Dualism: Swinburne supports Descartes (Identity)

by David Turell @, Monday, February 22, 2021, 23:16 (164 days ago) @ David Turell

From an interview which mentions his book, "Are We Bodies or Souls":


"3:16: Your latest book asks whether we are bodies or souls and so engage with a very lively current debate within naturalism between substance monists and dualists – the Dennett clan on the one side and the Chalmer clan on the other! –but from a theistic perspective. To the Cartesian it always seemed that it was the body that needed justifying rather than minds or souls but these days the body seems to be taken for granted ( Searle’s comment ‘materialism is the religion of today’) and the problem is how minds fit in with a universe of just bodies. How do you characterize this lively contemporary debate – I take it that broadly speaking you think Descartes got things right?

"RS: Yes, I do think that broadly speaking Descartes got things right. That is what I have argued in Are We Bodies or Souls?

"3:16: You defend substance dualism but do so whilst standing by what current science is telling us about the mind and so forth. Can you sketch for us what you argue – and also say why ‘soul’ isn’t the same as ‘mind’ in your ontology?

"RS: The word “mind” is used in various sentences which merge into each other, and for that reason, I avoid it. I use “soul” in Plato’s and Descartes’s sense of an immaterial substance which is the essential part of each of us, while our bodies are the non—essential part of each of us. I argue that a future person being me consists in that future person having experiences which I will experience; and so the identity of me does not consist in what happens to my body, but in what happens to my conscious life, and so I am who I am in virtue of what happens to my conscious life. Nothing that happens in my body entails or is entailed by what happens to my conscious life. So being me must consist in being a substance separate from my body. But that’s far too short to be totally convincing, and you’ll have to read the book to get a thorough answer.

"3:16: How does your approach help understand personal identity and the questions that arise when we consider brain damage and aging and whether I can be the same person as the child or the very old person who is (barring unfortunate events) coming afterwards?

"RS: It is my soul which constitutes me. But my soul is sustained in existence by my brain (at least during my earthly life); and my brain largely determines which properties my soul has at any time. Hence my childhood interactions with the world form my childhood brain which forms my childhood outlook on the world; and my old age interactions with the world form my old age brain, which in turn forms my old age outlook on the world.


"3:16: How do you avoid epiphenomenalism ie the view that the soul has no causal effect on the brain, and vice versa – do laws of nature connect them in the right way and do neuro-scientists, physicists etc know these laws ?

"RS: Epiphenomenalism, which I understand more precisely as the view that brain events cause conscious events, but conscious events never cause brain events, is self-defeating. We could only know about our own past life if that conscious life caused effects in our brains which cause our subsequent memories of it; and we could only know about the conscious lives of others, if their conscious lives cause their testimony to it. So if epiphenomenalism were true, we could never have any grounds for believing that we have a conscious life (beyond the present moment) and so we could have no grounds for believing that epiphenomenalism was true."

Comment: I quoted Swinburne at length in my first book. Looking back. I find his thinking has stuck with me. I view the brain as a physical instrument the soul must use to form my immaterial conscious 'me'. There is lots more discussion about God, His personality and religion in this interview, and is worth reviewing.

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