Monism or Dualism? checking out Edward Feser and hylemorphic dualism


(Mitchell W McKain) #1

I started this thread to avoid going off topic in another thread. I certainly pretend to no comprehensive treatment of this topic in this OP and invite a wide open discussion of monism, dualism, Edward Feser and hylemorphic dualism.

First of all substance dualism is the frame of reference. To quote the philosophy-index:

Substance Dualism is a variety of dualism in the philosophy of mind which states that two sorts of substances exist: the mental and the physical. Substance dualism is a fundamentally ontological position: it states that the mental and the physical are separate substances with independant existence.

To add a little more clarity somewhat derived from my preference for scientific thinking and terminology over philosophical and theological traditions, by “substance” I am talking about the stuff things are made of, what in Aristotle’s works is usually translated as matter (hule) when he looks at all things as different forms of a material substance. This resonates with the scientific worldview which views everything in the physical universe as different forms of energy.

Edward Feser, following the lead of Aquinas shifts this from the mind-body relationship to the body-spirit relationship, and this is the essence of hylemorphic dualism, that the “human soul” is the “substantial form of the human body” which survives after death. Frankly my view is effectively the same as this though technically and semantically different in various ways.

To begin with I am a substance monist and you know why? Because monism has more explanatory power than dualism. Monism provides an explanation for many dualities and pluralities. Ice, steam, water as three phases of one molecular substance. Heat, motion, mass, light, all different forms of one quantity called energy. All excellent explanations and so that is a methodology which I use for all things. Monism is superior to the dualistic approach because it adds an explanation of the duality itself.

Mind and body? Two interdependent living organisms in different self-organizing substrates but both a part of the same system of space-time mathematical laws. (Yes, with regards to the mind-body problem I am a physicalist – and yet the effective duality of mind and body is still there and quite strong, with not only different needs and desires but a completely different system of passing on an inheritance to the next generation). And because I am a Christian, I also believe in an effective duality of physical and spiritual largely based on 1 Cor 15, and yet I would suggest that they also are different forms of a single substance which might be called pre-energy or the pure potentiality of being itself.

So… I would say that hylemorphic dualism is mostly that which is presented by Paul in 1 Cor 15 though he does not use the world “soul” but the phrase “spiritual body.” Because of the non-Christian religious and philosophical origins of the word “soul” I shy away from that word, preferring the word spirit. And also there are ideas in Christian theologies typically associated with that word which I also reject, such as the soul being something created by God and inserted into people. This does not agree with Paul in 1 Cor 15, who says that the spiritual body is derived from and grows from the physical body, which is also my view. Then there is the typical idea that the soul is what distinguishes human beings from animals. By contrast my view of what distinguishes human beings from animals is the entirely physical/natural human mind while a spirit is something we have in common. To bring this in accordance with the findings of science that the only significant difference between man and the animals is our abstract capable language, I see language as the substance in which the human mind has its self-organization.


(Roger A. Sawtelle) #2

@mitchellmckain, thank you for starting this thread to clarify your understanding of Reality. It appears that that this grew out of the discussion we are having.

The issue as I see it is that traditional philosophy sees Reality as either monistic or dualistic. I agree with you that neither of these is adequate. The mind is not a substance and yet the spiritual is Real, but not physical.

Time is not physical. Time is not One, but Three, past, present, and suture. Time is Relational and so is all of Reality as E = mc squared indicates. Matter is no more a form of energy than energy is a form of matter.

In my understanding of humanity humans are not just body and mind, we are body, mind, and spirit, This is in part based on theology, which insists that humans have a spirit as well mind, but also the science of psychology, where Freud spoke of the person as Id, Ego, and Super Ego. The Id is the physical or animal aspect of the human, the Ego is the Rational or mental aspect of the human, and the Super Ego is the Spiritual or moral aspect of the human.

Human beings are one Person with three aspects. We are Physical, Mental (Rational) , and Spiritual (Moral.) We can be physically well or sick, we can be mentally well or sick, and we can be spiritually and morally well or sick. We are one person with three spe3cts which are interdependent. Since other world views are based on their understanding of humanity, that is the body/mind relationship, I see no reason why mine should not be also.

My view is better because it more comprehensive and accurate. It forms the basis for reconciling science, philosophy, and theology which is needed for today’s world, where faith is not going to disappear.

