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Seven Proofs for the Natural Immortality of the Human Soul

Thomas Aquinas

The late Dr. Antony Flew—perhaps the greatest atheist thinker of the last hundred years—came to faith in God largely through his studies in philosophy and, most especially, science, as he recounted in his book written with Roy Abraham Varghese, There is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind.

It was in 2004 that Dr. Flew rocked the world with his confession that he had come to believe in God. He made clear that he accepted deism, and not the God of the Bible, or of any other of the great world religions. But this in no way lessened the impact of his startling declaration. The reactions ranged from surprise, to disbelief, to even questioning whether Dr. Flew's mental capacities were diminished, perhaps because of his age. He was 81 at the time of his "conversion."

Let me assure you, as one who knows personally one of the men who walked alongside Dr. Flew on his journey toward truth, and who helped him to write the above-mentioned book, Roy Abraham Varghese, his radical change was very much real, his faculties were not diminished, and he was entirely free in his decision-making process.

It is interesting to note that in the second appendix of There is a God, there is a fascinating dialogue between Dr. Flew and New Testament scholar N.T. Wright on whether or not God has revealed himself to man, where Flew had this to say about Christianity:

"I think that the Christian religion is the one religion that most clearly deserves to be honored and respected whether or not its claim to be a divine revelation is true. There is nothing like the combination of a charismatic figure like Jesus and a first-class intellectual like St. Paul...If you’re wanting Omnipotence to set up a religion, this is the one to beat." (pp. 185–186)

Dr. Flew never came to accept Christ or Christianity, or any of the distinctively Christian teachings like the inspiration of Scripture, the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, the incarnation of Christ, etc. This is almost to be expected as they are dependent upon supernatural assistance and the acceptance of divine revelation. As a deist, Flew would have accepted none of these teachings.

But interestingly enough, Flew also never came to accept the immortality of the human soul. And this is a truth that is knowable by the natural light of reason apart from revelation. This makes me wonder if this may well have been the linchpin that, if understood and accepted, might have completed the foundation for Dr. Flew upon which the entirety of the revelation of God may well have been able to rest. Perhaps then Dr. Flew would have been able to accept the further light of revelation?

Perhaps.

Because Dr. Flew, unfortunately, died in 2010, just six years after his declaration of faith, I also wonder if time simply ran out. Dr. Flew was truly a fascinating man. And, according to my friend Roy Abraham Varghese, he was a good man as well.

Our Reason Tells Us So

 
Dr. Flew was certainly not alone in his struggle with the concept of the natural immortality of the human soul. (I say "natural" because human beings uniquely possess an immortal soul by nature. That means, according to Catholic teaching, man does not need grace in order for his soul to live forever. It would do so naturally, even if he ends up in the isolation and emptiness of hell forever.) This is a difficult point for many atheists.

If someone already believes in the Bible, and in the Church that has the authority to definitively interpret it, then the natural immortality of the human soul follows easily. But, obviously, not everyone accepts the Bible as God's word.

Yet that's okay, because this truth can be demonstrated through reason alone, i.e., through philosophy. To do so, we must first establish the fact that humans have souls at all, and define our terms.

Does Fido Have a Soul?

 
The soul is, by definition, the unifying and vivifying principle that accounts for the life and what philosophers call the “immanent action” of all living things. The word “immanent” comes from two Latin words that mean “to remain” and “in.” “Immanent action” means the multiple parts that comprise a living being are able to act “from within” in a unified way, and in accordance with its given nature, for the good of the whole being. The soul is what accounts for this unified action that is essential for there to be life.

St. Thomas Aquinas argued, and it follows from our definition of the soul above, that not only humans, but non-rational animals and plants have souls as well. Man alone possesses what St. Thomas called a "rational" or "spiritual" soul. Plants and animals possess "material souls" that, unlike human souls, are dependent upon matter for their existence. But they possess souls nonetheless.

To be precise, there are three categories of souls:

1. Vegetative - This category of soul empowers its host to be able to take in nutrition and hydration, grow, and reproduce others of its kind. A rock can't do this.

2. Sensitive - An animal with a sensitive soul can also acquire sense knowledge and use locomotion to both ward off danger and to gather goods it needs to survive and thrive.

These first two categories of souls are material in nature. By that I mean they are entirely dependent upon the material body for their existence. As St. Thomas says, “They are adduced from the potency of the matter.” When the host dies, the vegetative or sensitive soul ceases to exist.

3. Rational - Capable of all the above, the animal possessing a rational soul is capable of acquiring intellectual, or "spiritual," knowledge as well, and of choosing to freely act toward chosen ends.

The question now becomes: how does any of this demonstrate the soul of man to be immortal?

What is Death?

 
In order to get where we need to go, we first have to define death. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines it as “...the separation of the soul from the body”—an excellent definition. But perhaps a more precise philosophical definition is: “The reduction of a composite being into its component parts.” This is why I would say when Fido dies, you might want to get him out of the house and bury him. It won't take long for him to start the process to becoming “reduced to his component parts.” And that process gets a bit messy!

However, a spirit, by definition, has no parts. There is nothing to be “reduced to its component parts.” Thus, that which is purely spiritual cannot die.

So for my first four proofs for the immortality of the soul, I am going to demonstrate it by showing the soul to be “spiritual” in nature. If I can do this, I will have accomplished the task at hand.

For my fifth, sixth, and seventh proofs, I will make my appeal through what we find in human experience down through the millennia that points us in the direction of man possessing an immortal soul.

The Soul, the Person, and the Body

 
The two principle powers of the soul are its power to know and to will. Why do we say these powers lie in the soul? In simple terms, it is because it is the entire man that comes to “know” or to “love” (love being the highest purpose of the will) not just “part” of him. This would seem to indicate that the same "unifying and vivifying principle" that explains man's life, would also explain his power to know and to will.

But man is more than just a soul. He also directly experiences the “I” that unifies all that he is and all that he has done down through the decades of his life. This "I" represents the individual “person” that constitutes each human being.

Is there a distinction between the soul and the person? Yes. But it can be a bit tricky to demonstrate.

Perhaps it would be best to demonstrate the distinctions by laying out some of the differences between the body, soul, and person.

There is no doubt that the body contributes to the soul’s ability to come to know. A damaged brain is a clear indicator here. The soul needs a properly functioning brain to be able to come to know anything, ordinarily speaking.

Yet, it is also interesting to note that man is much more than a body as well. Philosopher and theologian J.P. Moreland writes:

“...neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield electrically stimulated the brains of epilepsy patients and found he could cause them to move their arms or legs, turn their heads or eyes, talk or swallow...”

But yet, Moreland says, the “patient would respond by saying, ‘I didn’t do that. You did.”’ Further, no matter how much probing and electrical prodding, Penfield found there is no place in the brain that can “cause a patient to believe or decide” (Lee Strobel, The Case for a Creatorp. 258.).

Thus, the “I,” or, the person, seems to use his body, or here his brain, to be sure, but “he” is not determined by it.

We can also say with confidence that the “I” is not synonymous with the intellect and will, or the soul, either because “I” can struggle to remember, to know, or to exercise my will. There seems to be more to a person than just a body, or even just a soul. Man seems to be a body/soul composite. Both his body and soul contribute to the great and mysterious “I.”

The Proofs for the Natural Immortality of the Human Soul

 

1. The Intellect Possesses the Power of Abstraction

 
St. Thomas Aquinas explained, “The operation of anything follows the mode of its being” (Summa Theologica, Pt. 1, Q. 75, art. 3). To put it in simpler terms: action follows being. One can tell something of the nature of a thing through examining its actions. Hence, the spiritual nature of the human soul; and therefore its immortality, can be proven through the exhibition of its spiritual power in human acts. One such "spiritual action" is the power of abstraction.

To use Thomistic language once again, when a human being comes to know something or someone, let’s say, he sees a man, “Tim,” his senses engage the individual; “Tim,” through the immediate "accidental" qualities that he sees. By "accidentals," we mean the non-essential, or changeable, aspects of "Tim" like his size, color, weight, etc. From this conglomeration of accidentals, his intellect abstracts the “form” of “man-ness” from that individual (This reminds me of a philosophy professor I had in college who seemed to have an inability to pronounce a noun without adding a “ness” to the end of it.).

This "form" the intellect abstracts is an immaterial likeness of the object thought about or seen. It is ordinarily derived from a particular object, like the man, “Tim,” as I mentioned above, but it transcends the particular individual. The form gets at the essence of "Tim." It is that which is universal concerning "Tim," the man. He is risible (he laughs), he reasons, and more. This is that which is changeless and applies not just to "Tim," but to all men. And very importantly for our purpose, we must remember that this essential “form” abstracted by the intellect is a spiritual reality. It transcends the individual.

Now, there is a material likeness, or image, that is concrete and singular, impressed in the memory of man, but that is not what we are talking about here. Dogs, cats, birds, and bats have memory. Non-rational animals do not have the power to abstract the form of “man.” Only human beings can comprehend “man-ness” or “dog-ness.”

This is not to say the soul of a dog is not real. It is, as St. Thomas Aquinas says, a "real principle," and it is “adduced from the potency of the matter.” This is analogous to elements formed into a compound or an atomic explosion caused from the potency of the matter used in the formation of a bomb. Certain kinds of matter exist in potency to other kinds of matter that when joined create elements, atomic explosions, or Fido! But only man (among animals on earth) has this power of abstraction that necessarily involves a spiritual principle.

Why is this crucial to understand? Well, let’s introduce yet another “form” here: “tree-ness.” “Tree” is defined as, “A woody perennial plant, having a single main stem or trunk arising from the soil and having branches and foliage.” This would represent “the form” that is common to all trees apart from any particular. I could burn the individual tree from which I abstract the form of “tree-ness,” and reduce it to ash so that there is no longer this particular “tree” in existence, but I can never burn “tree-ness” because it is “spiritual,” or “universal.”

Remember our philosophical principle? "Action follows being?" If the soul has this spiritual power to “abstract” the form of “tree,” or “man,” it must be spiritual. And if the soul is spiritual, it has to be immortal. It cannot be “reduced to its component parts.”

2. The Soul Forms Ideas of Realities That Are Immaterial

 
The human soul not only abstracts the forms of material entities encountered, but it also has the power to know the ideas or “forms” of immaterial realities like logical sequence, moral goodness, property rights, philosophical categories like “substance,” cause and effect, and more.

Where are these realities? What color are they? How big are they? How much do they weigh?

They have no color, size, or weight because they are spiritual—and by definition—immaterial. Sense image alone (like the Empiricists John Locke and David Hume say is the only source of knowledge) cannot account for these. We are not talking about the material world here.

To form an idea of something spiritual, again, requires a spiritual principle, i.e., the soul. If it's spiritual, it can’t die.

3. The Will Strives for Immaterial Goods

 
Closely related to my first two proofs, just as the intellect has the power to abstract the “spiritual” forms of the things and beings it encounters, and to form ideas of immaterial realities, the will also has the power to strive for immaterial things, like prudence, justice, temperance, fortitude, etc. One cannot produce what one does not possess. There must be a spiritual; and therefore, immortal principle (the soul), to will these spiritual realities.

4. The Intellect Can Reflect Upon Its Own Act of Knowledge

 
It could not do so if it were material. A material faculty, such as the power of vision, only reacts in response to external stimuli. It could only be said to “perceive” inasmuch as one “part” was acted upon by another “part” of something else. When our intellect reflects on its own act of knowing, and we could add its own act of being as well, it is both subject and object of knowledge. The soul can only do this if it has no parts. A dog cannot reflect on its own act of knowing, or being. It just scratches! That is sense knowledge.

5. Man Has a Natural Desire to Live Forever

 
Aristotle gave us an extremely important philosophical principle when he said, “A potency without the possibility of actuality destroys nature.”

The existence of acorns necessitate the existence of oak trees. It is not that each individual acorn will be actualized and become an oak tree. That is clearly not the case. But if no acorns could be actualized, there would be no oak trees.

We could multiply examples here. A digestive system in animals necessarily means we can know there is food… somewhere out there. A female dog necessitates the existence of a male dog. If there's not, then "dog" will be eliminated in fairly short order.

Thus, the non-rational animal seeks self-preservation, food, and sex. Each of these is conditioned by time. Man has intellectual knowledge which is absolute. The “forms” are not conditioned to time as material knowledge is. Remember? The individual “tree” will die, but not the “form” or “idea” of tree that man alone possesses among creatures of earth. From this knowledge of the eternal springs a spontaneous desire to live forever. And this potency cannot exist in vain. That would be contrary to everything we see in nature.

6. The Testimony of Mankind Over the Centuries and Millenia 

 
From ancient Egypt's Book of the Dead, to Western Civilization's Bible, every civilization, every culture, in all of human history has attested to the existence of an after-life.

Some will point out the very few exceptions—one being Hinayana (or Theravedic) Buddhism—that deny the existence of "spirit," or the soul, to discount this our sixth proof. But to no avail.

Actually, the exception tends to prove the rule. And this, I would argue, is certainly the case with Hinayana Buddhism. Not only is this ancient form of Buddhism an anomaly in the world of religion, but the appearance of Mahayana Buddhism (that restored belief in “God” and “the soul”), very early in the history of Buddhism, and the fact that it is today by far the largest of the three main traditions of Buddhism, tends to demonstrate that man is so ordered to believe in the afterlife that errant thinking here or there over millenia can never keep its truth suppressed for very long.

7. The Existence of the Moral Law

 
My final proof for the natural immortality of the human soul is derived from the existence of the Moral Law that we can know apart from divine revelation. This is a true law knowable to all, and a law that man did not give to himself. And yet, it is often unpunished and the sanctions of law not carried out.  Hence, there must be an eternity where all is rectified.

Even Plato understood the necessity for the Moral Law to be rooted in the justice and wisdom of God. Without the immortality of the soul, Plato noted, there is no justice, which would be absurd. Yet if there is a God who is just, then there must be final justice. Since final justice so often does not occur in this life, there must be a next life in which justice will be served. Thus our souls must be immortal.
 
 
Originally posted at Catholic Answers. Used with permission.
(Image credit: Dumb Ox Ministries)

Tim Staples

Written by

Tim Staples is Director of Apologetics and Evangelization at Catholic Answers. Raised a Southern Baptist, Tim fell away from faith during his childhood. He later joined the Marine Corps, and during his final year in the Marines, he began a two-year search for the truth. That eventually led to him converting to Catholicism in 1988. He spent the following six years in formation for the priesthood, earning a degree in philosophy from St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Overbrook, Pennsylvania. He then studied theology on a graduate level at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland, for two years. Realizing that his calling was not to the priesthood, Tim left the seminary in 1994 and has been working in Catholic apologetics and evangelization ever since.

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  • But this in no way lessened the impact of his startling declaration.

    I'd say it lessens it quite a lot.

    Let me assure you, as one who knows personally one of the men who walked alongside Dr. Flew

    i.e. as nobody in particular.

    This is almost to be expected as they are dependent upon supernatural assistance and the acceptance of divine revelation.

    I'm glad to finally see an admission here that the evidence is inadequate to justify Christian belief.

    I say "natural" because human beings uniquely possess an immortal soul by nature.

    Human beings uniquely? Is that homo sapiens only? What about the others species of humans?

    The soul is, by definition, the unifying and vivifying principle that
    accounts for the life and what philosophers call the “immanent action” of all living things. ... St. Thomas Aquinas argued, and it follows from our definition of the soul above, that not only humans, but non-rational animals and plants have souls as well.

    Uh, no, it doesn't. You can't define something into existence. A definition is a starting point of a theory; next you go look and see if there is anything that matches the definition. If so, keep at it. If not, alter or discard the definition.

    When you've done that, and if you've found something, then get back to us on whether it's immortal.

  • I'm afraid I do not understand what Mr Staples means by "soul" here. He notes a definition of:

    "the unifying and vivifying principle that accounts for the life and what
    philosophers call the “immanent action” of all living things"

    I was surprised to see the human soul referred to as a "principle" that is, apparently, unknown. On my understanding, the word "principle" is used to refer to abstract rules conceived of by humans. Principles can be stated quite well in language, but this principle is unstated, why?

    I see no reason to accept that there is a single principle that accounts for the life and immanent action of living things, other than the "principles" of chemistry. Meaning generally the arrangement of matter into molecules and compounds that interact and react according to the laws of thermodynamics and the theory of electromagnetism, among other things. But this or these principles are not unique to life or even organic matter.

    I expect I am not describing what Catholics accept is the "soul" or human souls. Could someone elaborate?

    • TomD123

      What is being referenced here is something from Aristotle's philosophy, namely the "form" of a thing. Basically, the form is the idea of the thing which makes it the type of thing that it is. For instance, the form of a rock is the idea of a rock which is instantiated in a chunk of matter, making the matter+form=rock. Matter itself (formless) has the potential to take on any form whereas form is just an idea that needs instantiation in matter.
      Hence, here, the soul is simply the form of a living thing. It accounts for the actions simply because the form of anything accounts for what type of thing that it is. So a form accounts for all of the actions of a rock, a tree, a chair, a river, etc. The soul is just one example among many forms according to Aristotle.
      The philosophy of nature in question here is called "hylomorphism." Sp?
      It need not be accepted by Catholics. A Catholic just has to accept that a human has an immaterial component which is naturally immortal. Additionally, that it is not the entire person, as a whole person is body and soul united as one in the same substance, not two separate substances. Hylomorphism or "Hylomorphic Dualism" as some call it has its appeal because it satisfies these requirements and is based off of Aquinas, but it is not a dogma of the Church even though the Church often uses the phrase "the soul is the form of the body" C.f. Ott Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma

      • Sounds like Platonism to me. I see no reason to refer to these "forms". What makes a rock a rock are its chemical properties and mechanical state, not some independent, or semi-independent idea or concept.

        I am a monist and a materialist, so to me these claims of immaterial components need to be justified.

        • TomD123

          It is similar to Platonism, however, when developed by Catholics it has generally been Aristotiliean. The difference is that the followers of Aristotle hold that forms are immanent in that which they instantiate and they exist in the mind however there is no third realm of forms.
          Anyway, the forms aren't really immaterial in the sense that the human soul is, they would just be abstract concepts or ideas rather than immaterial things which could exist on their own, in fact, a pure form could not unless it was "subsistent" as Aquinas thought to be the case with the form of man.
          But that is besides the main point for the immateriality of the soul anyway. As I said above, one need not be a realist about forms to accept there exists an immaterial component to man. The claim about immateriality of the soul has been defended in the article, there are many other defenses out there. I believe that they are good. The claims about forms in general I remain, like you, unconvinced but the two issues are not the same.

