Thursday, September 26, 2019

Simple dualism and animals

According to simple dualism, our immaterial souls are the bearers of our mental states and we are these souls. We have bodies, but the bodies are not parts of us. We are wholly immaterial.

If the motivation for simple dualism is that only an immaterial soul can have mental states, then we should think something similar about higher animals like dogs and octopuses. Thus, in Rover the dog just as in Alice the human, the soul is the bearer of mental states, and the body is not a part of the soul. Now, the name “Alice” on simple dualism refers to the soul, so that “Alice is in pain” means that she is the bearer of the pain and “Alice has a broken leg” means that the leg associated with Alice is broken (compare: “Alice has a broken bicycle”) rather than that a part of Alice is broken. Surely, “Rover is in pain” and “Rover has a broken leg” mean something very close to “Alice is in pain” and “Alice has a broken leg”, respectively. Thus, “Rover” on simple dualism also refers to the soul.

Furthermore, Rover might be Alice’s pet. And the kind of interspecies affection that might exist between Rover and Alice requires that Rover be the right kind of thing to have affections and other mental states, and so, once again, “Rover” must refer to the soul.

But of course we also say that Rover is a dog. The simple dualist now has two options. The first is to take literally the statement that Rover is a dog, and conclude that dogs—and presumably other higher animals—are immaterial souls (if Rover is immaterial and Rover is a dog, then Rover is an immaterial dog; and Rover surely does not differ radically from other higher animals). Thus, strictly speaking, biologists don’t primarily study dogs and octopuses but rather their bodies, and we have never seen any higher animal.

The second option is to deny that Rover is literally a dog. This presumably requires denying that we are literally homo sapiens. Rather, “Rover is a dog” is to be understood as shorthand for “Rover ensouls a dog.”

Neither option looks attractive. I conclude that Rover is not a soul, and neither is Alice.


Atno said...

If Alice is not her soul, I think the Christian understanding of life after death (before the general Resurrection, I mean) becomes a bit too puzzling. We ask for the intercession of saints, and surely we mean that Saint Francis really is in heaven and is experiencing the Beatific Vision and the Communion of Saints. If there is an experience, there is an experiencing subject. How could we fail to say this subject is Saint Francis? It would be weird to say it's only a part of Francis, "his soul". We ask for Francis's intercession and believe he is experiencing heaven already, but that would imply the person is in heaven already.

W.r.t. your argument, I think it has some strength, and something like hylemorphism could fare better. But the first option is not too bad, I think; angels are immaterial beings, and they are distinct from one another, and this presumably shows that there can be different immaterial substances with different capacities. If there can be angels and human souls, both very different from each other (both are rational, but angels are far more intelligent and powerful in the grasp of knowledge, for instance), there could be "dog souls" which are immaterial substances with still less capacities and powers than human souls.

Christopher Michael said...

I think you're right.

Michael Gonzalez said...

Pruss: I agree completely, and I often wonder how someone could think that mental predicates properly apply to anything but the living animal. It certainly isn't explanatorily helpful to move such predicates to some immaterial and invisible thing. If we can say of the immaterial thing that it has feelings, thoughts, etc. as basic active and passive powers, then we could say the same thing of the living organism. And the latter has the advantage, given that our entire conceptual scheme for talking about such things comes from living examples (e.g. part of what it means to be in agony is the writhing and moaning of the creature, even if some creatures can choose to hide such outward displays).


I wrote a couple of paragraphs about the Biblical view of souls, but let me just address the philosophical concern, and then you can read the Biblical points if you want to. Philosophically, I don't see any problem with saying simple Dualism is wrong, but yet saying that the saints are the very persons they were, and can be prayed to. After all, if we have immaterial and physical parts, then cutting off the body might be metaphysically akin to cutting off our legs.

The Biblical understanding of life after death (before the resurrection) is that you are asleep and unconscious (Ecc. 9:5, 10; Psalm 146:4; and any number of passages where "sleep" is used to describe death). The Biblical understanding of humans, prior to death, is that they are themselves living souls (Hebrew: "nephesh"; Greek: "psyche"; cf. Genesis 2:7 and 1 Cor. 15:45, for the Heb. and Gr. words respectively used to describe the thing made of dust that came to life). So are animals (Gen. 1:20). The term is used to refer to the living organism or the life that it has; it is never used to describe an immaterial part. As such, souls die (Ezekiel 18:4; using soul in the first sense) and souls can be destroyed (Matthew 10:28; using it in the second sense). The Law even specifies what to do if you come into contact with "a dead soul", and it clearly just means an animal cadaver.

"My soul", as in normal English jargon, is used to refer to oneself (even God says it at times (Isaiah 1:14), and He clearly does not have a soul in the sense in which you use the term).

And, finally, the Biblical understanding of humans going to heaven is that they put on incorruptible spiritual bodies. There is nowhere in Scripture in which it is described as us already having an immaterial part that goes somewhere when we die and then is re-united with the body.

With all that in place, I don't see why we shouldn't use the terms the same way the Scriptures do: We are living souls/organisms, and we "have" a soul in that we have life and prospects of life.

Alexander R Pruss said...


The second Person of the Trinity became a human being. But Scripture describes this as becoming *flesh*. That doesn't work well if a human being is a soul.