In some ways my view is like Feser, but I would say that the human soul or psyche is the physical, rational, spiritual form of the human being that survives death in the mind and Spirit of God.


(Mitchell W McKain) #3

@Relates
Actually… Our discussion in my introductory topic, where we were mostly free to discuss whatever, was pretty much concluded. This thread was in response to @EvanFlick in the original sin thread, who raised the topic of Edward Feser and hylemorphic dualism.

Since the words “substance dualism” was not contained in the post he responded to, this comment did not make much sense. So I told him I would start a new thread to address the topic.


(Mervin Bitikofer) #4

Roger, I think you may have just unintentionally given a good terse “Credo for surgeons” here.


(Mitchell W McKain) #5

Time is an ordering of events. Science no longer supports the idea of an absolute ordering which must cover all events. Thus there may other sets of event with an independent temporal ordering. Thus God can be outside the temporal ordering of the universe without being timeless and this solves a considerable number of logical problems.

Past, present, and future are all simply a part of any temporal ordering, since they are automatically implied by the word “ordering.” Though there is in this an important philosophical question for from our personal view there is a sharp distinction between these three for our experience is that we exist in a present which is moving according to this ordering so that the future eventually becomes the present briefly and then becomes the past. The question is whether this is purely subjective or an illusion or whether there really is something happening which distinguish the three. I believe that quantum physics provides the answer to why our experience reflect something objectively real. The future exists only as a superposition of possibilities and when one of these becomes actual then that is the present so that the past is therefore singular.

The temporal ordering of the physical universe is a bit peculiar for it is a local space-time ordering at each space-time point. The picture is that of a cone opening up at each time and place in the two directions of past and future defined by the speed of light – this is called a Minkowsky space-time structure. Thus our instinctive way of picturing space-time like that of a motion picture film as a series of instances strung together is wrong, though this is a bit difficult for many to get their head around. If you are wondering why God might have made the universe this way, there is a rather easy answer to this: protection by separation. This means that gigantic destructive events in one part of the universe cannot effect other parts of the universe for such a very long time, we have little reason to be concerned about them, for whole civilizations will come and go in such lengths of time. It is not very popular for those who dream of star empires like in Star Trek, for this would make as such things a complete impossibility. Our domain is the earth and no more - which is not to say that some will not leave the earth and find a domain elsewhere. I can even point to Genesis 11 and say that singular human cultures dominating all of humanity is not something that God favors anyway.


(Shaun) #6

If they are truly independent, then why do we need to keep the body alive to see the sign of (mental) life?

When we die, is our mental substance still there? If yes, why can’t we see it behave like the mind when we are still alive?

How do the two substances interact or have influences on each other?

And, when a bird starts to hatch, does it use something mental to grow its mind?

If we don’t suppose a tree has mind, what physical substance does an animal need to use the mental substance to grow its mind?


(Randy) #7

Oh, whatever…I don’t mind…ooops. (Is that like Descartes walking into a bar; the barman asks, “will you have a beer today?”–and Descartes replies, “I think not”–and disappears?


(Shaun) #8

Is it actually what the universe is (not just limited to human beings)?
Or does the (physical) substance have the three aspects all the time wherever it is? It only needs to meet certain conditions or in certain state to show all of its three aspects?


(Roger A. Sawtelle) #9

Time is not physical. Time is rational. Time is not physical in that it is not made of matter/energy. What is your definition of the physical?

Time is rational in that it requires a rational observer, which does not necessarily mean a human being. I recently read about a study of a study where researchers were able to observe that mice did not rationally record trips around a maze in the same fashion so they were able to differentiate them by means of time.

One cannot have time without an observer which does not have to be human. Science is not physical, but based on rational laws of science. Since these laws are rational, they must be rationally created. The physical cannot think and produce rational laws.

God cannot be outside the temporal ordering of the universe, because God is the Source of the Rational, which includes Time, as well as the Source of the Physical. You cannot overlook the fact that the universe has a Beginning, which means that it was created out of Nothing.

E = mc squared. The c in this equation refers to the speed of light. speed or motion is based on space and time. If time is subjective, how can it be a part of a scientific equation? How can it be part of a Constant of the universe?

The past is not subjective. We know history took place. We know about geology and evolution. Time is real even though it is immaterial and not physical.

Yes, because humans are part of nature and a product of nature.

