Archive for the ‘Person’ Category

Aquinas Conflating Person and Essence in God, Redux

April 14, 2009

This post was not actually written by MG, but by a former contributor named Zakk. If he requests that the post be removed, it will be removed.

 

In a previous post, Krause presented us with a quotation that seemed to show, in language all too plain, that Aquinas conflates person and essence in God. A commenter, however, felt that it was unfair to summarize Aquinas’s position as a conflation, especially without calling into account other relevant portions of the Summa Theologica. So, in the interest of fairness and ease of access, I present our readers with the portions suggested by the aforementioned commenter.

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Natural Consequences (1): Jeremiah on Word, Fire, and Wrath

May 5, 2008

It seems like I’m always starting series of posts that I never finish. Oh well.

Anyways, this series is going to be about the biblical data and theological implications of the idea of “natural consequences”. To say that something has natural consequences for you basically means “what goes around, comes around” or “you asked for it”. Natural consequences are the non-intentional results of actions we take. They are not inflicted by an exercise of will that is aimed at retributively punishing us for our guilt; they just sorta happen because of the way the world is. (more…)

The Argument from Rationality for Absolute Personal Identity

March 1, 2008

I have seen this argument used before elsewhere, but I thought I would post it here when I was reminded of it while reading Andrea Christofidou’s paper “God, Physicalism, and the Totality of Facts” (Philosophy, vol. 82, October 2007, pp 515-542). I think its fairly well-known, but I want to expose people who haven’t heard of it before. It attempts to show that a view of personal identity as an absolute and irreducible non-physical quality that defines us (as opposed to something like memory grounding personal identity) is a precondition for us to be rational.

The Argument from Rationality:

1. In order for me to be rational in forming my beliefs, I must be able to consider all the premises of an argument and its conclusion.

2. In order to be able to consider all of the premises of an argument and its conclusion, I must exist from the moment I consider the first premise to the moment I assent to or reject the conclusion.

3. If I exist from the moment I consider the first premise to the moment I assent to or reject the conclusion, then I am absolutely the same particular individual across a stretch of time.

C. Therefore, in order for me to be rational in forming my beliefs, I must be absolutely the same particular individual across a stretch of time.

Insofar as the defender of memory views of personal identity and other views aren’t willing to give up their claim to rationality (lest we dismiss them and ignore them) it seems they must agree that we are absolutely the same particular individual across a stretch of time. I think the absolutist view of personal identity causes problems for physicalism as I have argued elsewhere. I wonder how a defender of a non-absolute view of personal identity would defend against this?

Saint Isaac the Syrian on Love and Hell

December 22, 2007

Few arguments against Christianity are stronger and more troubling than the problem of hell. The problem is familiar to anyone who is familiar with Christianity. But not all understandings of hell are equally problemmatic. As Swinburne notes in Responsibility and Atonement for every “hard” position about salvation, sin, hell, justice, or human agency, there is a “soft” or more “liberal” view. Ironically, the more “liberal” view is hardly “liberal”, if by that we mean “new, innovative, rebelling against conservative consensus”. I think we sometimes assume for some reason that the harshest, most morally-repugnant view of Christianity is the most faithful to text and tradition. To help start correcting that tendency, I offer some words from Saint Isaac the Syrian:

What is a merciful heart? It is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons, and for all that exists. By the recollection of them the eyes of a merciful person pour forth tears in abundance. By the strong and vehement mercy that grips such a person’s heart, and by such great compassion, the heart is humbled and one cannot bear to hear or to see any injury or slight sorrow in any in creation. For this reason, such a person offers up tearful prayer continually even for irrational beasts, for the enemies of the truth, and for those who harm her or him, that they be protected and receive mercy. And in like manner such a person prays for the family of reptiles because of the great compassion that burns with without measure in a heart that is in the likeness of God.

The person who is genuinely charitable not only gives charity out of his own possessions, but gladly tolerates injustice from others and forgives them. Whoever lays down his soul for his brother acts generously, rather than the person who demonstrates his generosity by his gifts.

God is not One who requites evil, but who sets evil right.

Paradise is the love of God, wherein is the enjoyment of all blessedness.
The person who lives in love reaps the fruit of life from God, and while yet in this world, even now breathes the air of the resurrection.

