Is substance dualism about substances?

Aristotelians who hold that soul and body are separable cannot be considered substance dualists according to their own account of substance since Aristotle explicitly distinguishes substance not only from accidents but also from the parts of substance (see parts 2 and 5) and he defines soul and body as parts of a hylomorphic composite.

For that matter, Plato can’t be considered a substance dualist since he doesn’t regard the body as substantial, but only as a fleeting accident projected on the screen of the spacial-void.

It is only in Descartes that we get soul and body divided as a res from a res, but even here it would be silly to think that Descartes thinks that both are equally substantial.  It is very doubtful that he would ever say that matter has anything like what the self discovers in the cogito since it might exist but it is certainly not a self, and extension never suggests anything like the ontological concentration and self-setting-apart that one needs for a bona fide substance.

This is not just a dispute about language but points to an oversight in our accounts of substance dualism. If all we mean by “substance” in substance dualism is “what can exist separately” then everyone becomes a substance dualist about everything. We can donate organs, graft cells, tissues, and tree limbs, mix chemicals to form compounds, break apart the parts of atoms etc, and so everyone is a substance pluralist – even materialists. Again, any act of reproduction involves some part of a thing breaking off and attaining its own existence (this is true of both reproduction in the normal senses and of generating an identical twin. For that matter, it’s true of any cell division or DNA transcription) and so all these things should involve “substance dualism”. But this is probably an indication that we aren’t hitting what we’re targeting with the word “substance”, since even Descartes’s division of a res from a res isn’t enough to give us a duality of substance except in the sense that everyone accepts it.


The most well-understood and agreed upon personality trait in the FFM is neuroticism, or the tendency to experience negative emotions. The word is more popular as the name of a mental illness or irrational tendency and, to be honest, the FFM description of it is hard to distinguish from this. While we don’t know exactly how many negative emotions one should feel and so it’s not clear that neuroticism is an irrational or diseased response to the world, many other indicators point to it being a trait with no discernible upside. It’s hard to give a plausible reason why nature would select for neurotics, the trait is a good predictor of heart disease, and having no standard for how many negative emotions a person should feel seems to be an argument for never having them at all. Positive feelings are better than negative ones when all else is equal, and the absence of any standard makes this the case.

My N-levels are on the higher side of average while my wife’s are very low. I’m the one cursing at traffic while she tells me that it’ll all be fine and I’ll make the flight; I’m the one who talks to others by telling jokes about what went wrong that day in while she smiles about all the fun and interesting things she did and all the problems she solved; my insomnia gets caused by all the things that could go wrong or the things I did wrong and hers gets caused by thinking about all the things she has yet to plan or do. Since both of us are equally sincere and rational, it’s hard to see what the upside in my approach to the world is, and the more I monitor negative emotion the more it seems irrational and even an absence of insight. After all, things normally work out, most of what you think you botched are things that other people thought were either great or that they didn’t even notice, and even if neuroticism gave some insight it would be hard to argue that it was worth an increased risk of heart attacks.

So neuroticism is a confused and maladaptive response to the world –  a cross to bear and (we can hope) to be retrained. It was a tolerated mistake in our evolutionary history, like our bad backs, relatively narrow hips, or our propensity to any other disease. All the ancient ethical systems sought to train us out of neuroticism: Stoicism insists that our responses are up to us and that we should reject the disheartening, Epicureanism saw the whole point of ethical habituation as minimizing psychic pain, and Christianity divinized the command to not worry, revealed that all works out for the good of those who love God, that and commands that we should rejoice always.

God in the gaps theology

1.) The problem with the God in the gaps is that we name something divine which deserves to be brought to light as caused naturally.

2.) Naturalism: once you’ve given an account of where the thing came from and what it did, what else is there to explain about it?

Both can be interpreted as a natural theology that sees God as the cognitive horizon. St. Thomas did not have a horizon metaphor but his metaphor of God as the light of intelligence comes to the same thing: both are things that objects must enter to be seen but, in entering, must be divided from what they enter.

In the First Way, this horizon-light is suggested by the fact that moved movers can be infinite while never being total. In the Second Way, it is suggested by the fact that an efficient cause is necessary beyond the ones that form intelligible models and systems of interaction. In the Fourth Way, God is horizon-light within which we can place any transcendental predicate which has a relative relation to another and thereby forming a whole from the multitude.  The horizon-light is that in which things arise (3rd) or are intelligible by their ends (whether this is in existence or operation… the Fifth Way)

The Berkeleyan theory of the world as a sort of thought-veil that God projectively-perceives and we passively-perceive can be taken in the same way. For a separated intelligence prior to the beatific vision, this veil is the the intellect itself onto which God project-perceives the forms that

The (underappreciated) Medieval problem: If these are all creatures, are they substances or relations? At the level of metaphor, you might as well ask the congregation whether the veil hides the bride or identifies her.