  • (Part 2. An article this long needs multiple responses separated by topic.)

    To be precise, there are three categories of souls:

    Only three? How can you be sure?

    1. Vegetative - This category of soul empowers its host to be able to take in nutrition and hydration, grow, and reproduce others of its kind. A rock can't do this.

    Do you mean to refer to the enzymes making up the metabolic pathways? Why avoid contact with science and rely on ancient philosophical discussions that were invented in ignorance of the material?

    2. Sensitive - An animal with a sensitive soul can also acquire sense knowledge and use locomotion to both ward off danger and to gather goods it needs to survive and thrive.

    Do you mean to refer to nervous tissue, mirror neurons, and related objects? Again, scientists have actually looked into this stuff instead of making up vacuous definitions. There's no reason to pretend ol' Thommy had it figured out -- he's been entirely superseded in this area (and all others). Is the ridiculous emphasis put on his ancient verbal games just because his works are available for free online, whereas modern works are often under copyright?

    3. Rational - Capable of all the above, the animal possessing a rational soul is capable of acquiring intellectual, or "spiritual," knowledge as well, and of choosing to freely act toward chosen ends.

    Do you mean to refer to neocortical tissue? Lots of animals have the ability to acquire and use abstract conceptual knowledge and engage in complex actions carefully planned to achieve chosen ends.

    The question now becomes: how does any of this demonstrate the soul of man to be immortal?

    Indeed, and if you believe the arguments succeed, how do you justify the claim of human uniqueness, which appears to have been based on the ignorance of ancients?

    • jakael02

      Great post. I agree animals possess varying degrees of rational thoughts, judgement, reasoning, and free choice.

      I believe there came a point in which the homo sapien sapien evolved to an level of rationality that was unmatched in the animal kingdom. The difference between the most intelligent animals and modern human is significant, imho.

      At some point in evolution, God selected two (Adam/Eve) and endowed them with preternatural gifts (immortal soul); which Adam/Eve misused, however, maintained their theological/biological/philosophical species. Which the existing homo sapien sapiens during the time of Adam/Eve would have just consisted of being a biological and philosophical species.

      Or... maybe St. Thomas Acquinas is wrong and 'Terminus post quem' exists in some advanced animals as well as homo sapiens and alien life. I don't know, but this is fascinating to learn about.

  • I am rather astonished that Mr Staples would point to the brain surgery example to suggest there is an "I" distinct from the body and/or soul. The fact that physical actions can be manipulated independently of conscious intent by physical stimulation of the brain implies that it is the brain, not a principle or some non-physical "thing", is directing the action.

    If an experiment could be designed in which a body was manipulated by independent conscious will, rather than physical stimulus of the brain, I would be more open to the possibility that our actions are somehow influenced by "things" independent of the physical brain.

  • 1. The Intellect Possesses the Power of Abstraction
    St. Thomas Aquinas explained...

    Hm. Do you realize how inauspicious a beginning that is? Why appeal to arguments developed almost 800 years ago, as if nothing important about the intellect had been learned since then, no progress in philosophy had been made, and no dramatic changes in explanatory expectations had swept through society? Something has gone terribly wrong in Catholic apologetics when medieval speculations are the first choice arguments.

    One can tell something of the nature of a thing through examining its actions.

    OK, that I can charitably interpret as allowing models of observations to inform our concept of what causes the observations.

    One such "spiritual action" is the power of abstraction.

    Uh. Computerized neural networks form abstractions quite easily. Brutish algorithms like AIXItl are phenomenally good are forming abstractions. So are you saying that computers have immortal souls? Or do you agree there's a flaw in the argument?

    Remember our philosophical principle? "Action follows being?" If the soul has this spiritual power to “abstract” the form of “tree,” or “man,” it must be spiritual. And if the soul is spiritual, it has to be immortal. It cannot be “reduced to its component parts.”

    You didn't define "spiritual". That's one supremely obvious error. The second supremely obvious error is that you didn't even attempt to justify the other steps of the argument.

    As far as I can tell, this argument is pure magical thinking.

  • cminca

    I have two comments--

    #1. Why is it so important for the believers to "prove" their beliefs? You want to believe something and that belief has meaning for your life? Great! Why is it necessary for you to try and "prove" its reality?

    #2. You can play philosophical word games from now until the end of time--but that does not and will not ever supply EVIDENCE of reality.

    (I'm wondering how long this post will stay up.)

  • In points 1 and 2 Mr Staples refers to concepts. A concept of "tree" being an aggregate of loosely designed properties. He seems to suggest that this ability to conceptualize abstractions as well as substantive matter, is an indication that the soul is immortal. I do not see why.

    Human ability to form concepts appears to be directly related to the matter and activity in brains. I see no reason to accept that this ability is not directly related to matter. It appears that animals can conceptualize (e.g. apes can learn what the concept of "hat" means, rather than associate specific hats with the sign for "hat").

  • 2. The Soul Forms Ideas of Realities That Are Immaterial

    The human soul not only abstracts the forms of material entities encountered, but it also has the power to know the ideas or “forms” of immaterial realities like logical sequence, moral goodness, property rights, philosophical categories like “substance,” cause and effect, and more.

    You haven't demonstrated that these realities exist in any sense different from other abstractions. This is mostly because you can't demonstrate it. The claim certainly lacks any significant evidence, and whether it's a plausible inference is an ongoing debate amongst philosophers.

    Where are these realities?

    In the brain.

    What color are they?

    Mostly white and gray.

    How big are they?

    About 1200 cc in total.

    How much do they weigh?

    About 1.5 kg in total.

    Sense image alone (like the Empiricists John Locke and David Hume say is the only source of knowledge) cannot account for these.

    Better would be to fast forward a few centuries to when neuroscience began to correct old ideas from philosophers' introspection. (One thing that you'll find is that psychology and neuroscience have helpfully showed how and why introspection fails.)

    Given neurons and simple physiological effects like Hebbian learning (as well as more biologically accurate models), you can indeed form abstractions.

    To form an idea of something spiritual, again, requires a spiritual principle, i.e., the soul. If it's spiritual, it can’t die.

    This non-sequitur is so brazen that it's boring. Define "spiritual", show that the neural processes that produce abstractions are spiritual, and show that spiritual things can't die. Till then you don't really even have an argument.

  • 3. I do not see why Mr Staples refers to "prudence, justice, temperance, fortitude" as "immaterial goods". These words refer to complex abstract concepts. These concepts refer to qualities we impose on real and imagined material and events.

    I cannot conceive of an "immaterial good" and I do not think this is a coherent concept.

  • 4. "The Intellect Can Reflect Upon Its Own Act of Knowledge... It could not do so if it were material."
    Why not? Actually, how can anything immaterial reflect at all? Reflecting is something that I understand as one material thing or part, observing another, part external or itself. It needs to happen at least in time, if not space as well.

    Obviously the eyes do not "reflect", but the brain certainly appears to do so. Input comes in from the eyes through electrical signals in the nervous system and when we "think" or "reflect" on this input, other areas of the brain send electrical signals in amazingly complex ways.

    If we could have someone "think" without any observable brain activity, we might begin to suggest that thought, concepts and so on are matter or brain independent, but this never happens.

  • 5. Man Has a Natural Desire to Live Forever

    I am not sure this is true, but even if it was, how does this demonstrate the existence of an undying, immaterial part of humans or others?

  • 6. the testimony of millions of others,

    This is a simple argument from popularity fallacious and I disregard it for that reason.

  • 7.The Existence of the Moral Law

    I have no experience of this moral law.

    "Without the immortality of the soul, Plato noted, there is no justice, which would be absurd." It may be undesirable, but it does not mean it is absurd, or not the case!

  • 3. The Will Strives for Immaterial Goods

    Closely related to my first two proofs, just as the intellect has the power to abstract the “spiritual” forms of the things and beings it encounters, and to form ideas of immaterial realities, the will also has the power to strive for immaterial things, like prudence, justice, temperance, fortitude, etc.

    To speak more precisely, we strive to select prudent, just, temperate, and courageous behaviors and to ingrain prudent, just, temperate, and courageous desires in our brains. All these are material, so there's nothing unusual going on.

    It's a common feature of human communication that it's easier to make mistakes when speaking abstractly. It's good to test your ideas by making them as concrete as possible.

    One cannot produce what one does not possess.

    So the ancient Chinese already possessed a wall around their country? Why did they go to the massive effort and expense of producing one, then?

    4. The Intellect Can Reflect Upon Its Own Act of Knowledge

    It could not do so if it were material. A material faculty, such as the power of vision, only reacts in response to external stimuli.

    Dude, neuroscience. The brain has trillions of circuits to process its own information, including some very fancy recurrent processing in the thalamo-cortical-thalamic circuits.

    A dog cannot reflect on its own act of knowing, or being. It just scratches!

    You didn't even bother to check Google? I'll give you a hint: "metacognition in canines".

    This is my beef with apologists: they are indifferent to fact and logic, and they encourage the same in others. If something sounds helpful, they'll use it uncritically; if it doesn't, they just ignore it.

  • David Nickol

    Further, no matter how much probing and electrical prodding, Penfield found there is no place in the brain that can “cause a patient to believe or decide” (Lee Strobel, The Case for a Creator, p. 258.).

    This reminds me of a story told by one of the nuns who taught me in grade school. A Russian/Communist/atheist surgeon said, "I've done thousands of operations and never seen a soul!"

    Believing and deciding are phenomena of a different order than moving a limb, talking, swallowing, and so on. I have no idea of what Penfield expected to happen, but it seems highly unlikely there is a region in the brain that can be pinpointed by neurosurgeons that would cause a patient whose brain was being probed to believe in UFOs or to decide to enter medical school.

    The little snippet quoted from Case for a Creator is from the chapter where Christian apologist Strobel interviews Christian apologist J. P. Moreland, who quotes from Wilder Penfield's 1975 book The Mystery of the Mind. The OP is therefore quoting someone (Strobel) who's quoting someone (Moreland) who's quoting someone (Penfield). It is probably not a wise move even to quote Lee Strobel for this audience, so quoting Strobel quoting Moreland quoting Penfield is probably not going to carry much weight.

    • I have no idea of what Penfield expected to happen, but it seems highly
      unlikely there is a region in the brain that can be pinpointed by
      neurosurgeons that would cause a patient whose brain was being probed to
      believe in UFOs or to decide to enter medical school.

      It's the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (RDCP).

    • Penfield operated on my grandfather's brain. But I guess that doesn't give me the right to say what he meant.

  • 5. Man Has a Natural Desire to Live Forever

    Aristotle gave us an extremely important philosophical principle when he said, “A potency without the possibility of actuality destroys nature.”

    OK, so Aristotle made that claim. But appeal to authority is a fallacy, not evidence that the claim is always true. Examples might show that it's sometimes true. What's missing is evidence that it's always true.

    From this knowledge of the eternal springs a spontaneous desire to live forever. And this potency cannot exist in vain. That would be contrary to everything we see in nature.

    ...except for the deaths of trillions of living things that were trying to stay alive.

    Also, you didn't establish that a desire to live forever constitutes a "potency". Also, you didn't explain how you got from "possibility of actuality" to straight-up "actuality".

    I desire to visit ancient Egypt, but that's not possible. I desire to visit Bhutan, and although that's possible, it will almost certainly never be actual.

    6. The Testimony of Mankind Over the Centuries and Millenia

    From ancient Egypt's Book of the Dead, to Western Civilization's Bible, every civilization, every culture, in all of human history has attested to the existence of an after-life.

    Some will point out the very few exceptions—one being Hinayana (or Theravedic) Buddhism—that deny the existence of "spirit," or the soul, to discount this our sixth proof. But to no avail.

    Actually, the exception tends to prove the rule.

    More indifference to fact and logic. :( No, Mr Staples, if you make a claim about "every civilization, every culture", you don't get to say that an exception proves you right.

    Other cultural univerals include taboo words, use of magic to win love, and attempts to control weather. Why aren't you gung ho about rain dances, love potions, and scratching out "13"s? Oh, right: the appeal to popularity is still a logical fallacy.

    7. The Existence of the Moral Law

    My final proof for the natural immortality of the human soul is derived from the existence of the Moral Law that we can know apart from divine revelation. This is a true law knowable to all

    Since it isn't known to all, how do you know that it is knowable to all?

    , and a law that man did not give to himself.

    More obfuscating abstractions. An individual man did not give morality to himself. Human societies developed moral rules through some selective processes and some deliberate processes.

    And yet, it is often unpunished and the sanctions of law not carried out. Hence, there must be an eternity where all is rectified.

    Good thing you hid the major premise: "all rules that go unpunished require eternal afterlives where all is rectified". It's a doozy.

    Without the immortality of the soul, Plato noted, there is no justice, which would be absurd.

    It would be unjust. Injustice isn't an impossible absurdity. Sadly we see it all the time.

    This argument is bad for society. It encourages operating by the old Christian maxim of "kill 'em all and let God sort them out", or at least the mild modern Christian practice of consoling victims by telling them God will fix it in another world. Something that often happens to new deconverts is the sudden moral shock of realizing that justice can't wait. People are suffering now and can only be consoled now!

  • I know I have been flooding this comment section, but this is the first article in a while that actually purports to be an apologetic.

    It is too bad we couldn't have one trying to prove the soul exists rather than is eternal. (If you can establish that an immaterial death-surviving part of humans exists, it is a short distance to establish it is eternal).

    I know the article just came up, but I would like to hear from the theists whether they agree with this characterization of souls, have an alternative and the basis upon which they accept it exists.

  • Elson

    Our consciousness,self awareness and sentience seem to be only the result of biological, electrical, chemical processes in the brain, seemingly at the mercy of deterministic events and variables at the molecular and sub atomic levels.

    Theists and others can wax on poetically and philosophically ad infinitum about souls and "pneumatic" immortal selves, but we are still stuck with the scientific reality of what seems to constitute "personhood." or the "self" Granted....I am sure that many find it comforting to believe in a soul and an afterlife. To believe in such, I am sure is an invaluable tool for society , cultures and individuals for dealing with the emotional trauma of the death of loved ones, as well as a tool for dealing with our own looming personal mortality.
    I suppose a bit of self delusion sometimes helps us make it through the night!

  • Phil

    Thank you Tim for a great article. It is very clear and concise. I do believe that the immateriality of the human soul is definitely something that I more easily shown the more we think about common human experience.

  • I will go through these arguments one by one to consider which of them I find more or less convincing, but before that, I had to point out this quote from Strobel:

    Penfield found there is no place in the brain that can “cause a patient to believe or decide”

    How does Strobel or Penfield know this? Where is this result published in the scholarly literature, or is it just Penfield's personal opinion?

  • I tried to start looking through the arguments one at a time, and couldn't get through the first one, due to several points of confusion.

    What is the definition of "spiritual"?

    "If X is spiritual, then X is immortal" seems to be an assumption implicit in at least the first two arguments. How can this be demonstrated?

    "If X cannot be reduced to its component parts, then X is immortal." Maybe electrons cannot be divided, and so have no component parts. But electrons can be created and can be destroyed. This concept seems plainly false.

  • Tim Dacey

    Here are 2 more technical arguments/defenses for the existence elf the soul http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W0VfrSRSLo4

    • I'm 12 minutes in and he is just saying there "must be" something extra that we call the soul that is a part of me that must continue. This is an argument from ignorance. He says, if we are just our bodies, then there would be no life after death. Yes, this is the issue.

      • Tim Dacey

        Thanks for your reply Brian. I think you are providing some good insight and I can see at least two inherent critiques that you bring up.

        First, you seem to suggest that Swinburne's and O'Connor's views are incompatible with a scientific understanding of the person. That is to say, neuroscience seems to suggest that a person is no more that its physical parts including their minds (see: Physicialism). Therefore, we we ought to reject their views if we want our philosophical views to be continuous with our best scientific evidence (because philosophical views ought to be continuous with science).

        Second, you might also be suggesting that even if Swinburne's and O'Connor's views are not, in principle, incompatible with our best scientific evidence, by positing the existence of the soul they are still wandering into speculative error, and we ought to refrain from doing so.

        Which view are you inclined to lean towards? Or am I not describing your view correctly?

        • I don't think their comments are incompatible with the findings of science in the sense that the soul is incoherent or logically impossible. But neither would an infinite number of explanations by reference to unobserved phenomena.

          I think their conclusion that the soul exists is unjustified. So yes, I think this is speculation. The error would be to call it a logically derived conclusion.

          I think the dialogue is a theological discussion with the persistence of the individual as a given, so I understand.

          Like I said, I only got 12 minutes in.

    • Ben Posin

      This is an illustration of a point I made in a post that seems to have been deleted: when you say here are two more, with no apparent recognition of how fallacious or terrible the first seven are, I can't take you seriously, and feel no real need to look at your linked video.

      • picklefactory

        Terrible ad hominem smear, please read this linked article by an evangelical Protestant who believes in biblical inerrancy.

      • Tim Dacey

        RE: "when you say here are two more, with no apparent recognition of how fallacious or terrible the first seven are, I can't take you seriously, and feel no real need to look at your linked video..."

        My intention was to present some more sophisticated arguments that defend the existence of a soul. Like you, I find Tim Staples argument lacking, though I don't feel the need to use pejorative language when expressing my discontent. Furthermore, if you do decide to watch the video, you will discover that both Swinburne and O'Connor hold their view *independent* of their religious leanings. Lastly, when you state: "I can't take you seriously, and feel no real need to look at your linked video": Do you think this is conducive to constructive dialogue?

        Re: "...how fallacious or terrible the first seven are..."

        Simply stating that an argument is fallacious, instead of taking the time to pinpoint the underlying problem in sufficient detail, is itself a fallacy. My former professor (now friend) calls it ad informalum fallacis.

        • Ben Posin

          I agree that my post looks a little light, given that the longer one on the subject was shoved down the memory hole.

          As an aside, I would disagree with your professor: failing to pinpoint or explain one's reasons isn't to make a fallacious argument, it's to not make an argument at all. I didn't make the arguments against the article in my post--others here have done a fair job of that. Brian Adams and Noah Luck had that covered before I got here (curse them). For all the reasons they gave, the above article is fallacious. And terrible. I think acknowledgement of that is the place where a constructive conversation has to begin.

