Monday, January 08, 2007

Is there a materialist consensus? An redated post from April 2005

I responded to a comment on Bibliocracy from an anonymous commentator, in the context of a discussion of Kim's work in the philosophy of mind:

Matthew Anderson: "a fourth to a third of scholars are theists (and hence, dualists of some sort)."
Anonymous: That doesn't follow. Significant numbers of academic theists are also physicalists.
Consider Nancey Murphy's _Whatever Happened to the Soul_. Peter van Inwagen and I believe William Alston are also physicalists. In his debates William Lane Craig always points out that theists aren't necessarily dualists as they can believe in resurrection alone.
I think the obvious fact that a lobotomy can destroy your intellect and moral inhibitions is such compelling evidence against dualism that about the only remaining motivation for defending dualism is a religious agenda rather than a genuine philosophical or scientific consideration.
I think Kim's point was that among philosophers of mind whose opinions are shaped solely by considerations having to do with the philosophy of mind, who don't bring any particular religious prejudices they feel compelled to defend to the table, there is nearly a consensus that substance dualism is false.
The "consensus" is among the remainder of philosophers of mind, those who are not a priori bound to restrict their reasoning only to those ideas which conform to religious doctrines. And that is as it should be, since the only justification for specific religious dogmas, after all, is tradition.
Even among theists, J. P. Moreland, William Hasker, and Victor Reppert are the only theistic defenders of dualism that I'm aware of. The neuroscientific
evidence for some form of physicalism has left them little wiggle room unless they want to go the way of creationists and dismiss legitimate scientific data altogether.
The NEAR-consensus lies with those who publish almost exclusively in the philosophy of mind. Those whose primary focus is in the philosophy of religion are the die-hard holdouts. That's why you are hard pressed to find enough nontheistic substance dualists to count on one hand.
4:28 PM

Victor Reppert said...
There are a significant number of other defenders of dualism besides Moreland, Hasker and myself. Geoffrey Madell's Mind and Materialism is a book that came out way back in 1988 with no explicit religion backing it up, Charles Taliaferro's Consciousness and the Mind of God came out in 1996, Swinburne's Evolution of the Soul came out in 1986, I know Plantinga has defended substance dualism, John Foster and Howard Robinson are defenders of dualism as well. Some of these people have religious commitments that have something to do with it, and some do not.
One's broader metaphysics invariably has a great deal to do with what one accepts in the philosophy of mind, and this makes sense. If you are an atheist, if you think that we started off with a physical universe and everything else got here by evolution, then you are hard pressed to find any way that a non-physical soul could possibly emerge. This is why many people in the philosophy of mind are convinced that they have to be physicalists no matter what the difficulties with physicalism are, and many of them, like Kim, McGinn, Nagel, (who isn't really a physicalist) and Searle, are prepared to acknowledge massive difficulties for physicalism. No one starts doing philosophy from a neutral position; everyone who has a world view, to some extent at least, uses the faith seeking understanding principle. See this discussion by Maverick Philosopher William Vallicella.

The arguments that Anonymous is providing show a close interconnectedness between mind and brain, but these discoveries seem to me to be quite compatible with dualism, as even Richard Carrier concedes.
You also seem to be underestimating the influence of intellecutal peer pressure, which pushes pretty strongly in favor of physicalism. At least it did back when I was in grad school!