Tuesday, November 28, 2023

The fundamentality of souls

Some dualists say that the soul is a fundamental entity.

I think we’re not in a position to think that. Compare this. We have no reason to think electrons are not elementary particles. They certainly aren’t made of any of the other particles we know of, so they are, we might say, “relatively elementary” with respect to the particles we know. But we would not be very surprised if electrons turned out to be made of other particles.

Similarly, we have good reason to think the soul is not grounded in any of the other things we know of (matter, accidents, etc.) But we should not be really surprised if a finer-grained analysis would reveal the soul to have a grounding structure beyond our current knowledge. We should be cautious and say the soul is “relatively fundamental” with respect to the entities we know.


Heavenly Philosophy said...

I think arguments from mereology and the unity of conscious experience give substantial reasons to believe that the soul is a mereological simple and in the existence of the soul itself.

Alexander R Pruss said...

That's a very good point. I forgot about the unity of conscious experience arguments, probably because I don't find them that convincing myself.

But here are a few responses.

1. I have unified experiences, and I am not a soul, but apparently a complex being. So a complex being can have unified experiences. Now it can be argued that it is only in virtue of a simple component of me can I have unified experiences. Fine. But it could well be that the soul isn't simple, but rather has a simple component that gives it unified experiences. (If we thought that giving us experiences was the only thing the soul did, this wouldn't be plausible. But the soul likely has other roles, such as abstracting universals from particulars or grounding our free will.)

2. The unity-of-experience arguments that I find somewhat plausible have to do with the difficulty of grounding unified consciousness in a spatially extended thing that communicates internally at a limited speed. A soul could be mereologically complex without being spatially extended or communicating internally at a limited speed. In particular, I am not aware of any good argument against the hypothesis that unified conscious states could be grounded in fundamental _relations_ between multiple nonspatial parts. A fundamental relation can be unified even if it has distinct relata.

3. Mereological grounding need not be the only possible kind of grounding. So even if the soul is simple, without further argument it does not follow that it is fundamental.

Alexander R Pruss said...

By the way, I think the point in my post applies more generally. I think philosophers are often insufficiently cautious in moving from the observation that something is not grounded in any of the other things we know of to the conclusion that the thing is fundamental. For instance, we argue that conscious states are not grounded in physical states, we can't find any non-physical states that would ground conscious states, and we jump to the conclusion that conscious states are fundamental. But they could instead have a complex grounding structure in states that we have no ken of.

Rarely do we have a really good argument that something is truly fundamental. God if he exists is fundamental--that follows from the concept of God. But beyond that, it is hard to be justifiably confident that anything else is fundamental. I used to be convinced that persons have to fundamental. Maybe, but I am not as confident as I once was. (By the way, if persons are fundamental, then given that we are not souls, it seems it has to be the case that souls are grounded in persons and hence are not fundamental.)

Heavenly Philosophy said...

I'm not really too against the soul being non-mereologically grounded.

A worry about the soul having multiple parts is that it would probably in principle be able to have those parts separated, violating the doctrine of the immortality of the soul.

Alexander R Pruss said...

The immortality of the soul does not say that the soul cannot be destroyed. Rather, it is something like that *in the course of nature*, the soul is not destroyed.

Daryl said...

Why are you no longer sure that persons are fundamental?

Alexander R Pruss said...

Persons might be composed of more fundamental metaphysical components like esse, form, accident, etc.

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