  • David Nickol

    Much more difficult to accept, I think, than something "immaterial" in (or of, or about) a human being that we might call a "soul" is the idea of the soul that leaves the body and goes to purgatory and heaven (or hell) there to function as a person without a body. Perhaps I just have a mental block, but the more convincingly soul is explained, the more it seems that it makes no sense to say the soul separates from the body and continues its existence as a pure spirit. In order for everyday Christian piety to be intelligible, it really is necessary to imagine the soul as a "ghost in a machine."

    • GCBill

      Catholics believe in a bodily resurrection at the time of Jesus' second coming. While this might alleviate your worries, it also creates new problems:

      1) I don't understand why one would need a body at all in a place outside of space and time. Hell, why can't we function as the angels do, as creatures of pure intellect to whom God can present truths directly? For the experience of heavenly bliss, a body seems strictly superfluous.
      2) Furthermore, how can we have the same bodies - which are composed of material - when the Aristotelian-Thomistic framework stipulates that material things are corruptible? There is no category that I know of within this framework for incorruptible material things, and even if there were, they couldn't be these bodies we possess right now.

      I disagree with the premises of A-T metaphysics, but I honestly can't see how they can cohere with Christian claims about the afterlife even if they're true.

      • vito

        good points, but additionally, what I don't understand is how you can experience physical torture in hell, reported by many Church-approved hell visitors, like St Faustina, Fatima children etc., without having an actual physical body

        • TomD123

          Three possibilities:
          1) These visions were visions of hell after the resurrection of the bodies
          2) They were symbolic visions because in this state we experience things through our senses
          3) As St. Thomas argues, there is a way in which souls suffer through material things. It is kind of hard to understand, but the gist I get is this: It is natural for the soul to be united to the body because the soul is the "form of the body" (in Aristotle's philosophy). Yet if the soul were united to something else, (much more like a Cartesian substance) it would be unnatural and cause suffering of a sort. St. Thomas says that by being joined to fire, the soul is "trapped" so to speak with the fire, not as its form, but like a demon which possesses an object.
          These are just speculations

          • dougpruner

            TomD123: "It is kind of hard to understand"
            Yes, that's Aquinas, all right. But easier to understand, and predating the "Fathers and Doctors", is this:

            Gen 2:7- man is a soul, he doesn't have a soul.
            Ec 18:4- the soul who sins, dies. The gist of the rest of the chapter is, obeying God means life, disobeying means death. No grey area, no limbo, no hellfire.
            Ec 9:5,10- the dead know nothing, feel nothing.
            Ro 6:7- death brings release or acquittal from sin. Likewise 6:23, "The wages of sin is death", not life under torture. Any further punishment violates the "civilized" rule against double jeopardy. Are we more righteous than God? Or is he to be remade in our image?

            These are not just speculations, but statements from the highest religious authority- God's word.

          • TomD123

            I apologize, but I am not sure what your point is. Could you elaborate?

          • dougpruner

            You were answering the query, "how you can experience physical torture in hell, reported by many
            Church-approved hell visitors, like St Faustina, Fatima children etc., without having an actual physical body"
            Your reply said, "As St. Thomas argues, there is a way in which souls suffer through material things. It is kind of hard to understand"
            I agreed- about Thomas. but scripture, as I cited, gave clear, understandable answers about 'death and the beyond'. No hellfire so no torture, so the body is irrelevant. (It molders away, as do the bodies of the beasts- Ec 3:19.)
            Paul answers the questions about the need for a physical body in 1 Cor 15:35 ff.
            How interesting, and how sad. Good questions asked, addressed by a lengthy blog (with zero scriptures cited) and dozens of replies, but only vague and contradictory answers. The Bible though, in a few sentences, answers all those and much more.

          • TomD123

            Well, as I am sure you know, there are numerous references to fire in hell in scripture. The question is how to interpret these. Many of the members of the early Church interpreted these literally- that is- some literal hell-fire. The Scriptures are not always clear on these issues- as is evidenced by the centuries of debate over how to interpret scripture passages- including those on hell-fire.

            Moreover, the reason that the blog did not cite scripture is simple: It was NOT MEANT AS A SCRIPTURAL defense of the soul! It was meant to answer the question of whether or not we could see the soul is immortal in light of reason alone- not appealing to revelation.

            Lastly- you seem to imply that there is no hell at all- only death. This is a flat out contradiction of Scripture where Christ says "the worm dies not" and where the rich man cries out to Lazarus in Abraham's Bosom to name two verses of the top of my head. Maybe you were saying that the hellfire is purely spiritual- which is an opinion as I mentioned in my original comment.

          • dougpruner

            Tom writes, "Well, as I am sure you know, there are numerous references to fire in hell in scripture"
            In fact, that's something I do not know. I know of Mt 18:9 for instance, which says (KJV), "And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire."

            I do know that "hell" is an old English word, from old German and Scandinavian, and did not exist when the Greek scriptures- the so-called NT- were written. So good questions to ask at the beginning of a discussion like this are, 'What Greek words underlie "hell" in the manuscripts? Just what did Matthew write?'

            At Mt 18:9 it's "Gehenna" (note the capital-G, for a place name). Please research this word for yourself and apply what you find to your understanding of the verse and similar ones. You can look here, for instance, http://www.jw.org/en/publications/bible/nwt/books/matthew/18/
            (but don't tell your priest you did! :-) )

          • TomD123

            Jude 1:7, Revelation 21:8, Matthew 13:50, Matthew 25:46. To name a few references to hell in scripture. Also the story I referenced above about Lazarus.

            The early Christians mention hell which leads me to believe that is the correct interpretation of Scripture.

            The vast majority of Christians throughout history did as well.

            Finally, the fact that Christ uses words other than "hell" and places to symbolize the punishment after death does not mean there is no hell as believed in by most Christians

          • dougpruner

            Tom, I didn't make my point clearly enough. Sorry.
            You write, "The early Christians mention hell." They couldn't have- the [English] word wasn't in their [Greek] vocabulary. At Mt 18:9, where your "hell" and "fire" are found in many English translations, the manuscripts have "Gehenna". This can be seen in the online Bible at http://newadvent.org/bible/mat018.htm where the Greek (left column) has "γέενναν" [geennan] and the Latin (right column) has "gehennam". Knox of course translated these as "hell". English, not Greek or even Jerome's Latin.

            When you write, "hell as believed in by most Christians" you are referring to a doctrine that developed after the Greek scriptures were written, by those who (for whatever reason) were interested in promulgating the 'hellfire punishment' of the churches. The site I recommended to you has this translation:

            "It is better for you to enter one-eyed into life than to be thrown with two eyes into the fiery Gehenna*."

            The footnote at Gehenna reads, [quote] See Glossary. Glossary Term: Gehenna: The Greek name for the Valley of Hinnom, southwest of ancient Jerusalem. (Jer 7:31) It was prophetically spoken of as a place where dead bodies would be strewn. (Jer 7:32; 19:6) There is no evidence that animals or humans were thrown into Gehenna to be burned alive or tormented. So the place could not symbolize an invisible region where human souls are tormented eternally in literal fire. Rather, Gehenna was used by Jesus and his disciples to symbolize the eternal punishment of "second death," that is, everlasting destruction, annihilation.—Re 20:14; Mt 5:22; 10:28. [end quote] This information can be checked against mainstream sources like http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/Lexicon/Lexicon.cfm?strongs=G1067&t=KJV and http://newadvent.org/cathen/07207a.htm

            And please note that at Rev 20:14, Knox has, "death and hell were thrown into the lake of fire." So whatever "hell" is, it isn't the "lake of fire" nor is it eternal, as hellfire doctrine has it.

          • TomD123

            I know what Gehenna means literally. This has been interpreted to mean "hell" in the sense of the modern day doctrine--eternal separation from God. How can being thrown into Gehenna mean death forever? I think that it clearly refers to suffering. Why wouldn't Christ say "It is better to live with one eye than die with two?" It implies there is more to the punishment of sin than simply temporal death. Otherwise, there would be no "second death" in the book of Revelation.

            The early Church condemned the annihilation view.

            I understand that the term 'hell" is not in the Bible. This does not make it that the concept is not there. The term "Trinity" is not in the Bible either. The concept is certainly there from the versus I have been citing. You have yet to address the Lazarus story which I think is a clear example that the punishment for sin can't be simply temporal death and that's it.

            Since the vast majority of Christians throughout history believe in hell- including the Fathers and great theologians- I see their interpretation of Scripture as far more authoritative than anyone else's.

          • dougpruner

            Tom writes: "How can being thrown into Gehenna mean death forever?" Because that is how- and only how- Our Lord's listeners would have understood it. From my earlier post, "It was prophetically spoken of as a place where dead bodies would be strewn." This is confirmed by the other authorities to which I gave links; please read them. Therefore I believe you don't know what Gehenna means literally. And if not, then you don't understand what Jesus was saying.

            "It implies there is more to the punishment of sin than simply temporal death" No, Jesus was making the point that Godly behavior leads to life and ungodly behavior- like Adam's- leads to death- like Adam's. Adam "returned to the dust", not to Hell, Purgatory, Heaven or any other place. He was from the earth and returned to it. He did not exist anywhere before his creation and does not exist now. This is perfectly in line with the teaching of the scriptures I cited. Our fate is the same, if we disobey. Eze 18:4
            "The early Church condemned the annihilation view." I don't care; my "early Church" is the one I find in the Bible. Biblical death is annihilation.
            "the term 'hell" is not in the Bible" I'm glad you agree. Therefore we could leave blank spaces wherever we find it in a translation, or investigate what words the translator had in front of him as he worked. This is what I have done. Gehenna is one of those words. To the people of Jerusalem it was a place of destruction, not torture; a place of annihilation, not action. When there is no more need to punish sinners- no more sinners- "hell" will be done away with, and we'll have the promised eternal life on a paradisaical earth. Rev 20:14; Ps 37:29; Gen 2:16,17

          • TomD123

            Well, I think that what Jesus meant by Gehenna is up for interpretation. Also, you didn't address any of the other versus or stories that I cited as evidence for a literal hell.

            Further, it is the "early Church" which you are so quick to deride which actually decided which books should be in the Bible in the first place.

          • dougpruner

            "What Jesus meant by Gehenna" is up for interpretation by defining the word as it existed then, which I have done but you don't acknowledge; it certainly wasn't "hell" and it concerned complete destruction, not 'life in another place'. It's because you can't understand this that I don't address your other citations. (BTW the Lazarus story is a parable, not meant literally, as can be seen by careful reading. And Gehenna is not found for "hell" in Lu 16, but another word.)

            "which books should be in the Bible" Yes, I know; 'Remember, we Catholics gave you the Bible in the first place!' I'm always told. Not true: 2 Sam 23:2; Ro 3:1,2; 2Tim 3:16,17. Who taught you your religion? They should refund your money.

          • TomD123

            1) I know that the word Gehenna was referring to the specific place you are mentioning. What I am saying is what that place symbolizes is up for interpretation. That is clear from the historical belief in hell.

            2) "Hell" or "Heaven" aren't life in another place. They are altogether different.

            3) I can understand what you are saying. I am just saying that (a) we must interpret "Gehenna" in terms of the greater context of what Jesus said would happen to the wicked (e.g. "wailing and grinding of teeth" "worm dies not" "everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels" etc.) and (b) we must look to the other places in scripture and how the early Christians who knew Jesus and passed on his word (and wrote it down in the form of the NT) for more info on the topic.

            4) Lazarus is a parable but would make no sense given your description of what happens to evil people when they die. The parable clearly implies punishment involivng suffering

            5) The verses you cite affirm that God inspired Scripture. I agree with that. It doesn't change the fact that the Church determined which books we should count as inspired in the first place. Of course I hold that on a theological level- the Church couldn't strictly speaking decide which books were in the Bible- as it was God's decision and it was implemented through the Catholic Church. That said- historically speaking, the Church set the canon of Scripture. And if you deny that the Catholic Church did, you must at least admit that some group of early Christians did. Hence my point stands...

            6) Throwing out a "who taught you your religion" doesn't prove anything- nor is it entirely respectful to your Christian brothers who are Catholic.

          • dougpruner

            "What I am saying is what that place symbolizes is up for interpretation. That is clear from the historical belief in hell."
            Indeed. The historical (post-biblical) beliefs have been tainted by 'the doctrines and interpretations of men'. Genesis 2:7 sets the stage, the only one to use if one is truly interested in the word of God [only]: Man IS a soul, he does not HAVE a soul. When man dies his soul dies. I showed you many other scriptures which confirm this truth. From your replies I doubt you read them. If you did and yet reject their clear teaching then you show that your love for tradition is greater than your love for God. Mt 15
            We may all study the Bible, and we may all seek religious truth, but that does not make us "Christian brothers". That is done by sharing the same belief and worshiping the same God.
            Eph 4:5 "One Lord, one faith, one baptism" Perhaps you should make up with the Greek churches first.

          • TomD123

            Accusing me of "loving tradition more than God" is frankly ludicrous. I seek the truth, and the truth about God. I think that the only coherent way to interpret Scripture is in light of Church teaching. I responded to your one argument, that is reference to Gehenna. I do not understand how in the world Genesis 2:7 justifies your beliefs about hell, the afterlife, etc. Finally, I have given arguments from many places in Scripture which support my position but you did not respond.

            I would have nothing to do with this argument, Scripture, or Tradition, or the Church which determined which books even count as Scripture if it were not because I am doing my best to seek the truth.

          • dougpruner

            Tom, take another look at the blogpost under discussion here: "Seven Proofs for the Natural Immortality of the Human Soul"
            There is not one scripture quoted or cited, even though Mr Styles states, "If someone already believes in the Bible, and in the Church that has the authority to definitively interpret it, then the natural immortality of the human soul follows easily." I'm not Catholic, so I have no obligation to believe in 'the authority of the Church'. I do believe in the Bible. Let's see what it says about the 'natural deathlessness of the soul'.
            Eze 18:4,20 Douay: "Behold all souls are mine: as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, the same shall die... The soul that sinneth, the same shall die"
            When the person dies, does his "soul" go on living someplace else? Gen 2:7, ibid.: "And the Lord God formed man of the slime of the earth: and breathed into his face the breath of life, and man became a living soul." Notice that the man, person, Adam BECAME a soul, he WAS a soul. Nowhere does it say he HAD a [separate] soul. When he died his soul died. He did not go anywhere but back to the dust: "for dust thou art, and into dust thou shalt return."
            These scriptures you have seen before. Do you believe them, or the Magisterium, which is the traditions of men? In this case, only one can be true.

          • TomD123

            1) The reason no Scripture is cited is because this post is an exercise in philosophy and not Biblical theology.

            2) Your interpretation of Scripture is different than mine. I have given a number of verses to counter the ones you cite. You seem to disregard them and all you do is restate your points. I know what your point is, I disagree. There are a number of problems considering man just a soul. For one, this would mean that Christ never died. Second, there are other translations which render "soul" in Genesis 2:7 as "living being" or "living man" etc.

            3) Do you believe in the Scripture stories of Lazarus? What about where Jesus says "depart from me you accursed into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels"? Do you believe that Christ is the truth and that philosophical truth does not oppose revealed truth? Do you believe these things or the traditions of men which interpret the Bible (which the Church determined which books should be in the Bible in the first place, something you seem to ignore every time) in their own way apart from the authority of the Apostles and their successors?

            4) I do not believe that the Church is a tradition of man. If it is, then so is the Bible, because the Church's Magisterium decided which books were in the Bible to begin with.

          • dougpruner

            1) And I pointed out the difference between complicated philosophy (varying from man to man) and the simple statement from "your" Bible at Ezekiel and other places. One says the soul is immortal, the other says not. No compromise possible; no gray area.
            2) Not my interpretation, but my direct quote from the simple statement from "your" Bible at Ezekiel and other places.
            “For one, this would mean that Christ never died.” Where on earth do you get that???
            “other translations which render "soul" in Genesis 2:7 as "living being" or "living man" etc." Yes, which is why an independent reference like Strong’s Dictionary is so useful. From http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/Lexicon/Lexicon.cfm?strongs=H5315&t=KJV we find that the underlying Hebrew word "nephesh" means “soul, self, life, creature, person, appetite, mind, living being, desire, emotion, passion
            1. that which breathes, the breathing substance or being, soul, the inner being of man
            2. living being
            3. living being (with life in the blood)
            4. the man himself, self, person or individual”
            as translations of the underlying Hebrew word “nephesh”.
            And there are your alternatives, all referring to the complete man, not part of him.
            4) Irrelevant, since you are can’t or won’t accept the simple meaning of the simple statement from "your" Bible at Ezekiel and other places.
            "the Church's Magisterium decided which books..." Often stated by Catholics, but contradicted by “your” Bible at Romans 3:1- "Is there any benefit, then, in being a Jew? Is there any advantage in being circumcised? A great deal, in every way. First of all, it was to the Jews that the message of God was entrusted..."
            Man dies, soul dies. Period.

          • TomD123

            This isn't going anywhere. So I'll be brief
            1) Philosophy is about finding truth. So is Scripture. Truth should not contradict truth. We should seek to reconcile the two.

            2) Yes, your interpretation. As I have repeatedly said, there are other quotes from Scripture which go against your way of looking at it. You seem to ignore these repeatedly

            3) Not surprised you ignored this
            4) God's message was entrusted to the Jews. That in no way contradicts the fact that the Church was historically the institution which determined which books are in the Bible.

            5) Christ would have never died because death is simply soul death in your mind which only happens to the wicked apparently. Christ is not wicked, ergo, his bodily death was not really death.

          • mriehm

            As is all of Christianity - speculations.

          • TomD123

            I disagree. Simply calling it speculations doesn't make it so

          • Susan

            Simply calling it speculations doesn't make it so

            Fair enough. What separates its claims from speculation?

          • TomD123

            The claims of Christianity are based off of the teachings of Christ and the Church. There are numerous reasons why I believe that Christ and His Church speak the truth- that is God's truth.

            If I am correct in holding that the Church is of God, then it follows that what the Church teaches is not speculation but truth about God.

            Therefore, in order to avoid the charge of speculation, I have to have firm reasons to believe that the Church is of God. I believe to have firm reasons. Among them are the fact that the Church's teachings fit into the philosophical framework which I think has arguments in its favor (classical theism, existence of a soul, value of the human person, inherent purpose is to serve God etc.). Second, I think that a strong case can be made for the historical truth of the Gospel claims. Third, there are many impressive miracle claims. There are other reasons as well, but the point is that a cumulative case can be made that the Church has Divine Authority making the teachings of the Church more than speculation.

