[tags: Monism vs Dualism Essays]

RE: what is the difference between materialism vs dualism?

Aristotle did not believe in Platonic Forms, existing independently oftheir instances. Aristotelian forms (the capital ‘F’ hasdisappeared with their standing as autonomous entities) are thenatures and properties of things and exist embodied in thosethings. This enabled Aristotle to explain the union of body and soulby saying that the soul is the form of the body. This means that aparticular person's soul is no more than his nature as a humanbeing. Because this seems to make the soul into a property of thebody, it led many interpreters, both ancient and modern, to interprethis theory as materialistic. The interpretation of Aristotle'sphilosophy of mind—and, indeed, of his whole doctrine ofform—remains as live an issue today as it was immediately afterhis death (Robinson 1983 and 1991; Nussbaum 1984; Rorty and Nussbaum,eds, 1992). Nevertheless, the text makes it clear that Aristotlebelieved that the intellect, though part of the soul, differs fromother faculties in not having a bodily organ. His argument for thisconstitutes a more tightly argued case than Plato's for theimmateriality of thought and, hence, for a kind of dualism. He arguedthat the intellect must be immaterial because if it were material itcould not receive all forms. Just as the eye, because of itsparticular physical nature, is sensitive to light but not to sound,and the ear to sound and not to light, so, if the intellect were in aphysical organ it could be sensitive only to a restricted range ofphysical things; but this is not the case, for we can think about anykind of material object (De Anima III,4; 429a10–b9). Asit does not have a material organ, its activity must be essentiallyimmaterial.

Descartes' conception of a dualism of substances came underattack from the more radical empiricists, who found it difficult toattach sense to the concept of substance at all. Locke, as a moderateempiricist, accepted that there were both material and immaterialsubstances. Berkeley famously rejected material substance, because herejected all existence outside the mind. In his earlyNotebooks, he toyed with the idea of rejecting immaterialsubstance, because we could have no idea of it, and reducing the selfto a collection of the ‘ideas' that constituted its contents. Finally,he decided that the self, conceived as something over and above theideas of which it was aware, was essential for an adequateunderstanding of the human person. Although the self and its acts arenot presented to consciousness as objects of awareness, we areobliquely aware of them simply by dint of being active subjects. Humerejected such claims, and proclaimed the self to be nothing more than aconcatenation of its ephemeral contents.

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In fact, Hume criticised the whole conception of substance forlacking in empirical content: when you search for the owner of theproperties that make up a substance, you find nothing but furtherproperties. Consequently, the mind is, he claimed, nothing but a‘bundle’ or ‘heap’ of impressions and ideas—that is, of particular mental states or events, without anowner. This position has been labelled bundle dualism, and itis a special case of a general bundle theory of substance,according to which objects in general are just organised collections ofproperties. The problem for the Humean is to explain what binds theelements in the bundle together. This is an issue for any kind ofsubstance, but for material bodies the solution seems fairlystraightforward: the unity of a physical bundle is constituted by someform of causal interaction between the elements in the bundle. For themind, mere causal connection is not enough; some further relation ofco-consciousness is required. We shall see in 5.2.1 that it isproblematic whether one can treat such a relation as more primitivethan the notion of belonging to a subject.

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There are two important concepts deployed in this notion. One isthat of substance, the other is the dualism of thesesubstances. A substance is characterized by its properties, but,according to those who believe in substances, it is more than thecollection of the properties it possesses, it is the thingwhich possesses them. So the mind is not just a collection ofthoughts, but is that which thinks, an immaterial substanceover and above its immaterial states. Properties are the properties ofobjects. If one is a property dualist, one may wonder whatkinds of objects possess the irreducible or immaterial properties inwhich one believes. One can use a neutral expression and attribute themto persons, but, until one has an account of person,this is not explanatory. One might attribute them to human beingsqua animals, or to the brains of these animals. Then one willbe holding that these immaterial properties are possessed by what isotherwise a purely material thing. But one may also think that not onlymental states are immaterial, but that the subject that possesses themmust also be immaterial. Then one will be a dualist about that towhich mental states and properties belong as well about theproperties themselves. Now one might try to think of these subjects asjust bundles of the immaterial states. This is Hume's view. But if onethinks that the owner of these states is something quite over and abovethe states themselves, and is immaterial, as they are, one will be asubstance dualist.


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If the reality of property dualism is not to be denied, but theproblem of how the immaterial is to affect the material is to beavoided, then epiphenomenalism may seem to be the answer. According tothis theory, mental events are caused by physical events, but have nocausal influence on the physical. I have introduced this theory as ifits point were to avoid the problem of how two different categories ofthing might interact. In fact, it is, at best, an incomplete solutionto this problem. If it is mysterious how the non-physical can have itin its nature to influence the physical, it ought to be equallymysterious how the physical can have it in its nature to producesomething non-physical. But that this latter is what occurs is anessential claim of epiphenomenalism. (For development of this point,see Green (2003), 149–51). In fact, epiphenomenalism is more effectiveas a way of saving the autonomy of the physical (the world as‘closed under physics') than as a contribution to avoiding theneed for the physical and non-physical to have causal commerce.

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Physical objects are spatio-temporal, and bear spatio-temporal andcausal relations to each other. Mental states seem to have causalpowers, but they also possess the mysterious property of intentionality—being about other things—including things like Zeus and the square root of minus one, which do not exist. No merephysical thing could be said to be, in a literal sense,‘about’ something else. The nature of the mental is bothqueer and elusive. In Ryle's deliberately abusive phrase, the mind, asthe dualist conceives of it, is a ‘ghost in a machine’.Ghosts are mysterious and unintelligible: machines are composed ofidentifiable parts and work on intelligible principles. But thiscontrast holds only if we stick to a Newtonian and common-sense view ofthe material. Think instead of energy and force-fields in a space-timethat possesses none of the properties that our senses seem to reveal:on this conception, we seem to be able to attribute to matter nothingbeyond an abstruse mathematical structure. Whilst the material world,because of its mathematicalisation, forms a tighter abstract systemthan mind, the sensible properties that figure as the objects of mentalstates constitute the only intelligible content for any concretepicture of the world that we can devise. Perhaps the world within theexperiencing mind is, once one considers it properly, no more—or even less—queer than the world outside it.