In love did God bring the world into existence; in love is God going to bring it to that wondrous transformed state, and in love will the world be swallowed up in the great mystery of the One who has performed all these things; in love will the whole course of the governance of creation be finally comprised..

As for me I say that those who are tormented in hell are tormented by the invasion of love. What is there more bitter and violent than the pains of love? Those who feel they have sinned against love bear in themselves a damnation much heavier than the most dreaded punishments. The suffering with which sinning against love afflicts the heart is more keenly felt than any other torment. It is absurd to assume that the sinners in hell are deprived of God’s love. Love is offered impartially. But by its very power it acts in two ways. It torments sinners, as happens here on earth when we are tormented by the presence of a friend to whom we have been unfaithful. And it gives joy to those who have been faithful. That is what the torment of hell is in my opinion: remorse. But love inebriates the souls of the sons and daughters of heaven by its delectability.

If zeal had been appropriate for putting humanity right, why did God the Word clothe himself in the body, using gentleness and humility in order to bring the world back to his Father?

(Taken from here)

Dualism and Joint Causality

December 21, 2007

In his response to my argument against property dualism from its inadequate account of personal identity, Brett made a suggestion that if the soul together with the body is adequate to generate a continuity of consciousness, that the body alone is adequate to generate a continuity of consciousness. Here I will examine and critique these suggestions.

Brett wrote:

“I have no problem accepting a materialist account of the mind and here is why: if the dualist hold that certain material states of the brain “capture” or “hold in” the soul to the body, then they believe that it is sensible to say that some physical state causes the continuity of the soul’s interaction with the body. It appears to me that a dualist would have to accept this in light of what we know about labodomis: if dualism is true, then the altering, or rather severing, of the frontal lobe causes the aspect of the “soul” that causes emotion to vanish and go off somewhere else. Therefore, from this, we can draw a general principal (lets just assume that other phenomena of the mind like belief work in the same way emotion has been demonstrated to work) that physical states are a necessary factor for states of consciousness to endure continually. Well, if ((X and S)->continuous Y) where X is a certain chemical combination, S is some soulish agent, and Y is the consciousness being presently experienced, then it necessarily follows that (X->continuous Y) is also possible, where X and Y are the same things. If one is to say that X, since it is material and its parts are being replaced, cannot be one of the casual factors in bringing about uninterrupted consciousness because its token is changing constantly (X->continuous Y), then it follows that X should also be insufficient to continually “cage in”, or “hold onto” the soul in an uninterrupted fashion, as would occur in the case of ((X and S)->continuous Y). In short, it seems that the argument that Michael uses to critique the brand of materialism under question is either valid, and therefore the dualist and the monist account of consciousness are both incompetent, or the critique is invalid, and the dualist and monist models are both workable. I believe that both models, the dualist one and monist alike, are possible and that the critique does not show that either are incompetent, but I think the monist account wins because it does not multiply as many bodies to explain the phenomena as with the dualist account, when taking occum’s razor into consideration.”

I will try to analyze this part of Brett’s post in 3 segments.

(1) Brett first states that “if the dualist hold that certain material states of the brain “capture” or “hold in” the soul to the body, then they believe that it is sensible to say that some physical state causes the continuity of the soul’s interaction with the body. It appears to me that a dualist would have to accept this in light of what we know about labodomis: if dualism is true, then the altering, or rather severing, of the frontal lobe causes the aspect of the “soul” that causes emotion to vanish and go off somewhere else. Therefore, from this, we can draw a general principal (lets just assume that other phenomena of the mind like belief work in the same way emotion has been demonstrated to work) that physical states are a necessary factor for states of consciousness to endure continually.”

Brett uses language of “capturing” which seems to imply that on his view of dualism, the dualist is saying that the body is what causes the continual interaction between soul and body. But this is false. Dualists would hold that a precondition for the interaction of the soul with the body is the existence of specific physical states (the body, and more specifically, certain causal channels within the body). But preconditions (Brett’s “necessary factors”) aren’t causes. The example of lobotomy does show that the soul may have some powers that are inactive if certain physical states aren’t in place that the soul will normally act through. But that doesn’t imply that the body and specific brain states are efficient causes of the soul continually interacting with it–no more than the existence of a plaster surface is the efficient cause of a three week painting project.