The physical is physical, but it is related to the rational and the spiritual. Time is not physical, not rational, but it is related to the physica and spiritual. The Good is not physical, the Good is spiritual, but it is related to the physical and the rational.

Things does just happen. They happen for as reason. They happen because they are caused. Science is not magic.

Plants, insects, animals, and human beings grow in certain ways because of their DNA code, which is rational, not physical. They do not just emerge by magic.


(Mitchell W McKain) #10

HEY! I made no such claim!!! That was a quote of the philosophy-index on the definition of “substance dualism.” Come on! If you actually read my post you would know that I say precisely the opposite being a substance monist! The problems with substance dualism are legion, though your particular argument here is a bit weak. To be sure this is part of a body of evidence which makes the idea of a non-physical puppet master operating the body to be unsupportable. But whether this has an impact on the viability of substance dualism depends on what relationship you are claiming for mind and body. But since I am a monist of the physicalist variety in regards to the mind-body problem, all the problems with substance dualism are eliminated.

You don’t have to read what I write, but why waste my time pretending that you have read it by writing a response? Notice that by contrast, I have read every word of your post and responded in detail to every single part of it.

Energy, the ultimate substance of all things physical, is neither created nor destroyed (although it can be borrowed). As physicalist (believing that the mind is just as physical/natural as the body), the substance of the mind continues to exist after death though it ceases to be a mind and the energy and matter absorbed into the environment.

I do believe in a spiritual existence which continues after death, but I am a substance monist with regards to that also… though in that case some of your questions are not quite so ridiculous from having failed to actually read my post. This is because even though I am a substance monist in that regard also, the relationship and interactions between spiritual and physical are mostly limited to an epiphenomenal one where the spirit takes on the form of the physical body as part of the choices we make. In this case both substance and its form remain after death. You cannot see it because it is not part of the same space-time relationships which make up the physical universe.

The single substance of physical matter and energy in the forms of two living organisms of mind and body interact and have influence on each other via the human nervous system.

The single substance of pre-energy or being in the two different forms of “physical body” and “spiritual body” (according to the terminology of Paul in 1 Cor 15) have much more limited interaction and the influence is almost exclusively one way as the spiritual body takes on the form and choices of the physical organism.

The mind being a self-organized construct of abstract language is not something birds have. They have a brain and means of communication but in general they do not have language. So let’s change the question to something more coherent: when a human baby is born, does it use something mental to grow its mind?

The mind is a living organism which is an self-organizing entity capable of growth, learning, maintenance, and adaptation to its environment. But it is life based on the memetic inheritance via human language rather than the genetic heritage via RNA and DNA. Thus the answer is basically yes, because the memetic inheritance fits the description of something “mental” which the mind uses to organize itself. But it certainly takes a good deal of time to do this starting at the very earliest at the 20th week of pregnancy when brain activity starts to an age of two or more as the infant learns to speak.

Now the substance dualists typically believe that the mind/soul thingy they believe in gets magically inserted at some point – which they can even insist happens at fertilization so they can make a big deal about pushing their ant-abortionist fetishes on other people.

An abstract capable language is required for a mind.


(Shaun) #11

You became irritated by my questions. I am sorry for it. I joined this community to more ask/learn than tell/teach. That’s why you would find more questions I’ve asked than statements I’ve made.

What makes me curious is that what you think (now) is exactly what I thought when I was a student. I thoroughly abandoned monism after I was nearly murdered by criminals. It’s truly a miracle that I am still alive. Monism didn’t help me have sounder judgment, instead it weakened. The deadly lesson forced me to realize that the world couldn’t be predicted or detected or determined just by the supposition of monism (either physical or spiritual).

Although we do not know how dualism or pluralism works, it (or they) helps us become wiser especially when we deal with human beings. The world smartest scientists who are able to explain everything precisely in the physical world may be fools when they face criminals who may not even graduate from high school.

My questions are the result of my curiosity, not criticism.

Thanks for your posts and answers.


(Shaun) #12

If time is physical, then space too even if it’s empty.

This leads to the conclusion that nature is God or God is nature/the universe itself.

So DNA code has the secret of assembling all of the three aspects together?


(Mitchell W McKain) #13

Not at all… I was irritated by your carelessness in treating a quote defining the position I was criticizing as something I was saying myself.

