a metaphorical way of saying that he died?
Second, Christians have had to distinguish between the teaching of Scripture and the assumptions, concepts, and theories of the time they were used to convey the teachings. In other words, it is common to speak of God's revelation being accommodated to the thought-forms of the ancient cultures. An important example is the use of -- or accommodation to -- ancient
cosmology throughout the Old Testament, as when Isaiah says that God will gather Israel and Judah from "the four corners of the earth" (Isaiah 11:12). So if it is shown that the New Testament speaks of an intermediate state -- or otherwise presumes some sort of dualism -- an important question to raise is whether this is biblical teaching or merely accommodation to the thought of the times. That is, we have to ask whether metaphorical language was used to convey theological truths that could not have been conveyed very well in other thought-forms at the time.
It may be most accurate to say that the New Testament has no explicit teaching on this issue. Rather, various New Testament writers assumed one or another conception of the constitution of the human being in order to teach about other issues concerning the relation of humans to one another, to the rest of creation, and to God.

Implications Of A Nonreductive Physicialist View

Both Judaism and Christianity apparently began with a concept of human nature that comes closer to contemporary nonreductive physicalism than to Platonic dualism. But, both made accommodations to a prevailing dualistic philosophy, and combined a doctrine of the immortality of the soul with a doctrine of the resurrection of the body. The pressing question now, concerns whether to return to those earlier nonreductive physicalist accounts of human nature, as many Christian theologians have urged throughout this century.
If a nonreductive physicalist view of the person is acceptable theologically and biblically, as well as scientifically and philosophically, a variety of consequences follow in the fields of ethics, spiritual development, medicine, and psychotherapy.
For example, many arguments against abortion depend on when the human soul is presumed to appear. If the soul is present from the moment of conception, then abortion at any stage of pregnancy is full-scale murder. This argument no longer makes sense with a nonreductive physicalist account of the person, in which there is no soul upon which one's humanity depends. Similar sorts of issues arise with regard to
euthanasia. It is certainly true that the concept of the soul has been valuable for ethical purposes; it needs to be shown that equally powerful arguments can be constructed using the nonreductive physicalist account of personhood. For example, Jesus' injunction to care for the "least of the brethren" (Matthew 25:40) can be applied supremely to children before they are born, as well as to the elderly at the end of their life. Notice that in Jesus' parable the emphasis is not on saving the souls of those who are in distress, but rather, on meeting their bodily needs for food, water, clothing, and companionship.
Spiritual formation throughout most of Christian history has presupposed a Platonic conception of the person. It has often been understood, for instance, that "mortification of the flesh" is necessary for the flourishing of the soul. It is likely that a nonreductive physicalist account of the person will lead to healthier and more effective approaches to spiritual life.
Psychotherapists have already come to realize the dependence of psychological health on physical health, such as when a serious illness leads to depression. Equally important is the less-frequently recognized dependence of physical health on psychological and spiritual factors. This includes, for example, the role of stress (a psychological factor) in causing ulcers, high blood pressure, and other psychosomatic ailments. Spiritual factors, such as resentment resulting from an inability to forgive others, also play a significant role in affecting one's physical health. Increasingly, studies are finding that prayer and church attendance are associated with better health. A nonreductive physicalist conception of the person can be expected to promote a more integrative practice in a variety of health-care professions. That is, it will not be possible to compartmentalize the person and to conclude that physicians treat only physical illnesses, psychologists only mental illnesses, and pastoral counselors only spiritual ills

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