There are two main Catholic views on the saints now.

1. The people who lived saintly lives don't exist but their souls do, and we call these souls by the names of the people of whom they were the souls. They will become people again at the resurrection.

2. The people who lived saintly lives continue to live but are now reduced, having lost all their proper parts other than their souls. Strictly speaking, they are not souls: they are persons wholly constituted by a soul. (This view works best on a four-dimensionalist ontology.)

Martin Cooke said...

"That is me having tea with the Queen," I say, pointing to a photo.

Of course, that is not me having tea with the Queen. That is a photo.

But if we do take such utterances literally, then presumably the camera stole my soul.

And there were people who believed that cameras did steal people's souls. But so what?

Martin Cooke said...

If we are not souls in bodies, but are our animated bodies, then that is also puzzling.

For example, what happens if you lose a leg and get a mechanical leg? Is that part of you, or not? Neither option looks attractive.

If it is part of you, then part of you can be mechanical. If not, then is a transplant part of you? If it is, then why the difference? If not, then what about transfused blood? Or ingested food?

Martin Cooke said...

An actor with red hair plays a character with red hair, and I see the play on TV. Is it the same red hair? One is real and one is fictional. And the red is in my head, not on TV. But also the red is on TV just like it is on the actor's head, whereas the actor is not on TV, only his image is. And, of course, also he is on TV. He is quite famous.

My point is that the problem with Rover is one of a class of similar problems. Why should the problem with Rover say anything at all about dualism?

Michael Gonzalez said...


We have common ways of speaking about what is portrayed in an image (like a photo), and it is only someone who is not sufficiently competent in the language who doesn't understand what is meant (like that "threw it on the ground" video, where the guy says "this ain't my dad! this is a cell phone!" and throws it on the ground).

The issue of parts and wholes is interesting, but it's no mystery, and it doesn't count at all against the obvious fact that certain predicates can only meaningfully be ascribed to living beings.

The TV bit seems irrelevant; but I'll just correct one statement: The "red" is not in your head. The inside of your head is quite colorless and dark, as a matter of fact. Just have someone crack your skull open and check.

Martin Cooke said...

Thank you Michael. The point about the TV was that it would sometimes, in quite ordinary situations, be absurd to take utterances about what things are literally, even if some people do so take them. So: Rover is a dog. Also, perhaps, Rover is a soul. If he is a soul then it would simply be absurd to use the two statements together to show that he is not. Consequently it is simply no argument against dualism to so take them. There is no argument to refute!

The issue of parts and wholes does indeed not count against anti-dualism. But that was my point. Similarly, although the red is clearly outside in the world, it is a subjective experience and is therefore inside your head, in an obvious sense. In another obvious sense, it is indeed not, as you say. But that is not a correction. It is just one half of my point, which was that it both is and is not inside one's head. That third post was an extension of the first post. But it was not very clear.

The thing is, it is quite a murky question, where the clarity lies, when it comes to metaphysics.

Martin Cooke said...

Btw Michael, regarding your:

"I often wonder how someone could think that mental predicates properly apply to anything but the living animal. It certainly isn't explanatorily helpful to move such predicates to some immaterial and invisible thing."

Although I am a dualist, I think that you have a good point. My conception of the soul is that we will not know much about it until we are dead. How much of what we think is due to our being incarnated in/as a brain, and how much is longer term? I have no idea. I think that we go wrong if we assume that our soul will be much like our current personality. We are told, for example, that our spiritual bodies with be neither male nor female. But a lot of what I think, and how I think it, is down to my being a male human, I think. So, I think you are right to ascribe mental predicates to the living animal. But, that does not count against dualism (even if most dualists get that wrong).

Michael Gonzalez said...


Yeah, it's very interesting. I think the whole "soul" business is hugely misguided in both religion and philosophy; but, I'm not likely to fix that misconception.

I corrected the "red" example precisely because I don't think it is "inside your head" in ANY sense (obvious or not). At the end of the day, I think a lot of these little puzzles come from misuses of language.

Michael Gonzalez said...

Martin (with regard to dualism):

I actually agree that Dualism is not refuted, even if it is shown to add absolutely nothing explanatory. And I don't even see the problem with immaterial things influencing material ones. I think I am inclined to reject Dualism for two reasons: 1) Occam's razor (if it doesn't add anything explanatory, and it makes no sense to ascribe any of the mental predicates to it, then why postulate it?); 2) It helps me steer clear of ascribing it inherent immortality (which is anti-Biblical; the Bible teaches that souls can be destroyed, and that we cease to have a mental life at death, so I avoid Dualism as it seems to be a step in the wrong direction).

Having said all that, if it turned out we had a (mortal and destructible) immaterial part, which didn't do any of the mental stuff... I mean, I guess I wouldn't have any objection to that.

Martin Cooke said...

Michael, I suspect that my own dualism is wishful thinking (and pluralistic).

Regarding red, it is an experience, and given that it is your brain having it, then presumably it is where your brain is: inside your head? (Similarly, the electrical charge of an electron is wherever that electron is.)

Michael Gonzalez said...

I think your dualism has infinitely more chance of being right than the idea that it is your brain experiencing red. It is you who experience red. Brains can't see anything, nor experience anything.