          • dougpruner

            One claim is that there existed a religious teacher named Jesus, from N. Judea, who was executed by the Romans ca. 33 C.E. This is well attested by history, yet there are some who still claim it's a myth. If you're one of those then there's no constructive discussion we can have. If not, I have other claims for you to see.

      • Jim (hillclimber)

        For the experience of heavenly bliss, a body seems strictly superfluous.

        Maybe it's a matter of taste, but I don't feel that way. There are things I don't like about my body, like the fact that I can no longer play hard basketball for an hour straight, but I still like the tangibleness of reality. I think I would feel less complete without it. I don't want to feel tired when I run, but I do want to feel the physicality of running. If the Kingdom of God is the answer to all of our longings, I will still have a body when I am there.

        how can we have the same bodies - which are composed of material - when we know that material things are corruptible?

        But, if we believe Paul, we won't have exactly the same bodies. "It is sown corruptible; it is raised incorruptible". I think resurrection thinking does require a new category of materiality.

        • dougpruner

          Jim writes, " I think I would feel less complete without [reality]" Indeed, it was meant that way.

          Ec 3:11, NJB "All that he does is apt for its time; but although he has given us an awareness of the passage of time, we can grasp neither the beginning nor the end of what God does." The NIV says, "He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end."
          According to Gen 1:28 God "blessed [Adam and Eve], saying to them, 'Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it. Be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven and all the living creatures that move on earth.'" And they were to live forever- to eternity- so plenty of time to do all that.
          That is still God's purpose for us and for the earth he made to be lived on. Isa 45:18; Ps 37:29; Mt 5:5.
          So, regardless of what we learn about heaven, there is the possibility of future life on a paradise earth to consider. Maybe we got the funeral cart before the plowhorse. :-)
          What do you think?

      • mriehm

        The worst problem in my books is just what will these poor souls (pun intended) _do_ in heaven?

        No risks? No challenges? No goals?

        I remember reading, when I was young, a short story about a man who wakes up and finds himself in the afterlife. He succeeds at absolutely everything he attempts. For the first day or two, he's convinced he's in heaven. But after a little while longer, he begins to suspect the exact opposite.

        • dougpruner

          It's worse than that!! Read Revelation, our fullest description of the conditions in Heaven. It's all jewels and precious metals- no comfy place to sit or nap! What's up with that? :-)
          On a serious note, we're promised at Ps 145:16 that God will "open [his] hand And satisfy the desire of every living thing."
          How's that for a prospect?

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      I'm with you on that. I would rather skip this heaven bit and get straight to the general resurrection. I think the problem though, is that the general resurrection has to be thought of as occurring at the end of time. We need a way of thinking about what happens in between, and heaven is the only way we have of talking about it.

    • Phil

      Hey again David,

      The line of reasoning normally follows that the death of the body does not cause a certain part of the person to die as well (what we normally call "the soul"). In other words, the person continues in existence though in a diminished form until the body is reunited with the soul, since a person is body/soul composite. This is exactly why one doesn't need to hold a "ghost in the machine" view. The soul separated from the body is not a human person in the proper sense. (Hence the resurrection of Jesus archetype.)

      In regards to heaven/hell, much of that has to do with what God has revealed to us. Now obviously that is going beyond what reason alone can tell us, though obviously it cannot contradict reason. Though in short heaven/hell can be simply reduced to being in the presence of love itself, and being completely separated from love itself.

      • David Nickol

        The soul separated from the body is not a human person in the proper sense. (Hence the resurrection of Jesus archetype.)

        But Jesus did a number of things between his death and his resurrection. On the cross, he tells the "good thief" that "this day" they will be together in paradise. According to the Apostles' Creed, he "descended into hell." And as far as we know, the "good thief" didn't bodily rise from the dead. All the saints that people pray to asking them to intercede have not risen bodily, and yet they seem to be aware of prayers and to plead with God on behalf of the living. I believe someone else has raised the question what would a soul in heaven require a body for. What is it that a soul in heaven can't do without a body that an embodied soul can do? If it is a disadvantage to be a disembodied soul, are all the saints in heaven at some kind of disadvantage until the end of the world?

        • Phil

          But Jesus did a number of things between his death and his resurrection. On the cross, he tells the "good thief" that "this day" they will be together in paradise. According to the Apostles' Creed, he "descended into hell." And as far as we know, the "good thief" didn't bodily rise from the dead.

          The two main things we know is (1) that it is possible for a part of the human person to outlive bodily death (through reason and revelation) and (2) that a bodily resurrection will occur (from revelation). We know a general time when the first happens but the second is a little more speculative--especially since we aren't dealing in usual "time" as we experience it here.

          And as far as we know, the "good thief" didn't bodily rise from the dead.

          I would think it is very possible that the Good Thief could have risen bodily from the dead "this day". (Again, note that what we mean by "this day" when outside of standard material space-time is fickle.) Also rising bodily does not necessarily mean that they are walking around on earth after death.

          All the saints that people pray to asking them to intercede have not risen bodily, and yet they seem to be aware of prayers and to plead with God on behalf of the living.

          The above would apply to this as well.

          I believe someone else has raised the question what would a soul in heaven require a body for. What is it that a soul in heaven can't do without a body that an embodied soul can do?

          The simple answer is that a human person is not a human person without a body. The more drawn out answer is that there is a lot of things a purely immaterial entity can't do that an embodied spirit can do. It's a whole 'nuther discussion as to whether there will be such things as eating, drinking, etc after the resurrection of the bodies.

          If it is a disadvantage to be a disembodied soul, are all the saints in heaven at some kind of disadvantage until the end of the world?

          I don't know if I'd call it a disadvantage, simply not fully human. But again, there is nothing that says that those in heaven aren't existing in some kind of bodily form. Again it gets very speculative beyond the two main doctrines I mentioned above.

        • dougpruner

          David, please consider something about the "good thief".

          Then he said, 'Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.' He answered him, 'In truth I tell you (comma) today you will be with me in paradise.' Lu 23, NJB
          But we might also write, Then he said, 'Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.' He answered him, 'In truth I tell you today (comma) you will be with me in paradise.'

          Either one is a possible translation from the manuscripts scholars use, because the Greek of that day did not have punctuation, or even our word spacing and paragraphs. Both versions are grammatical, so the choice of comma
          placement is entirely and solely up to the modern translator. Both cannot be true, so which one is in agreement with other related scriptures?

          Recall that Jesus prophesied he would be in the grave for at least parts of three days—the "sign of Jonah" at Mt 12. So neither man 'went to heaven' on "this day" [of execution]. Moreover, Jesus appeared to his disciples for weeks more, until he was 'taken up to heaven' just before Pentecost. (1 Cor 15 et al.) And Hebrews 9 & 10 assure us (logically) that no man could enter into heaven before, or even with, Jesus, who opened the way by his sinless death.

          Therefore the thief died, and is still dead awaiting resurrection "at the last day". John 6:39, 40, 44, 54; 11:24.

          If you can understand this, I have other comments on your thoughtful reply.

  • Ben Posin

    This is the sort of article that acts as a wake up call. Noah Luck and Brian Adams have gone through a lot of it, and shown a lot of the problems with it. As a whole, in my personal taxonomy it passes "c'mon," blows past "silly pants" without pausing, and enters some new realm.

    So I'm not going to talk about the article, per se. Noah and Brian beat me to it.

    Instead, let's talk about the consequences of the article, and what it means that it's posted here: it suggests that those who approved it, who in effect endorsed it, really don't get basic concepts in the sorts of topics we discuss here. To endorse this article is to not be able to tell sound reasoning from nonsense. And as a consequence it's going to be that much harder to give its endorsers the benefit of the doubt when I see something else in the future that doesn't make sense to me. The safer bet is that they're just not making sense--after all, you weren't able to recognize and come to grips with the nonsense here, why should it be different next time?

    Now, there's a way to short circuit this reaction. Just show that you're able to recognize the sense of Noah and Brian, and that you can see now that this article is goofy. I'm not a fan of throwing things down the memory hole, so I wouldn't suggest retracting the article, but a comment from whoever approved this article acknowledging its lack of validity would show that there's potential profit in discussing the issues with such people, that you're actually taking in information and applying reason to it. But if you can't evaluate your own beliefs with sufficient accuracy to realize this was a goof, it's going to be hard to take your other arguments seriously, because I know that anything sensible that will be there will effectively be there by accident.

  • Susan

    The late Dr. Antony Flew—perhaps the greatest atheist thinker of the last hundred years

    Where on earth did that come from?

    How many people have heard of Antony Flew or seen references to him other than this book that was written by an apologist? How often do you see him referenced? What great contributions did he make to modern thinking outside of succumbing to deism in his final few years? How is he "the greatest atheist thinker" in the last hundred years? By what criteria?

    There is the "No True Scotsman", an implied tautology he pointed out that theists disregard while they refer to the Flew case, all the while citing him as an example of someone who was finally convinced by the arguments put forward by theists.
    The evidence suggests that he was not very well known before the book by the christian apologist, that he was in some stage of dementia when he stated that the book represented his position and that at best, under those circumstances, he was a deist. .

    Of course, none is this is quite so relevant if you explain the criteria by which we should accept that he is "perhaps one of the greatest atheist thinkers in the last hundred years" and why anyone should take that seriously.
    But it's still relevant. Isaac Newton was a genius that changed the world substantially. But was he ever wrong about a lot of stuff.

    Not only is this an "argument from authority" in the very first phrase, it provides no evidence for its "perhaps".

    Even if he were considered one of the greatest (atheist thinkers) in the last hundred years, we should only be interested in the arguments that convinced him, not in his "greatest thinking" status.

    Allusions to his greatness might convince people who don't bother to question that phrase, but it's just silly pants (thanks Ben) to anyone who scrutinizes the case.

    • vito

      I think Flew was awarded the "greatest atheist thinker" status by Christians precisely because he 'converted' (although not even to Christianity). The intended effect is: "see this is your brightest guy, and he finally chose the right team. So should you". In the unlikely event Dawkins converts, he will be one of the century's "greatest scientists" in Christian apologetics

      • mally el

        Flew was universally acknowledged as a prominent atheist. He was also a very active one.

        He was a fellow of the Academy of Humanism. He produced many works, including God and Philosophy, The Presumption of Atheism, A Rational Animal, Darwinian Evolution (1984) and Atheistic Humanism.

        Along with people like Richard Dawkins, Francis Crick and Joseph Levee, he was a signer of the Humanist Manifesto (1973)

  • Susan

    . The reactions ranged from surprise, to disbelief, to even questioning whether Dr. Flew's mental capacities were diminished, perhaps because of his age.

    No. Not because of his age. Dementia refers to various forms of brain disease by atrophy. Some people get it when they're in their late thirties to early forties and some people live to 104 without showing signs of it.

    He showed signs of dementia, was institutionalized with dementia and died not much later. This is not an ad hominem aimed at the aged. This is about medical reports of dementia.

    I have several relatives (lucky me) who are well into their seventies and eighties who show no signs of dementia. I have a client whose mother-in-law occasionaly poops in my client's closet when she stays for the weekend and she is not even close to sixty. My client's mother-in-law has dementia. She is diagnosed with it.

    Considering the evidence for dementia is not ageism.

    That the probabilities increase as the brain ages, is not saying that old =dementia.
    Flew's case is about dementia. Not about age.

    Anyway, what arguments "convinced" him of deism?

    • Peter

      Two in particular. One was the discovery that the universe had a beginning, and was not an eternal brute fact as atheist philosophers believed. This led him to question the origin of the laws that govern it. The other was the discovery of the sublime intricacies of DNA which led him to consider that life was not a chance occurrence but the product of design.

      • He rejected the DNA argument shortly after gaining fame for becoming theist, but he did continue thinking there was an Aristotelian "prime mover".

  • Peter

    Matter has evolved to such complexity in the human brain that is has brought our unique human consciousness, self-understanding and comprehension of the universe around us. However, the extent to which humans sentience differs from animals cannot be observed biologically through a microscope. All we see is greater volume or intricacy but no specific signs of a quantum leap to humanity. But it is there.

    By the same reasoning, then, the absence of biological signs does not preclude the existence of a soul. Just as we cannot physically define the human mind, nor too can we physically define the soul. And just as the human mind exists despite our inability to physically define it, so too may the soul exist despite our inability to physically define that.

    • Of course, an infinite number of undetectable "things" may exists immaterially and interact with the matter and energy in the physical world in ways that we cannot detect. There could be some unknown "soul", but there could also be a "zoul" which accounts for the "soul" and a "youl" which accounts for the soul and so on.

      I am not convinced that there is a "quantum leap" to humanity at all. A chatbot recently technically beat the Turing test for artificial intelligence. Humans can no longer beat all computers at chess. Many many engineers are convinced that artificial intelligence indistinguishable from human will be developed by reverse engineering the brain. I see no reason to think this is unachievable.

      • Alypius

        Of course, an infinite number of undetectable "things" may exists immaterially and interact with the matter and energy in the physical world in ways that we cannot detect.

        But here's the thing (pun intended!): What Mr Staples is talking about in this article is really the Aristotelian (& Thomistic) notion of "soul", which is just another word for the "form" of a living object. As such, the soul (like all forms) is not actually a "thing" at all, interacting with the physical world in the typical cause&effect manner we look for in science. (See Hylomorphism)

        So think of the soul/form instead as something more like: the arrangement of matter which allows the operative principle (in the case of humans, that of being a "rational animal") to emerge.

        • Don't get it. I accept that matter exists, I accept that it is arranged in ways that are constantly changing. I accept that minds form concepts about these arrangements. I accept that many concepts are communicated through words such as "human" or "rock" and so on.

          It seems to me that conceptualizations of patterns are being promoted to an ontological statist that isn't justified.

          Is Hylomorphism popular among philosophers? I'm not convinced.

          • Alypius

            Is Hylomorphism popular among philosophers?

            Well, beginning with William of Ockham and then going all the way through the Enlightenment, it suffered a near-fatal wound. But in the 20th century there was something of a revival. Still a minority opinion, but one that definitely has revived interest. There are also "lite" versions of it in modern philosophy - generally grouped under "Essentialism" - that though different, are not too terribly far off.

            I accept that minds form concepts about these arrangements... conceptualizations of patterns are being promoted to an ontological status that isn't justified.

            It's interesting to me that you accept the first but hesitate with the next step. Many objects/patterns in our experience admittedly have vague or "fuzzy" boundaries that defy easy categorization, but there are also plenty that are pretty straightforward. Take water, for example. Every single time you put H2O together you get water. Every single human culture knows what water is (despite using different words for it and having differing levels of scientific knowledge about its structure). Why not see a concept there that ontologically precedes our coming to know it? If there weren't a pattern there we wouldn't be able to conceptualize the pattern, no?

          • Well our observations of hydrogen and oxygen forming a compound we call water is what leads me to accept that water exists materially. Without anyone to observe it, I accept that water still exists, but do not think there would exist any concepts about it. I don't see how any of this suggests water exists immaterially as a concept or any other entity.

          • Alypius

            Unless I misunderstand you (certainly possible!) it seems to me like the bar you have set for accepting the existence of "concepts" might be something more like that of a Platonic form (an immaterial entity existing on its own). If that's what a concept is, then I too say they don't exist!

            For anyone in the Aristotelian line of thought, though, a concept is never, strictly speaking, a thing; it is, however, an aspect of things. (A subtle, but important, difference.) Which doesn't lessen its reality one bit.

            When you say the statement "water exists materially" what you are actually saying is that matter exists and is structured in a way that we can recognize as a certain kind of thing. Regardless of the name we give it (water, agua, etc), the pattern we perceive to be in the matter (i.e. an "aspect" of the matter) is what we are referring to by giving it a name. That pattern doesn't have to exist somewhere else off by itself to nevertheless be a real part of the thing, does it?

          • I certainly do accept that concepts exist, I do not accept that they exist independent of minds. They exist physically as brain states in minds.

            I wouldn't call concepts an aspect of things but representations or descriptions or images of things, real or imagined. None of these words really work, which is why we have "concept".

            The arrangement of matter in a certain way is what I call water. I don't think it is really my view that the pattern is an "aspect" of water, it is an observation I make about the arrangement of molecules and so on.

            but more or less yes, I think we understand each other. My understanding of "soul" is something beyond the arrangement of matter in humans and something other than the concepts of human, or a particular human, in other minds. That when the arrangement of matter in a human changes so much that it can no longer live and proceeds to turn into other arrangements that are non-human, there is some "thing" that is the essence of that individual which persists. If it is not the arrangement of matter which made up the human, nor the concept(s) of her in other minds, then what is it?

          • Yes, I don't consider concepts to refer to platonic ideals or anything else that exists independent of mind. Concepts are formed within minds. They are not aspects of material things, they are aspects, or states of the minds that form them. I hold a concept of water generally and many more about more narrow aspects of water such as wetness. Wetness is a property or aspect of liquid water and other liquids. My concept of wetness is not a property or aspect of water.

      • Peter

        Of course, human consciousness may exist immaterially and interact with the complex matter and energy of our brain in ways we cannot detect. The question is, would consciousness survive the death of our brain since it would no longer have matter and energy to interact with?

        Despite our claims to the contrary, we don't know much about evolution, how matter is affected when it reaches the pinnacles of complexity associated with the human brain. It may be that matter reaches a certain point of complexity where, through laws we have not yet discovered, it punches through into another dimension to create an immaterial consciousness.

        Such a consciousness would interact with the complex matter of our brain within time, but once that time comes to an end and the brain dies, could not our consciousness then continue to exist in a dimension which is timeless? Of course it would have no freedom of choice because, being outside time and possessing no body, it would not be forced to make choices nor be able to put them into effect.

        Nonetheless, our consciousness, being immaterial, could still exist in a timeless state, a kind of permanent unchanging present, where we are aware of our existence and may even remember our past life but are unable to make choices.

        • The question is, that given we know our consciousness is directly related to the material brain, it seems to only make sense in time, we have no coherent understanding of what it means to be "immaterial" and "timeless", on what basis do you base your assertions that timeless immaterial existence is possible?

          As you say it may be possible, yes, and strict materialism may be possible. It may also be nonsense. You are just making assertions.

          • Peter

            The fact that we can find no physical link between the brain and consciousness suggests that even a strict materialist approach would conclude that a different order of reality is achieved once a certain point of material complexity is reached.

            Conciousness may be counter-intuitive inasmuch as it leaves no physical traces, but it is a fact of life as are the uncertainty principle, the exclusion principle and non-locality. Perhaps we need to look for it in the quantum realm or even beyond in the hypothetical world of strings and multiple dimensions, all of which still conform to your notion of strict materialism.