An ontological argument

Consider the following predicate:

The English language.

In knowing what the predicate means, you concomitantly get information that such a thing exists. Behold! An Ontological Argument! The same would be true of other predicates: vision (since you read it) reading (ditto) meaning and, as Descartes figured out, self or person or thought. Even if we grant that no predicate considered formally contains information about whether it exists concretely this does not rule out other features of a predicate that can provide information about concrete existence.

This is relevant to Anselm’s proof since it is not limited to a consideration of the predicate that than which, etc. or greatest conceivable being as taken formally but also includes a reference to the one who hears his argument and understands the terms and the referent. This makes it perfectly analogous to the Ontological Arguments given in the first paragraph where, in diverse ways, the mode of knowing the predicate provided information about its existence, even if, like Kant, we insist that an existential judgment is never required from any predicates considered formally.  

God, nature, individual.

-I don’t know the history of the capitalization of “God” in English, but it obscures as much as it reveals. We lose sight of the word as speaking of a sort of thing.

-The complaint that “this doesn’t prove the Christian god” probably involves some confusion over arguing for a sort of thing, which theistic proofs can do, and proving something about a distinct individual, which is more a forensic argument than a philosophical one.

-The various problems of induction make it clear that we can’t just generate natures out of individuals, that is, we can’t see the individuals as known first and the nature as being pulled out of them. Individuals might flesh out a nature already or simultaneously known, or give existential content to a nature given as an innate idea, or serve as “reminders” in a Platonic sense, or serve as confirmations of abductively given natures, but to assume that they can just be generated from individuals is a dead end.

-Existence is not a predicate (i.e. belonging to the nature) only when nature and individual are distinct. If I can’t just read a definition of tachyons in a dictionary and know if there are any individual ones this is only because they’re the sort of thing where nature and individual are divided (This is tautological). The difference between Anselm and Kant is that Anselm thinks this is a feature of the objects one is speaking of whereas Kant thinks it’s a feature of human cognitive power. Anselm thinks he can just say “Sure, you can’t look at this nature and know if there is one – but look at that one and things are different” Kant, however, thinks that you look at either nature with a cognitive power that is incapable of deriving existential information from predicates.

-For Berkeley, Hume and Goodman, individual and nature are divided as being from non-being. Nominalism is not the claim that universals exist only in the mind, but that they do not even exist in the mind.

-If we identify a way in which a logical or formal inference could have been otherwise, the inference is fallacious. But every time we reason about that which has a nature differing from individual there will be a conclusion that could have been otherwise.

Vatican I as a charter for rational criticism

Vatican I declared infallibly that God can be clearly known by rational proof but did not give the proof or even confirm that we had found one yet. This is, in fact, all they could have done – they can tell philosophy that it’s taken a wrong turn and committed a theological mistake but they can’t tell it how to do its job.

These sorts of decrees are usually taken as undermining the credibility of Christian philosophers by determining the results of their inquiry in advance. This is true up to a point, but it misses the more important point that by not advocating any particular theistic argument the Church is allowing for the possibility that all the arguments we presently have are fallacious and so are impediments that need to be broken down and thrown out of the way.

In other words, for all we know Vatican I gave a dimension of religious fervor to the criticism of natural theology. Philosophers can’t borrow any light from its infallible decrees to give them a clue about what to think of the cosmological argument or the role of religious experience or the transcendental capability of the principle of causality or Berkeleyan All-is-perceived-in God arguments, etc. For all one can tell from reading Vatican I, natural theologians are in the state of third-century astronomers arguing over which circular orbits best describe the motions of the sun and planets.

The monkey typewriter hypothesis

1.) At infinity, probability disappears, since things are only probable if they can be otherwise at some time.

2.) One gets not just Hamlet or all the books in the British museum, but all of them backwards. Any signal will be buried in infinite noise. All possible information would not be usable or accessible. Sure, we would account for complexity, but how would would be able to locate it in anything outside of us?

3.) One doesn’t get all outcomes if they are tied to a time constraint: to get Hamlet fifteen minutes into one monkey typing is possible, but it does not become possible at infinity.

4.) It is a mistake to think that because we cannot be astonished to the point of incredulity at complexity arising from chance at infinity we therefore have a reason not to be so astonished at the claim that it arises in a finite time, or even in any finite time.