It is the assumption that physical states cause the continual interaction that leads to Brett later arguing that “if the body can cause continual interaction, then the body can adequately cause continual consciousness”. I will continue to address the soul/brain relation below as related issues come up (see [3]).

(2) Next Brett says “Well, if ((X and S)->continuous Y) where X is a certain chemical combination, S is some soulish agent, and Y is the consciousness being presently experienced, then it necessarily follows that (X->continuous Y) is also possible, where X and Y are the same things.”

It seems to me that this is false–even obviously so. Take for instance the good ole’ volcano experiment that you did in fourth grade. You wanted to make foamy, fizzy bubbles. So you took vinegar (ingredient x) and baking soda (ingredient s) and you put them in the cheap paper-mache volcano sculpture. You got a whole ton of bubbles (continuous Y) and were a very happy kid.

But was it ever reasonable to believe that ingredient x was adequate on its own to give a continuous Y? I don’t see how. It is not in fact sufficient. The fact that X and S can lead to Y doesn’t imply by any known rules of inference that I’m aware of that X is sufficient by itself to generate continuous Y.

But, you might protest, we *know* this to be the case with baking soda and vinegar because we’ve *seen* the interaction between them and that both are joint causes of bubbling. But that isn’t true with the soul and brain states. We haven’t seen that they’re *both* jointly necessary. We just know that the brain states are necessary–the question of whether they are jointly necessary is something else. So its simpler, given this consideration, to assume that the soul is not a necessary factor and need not be postulated to explain consciousness.

I would agree with this (other things being equal–like assuming we don’t have any other arguments for the existence of a soul). But that last comment (“we know this to be the case with baking soda and vinegar… but that isn’t true with the soul and brain states…”) is the *real* intuition–a principle of parsimony–that motivates the assumption that a soul isn’t necessary to explain consciousness. All by itself, the assumption in the last comment (“we know…but this isn’t true…”) serves to undercut the assumption that a soul is necessary. But this is very different from the line of reasoning expressed in the argument for “possibly, X–>Y”. That original reasoning was what I have already criticized above; I thought it was more closely analogous to assuming that because baking soda and vinegar are jointly necessary and sufficient for bubbles, that vinegar by itself is necessary and sufficient for bubbles. Why incorporate that whole extra first part that is, by itself, fallacious reasoning until you add in the principle of parsimony to explain what you’re really trying to say (“we shouldn’t assume both are necessary for consciousness if we only experience one”) if the principle of parsimony would have got the job done in the first place?

(3) Next, Brett suggests that “If one is to say that X, since it is material and its parts are being replaced, cannot be one of the casual factors in bringing about uninterrupted consciousness because its token is changing constantly (X->continuous Y), then it follows that X should also be insufficient to continually “cage in”, or “hold onto” the soul in an uninterrupted fashion, as would occur in the case of ((X and S)->continuous Y).”

I think this assumes that on my account, a single continuous physical state is causally responsible for the
continual interaction between soul and body (I already discussed this above somewhat). But I deny this; I think that the soul by its nature interacts with its body so long as the body is available. The soul’s qualities are what cause the continual interaction with the brain, through the various causal channels in the brain.

You might think of it in terms of a computer–more specifically, a robot–like this: certain faculties of the soul are like USB ports. They can sense whether a USB drive (the body–specifically the brain) has entered into it (whether the soul and body are united). When the USB drive does enter into the port, it accesses it, (the soul is aware of the body) and displays it as available on the computer screen (kind of like the brain displaying sensory data [transmitted through the eyes] to the soul). Then the computer (soul) can interact with the USB drive (body/brain), transferring files on and off of it (causing brain events, and allowing physical/brain events to be preconditions to the soul causing mental events–if they are identified as the appropriate kind of physical events). But it is the computer’s robotic arm that goes through the process of inserting the USB drive (it is the soul that causes itself to be united to the body and keeps that union in place).

So some powers of the soul cause it to automatically be joined to the body if the right physical preconditions are in place.