  • Lamont

    I do not usually try to argue with zombies anymore than I would with a dog or a computer. Nevertheless less, if a person at least
    tries to argue with you no matter how poorly, there is at least a
    glimmer of hope that rational thought will rekindle their spirit and
    lead them back out of darkness and into the light. So I will present
    one empirical argument for the existence of the soul and it is a
    simple one. If human beings lacked a soul we would be like ants or
    bees or other social animals that live according to their instincts.
    Human societies would all be like modern North Korea where everyone
    is just a part of the machine and those who do not fit in are
    eliminated. The thing about totalitarian regimes is that they all
    eventually collapse because they are incompatible with the human
    spirit. Human beings cannot be trained like animals or programmed
    like computers to behave exactly the way in which their masters want
    them to behave. If humans were just biological machines then behavior
    could be programmed, but it cannot so there must be an immaterial
    aspect of the human nature that exist in a dimension above the
    physical in a way that is like the way in which dark energy pervades
    and expands the universe without otherwise being a part of the
    physical system. If you look at the metaphysical arguments for the
    existence of the soul in this light then all the objections raised
    become irrelevant. The fact that you can choose to ignore this
    evidence is. by the way, an additional argument for the existence of
    the soul.

    • I think the mistake you are making is accounting for the differences between ants and humans by attributing it to something that we can't detect.

      There are other differences between these animals and humans that can be empirically observed and seem to account for these differences very well. Namely our large and highly complex brains, opposable thumbs, and vocal anatomy. These are what allow us to have abstract thought, language and technology.

      I still don't know what a soul is supposed to be or how it assists with establishing liberal democracy.

      • Phil

        Hey Brian,

        How would you personally propose that a highly complex, though purely material, brain would allow for a person to be able to come to know purely immaterial entities and concepts?

        A lot of times when talking about these things with those that hold a materialist view of the human person a lot of "blank checks" are written in regards to these questions. It seems that it is one thing to believe that eventually we can figure out how it works, but it is entirely a different thing to hold that it is not conceptually possible--which would seem to be the case in regards to something purely material coming to know something purely immaterial.

        • Well, I am a materialist, so I don't think any immaterial entities can be known. I certainly cannot conceive of any, when I try, I find myself imagining a void, which is material or material objects like a mist or a gas. My concepts are physical brain states that I experience.

          I'm not sure what "it" is. I'm not saying we won't be able to figure anything out. I'm just not seeing any reason to conclude anything immaterial exists.

          • Phil

            Well, I am a materialist, so I don't think any immaterial entities can be known.

            Would say that numbers and mathematics don't actually exist? They are merely figments of out imagination/illusions? What about geometrical entities? No actual true physical circle or square exists in reality, it is an abstract immaterial entity.

            What about things that were mentioned above such as "justice", or concepts like "procrastination"? We cannot point to either of these things yet we can come to know them.

            In actuality, truth itself is the hardest thing to account for on a materialist position. What would make you believe that what you believe is actually true if it ultimately must reduce to some sort of material cause? What in matter says that it is oriented towards what is actually true? Obviously most would say that evolution is oriented towards survival not towards truth--and I would agree.

            I'm not sure what "it" is. I'm not saying we won't be able to figure anything out. I'm just not seeing any reason to conclude anything immaterial exists.

            Gotcha, you know what--I would have no problem placing all that I will own in my entire life on the line to say that the human person will never reduced to a purely material being. As I mentioned above it comes down to the simple fact that I don't see how it is even theoretically possible that something that is purely material can come to know things that are purely immaterial in nature, how we can actually have free will in a purely material being, or how truth can arise in a purely material being.

            I know its bold, but after several thousand years of intellectuals thinking through these questions I have no problem making what I believe to be pretty modest claims at this point.

          • That is correct I don't think the number 4 exists on its own in some kind of Platonic ideal. I use "exists" to mean all that is matter/energy in space time. I think we develop all kinds of concepts about this very complex cosmos. I believe these concepts exist in brain states and are transposed into other symbols and many track onto material reality. I don't think that because we have concepts of things in our material brains that this entails an undetectable immaterial reality in which these exist as well.

            Jazz is a concept for a certain kind of music, does this mean that somehow jazz "exists" also immaterially independent of the musicians, writing, sounds and so on? I don't see why. My position is the same on procrastination and justice.

            I think free will is an illusion and I don't accept that there are ultimate perfect truth in that sense. There may be all of this but due to my own epistemological limitations, I don't see how I could ever be certain of these.

          • Phil

            I think free will is an illusion and I don't accept
            that there are ultimate perfect truth in that sense.

            Well, that's a bummer. As that effectively ends our conversation right there. If you don't have free will, then we have no reason to believe that what you are saying is actually true! You are saying things that may for all we know be complete utter nonsense that either help you survive better, that make you feel better, make you experience more pleasure, or there could always be no reason why you are saying them at all!

            But we will move on assuming that you do actually have free will that can come to know objective truth about reality. ;)

            That is correct I don't think the number 4 exists on its own in some kind of Platonic ideal.

            What we have thus far:
            1) Numbers do not exist outside our mind as physical or non-physical entities
            2) Numbers do not exist in our mind as physical entities or non-physical entities

            So ultimately we are at the point that numbers are a concept that our subjective mind creates. If that is the case, you have no reason to believe that when you say "4" you mean the same thing as when I say "4" since that number four does not exist outside our own subjective mind as you mentioned above.

            To cut to the chase, what you have done is made mathematics purely subjective and not able to objectively describe anything about reality. Obviously this takes out most of the physical sciences ability to come to objective truth as well, as they ultimately rely on quantifying reality.

            We also can no longer speak coherently about mathematics to each other since we have no way to tell if my concept of "4" is the same as yours. Even if it would seem they are the same, we would have no evidence beyond our subjective mind.

            The only way to save mathematics, universals, concepts and the like is to propose that they actually do exist outside our mind as immaterial abstract entities.

            (And I definitely agree about Platonism as I am not ultimately a Platonist, but that doesn't mean that "4" doesn't objectively exist outside our mind. (See an Aristotelian view of forms/universals))

            Jazz is a concept for a certain kind of music, does this mean that
            somehow jazz "exists" also immaterially independent of the musicians,
            writing, sounds and so on? I don't see why. My position is the same on
            procrastination and justice.

            Jazz does exist as an immaterial abstract universal independent of our minds. But where you are getting confused may be in thinking that it somehow exists floating around "out there" apart from any person or jazz music. No--the immaterial universal "jazz" exists within the actual entity of jazz music or in the mind of the person that has abstracted that universal. The lynchpin reason we can know that immaterial universals/natures/forms exist apart from our mind is the same reason why it must be true for numbers as I spoke above.

            If concepts such as "jazz" only existed in the subjective mind then we could have no coherent conversation about anything since our language as a whole relies upon abstracted concepts. To use our example, we could have no coherent conversation about "jazz" since we would have no reason to believe that your concept "jazz" is the same as my concept of "jazz".

            The simplest way to save coherent conversation/language is to propose that concepts such as "jazz" actually exist outside our mind and that we abstract them from an objectively experienced common external reality. E.g., such as you and I both listening to a jazz concert and abstracting the universal from it.

          • I do not see how my lack of belief in immaterial existence of numbers makes math subjective. Or how if I did believe in immaterial existence it would assist me in knowing your "4" is the same as my "4".

            Mathematics is a logical extension based on a small number of axioms. We either agree with these axioms and use math, or we don't. The logic Math is based on is, from what I know, a self attesting truth, and indeed the only purely objective thing is we are talking in absolute terms.

            I agree with you that jazz exist, but not apart from the sound, the recordings, the writing, the musicians and so on. I agree that the concepts we have represent the aggregate of these things. I just think if you take away all of these things, saying jazz exists loses any meaning. for example, in 1600 did jazz "exist"?

          • Continued...

            At the end of the day, I am trying to figure out what this entity is that persist after my flesh rots away completely. Clearly my thoughts, experiences and decisions are directly related to my brain. If my brain is damaged it affects my ability to think, I can alter its thinking with chemicals. I can think of no other entity in which "I" exist. And yet I am told that the "me" that truly is me and can think, choose feel, can be entirely separated from my physical body and exist for eternity.

            I recognize that the idea of materialism is counter intuitive, but so are many many things in nature. It is coherent and in my view all that can be justified.

          • Phil

            I do not see how my lack of belief in immaterial existence of numbers makes math subjective. Or how if I did believe in immaterial existence it would assist me in knowing your "4" is the same as my "4".

            I won't rehash why we have good reason to believe if mathematics are only something that exists in our mind why we would have issues of coherently talking/using mathematics. But the reason why the issue can be solved by positing that numbers actually do exist outside our minds as immaterial abstract entities is because then we can coherently say that we discover them out in shared external experience as a universal that the human mind can grasp. If that is the case, it is possible for you and I to grasp the same exact immaterial abstract concept of "4" and therefore now have good reason to believe we can talk about and use mathematics coherently.

            The logic Math is based on is, from what I know, a self attesting truth, and indeed the only purely objective thing is we are talking in absolute terms.

            Again, on your account maybe that is true in your mind. But what reason do you have to believe that the mathematics that arise from your mind are the same that arise in mine? You have no reason to believe they are unless it is actually something that is externally discovered by both of us.

            I would say that the common sense position is that mathematics is something that objectively exists in reality and that we can coherently talk about and use mathematics. The most reasonable account of them is that they actually exist objectively outside our mind, not as material entities, but as abstract immaterial entities.

            I agree with you that jazz exist, but not apart from the sound, the recordings, the writing, the musicians and so on.

            Okay, would you say that jazz is purely reducible to the actual physical playing of the music?

            The one who would say that immaterial universals actually exist can state at the same time that the concept of "jazz" exists when jazz is being played but is not reducible the physical occurance of it. Again the concept of "jazz" is not a physical thing.

            (See the issues regarding "nominalism". I know there are some that don't like the polemical nature of his book, but Ch. 2 in Feser's book The Last Superstition has a great explanation and defense on why immaterial universals must actually exist. )

            I agree that the concepts we have represent the aggregate of these things. I just think if you take away all of these things, saying jazz exists loses any meaning. for example, in 1600 did jazz "exist"?

            No, the universal of "jazz" does not exist apart from any person "thinking" about the universal or an instance of jazz being present. On an Aristotelian view, which I do still find the most convincing, the universal exists either in the mind of one who has abstracted it or in the actual object with that nature. If every person suddenly ceased to exist and all instances of jazz disappeared, the immaterial concept of "jazz" would no longer exist. But that does not mean that it did not exist at one time. Again, we aren't talking here about some "form heaven" in a Platonic way.

            Now we could get into a discussion about forms being "ideas in the mind of God" but that's a whole 'nuther discussion!

          • David Nickol

            Don't we agree about math because we learn math in school?

            I know there is an ongoing debate about whether mathematics in general is discovered or invented, but regardless of which is true, generally speaking, most of us are taught mathematics, so we all agree what 4 (the symbol and the quantity) because we were all taught the same thing.

            Interestingly (and famously), with colors I cannot know that what I experience as red is what anyone else experiences as red. Does that mean red does not really exist? (Actually, I would argue that it doesn't exist "objectively." That is, it didn't exist until human beings came along with a visual system that perceived certain wavelengths of electromagnetic waves as "light" and certain of those wavelengths as different colors of light.)

          • Phil

            Don't we agree about math because we learn math in school?

            We are still left with the same issue because unless both the teacher and student are coming to something they can both know outside their own subjective mind we have no assurance that they are even talking coherently about the same concepts. When someone is teaching us math they could be teaching us something that
            exists subjectively in their mind or are they teaching us something that
            exists objectively in reality outside their own mind?

            So I would say it is a pretty easy answer to the question of mathematics--it was discovered.

            Interestingly (and famously), with colors I cannot know that what I experience as red is what anyone else experiences as red. Does that mean red does not really exist? (Actually, I would argue that it doesn't exist "objectively."

            Ahh yes, colors. Yes they actually do exist outside our own mind. And the concept "redness" is an immaterial abstract concept.

            Now, that doesn't mean that we don't experience them from subjective point of view. It is what it called experiencing external objective reality subjectively. The reason we can know that colors exist in the external world is the same reason we can know the other thing exist externally--we couldn't talk about them coherently if they didn't.

            That is, it didn't exist until human beings came along with a visual system that perceived certain wavelengths of electromagnetic waves as "light" and certain of those wavelengths as different colors of light.)

            You would say that colors suddenly popped into existence once the eye came into existence? I would think it would be much more reasonable to believe that colors always existed, but it was only when the eye came about that they could be experienced. Then it was only with the human person that the universal concept "redness" could be understood, even though redness existed since the first red object existed. (Non-human animals can experience "red" but can't understand the concept of "redness".)

            Think about before we invented an infra-red detector. Infra-red waves always were there, it wasn't like suddenly they popped into existence once we invented a detector. The same is with colors and the eye.

          • David Nickol

            Think about before we invented an infra-red detector. Infra-red waves always were there, it wasn't like suddenly they popped into existence once we invented a detector. The same is with colors and the eye.

            Electromagnetic radiation of wavelengths 620 to 740 nm on the electromagnetic spectrum has existed from the time of the big bang (or shortly thereafter), but electromagnetic radiation of that wavelength is not red (or redness). Red is a perception experienced by human beings at our current stage of evolution that occurs when electromagnetic radiation of the appropriate wavelength enters the eye and is processed by the human nervous system. If there were no human beings who perceived electromagnetic radiation of this wavelength in the way we do, there would be no such thing as "red."

          • Phil

            Electromagnetic radiation of wavelengths 620 to 740 nm on the electromagnetic spectrum has existed from the time of the big bang (or shortly thereafter), but electromagnetic radiation of that wavelength is not red (or redness). Red is a perception experienced by human beings

            I agree completely with the last statement, but it is both/and. Red does not merely exist in our mind, it is directly formed by the electromagnetic radiation of wavelengths 620 to 740 nm on the electromagnetic spectrum (to use your example). Red is not reducible to our perception but neither is it reducible to the electromagnetic waves. (Obviously as you mention, the subjective perception of red is something that can only be experienced subjectively, but it has as its source the outside world.

            If there were no human beings who perceived electromagnetic radiation of this wavelength in the way we do, there would be no such thing as "red."

            I think based on the above answer that it would be best to qualify this statement by saying that the subjective experience of red would not exist. What do you think?

          • I understand why you refer to jazz as an abstract concept, but why immaterial? It would seem to me that everything related to jazz is material. No I do not think jazz can be reduced to the physical playing of music. It also includes the sound waves, the patterns, the listener, the theory.The entire experience of jazz. And it has fuzzy borders. But all f this involves physical material and none of it requires reference to non-material entities.

            I do understand your perspective and have encountered t before. It really does feel to me like labelling concepts as existing outside of minds. I just don't see it but I appreciate you humouring me.

          • Phil

            It would seem to me that everything related to jazz is material.

            I am thinking about the universal concept "jazz" right now--where is the physical existence of jazz existing/located in my brain/mind?

          • It would seem it is in your brain state and activities your neutrons fire in very different and extremely complex ways. When this happens you hold a mental image in your brain. You experience thinking of jazz as an emergent effect of this neural activity. Now there may be something unknown going on in an undetectable immaterial realm, but an appeal to this is unnecessary.

            My concept of jazz may share quite a bit or very little with yours. The more we share in common with words and concepts the better we are able to communicate. But there is no independant standard upon which to compare these concepts. This is why dictionaries describe usage of words and the common usage changes drastically over time. They don't simply list universal concept that have been discovered.

            By contrast, can you say anything at all about this immaterial universal existence of jazz, or concept of jazz?

          • Phil

            It would seem it is in your brain state and activities your neutrons fire in very different and extremely complex ways. When this happens you hold a mental image in your brain. You experience thinking of jazz as an emergent effect of this neural activity.

            Just to clarify, would you hold that me thinking of "jazz" can ultimately be reduced to the very complex firing of neurons firing and brain states?

          • As far as I can tell, yes. Though experience of Jazz involves other parts of the body as well and interactions with the environment. But I see no evidence or reason to accept that thinking occurs anywhere else.

          • Phil

            As far as I can tell, yes [the universal jazz is reducible to very complex firing of neurons and brain activity].

            The next question I have is, as far as I can tell there is no resemblance or connection between (a) firing brain neurons and brain activity and (b) jazz music being played. In other words, I see no way that one can take as much brain activity as they want and somehow get "jazz" out of it.

            ----
            For example: Say we get advanced enough brain scans that we know exact the 2.2 billion neurons that fire when a person thinks about the concept "jazz". A person proclaims we have found the concept "jazz"!

            We then think for a second...No of course we have not found "jazz". Jazz music is playing right now, and there are definitely no firing neurons or brain activity in this jazz music itself!

            The moral of the story "jazz" music cannot be reduced to firing neurons or bran activity no matter how complex because it leads to great absurdities like the above.

          • Susan

            as far as I can tell there is no resemblance or connection between (a) firing brain neurons and brain activity and (b) jazz music being played.

            Connection? Do you think there is no brain activity in the humans who are playing jazz or listening to jazz? How would it exist if there were no brain activity? Why would there be a word for jazz or music? You are insisting there is something else and you've made no case for it.

            Resemblance? Does a car heading down the highway resemble gas burning? What do you mean by "resemblance?"

            The moral of the story: "jazz" music cannot be reduced to firing neurons or bran activity

            But it can be reduced to unevidenced, unsupported claims about immaterial existences? How is that helpful?

            When a prairie dog signals "danger" to its companions when it sense "danger" or a human yells "Look out!", does that mean "danger" has immaterial existence?

            What about "icky"? That's an adjective like "red". What about "the"? Does that have immaterial existence?

            The trouble with "realism" (which means many things on many subjects and many modern realists don't accept Aristotle or Aquinas) as you define it, is that it all it seems to be doing is fetishizing the existence of human language.

            Humans have language. Therefore, souls.

            Trees have branches. Therefore, souls.

            Explain why this isn't material. That doesn't make it less fantastic. No one's ever explained why it should:

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hyf1rPqibjY

          • Ben Posin

            What's impressive is that Phil managed to ignore every part of Brian's response, which was only four lines. I guess one danger of trying to play Socrates is you may not notice when someone isn't following along with your script.

            When asked by Phil to clarify if someone's *thinking* of jazz can be reduced to neural activity, Brian said yes, "though **experience** of Jazz involves other parts of the body as well and interactions with the environment." (emphasis added). That seems to cover the playing of and listening to jazz quite nicely, and seems material to me.