Exactly? You cannot be serious! That kind of thinking is self-centered to an embarassing degree. You are not the measure of the development of human thought. Shall I respond in kind to say that your choice to abandoned clear thinking just demonstrates the confusion that people can become mired in? lol

Although unlike philosophy, science doesn’t start with a position like monism, it has nevertheless demonstrated over and over the explanatory superiority of the monistic approach over the dualistic one. But if you expect science to help you have more sound judgment in the living of your life, then you are looking in wrong place. Science is objective observation where what you want is irrelevant. Life requires subjective participation, where what you want is crucial. Science is an activity not a way of life and to treat it as such is rather delusional.

None of this changes the explanatory superiority of monism over dualism. It is just that explanations and even understanding isn’t everything. No matter how well you understand that something is bad for you, this does not mean that you will not do it. But if you think ANY of this provides the slightest endorsement for dualism, that is just absurd!

This brings the following passage in the Bible to mind…
James 1:27

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

I shall certainly not have my thinking dictated to me by the behavior of criminals. Is a way of thinking wrong simply because human garbage will kill me if I do not agree with them. I don’t think so. The typical thinking of the criminal is that might makes right and if they point a gun at me then I must do what they say. WRONG! I refuse to accept the lie that what they do depends upon me. It does not. People who behave that way cannot be trusted, therefore what they say is meaningless. I think I will attempt to make the world a better place by removing them from it even if it costs me my life.

People can become very focused on the things which interest them and thus be at quite a loss when confronted by things they have never considered. Others like myself are constantly thinking about what they will do in every imaginable situations, planing for all possibilities so they are prepared when these things happen.


(Shaun) #14

I didn’t know that it’s embarrassing to say “I thought the same / I had the same idea, but …”, and it makes one become the measure when he tries new ideas based on not what he is but facts.


(Mitchell W McKain) #15

Agreed. The problem is with the exaggeration in your use of the word “exactly.” There is no way that my thinking is exactly the same as what yours used to be. There is just the one commonality that you used to like the word monism and I like the word monism now. But were you a physicist? And that is just one of a million differences. Frankly I doubt the word meant anything similar to you. But more importantly, the fact that you changed your mind about something has no bearing whatsoever on the truth of it. Does every time a Christian converts to Islam mean that Christianity is inferior? Does every time a Christian become an atheist mean that Christianity is wrong? LOL The fact is that sometimes people convert back. None of it, proves any such thing.

So… you should avoid implying such a thing. You can say you used to like monism but then you changed you mind. There is nothing objectionable in that. The fact is that there are many versions of monism just as there are many versions of Christianity. I frankly think atheism is an improvement on many of these versions of Christianity. And I think my version of monism is superior because it also explains the duality in much the same way that science explains the differences between air, fire, and water, which is a vast improvement over the antiquated thinking that these are fundamental elements


(Roger A. Sawtelle) #16

I am puzzled. I said that time is not physical, and then you say, “if time is physical.” It seems like a non sequiter. What do you mean?

Space is never “empty.” Space is a concept, not a thing. It is rational, not a physical thing made of matter/energy.

That humans were created by nature, in no way means that nature is God, just means that God used the universe which God created for this purpose to do this task. It is only of we believe that nature could not do this that we would think that it must be God Who did. It is true that Nature can not crate humanity on its own, but we cannot say that God could not work through nature to do this, because God can do anything.

No, DNA is not the secret of bringing these three aspects. These three aspects are always together, because God created the universe based on triunity. In living things it is the spiritual life force that gives an organism its purpose, meaning, unity and form.


(Shaun) #17

Thank you Roger.
I found your posts inspiring.

Sorry I didn’t say more to make it clear. What I said was non sequitur. Your discussions on time inspired me to think about space. We often talk about things that would occupy some amount of space. But not many discussions on space.

Time is one of the conditions for things to happen. For example, I need time to finish something. But there’s no enough time, then I say no I don’t have enough time (I can’t finish it). Time is related to the speed of change. And when things change from one state to another, they need time, which is related to the speed of change. Speed is defined based on time and change. Change, speed and time can’t be separated. If things don’t change, then they don’t need time, either time exists or not.

If there’s no size or motion, things can exist without needing space. Space is related to size, position and change.


(Roger A. Sawtelle) #18

Good to see you thinking for yourself about reality, instead of accepting the opinions of others.

The interdependency of all things is inherent in E = mc squared, which is why Einstein upended traditional philosophy and scientific thinking. W still have much to learn from him.


(system) #19

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