Now, even if we grant the assumption that the body causes the soul to remain united to it, what follows? I’m not sure we can automatically go to Brett’s conclusion–that it follows that the body could be an adequate grounding for the continual existence of certain mental entities. Why would we have to assume that in order for the soul to remain united to the body, there must be the *same* body parts that cause it to be continually united? I don’t see why the physical states that causes soul-body union couldn’t be replaced over time slowly so that eventually they are totally replaced. It could be that every physical state of the type U (cause of the union between soul and body), whether it be U1, U2, or U3… Un, U[n+1], will automatically cause the union of what remains of the body with the soul that was united to it before. So why not think the soul remains united to the body so long as there is a state of type U?

For an analogy, think of a king’s throne that a servant has to carry on his shoulders to keep the king up. In order to keep the king supported, all you need is an entity of type S–a “strong servant type” of human being. There doesn’t have to be absolute numerical sameness throughout time–you can replace one servant with another after the first guy gets tired. All that has to be there is *someone* who can handle the load. Because we aren’t talking about an identity relation here (the servant example is illustrating continual causality, not sameness or identity) its okay for him to be replaced. He can uphold the king, who remains elevated in place the entire time.

So I think the problems with Brett’s arguments are numerous. Some of them seem to be fallacious (until coupled with considerations that would have illustrated the same point just fine on their own); others seem to be working off of assumptions that dualists aren’t willing to grant; while still others seem to be easily answerable.

Physicalism, Property Dualism, and Personal Identity (II)

December 21, 2007

Brett has suggested that my critique of property dualism as adequately grounding personal identity fails. Here I will attempt to respond to his criticisms of my argument.

Brett wrote:

Michael introduces this as a critique of type-property dualism, but this seems to be another critique of token-property dualism taken from a different angle. Michael points out that the second tape is a “different tape” from the first one, which seems analogous to the difference between the first token-molecules of the mind being different in token to the second token-molecules of the mind, even though they are the same type throughout. But as Michael himself points out the same image will pop up on the screen, and so he agrees that it is the same “type” and that nothing has changed as far as “type” even though, with the switching of tapes, things have changed with “token.” And since the “type” does show continuity between the exchanging of tapes, this hypothetical situation does correlate to what we experience phenomenological. So, in the instance of property dualism, where aspects of consciousness are the emergent property of brain chemicals, it seems that the changing of brain chemicals will not interfere with the belief, feeling, or image that it emergently creates.

Brett says that I am giving a critique here of token-property dualism. But what I am really arguing is that type-property dualism is counterintuitive. Its correct that I am pointing out that the second tape of the same type is a different token from the first one, analogous to the difference between physical state X token A and token B. And yes, the same type of image will appear on screen. So there is continuity of the type of image even though there’s two different tokens.

But that’s the whole problem. Personal identity, whatever it is, has to involve total continuity and sameness across time. Now think of how property dualism articulates personal identity. If a ship lost its mast and got a new mast, we wouldn’t say that it was exactly the same ship. Whatever we believe about personal identity, we can’t believe that its grounded in switching the ship’s mast every time it falls off; that’s precisely *not* a continuity of identity, but two totally different things. Similarly, two different showings of the same film are *not* the same film. They are two very different things.

Now, the continuity of mental states Brett is imagining that gives us personal identity is like the continuity between two different showings of the same film on a tv screen. Its two very different things, not having any of the exact same parts or properties in common with previous states of the mind. Two different video tapes have successively gone into the VCR, and now the image being projected on the screen is a different one from before. This is not a continuity but precisely a discontinuity of identity between this showing of the film and the previous one. It may be displaying the same image, but we would not say its the *exact same film*.

Its like the replacement mast on the ship: sure, its a mast–but its not the same one as before. And similarly this is not a continuity but precisely a discontinuity of identity between this mental state and the previous one. Thus the continuity that is suggested by this theory of personal identity is like the replacement of one mast on a boat with another mast–hardly adequate for claiming numerical sameness throughout time in the sense necessary for *identity*. At most, this theory of personal identity seems like it can be dubbed a theory of *personal similarity*.

In Brett’s next section he talks about how substance dualism is unparsimonious. This may be true if we have no arguments for it. But of course an argument for dualism from the inadequacy of non-dualist theories of personal identity would qualify to override this appeal to parsimony. For if materialists can’t explain personal identity, and property dualists can’t explain personal identity, then parsimony should be set aside for the explanatory power of substance dualism.