          • Susan

            Phil managed to ignore every part of Brian's response, which was only four lines.

            I know.

            one danger of trying to play Socrates is you may not notice when someone isn't following along with your script.

            That can be a problem.

            That seems to cover the playing of and listening to jazz quite nicely, and seems material to me.

            Agreed.

          • Phil

            Explain why this isn't material: [In regards to the
            great performance of "It Don't Mean A Thing]

            That specific performance or when I am listening to it most definitely has as its foundation a physical existence. What we are discussing is not about a specific instance of jazz music, but rather the concept/universal of "jazz". We are looking to account for why we can say that "It Don't Mean A Thing" and "Moonglow" are both instances of "jazz" even though they objectively have completely distinct physical existences.

            Connection? Do you think there is no brain activity in the humans who
            are playing jazz or listening to jazz? How would it exist if there were
            no brain activity?

            The claim is that "jazz" is not reducible to brain activity. In other words "jazz" does not equal "brain activity". It would be very shallow of us to believe this to be case, simply because we know that jazz music itself has no brain activity going on!

            One could hold that this brain activity somehow "represents" jazz--but then the main issue with conceptualism creeps up again; how do we account for an objective connection between the brain activity and the external object which would account then for coherent human language and communication.

            But it can be reduced to unevidenced, unsupported claims about immaterial existences? How is that helpful?

            The best theory to believe is the one that explains the most evidence/data, is the most internally consistent, and is the most coherent. We must follow the evidence where it leads--and in the case of universals that leads us to posit that universals/concepts actually exist outside the human mind.

            When a prairie dog signals "danger" to its companions when it sense "danger" or a human yells "Look out!", does that mean "danger" has immaterial existence?

            Yes, danger is an abstract concept. We can't point to the physical thing "danger", yet we can say that both a charging shark and charging bear are "dangerous". That is what makes human conceptual language so unique and points towards its immaterial part.

            Let's stick to human language since non-human language is not conceptual (the main difference between human animals and non-human animals). The fact that a human yells "look out!" and someone else thinks "danger" shows that something very unique is going on.

            It could be the case that a human simply yells and a person that does not know language starts to run away. That would be an instance of non-conceptual communication--what non-human animals use.

            What about "icky"? That's an adjective like "red". What about "the"? Does that have immaterial existence?

            (Note, I do not specialize in philosophy of language so things like analyzing "the", please take with a grain of salt but please think about it yourself as well!)

            Yup, "icky" is an immaterial universal/concept. We can point to something this is "icky", but we can't point to "ickiness" itself.

            Yes, even "the" has an immaterial part to it. What "the" points towards is not the physically written word or the physical sound/utterance of the word. Rather, "the" points beyond itself to a distinct existing unified entity.

          • Susan

            That specific performance or when I am listening to it most definitely has as its foundation a physical existence

            Doesn't it, though?

            What we are discussing is not about a specific instance of jazz music, but rather the concept/universal of "jazz".

            We know. And many people have addressed it on many levels. I'd suggest you look into neuroscience, the science of linguistics, This is Your Brain on Music

          • Phil

            It sounds like you are heading down the road of reductionism, where ultimately everything can be reduced to complex physical brain states. Unfortunately, I can tell you it won't end well. There will be no way to ultimately account for much of human experience. It is important to hold a theory that can account for what we actually experience.

            The physical brain is very much involved in actions of the human person, but to say concepts/universals are reducible somehow to physical neurons firing is missing what they really are. In principle, it is not possible.

            I'll suggest this book as a good primer:

            http://www.amazon.com/Philosophy-Mind-A-Beginners-Guide/dp/1851684786/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1403622909&sr=8-1&keywords=philosophy+of+mind+feser

            The author goes through all the main arguments for materialism, dualism, and throws in hylomorphism at the end.

          • Max Driffill

            Phil,

            "The moral of the story: "jazz" music cannot be reduced to firing neurons or bran activity."

            This is so wrong it is hard to believe you even wrote it down and expected it to be taken seriously.
            All physical activity is a product of firing neurons. Even highly specialized, apparently "spontaneous" riffs played by skilled jazz musicians. Any highly skilled body of movement, will be the result of practice and emersion. This is the very definition of training muscles, which, and this is crucial, is training neurons. If you think highly specialized parts of the brain like the somatosensory cortex, or the motor cortex are unimportant in the performance of any jazz (whatever the jazz happens to be) I would urge you to dig into the literature of traumatic brain injury. It will hopefully disabuse of the notion that "jazz" music cannot be reduced to firing neurons..."

            Of course when you say that there is no firing of neurons in "jazz music being played right now" (do you mean on the radio? Issuing down a street from some club) you are not saying anything very profound. When sound waves propagate they do so without any neurons firing (though in the case of jazz it took a suitably educated, and practiced nervous system to produce the jazz). It is just noise to creatures with no appreciation for it (like myself, or birds). However processing what that noise is will take place when those sound waves hit a tympanic membrane which is attached to a nervous system sufficiently sophisticated to process what kind of noise is being produced.

            It isn't jazz until then. It doesn't get to be jazz until it is produced by a nervous system (and attendant musculature), or apprehended by a nervous system capable of appreciating and defining it.

            And concepts like "jazz music" are meaningless unless there is a nervous system to process them.

          • Phil

            This is so wrong it is hard to believe you even wrote it down and expected it to be taken seriously.
            All physical activity is a product of firing neurons.

            Your challenge then is to defend how what exists in the jazz music I am listening to right now is the same as when I think about "jazz".

            I will stick with saying that jazz music itself has no firing neurons in it. And that there is no physical jazz music in my brain when I think about "jazz". (Remember, people are playing jazz music; they are not "jazz music" itself.)

            It is just noise to creatures with no appreciation for it (like myself, or birds). However processing what that noise is will take place when those sound waves hit a tympanic membrane which is attached to a nervous system sufficiently sophisticated to process what kind of noise is being produced.

            Exactly! The end of the first paragraph, quoted here, actually refutes what you stated and I quoted first in this comment. But I'll leave the first quote just to get us thinking.

            Jazz music has as its basis the physical world, but the concept "jazz" is not purely reducible to the physical instance of jazz. If that was the case we would have no way of saying that both "It Don't Mean A Thing" and "Moonglow" are both instances of jazz. Even though we know they objectively have distinct physical existences.

            It isn't jazz until then. It doesn't get to be jazz until it is produced by a nervous system (and attendant musculature), or apprehended by a nervous system capable of appreciating and defining it.

            You are putting forth a mainly conceptualist view of concepts/universals. The big challenge for you is to explain how we know that your concept of "jazz" is the same as my concept of "jazz"?

            (And I completely agree with you that something only become described as "jazz" when a proper receiver is present, i.e., a human being. But that says nothing about "jazz" actually existing in the music being played.)

          • Max Driffill

            The concept jazz doesn't exist outside of human brains. If that is the case, then it is wholly a material phenomenon. It involves specific learning, and understanding all of this takes place in brains. Music playing in the absence of brains, as in the case of a radio playing in an empty room, is nothing but sound waves bouncing around (also a wholly physical set of phenomena) and will remain such until some creature that understands jazziness enters the room and filters the noise through their central nervous system. The concept jazz isn't immaterial then. It doesn't sit out in some ether some where. Its apprehension depends entirely on material processes. The sound wayes that make up what we call jazz has no firing neurons (this is an uninteresting thing to say by the way and seems to be, at best, a deepity.

            The big challenge for you is to explain how we know that your concept of "jazz" is the same as my concept of "jazz"?

            I'm not sure this matters very much. Your jazz may not be my jazz but we both know our jazz when we hear it. Possibly you know your jazz when you can bop a long and groove, I know my jazz when i am inspired to change the channel on my local NPR station. ;)

          • Michael Murray

            I was trying to work out what the "big challenge" here is. I am not quite sure I understand the question but surely one possible answer is that your auditory system and brain are structurally very similar to Phil's so you can both learn to identify the same kind of music as jazz. If you auditory systems and brains where quite different it might be harder for you both to learn to identify the same music as jazz.

          • Phil

            I'm not sure this matters very much. Your jazz may not be my jazz but we both know our jazz when we hear it. Possibly you know your jazz when you can bop a long and groove, I know my jazz when i am inspired to change the channel on my local NPR station

            This is actually the key well-known challenge for conceptualism (the theory you are supporting). Because it cannot account for how we are having a coherent conversation about "jazz" right now. In fact, it cannot account for coherent human language/conversation at all, since most of human language uses universals/concepts.

            I take the realist position because it can easily explain why we can easily have coherent language and conversation. Follow the evidence where it leads is one of my favorite mantras. And just like with science, the theory that easily explains the most data is one to take a long hard look at.

          • Max Driffill

            Phil,
            Instead of arguing with conceptualism, you might tackle the arguments I am making. I'm not even sure universals exist. You seem to assume that they do. However, the concept Jazz doesn't appear universal. You and I can maybe agree on what it is, based on a suite of definitions that we have floating around in our head. But maybe not. There are numerous definitions that would classify jazz as this or that, or that require this suite of techniques to be true jazz, or bebop, or smooth jazz, or jazz funk. But these concepts exist in brains and firing neurons are based on the combinatorial powers of said brains. We can write down these definitions, and criteria, but in what sense that makes them immaterial I don't know. The written storage can do nothing until it has a material process that can do the processing. You continue to ignore this.

            Imagine a population of humans that have never been exposed to jazz music. One day someone in this benighted group turns her radio to a jazz station. They have no universal concept of jazz to invoke. They may recognize it as music that they like or do not like, or in the case of some more esoteric forms of jazz, not even recognize it as music at all. Maybe they would come up with a suite of classifying characters and call it by some name that references those characters but there will be some important things to remember I think.
            These classifications are based on the neuropsychology of the people playing the jazz, and on the neuropsychology of the receivers. And that the intervening signal (the noise) is a physical process. At no point is there not a material process occurring.

          • Phil

            Instead of arguing with conceptualism, you might tackle the arguments I am making. I'm not even sure universals exist. You seem to assume that they do.

            I'm completely up for that. What I will do is shut up right now and allow to lay out your position fully on the ontology of universals/concepts.

            Once you have finished your position I will (a) ask some questions to help me fully understand your position if there is anything I'm not getting. And (b) write back a full response to what I would agree with and what I wold disagree with.

            How does that sound?

            -----

            (The reason for mentioning conceptualism is one view you were putting forward was that view.)

          • Phil

            Hey Max,

            Here is a question that I was reflecting on. Let's use the simple concept/universal of "stick":

            This universal/concept can be represented in many ways: via the actual physical written word, through the spoken audible word, through simply thinking about "stick". In fact there is a potentially infinite amount of ways that the universal "stick" can be presented.

            How is it possible to posit that all these things reference the same exact thing, the universal concept "stick", without believing that the concept must transcend the physical occurrence. Whether is be written, auditory, or mental brain state?

          • Firstly, you allude to a "next question" but you do not actually pose one.

            Second, I did not say "jazz" can be reduced to the firing of neurons or brain activity. You asked about THINKING of jazz which can be so reduced. Anticipating where you were going I clarified that jazz is more than the thinking of it and the "experience of Jazz involves other parts of the body as well and interactions with the environment". You chose not to include the complete quote, but add your own inaccurate understanding of my comments in square brackets attributing them to me. Please do not do this.

            Third, I don't suggest that identifying someone's brain state is equivalent to unveiling some universal entity that is "jazz". However, such detection, if it could be confirmed, would be a snapshot or a representation of that individual's subjective concept of "jazz" at that instant, coded in a different form.

            Fourth, if jazz music is playing live I would bet my last sausage that it is directly connected to at least some of the neural activity in the musician. It is for this reason that i suggest that brain-dead individuals lack swing. If it is a recording, at some point a brain was involved in the composing, playing and improvising. The same goes for every time someone listens to it.

            Of course there are millions of elements of jazz that are not brain activity. But they are all material as far as I can tell. That human individuals have concepts in their brains which are broad models dimly representing this aggregate for them does not make this brain activity immaterial or suggest there is some immaterial existence for "jazz".

          • Phil

            You asked about THINKING of jazz which can be so reduced. Anticipating where you were going I clarified that jazz is more than the thinking of it and the "experience of Jazz involves other parts of the body as well and interactions with the environment".

            Okay, thank you for clarifying that. The reason I added the brackets, maybe wrongly, is that I am thinking about "jazz" right now and there is absolutely no physical instance of jazz going on. So I agree that jazz has as its source actual jazz music. But the concept "jazz" needs no physical jazz music to be thought about and contemplated.

            Was I correct in stating that you would hold that thinking about "jazz" is purely reducible to brain states?

            Firstly, you allude to a "next question" but you do not actually pose one.

            I apologize, I think a better word would have been "issue". (Obviously proofreading missed that one.)

            -----

            Okay this time I will ask an actual question which still needs to be figured out! ;)

            How do we coherently explain interpersonal language/communication if our concepts are merely subjective private events in our brain?

          • With the disciplines of linguistics, communication studies, neuroscience, psychology and so on.

          • Phil

            To direct discussion back to the center, here is a question that I was reflecting on and I wanted to get some feedback from you guys. Let's use the simple concept/universal of "stick":

            This universal/concept can be represented in many ways: via the actual physical written word, through the spoken audible word, through simply thinking about "stick". In fact there is a potentially infinite amount of ways that the universal "stick" can be presented.
            How is it possible to posit that all these things reference the same exact thing, the universal concept "stick", without believing that the concept must transcend the physical occurrence. Whether is be written, auditory, or a mental brain state?

          • We should be careful here with terms like "universal/concept". It is better thought of as "general" concept of stick or stick-ness, as opposed to concepts of specific sticks.

            I don't think you are really asking how it is possible to posit, one just posits it.

            I think you are asking how I can be confident that when you refer to the term "stick" here you are referring to the same general concept as I am? Through experience and context. I've developed a general concept of "stick", at least two in fact for this word. I developed the concept through experience in the world and with others and myself using the term in connection with the actual things or with descriptions of the things. It takes years for us to develop and refine these concepts and we make mistakes all the time, particularly when we are learning language itself, or other languages.

            A great example is this stick. You haven't given me enough context to determine if you mean smallish parts of tree branches, or adhesion. We might have agreement of the concept of a stick, but never agree on the specifics of the category. I can imagine a dispute in which one of says "that's not a stick, it's too big." And we don't agree because we have differences in our concepts of what a stick is because of our experience with the word. We share a general concept of stick not a perfect universal concept of stick.

          • Continued. You could say that my general concept of stick transcends specific sticks, in the sense that it is a category, but it does not transcend the material world. It's is a concept referring to an abstraction. I would not say that the abstraction "stick-ness" itself actually exists in reality. The concept of this abstraction exists in brain states.

          • Phil

            I developed the concept through experience in the world and with others and myself using the term in connection with the actual things or with descriptions of the things.

            Let's walk through an example that should help, as several here have mentioned, as you did above, that we can have confidence in universal concepts because of comparing it to others and making connections.

            I will be playing a person that is learning about these universals for the first time, like a child would. You will be my guru. So we will be acting out the actions of comparing and learning these universals.

            ------

            Brian: "Phil, this here is a chair."
            Phil: "Brian, what makes this a chair?"

            ------
            So now if you would answer my question we will continue the dialogue!

          • I'll play along, but I first need to know what you have me pointing at. Lets assume I am pointing to the object in this image. http://www.curatedfurniture.com/media/catalog/product/cache/1/image/9df78eab33525d08d6e5fb8d27136e95/j/e/jean_prouve_standard_chair_replica-1.jpg

            I am also not claiming that these concepts are universal, but general or shared concepts.

            Here is my response. Also keep in mind that such a conversation is a fiction. I doubt you would really be confused by my statement and the dialogue is a philosophical exploration. So I may seem a bit pedantic.

            Brian: Strictly speaking, I don't know about "what makes it a chair" I call it a chair because of its form and function, it has four legs, a back, and a seat.

          • Phil

            Brian: Strictly speaking, I don't know about "what makes it a chair" I call it a chair because of its form and function, it has four legs, a back, and a seat.

            Phil: What are "legs"? What is a "back"? What about a "seat"?

            I won't drag this on, but see the issue? Any time you try and explain a "general" or "shared concept", you use other ones to explain it. This leads to an infinite regress, where if concepts were simply in the mind one cold never actually explain a concept purely from what is in their mind.

            This is why saying that we compare concepts with eachother cannot account for coherent language with universals and make sure that we mean the same thing. So again, a view that universal concepts don't exist outside the mind leads to not being able to show and prove that we can even have coherent conversation with them.

          • Nonsense. You introduce an exercise and then abandon it almost immediately. Of course we do not develop our understanding of general concepts entirely in abstract. We learn language as infants by observing the labels we use for various observations in the material world. It takes years for new brains to develop an understanding of language and concepts and many more years to learn shared complex concepts. A two year old may grasp to concept of "cow" but will take years before being able to understand complex concepts like "justice" and "faith".

            If these universal concepts exist, we would expect little dispute as to what these terms refer to. Maybe as little confusion as we have with "chair". But consider how little we agree on the borders of what "sport" refers to. We have disputes over auto racing, darts, equestrian and so on. There is no objective standard to refer to. No true universal sportiness" standard we can compare competitive eating to see if it truly falls within the "universal" of sport.

            I'm perfectly willing and capable of answering your questions about chair.

            Brian: this is the back, these parts are the legs. By "seat" I mean it had some part that can support my weight from the backside, generally.

          • Phil

            Nonsense

            Can you explain developing coherent interpersonal universal concepts without using universal concepts to explain?

            If so, then what I said might be nonsense. If not, then what I said is a valid criticism that many have held of believing that concepts are purely in the mind.

            You introduce an exercise and then abandon it almost immediately.

            I mean I can drag it out if you want. I was just hoping it would make my point more concrete. To continue.

            Brian: this is the back, these parts are the legs. By "seat" I mean it
            had some part that can support my weight from the backside, generally.

            Phil: What is a "part"? What is "support" and "weight" and "backside"?

            On a deerp philosophical note; When you say "this"

          • I cannot explain developing universal concepts because I do not think such things exist. We have multitudes of concepts, some general, some shared, all are learned from experience in the world and with reference to other concepts.

            We see exactly what we expect to see if humans evolved a language capacity. We see the development of multiple concepts and enormous variation among different societies. What we don't see is any universal concepts in the absence of any experience or development of them.