5.) We slip into a cosmological gambler’s fallacy when we think that a longer finite time (“billions and billions” or whatever) is more relevantly like the infinite than, say, twelve minutes. Infinite time does not make some possible outcome necessary because it is a really big number of trials but because it does away with any time for a possible outcome to exist, and so requires that it be actual. But this is exactly what can never be removed from a finite time.


An element in contemporary philosophy

There are four stages to a distinctly contemporary approach to philosophy. There is something like this approach in the thought experiments in ancient philosophy (like the ring of Gyges) and in the doctrine of possibility that Anselm adopts in his Ontological Argument, but it never was a dominant element in either Ancient or Medieval argumentation.

1.) Ockham’s Razor. One of Ockham’s fundamental principles is that you shouldn’t believe things you don’t need to. You ought to cut out everything not necessary. Said another way, you’re obliged to throw out everything whose opposite is possible.

2.) Descartes through Hume. Descartes adopts as a pure heuristic the idea that nothing allowing the least doubt is necessary. By the time we get to Hume, this is clearly stated as a conceivably criterion: anything conceivable is also possible, i.e. not necessary.

3.) Any narrative or made-up name is conceivable.  Our ability to tell a story about something or even say what a word means is taken as proving its real possibility. We don’t need to prove anything is possible (the way, say, that St. Thomas had to prove that the beatific vision was metaphysically possible.*) it’s taken as given as possible if we can tell a story about it, or even if we can coherently describe what we might mean.

4.) The storytelling principle. And so we hit on a distinctly contemporary belief that we should not believe anything if we can tell a story about it being otherwise or we are obliged not to believe something that is opposed to an idea that we made up. 


*It’s crucial to note the auxiliary verb “can” in the title and in the proof. He’s trying to prove something can be, not that it ever happens.

Note on the Mass

The Mass begins with the last words of The Book of Revelation, filled out by a Trinitarian formula: Gratia Domini nostri Jesu Christi [et caritas Dei, et communicatio Sancti Spiritus sit] cum omnibus vobis (Rev. 22:21) The sense is unmistakable: the Mass both continues where God’s revelation leaves off and fills it out.


Idealism, objectivity, God.

A: We run past some of the first arguments in Hylas and Philonous when we shouldn’t.

B: Like which?

A: Even the initial argument from heat generalizes across all the senses.

B: Hylas is there arguing that whatever we sense is in things. If we sense heat, the fire is hot; if we sense a green tree then the tree is green.

A: True, but the problem is we have to choose which premise is false:

1.) Whatever we sense is in the objects sensed.

2.) We sense pain.

3.) Therefore, there is pain in the objects sensed.

The conclusion is crazy, so we have to reject either (1) or (2), and we know (2) by direct and immediate evidence.

B: So why not just quarantine pain as subjective and allow the other sense qualities as objective?

A: Because the experience itself won’t let us do this. When we touch a fire we can’t separate the sense of heat from the sense of pain. We can’t put a burning charcoal in our mouth and focus on just the heat and not the pain.

B: Sure, but how does this generalize?

A: The example of tastes or smells are immediately analogous. We can’t divide painful smells or tastes – those that make us wretch or gag – from their “objective taste”.

B: This seems easier to do with sights and sounds though.

A: True, but even there we all admit that the object of aesthetic judgment and the “objective” object are the same thing. The face we take joy in is the same face we might dispassionately measure. A painter looking at trees is looking at the same object of the biologist.

B:  So the general argument is

1.) Whatever we sense is in things.

2.) We sense pleasure or pain (or aesthetic value or negative value)

3.) So pleasure and pain are in things.

A crazy conclusion leads us to claim that what we sense is not in things.

A: Exactly. The transcendental analogy seems hard to avoid: what pleasure is to sense so goodness is to intelligence.

B: But what’s objectivity then?

A: I think it’s just the superabundance of sense information to our sense powers.

B: Superabundance?

A: Yes – we can perfectly account for what we call “objective” by saying it describes the fact that there is always more information among sensible or intelligible things than what we are cognizant of. Just as a democracy needs voting but to my vote, existence needs perception but not my perception. When Hume calls ideas less vivid impressions the “less vivid” can just mean that there is less information in the idea – the copy – than in the impression. The complex impression always has more information than the idea that it is recorded as, but this is not because these things subsist in some sort of non-cognitive world.

B: So the Berkeleyan God is The perceiver who allows for the objectivity of perception where “objectivity” means only “superabundance over and beyond the information that our mind can attend to”.

A: Yes, exactly. This is why communities are always more divine and objective than individuals.




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