            This is shown by your very exchange. Your character is ignorant of the concept of "chair", you accept that one can be ignorant of such things and that learning what the concept is a d refers to requires experience of the world and comparison to other more basic concepts. There is no independant universal chair concept for us to access, we need to look at chairs, use pictures and explain the properties in terms of already shared concepts.

            I put it to you to show me why I should believe that some abstract realm of immaterial reality exists, how the existence of universals is of any value. For instance, explain faith to me by appeal to the universal concept, instead descriptions of the word's usage of your own subjective concept of it.

          • Phil

            What we don't see is any universal concepts in the absence of any experience or development of them.

            What about right now because I am thinking about "tree"? I not thinking about any specific tree, just what "treeness" is.

            Or when I think about an actual circle? No actual circle exists in reality since an actual circle is enclosed by lines, and lines do not have an width to them. Which obviously cannot exist in reality.

            It seems that we can think about universal concepts even when not in the physical presence of the object? I would agree that many universal concepts comes from a physical object, but one doesn't need to be in the presence of one to contemplate it.

            Your character is ignorant of the concept of "chair", you accept that one can be ignorant of such things and that learning what the concept is a d refers to requires experience of the world and comparison to other
            more basic concepts.

            Exactly! And this is evidence to show that the concepts actually come from the external objects, not some place in our mind.

            I put it to you to show me why I should believe that some abstract realm of immaterial reality exists.

            Maybe you don't quite understand what I am arguing yet? I am not arguing any "abstract realm of immaterial realities". I am simply arguing that universal concepts exist independently of the human mind. And concepts ultimately dwell in actual physical objects, but not as physical objects themself. (Obviously this would mean that they aren't material.) But they don't exist floating out there!

            For instance, explain faith to me by appeal to the universal concept,
            instead descriptions of the word's usage of your own subjective concept
            of it.

            I'm not quite understanding the request--maybe a typo in here? Can you rephrase the request? Thanks!

          • But you are arguing for some non-material realm in which some forms of concepts "exist" independent of physical minds and the material objects themselves. Of course the wouldn't be floating "out there" that would be material existence.

            Anyway we are now just arguing materialism. Because my response would be that to say these concepts somehow exist in this way is unjustified.

            I do think I understand how you view this, I just think that to the extent that concepts have an existence independent of matter is not enough to get you to a soul.

            If I have a picture of a circle, it is not a perfect circle. It is utterly destroyed by fire and I re-draw the circle based on my concept of the circle, even drawing on both the concept of a perfect circle and my own concepts of the specific circle, when I re-draw the circle I have a completely new circle.

          • Phil

            But you are arguing for some non-material realm in which some forms of
            concepts "exist" independent of physical minds and the material objects
            themselves.

            So close; they exist as a part of the actual physical objects and are able to be abstracted by the human mind. Like two sides of the same coin--i.e., the Aristotelian-Thomistic concept of "form-matter composition"

            But you are arguing for some non-material realm in which some forms of
            concepts "exist" independent of physical minds and the material objects
            themselves.

            The move is first to show that immaterial concepts actually exist independently of the mind and then if one can show that we can actually understand these concepts we cannot posit that the mind is purely material. I.e., a purely material entity could not understand something immaterial.

            -----
            I had mentioned a bit ago about me thinking about "tree" right now. Not any specific tree, but what makes a tree a tree, or shortened "treeness".

            What is going on in my head since obviously no tree is present? What am I contemplating when I contemplate "tree"?

          • Susan

            Have you looked into the scientific study of human language at all? If so, what have you found out about it?

          • Phil

            Hey Susan,

            I cannot claim to have any great experience with the "scientific study" of language, but I don't really know how that would work. (Beyond doing basic sociological investigation of language, which could show how one language developed into another.)

            I say this because science's method is based upon observations. But all you can observe of language is the physical words and the vibrations of the auditory words. But obviously the concept and word "chair" has nothing directly to do with the physical word or the vibrations of it besides the fact that that is how we represent it. In that light, a full explanation of language can only come through philosophical investigation.

            Now maybe there have been scientists doing philosophy of language.

            If you could point me towards scientific studies of language, I will definitely read them.

          • Michael Murray

            Hi Phil ,

            Start here I think

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linguistics

            Linguistics is a research field devoted to the scientific[1] study of language.[2]

          • Phil

            Thanks Michael,

            Okay that's what I was leaning towards when Susan said "scientific study of language". Obviously anything in that area of study that is not explicitly philosophical has underlying philosophical assumptions (as every area of study does), and that is what we have been dealing with in the distinctions we have been trying to make about universals.

          • Susan

            Seminarian?

          • Phil

            There is a distinct possibility I am "dating the Church". ;)

          • Susan

            ;-)

          • Susan

            obviously in trying to discover the metaphysical/ontological status of universal concepts

            I'm not trying to discover anything of the kind. I'm not even sure what you mean by the term "universal concepts", let alone accept that they exist.

            You point to language as evidence of whatever you're trying to get at, but seem to think it's good form to ignore all the material connections and still think it's convincing to say that there must, therefore, be something immaterial.

          • Phil

            I'm not trying to discover anything of the kind. I'm not even sure what you mean by the term "universal concepts", let alone accept that they exist.

            Maybe that's why the discussion hasn't born much fruit because I didn't make it clear for you exactly what we were actually doing!

            What you and I were trying to figure out was whether universal concepts actually exist, and if they do, what is the their mode of existence. This is called the "metaphysical/ontological status". Even when you would deny that universal concepts even exist you are making a metaphysical/ontological claim.

            You point to language as evidence of whatever you're trying to get at, but seem to think it's good form to ignore all the material connections and still think it's convincing to say that there must, therefore, be something immaterial.

            No, please don't ignore the material connections! That's one of the big parts of my argument. The direct connection of universal concepts to the actual external physical world shows forth that they don't simply exist in the mind. And the fact that we can even use universal concepts coherently shows that they actually exist and aren't just an illusion.

          • Susan

            Even when you would deny that universal concepts even exist you are making a metaphysical/ontological claim.

            Not yet. You are making a claim about something you have not established. I am not accepting it. This is not "denial" of the claim. This is lack of acceptance.

            The direct connection of universal concepts to the actual external physical world shows forth that they don't simply exist in the mind.

            That we refer in more or less accurate degrees to frames that are useful to us on some level when describing the external world doesn't give us immaterial anything. I still don't see how we've escaped material brains describing the material world in which they exist.

            And brains that can only conceptualize. They can make maps. Real ones and fake ones. Maps of Australia and Narnia.

            This says more about what our brains evolved to do than it makes a case for immaterial forms or souls.

          • Phil

            And brains that can only conceptualize. They can make maps.

            When you say this, what exactly are you saying? Are you saying that this "map" that equals "tree" is a complex network of neurons firing? Or maybe you are getting at something else?

            My main worry is that this still does not account for coherent interpersonal human language. My main argument is we should follow the evidence where it leads, so we should have a theory that accounts for this. Which again leads to us positing that our concepts actually come from outside our mind. (This isn't even yet to say that they are immaterial, merely that they don't simply exist in our subjective mind.)

            This says more about what our brains evolved to do than it makes a case for immaterial forms or souls.

            If we believe that evolution is oriented towards survival and not towards truth, then you have no reason to believe that what you are saying here is actually true. You may believe it is true simply because it helps you survive, not because it is actually true. That is the catch-22 with holding both materialism (that all that exists in reality is material in nature) and that evolution is true.

            Because of this, the theist is in a much better position to believe that evolution is actually itself true.

          • Michael Murray

            FYI Phil Susan has been banned. So you won't get a reply unless you post it over here

            http://outshine-the-sun.blogspot.com.au

          • Phil

            Here, maybe these links could help on explaining what exactly universals are:

            http://www.iep.utm.edu/universa/

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_%28metaphysics%29

          • So what do you mean by "exist"? For me exists means matter/energy. Things exist if they have a material presence. This is why I call myself a materialist. I'm not a hard materialist in the sense that I preclude anything non-material from existing, but I just cannot imagine how. I don't know that these existing concepts of which you speak are detectable in any way or how you establish that they do. We are talking about concepts which are detectable in the brain states of humans. We can actually observe evidence of them. Some concepts will be about actual things that exist materially, some will be categories, others processes, some entirely abstract, some completely imaginary.

            So how do you know these things exist, rather that only brain states exist.

            I don't know what you are thinking of, I am not you. I assume you are either thinking about trees you have seen or those you imagine. We can think of dragons without any dragons ever having existing, I don't see your point.

          • Phil

            So what do you mean by "exist"? For me exists means matter/energy.

            I'm assuming you are asking what do I mean by saying that universal concepts actually exist as part of the actual physical object?

            If so, it is simply to claim that universal concepts exist as a part of the physical object and then we must figure out if they are material (i.e, matter/energy as you mention) or immaterial in nature.

            If we assume first that they are material in nature we run into the issue that we have two distinct physical trees. We can rationally and rightly say that they are both trees. (Coherent language between us about trees proves this point.) But we realize that these are two completely distinct physical objects. In other words, they do not share any of the same exact matter or energy. To say they have a "similar kind of matter/energy makeup" is simply to beg the question and assume universal concepts.

            So our issue is now we have two completely physically distinct objects that we can both say are in fact "trees". This is why the simplest and most basic belief is simply to say that they both contain this universal "tree" in their very entire being, but not as some physical entity, but as some non-physical entity that the human person is capable of abstracting from it.

            To assume that all that exists is what can be seen or touched or measured in some way is a belief that needs to be shown to be true or false philosophically with philosophical arguments since it is a philosophical statement and belief. Ultimately, materialism just doesn't hold up, especially when it comes to the human person. (Not to mention that the physical sciences themself become incoherent if one holds materialism to be true.)

          • No, I mean "exists" at all in any way. How do we distinguish between that which exists and that which is imaginary. My way is that what exists is the set of things that form part of the material universes all matter and energy.

            I'm sure you're not characterizing materialism as some fringe belief it is a well-established philosophical position which I am prepared to defend.

            Both are trees because they share similar characteristics that we have decided to apply to it. An interesting counter to this is fish. I assume you accept there is some universal concept of fish. And that this concept exists in some way independent of minds. But there is actually no such thing as a fish. This is a category that has no real taxonomic value. Similarly for dragons. We agree that no dragons exist, and yet we have this universal category.

            All of this is happening in our minds, nowhere else, it is meaningless to say that universal concepts exist, or are defined in any way differently than specific concepts.

          • Phil

            No, I mean "exists" at all in any way. How do we distinguish between that which exists and that which is imaginary.

            Gotcha. There is a difference between existing in one's mind and existing in reality outside one's mind. To exist in the proper sense simply means "to be" in the broadest sense. I don't know exactly how to explain this as it is pretty straightforward.

            Talking about imaginary is a little tricky, but I would say something that is imaginary is something that one supposes exists in reality, but only is conceptualizing in one's mind.

            My way is that what exists is the set of things that form part of the material universes all matter and energy

            This is an assumption you have to prove. You are assuming that all things that exist are material in nature, i.e., matter/energy. This is something you would need to prove to show that something that is not material in nature doesn't exist.

            But there is actually no such thing as a fish.

            To say that there is no such thing as "fish" means that you cannot point to anything and actually rationally say it is a "fish". That fact that I knew exactly what you were talking about and could conceptualize "fish" also showed showed that there is something that we actually understand "fish" to be.

            All of this is happening in our minds, nowhere else, it is meaningless to say that universal concepts exist, or are defined in any way differently than specific concepts.

            The big challenge is still to account for coherent development of universals and coherent interpersonal communication without using universal concepts in the process. If one could do this, I could start to accept that this is only in the mind,

          • I don't think there can be levels of existence, something either exists or it does not.

            "Something that is imaginary is something that one supposes exists in reality, but only is conceptualizing in one's mind."

            Why do we need to suppose it exists in reality, we can suppose something is imaginary, like the a pink fairy and know all along it is not real. So cannot we restrict this to things that are only conceptualized in the mind?

            No, the big challenge is to account for these beliefs in eternal souls, contrary to the fact that there is zero credible evidence that they exist. Your appeal to universal concepts as somehow grounding a reasonable belief in the immaterial is a stretch. To further conclude that this justifies humans having an undying part is unfounded.

          • Phil

            Hey Brian,

            Maybe a good question for me to ask would be what evidence, arguments, etc. would it take for you personally to consider that universals/concepts/natures of things might actually exist in reality outside our mind?

            This will help in me getting to understand what direction you are coming at this from, and what assumptions you may be starting with.

          • Looks like my comment this morning didn't stay up. To be clear, I do not think I have accepted the term "universal" with respect to concepts. I would characterize some concepts as general categories or shared concepts.

            But I will play along, first I need to know what I am pointing you to. I posted an image last time of a four legged chair with a back but no arms, this maybe is why it wasn't posted. My response would be:

            Brian: I don't know about "what makes it a chair" but when I use the term in this context I mean a four-legged seat with a back. In other contexts I might mean the leader of a meeting. When I use this sound in French, I mean "flesh".

          • Susan

            Okay, would you say that jazz is purely reducible to the actual physical playing of the music?

            Of course not. But every reason we have to call jazz jazz has a material referent. Swing, bebop, Dixieland, 1-6-2-5, 4 major to minor.

            Vibrations in the air, our physiological response, the way it affects our heartbeat, our brain response to a well-constructed (or shoddily constructed but successful with huge segments of the public) melody.

            The fly specks and chord charts of the written systems.

            The building and maintenance and tuning of its main instruments.

            We make songs (as do birds and crickets and whales and wolves). We have language terms to roughly describe the many categories that we think are jazz. Most people I know don't know what "jazz" is but will describe something as "jazzy" because it's not "folky" or "bluesy" or "country" or "pop". They don't even know what they're describing but they feel a vague, visceral response to something sort of familiar but not easily categorized by the music industry categorization they absorb when they passively listen to the radio or hang out in clubs or watch movies.

            An abstract concept is not "immaterial" in the sense that you'd like to use it for your case. You are equivocating.

            Maps are not immaterial but they are useful in describing the territory.

            Take away the brains and it's not jazz. Take away the rhythms and the harmony (material vibrations that can be measured materially) and it's not jazz any more. It's rockabilly or bluegrass or Chinese opera. Or whale song. It's all material. That we have a word that alludes to a subset of musical patterns through a historical and cultural pathway doesn't mean it isn't all completely references to material realities by material realities.

            You seem to be trying to say that because it's a symbol humans use (think) that it is immaterial. By virtue of it being a thought in my head or a concept many of us can sort of agree on. That if humans think it, it must be immaterial. Therefore, there is an extra "immaterial" component.

            That's begging the question. Human concepts are not the same kind of "immaterial" for which you seem to be trying to make an argument.

            You have no reason to believe they are unless it is actually something that is externally discovered by both of us

            If by "externally discovered" you mean that they have their own existence, independent of matter, then you would have to give us an example.

            If by "externally discovered", you mean that they are reliable conceptual "objects" that emerged from recognizing that four sheep and four sticks are descriptions of material reality and that four has proven reliable playing its small part in "revealing the consequences of axioms" (I think I'm quoting Sean Carroll correctly but am too lazy to check), then you are not talking about the sort of "immaterial" that survives death, that can justify the "existence" of forms or that gives you any case for our thoughts or moral discussions being independent of matter or reliant on a world outside of matter.

            I've found equivocation one of the most frustrating, maybe the most frustrating aspects of apologetics.

          • Phil

            Hey Susan,

            I'd highly recommend reading up on nominalism vs. realism. I believe you are putting forth a type of nominalism which you will ultimately have a very hard time defending rationally based on common sense experience.

            An abstract concept is not "immaterial" in the sense that you'd like to use it for your case. You are equivocating.

            Not at all. Abstract concepts are not physical things. If one thinks that there is such a thing as "jazz" and we can talk about it coherently, one must then ultimately admit that immaterial abstract entities exist. Unfortunately there is no way around this--and this goes back over 2000 years of discussion.

            I've found equivocation one of the most frustrating, maybe the most frustrating aspects of apologetics.

            I'm being very serious when I say that every single physical object has a non-physical aspect to it. This is known as the form/matter composition. If you are familiar with Aristotelian thought this will ring a bell right away.

            Without the power to abstract universal concept from objects language as we use it would not be possible.

            And two things must be true about universals:
            1) Are immaterial
            2) Exist apart from the human person

            Again, read up on nominalism vs. realism. I'm a proud realist the whole way...

          • Phil

            Now that it's not the middle of the night we could walk through something together!

            Let's start simple--with the universal concept "tree". We are not talking about any particular tree, simply what philosophers call "treeness"; what makes any particular tree actually a tree.

            The question is where does this universal ultimately reside?:
            1) Treeness resides in all actual trees
            2) Treeness resides simply in a person's mind
            3) There is no such thing as treeness, universals don't actually exist

            Which of these three would you say is the truth of reality?

          • Susan

            We are not talking about any particular tree, simply what philosophers call "treeness"; what makes any particular tree actually a tree.

            Seriously? Treeness?

            We refer to things in English as "trees" if they are "a plant having a permanently woody main stem or trunk, ordinarily growing to a considerable height, and usually developing branches at some distance from the ground."

            You haven't addressed 4 or jazz and now you're asking me which version of "treeness" is "the truth of reality"?

          • Phil

            You haven't addressed 4 or jazz and now you're
            asking me which version of "treeness" is "the truth of
            reality"?

            We can talk about jazz, but "tree" is much easier for starters.

            Let's start simple--with the universal concept "jazz". We are not talking about any particular instance of jazz, simply what philosophers call "jazzness"; what makes any particular instance of jazz actually jazz.

            The question is where does this universal ultimately reside?:
            1) Jazzness resides in all actual instances of jazz
            2) Jazzness resides simply in a person's mind
            3) There is no such thing as jazzness, universals don't actually exist

            Which of these three would you say is the truth of reality?

            -----

            Seriously? Treeness?

            You were just talking about "jazzness" a comment ago so I don't know why "treeness" would be so surprising! When you talked about what makes jazz jazz, you were talking about "jazzness".

          • Ben Posin

            Ooooh, will there be a Socratic dialogue?

            I sure hope I'm not stepping into a trap, but I'd say a combination of 2 and 3. The idea of universals "forms" is something created by human minds. It's a human created concept, not an inherent reality.

            And I submit that it's wrong, Them Greeks didn't now what they were talking about, and were they alive today, starting fresh, I'd like to think they'd know better. Why? Evolution.

            Let's take the "form" of a human. When you look at how evolution works, you see that species change gradually over time. If you were to trace any person back through their ancestral line, you couldn't really say that any child was a different species than it's parents; this works all the way back to our common ancestors with gorillas, all the way back as far as you can trace life, as best I understand. This goes for dogs, this goes for slugs, this goes for trees as well. There's no place in our understanding of biology for the "form" of a human, or even a tree. It's all just a gradual range of change, a section of which we choose to cordon off and give names to. The idea of a human "form" or tree "form" existing as some universal just doesn't map on to how we understand humans and trees to have come about, and where they're going.

          • Phil

            Hey Ben,

            Good to hear from you! You know I'm at home in a Socratic dialogue! I was actually blessed enough to study under one of the foremost Socratic experts in the U.S. about a year ago (there aren't many left since most think Socratic Intellectualism, Socrates' system, is a bit off). Absolutely phenomenal though!

            -----

            It's a human created concept, not an inherent reality.

            So let's stick to the universal "treeness". (I use "ness" to show that we aren't talking about any particular tree) I stick to tree for now because it is easy to work with. We can move to more "complicated" ones later.

            So "treeness" is something created within the subjective human mind as you mentioned above. We have two big problems with this

            1) We have no way of telling if your concept is the same as mine since concepts are a private subjective mental creation.

            1a) Following from this, communication would be impossible if we have no way of knowing that all the concepts and universals we use are the same. Whenever we are talking about tree we have no way of telling if we are even talking coherently about the same thing.

            Comments on (1): Even if you point to a tree and start to explain what makes it take part in "treeness" you are using other universals as well, such as leaves, trunk, tall etc. So we regress another step. How do I coherently know that our universal concepts of these are the same. See the big issue with conceptualism? (Conceptualism is the theory that universal concepts only exist in the subjective mind, as you proposed.)

            But we observe that coherent communication is possible, so it is rational to propose that concepts and universals actually exist apart from the mind and can be discovered by all rational animals, i.e., us!
            ------

            For further study on realism vs. concpetualism vs. nominalism, check out The One and The Many by W. Norris Clarke.

          • Ben Posin

            This is why I hate philosophy, and distrust philosophers. I give you good reason, based on our best understanding of the physical world and the things out there that we choose to call trees, suggesting the idea of a universal "form" of tree has no connection to actual reality--that instead we've taken a chunk of reality and decided to give it a label. You ignore that in favor of wanting to talk about whether you and I can really know that we are seeing the same color when we talk about blue. You want to jump from the fact that a physical world that we are able to come up with common labels to describe exists to giving the LABELS, as opposed to the physical objects they describe, some sort of universal existence outside of our minds. And best of all, you try to do so in a beautifully circular way, by declaring that the words we use to describe a tree are THEMSELVES universals, the very thing whose existence you are trying to prove. The words "leaves" "trunk" etc. are just more labels.

            Boring. But l would like to know what you think about what I had to say about evolution, as that's a conversation I haven't seen play out so many times.

          • Phil

            I give you good reason, based on our best understanding of the physical world and the things out there that we choose to call trees, suggesting the idea of a universal "form" of tree has no connection to actual reality--that instead we've taken a chunk of reality and decided to give it a label.

            I bring it up because the view you proposed is in danger of making most of human language communication incoherent. Note that this is not my work on this, this has been something studied for thousands of years.

            we are able to come up with common labels to describe exists to giving the LABELS, as opposed to the physical objects they describe, some sort of universal existence outside of our minds.

            I'm fine with you saying we "come up with labels" but I challenge you with some big issues saying that these labels only exist in the subjective mind. (As brought up in the last comment.)

            And best of all, you try to do so in a beautifully circular way, by declaring that the words we use to describe a tree are THEMSELVES universals, the very thing whose existence you are trying to prove. The words "leaves" "trunk" etc. are just more labels.

            I don't think you would argue that "trunk", "leaves", "bark" etc are not themselves universals or labels as you call them?

            This is why I hate philosophy, and distrust philosophers.

            As you are yourself philosophizing, even with this philosophical statement ;)

            (Note that I go about this in a very lighthearted manner, no offense should be taken at anything I say! Just because I disagree doesn't mean I don't care about you.)

          • Ben Posin

            The things we call trees exist in the real world. I can see one out my window. The label "tree" exists in human minds. Communication using that label seems to work ok. Can't see how you've shown that this requires there to be an external "form" of "tree" though, any more than the label "leaf" or "branch" requires there to be a "form" of a leaf that exists somehow independently from actual physical leaves and our subjective labeling process.

            But more importantly (to me)...you still haven't addressed what I had to say on the subject as to why it doesn't make sense for there to be some universal (eternal?) "form" of a tree, as no such clean division can actually be made in nature, given how evolution works. Do you have something to say about that?

          • Phil

            The things we call trees exist in the real world. I can see one out my window.

            I also have a "tree" outside my window (or at least what I think you mean by your subjective "label" of tree!)

            1) What would you say makes us able to call both of these things a "tree" instead of calling each tree something different?

            Why don't we call yours a "tree" and mine a "gumber" because they are obviously two distinct objects?

            you still haven't addressed what I had to say on the subject as to why it doesn't make sense for there to be some universal (eternal?) "form" of a tree, as no such clean division can actually be made in nature, given how evolution works. Do you have something to say about that?

            Ahh yes, I have done some musing over this line of thought. Note that I am not arguing right now that these "forms" are eternal, simply that they exist objectively outside the human mind.

            A couple thoughts:
            1) Just because something may be hard to define doesn't mean it doesn't objectively exist. (Difference between epistemology and ontology.)

            2) Just because something is constantly changing doesn't mean that at specific points in time it doesn't have an objective nature. For example, say the "tree" evolves into something else that we can no longer call a "tree". That doesn't mean that the universal nature/concept of "tree" never existed, it just means that it doesn't exist anymore. A lot can change with a tree through evolution without changing the essential property of a tree. Only when an essential property would change would a new nature/universal/concept come into existence in the cosmos.

            3) On gradual change. I am sure you are familiar with those big boxes of 64 crayons. Now picture a box of 1,000,000 crayons, all of them a different color, slowly going from one end of the spectrum to the other. None of them are the same. But even though there is a gradual change and they all seem to run together evenly, it would be shallow to say that therefore "red" does not exist, or "green" does not exist. The same is true with slowly evolving natural beings.

            4) Note that I am not proposing from sort of "form heaven" in a Platonic way. I am simply proposing the standard Aristotelian-Thomistic account of universals. universals exist in the actual objects and in the mind of rational animals. If all trees and all persons suddenly went out of existence, the universal concept of "tree" would cease to exist in the cosmos.

            (We could get bring about a sort of marriage between Plato and Aristotle by talking about "ideas in the mind of God" but that's for another time!)

          • Ben Posin

            As to how we know we're both talking about somewhat similar things: sorry, I don't see the mystery or the significance. There's a web of common communication uniting us, a society that collectively generates and compares labels. If you grew up on the moon and dropped me a message from outer space, then I'd have to wonder what you were talking about. And when we finally got together and pointed to the various things we label trees, we could see.

            Regarding crayons: great example, thanks! Yes, I'm saying that "red" as "universal form" doesn't exist. There's a gradual range of color as we move up and down the electromagnetic spectrum, and there's a portion of that which we have decided to label "red." There's no objective cutoff point that makes one portion of the spectrum red and the next not-red. A range of the electromagnetic spectrum exists in reality, and a label exists in our mind, by agreement.

            I don't see the difference between your idea that each link backwards in our ancestry has its own "objective nature" and saying that there is no such think as a general "human" form at all.

            We agree that there is no form heaven. Hurray! But I can't really claim to understand what it is you DO believe in. What in the world is the word "universal" doing in your paragraph 4? What does it add to the physical objects themselves, and our own created labels? I have completely lost sight of what it is that you are trying to argue exists.

          • Phil

            I'll put here at the beginning, hopefully as clear and concise as I can, what exactly I am defending. I put it in bold just since it is kind of the center of what we are discussing.

            But I can't really claim to understand what it is you DO believe in.

            I am defending a realist position on universals which goes back several thousand years which includes:

            1) Objective natures/universals/forms/concepts exist
            2) They exist in all actual physical objects (apart from abstract concepts like math and "procrastination")
            3) They are not reducible to the physical object, since we can say that two physically distinct objects are both "trees"
            4) The human person is capable of abstracting the nature/universal from objects
            5) This view accounts for the coherency of human conceptual language

            There's a web of common communication uniting us, a society that collectively generates and compares labels.

            Okay, but how do we compare labels without having access to the other person's mind and subjective labels?

            You say "this is a tree". Unless I also recognize an objective unity of only the essential qualities of a tree, and not the moss and flowers growing at its base will I then also know what you mean by "tree". But you are proposing that there is no objective unity, what we would call a "nature" or universal. It is all arbitrary.

            Again, coherent language cannot be accounted for on a conceptualist or nominalist view of universals.

            There's no objective cutoff point that makes one portion of the spectrum red and the next not-red.

            It actually doesn't matter if there is an objective cutoff point or not. All we need to be able to say is that there is objectively red and not-red. If we can do that, we automatically admit that there is something such as "redness" that is common to all red objects and "not-redness" that is common to all non-red objects.

            It can even be the case that we could have a hard time saying if something is red or not. But trying to figure out if something is red or not already assumes that there is something this is objectively "red".

            I don't see the difference between your idea that each link backwards in
            our ancestry has its own "objective nature" and saying that there is no
            such think as a general "human" form at all.

            Each thing that exists has an objective nature or universal. It so happens that separate objects can share in certain natures/universals--and we have the capability to recognize this.

            There does very much exist a human form/nature/universal. But I am not claiming right now that it exists apart from any particular instantiation of a human person. (read some on "form/matter distinction")

            What in the world is the word "universal" doing in your paragraph 4?

            I don't quite understand? Universals/concepts/forms/natures are all getting at the same thing. So you can substitute any of them that you like in paragraph 4.

            What does it add to the physical objects themselves, and our own created labels?

            Defending what I am proposing at the very top of this comment is simply trying to recognize reality as it actually exists. We have the expereience of concepts/universals/forms/natures, and we are trying to figure out how they actually exist, if they do.

            Please let me know what isn't clear about what I am trying to defend

          • Ben Posin

            I'm sorry, but to quote Archer, I guess the part I'm still unclear on is the "core concept."

            Yes, we're able to see patterns and commonalities and thus abstract general labels that are of use. For practical purposes we can section off a range of the electromagnetic spectrum and call it red, and recognize other red things when we see it. We can section off a particular range of plant life and call them trees, and have useful communication about trees. The trees are real, whatever things that the plants we call trees have in common are real things about them, and the labels exist within our minds and records by common agreement. The exact details as to how this are done are questions being addressed by linguists and neuroscientists--philosophers need not apply.

            For the life of me I have no idea what additional thing is, this "treeness" you think the trees are supposed to have, or why it has to exist for communication or our ability to perform mental abstraction, and agree upon common labels (see my other recent reply to you about how our communication and ability to understand each other's concepts just isn't that mysterious in the way you seem to think it is). And again, study of the mind and brain is where we learn about how this abstraction takes place.

            To the extent I understand the idea of "forms" in the Platonic sense, I stand by my proposal that the actual facts of evolution of life shows that the idea of "forms" doesn't map onto how the world actually works for living creatures. I appreciated your engagement on that point in one post, but as I noted in my response I don't think you offered anything that really pushes back against that point. There is no "form" of a man because mankind is just a sectioned off range on a continuum stretching back down our evolutionary history--likewise, there is no "form" of a tree. To the extent that one's philosophy or religion depends on their being such forms, well, I think your philosophy and religion is wrong--it conflicts with the facts on the ground.

            I'm not sure it's profitable for us to continue much longer, but may respond if you have a new direction to take things in.

          • Phil

            It's no worries. To just reiterate what I put in the last comment. The reason I choose realism over conceptualism is that the latter cannot ultimately explain why we can have coherent human communication, the former (realism) can.

            If we are building a case for and against these two theories, conceptualism strikes out big time in not being able to account for this phenomenon. (Believing in a certain philosophical theory is ultimately like building a case for or against something.)

          • Ben Posin

            "To just reiterate what I put in the last comment"
            It doesn't sound any less like nonsense the second time around. Sorry. But enjoy your weekend!

          • Phil

            You too Ben!

            If you get some time to reflect, the challenge for you is to figure out how to explain the common experience of coherent language through concepts and universals without simply saying "It just is and somehow makes sense" which obviously doesn't explain anything at all.

            Have a good one!

          • Phil

            To help direct the conversation a little bit, I'll ask a question that if one can explicitly account for would give credence to what you are proposing:

            1) How do we know that the concept/universal, such as "tree" you are thinking about is the same as the concept/universal "tree" that I am thinking about?

            -----

            Now, I know you have mentioned about comparing labels that we come up with and such, but as I have mentioned that begs the question. When we compare what we mean, the words we using to compare can be asked the same question, how do we know that the concepts contained in that new sentence are the same as mine?

            This is the big challenge with a subjective view of concepts/universals/forms. Which again is why I find the realist position on universals to be the most coherent, consistent, and comprehensive.

          • Ben Posin

            I'm pretty much done with this line of thought, as for the life of me I can't see the problem. How do we know? I guess we never KNOW what's going on inside any other person's head. We observe their behavior, we listen to their language, we see what their language and behavior is responding to, we put ourselves in their place and model what we'd be thinking, and muddle along from there. If we're able to make accurate predictions of their future behavior/language/whatever from what we interpret their past to be (e.g., they say "I want a glass of milk," you give them a glass of milk, and they drink it and stop bothering, in accordance with your expectations rather than throwing it across the room). But I see ZERO connection between this and any idea of "universal" forms. I'm throwing up my hand and letting this one go, think what you like.

          • Phil

            I'm pretty much done with this line of thought, as for the life of me I can't see the problem. How do we know? I guess we never KNOW what's going on inside any other person's head.

            The issue which I am trying to get at is even when we are comparing "labels" we still don't know if what we are comparing is coherent or the same thing. We still have this main issue with conceptualism.

            To sum up the main crux of my point:

            We find in day to day life that we can have coherent conversation and language about concepts and universals. We then look to find an explanation as to why this is the case. The best explanation is that which explains the most evidence, explains it most consistently, and explains it most coherently.

            In the case of universals and concepts, realism has the most explanatory power out of all the options and it is coherent and internally consistent. Therefore that is
            why I hold realism to be true beyond a reasonable doubt. (Realism, again, is the view that concepts and universals actually exist outside the human mind.)

          • severalspeciesof

            When we compare what we mean, the words we using to compare can be asked
            the same question, how do we know that the concepts contained in that
            new sentence are the same as mine?

            (If I may charge in, sorry if this breaks the conversation too much) For myself, that's quite simple. We don't know the concepts are the same until we agree that they do. Your tree is the same as my tree when we agree, but if you were to say 'This is a tree' and I say (to that same thing) 'This is a racoon' it is obvious that the concepts behind those words are different to each of us. If I were to agree "Yes, that is a tree', then we can move forward in agreement...

            Glen

          • Phil

            Hey Glen,

            No worries at all, this place is set up so interjections are welcomed and easily sorted through!

            We don't know the concepts are the same until we agree that they do. Your tree is the same as my tree when we agree, but if you were to say 'This is a tree' and I say (to that same thing)

            The issue with this, as I brought up to Ben, is that when we are trying to agree upon some concept/universal, we are using and assuming an understanding of other concepts/universals.

            Also, when we point to a tree and try to describe the whole thing as a tree and not just the bottom half or a portion of it, we assume that a person can recognize the unity of the tree, as such. A unity can only be recognized when we see an actual nature existing in the external object. This nature is what we recognize as the concept/universal--what makes a tree, "a tree". Or as philosophers like to call this "treeness". All trees take part in "treeness" which is why we can easily recognize treeness existing in physical trees we have never seen before.

            --------

            As I just wrote to Ben to summarize what I'm defending:

            We find in day to day life that we can have coherent conversation and language about concepts and universals. We then look to find an explanation as to why this is the case. The best explanation is that which explains the most evidence, explains it most consistently, and explains it most coherently.

            In the case of universals and concepts, realism has the most explanatory power out of all the options and it is coherent and internally consistent. Therefore that is why
            I hold realism to be true beyond a reasonable doubt. (Realism, again, is the view that concepts and universals actually exist outside the human mind.)

            (I apologize if what I wrote was hard to decipher, I have realized that sometimes I am not good writing in plain language things that have been studied formally by myself, but maybe not by others. This doesn't mean dumbing it down, but simply means not assuming they've studied the same things as oneself has. It also doesn't help that I'm not the most clear and distinct philosophical writer.)

          • Susan

            1) How do we know that the concept/universal, such as "tree" you are thinking about is the same as the concept/universal "tree" that I am thinking about?

            I live just outside of Toronto where we had an ice storm to start the winter. The trees took a terrible beating. Thousands in my area had huge branches torn off from the weight of the ice.

            Everywhere around, neighbours helped neighbours collect the limbs and branches that fell, cut them into firewood and piled them.

            The municipality sent out crews to trim the damage on the boulevards and in the parks and in many cases (sad) the trees couldn't be saved and were cut down to stumps.

            At no point, was there any confusion about what "tree" meant, nor did "treeness" enter into the conversation.

            If, at any point, there was a problem between anyone about what "tree" meant, someone could have just said, "That big, woody plant that took out your shed." and the other person probably would have said, "oh".

            There is no danger of language being incoherent without "treeness" having "immaterial form".

            You could not be more unclear. This is not because we are daft. (Maybe I am but Ben isn't and neither is Danny).

            Please. What are you trying to say? Try to steer clear of the term "immaterial" as it's unnecessary and far too vulnerable to equivocation.

          • Phil

            At no point, was there any confusion about what "tree" meant, nor did "treeness" enter into the conversation.

            If, at any point, there was a problem between anyone about what "tree" meant, someone could have just said, "That big, woody plant that took out your shed." and the other person probably would have said, "oh".

            Exactly! And we should have an explanation and account of why it is so common sense that we easily know what someone means when we say "tree". I have argued, as many have over the past 2,000 years, that conceptualism and nominalism cannot account for this fact. That is a huge glaring error in those theories. But realism can account for this fact, therefore it is most rational to believe that realism is the true fact of reality.

            (Someone is most definitely free to come up with a modified theory besides those three, but up until now all other theories have ultimately reduced to one of those three.)

          • Susan

            I have argued

            I'm not sure you've argued. If you have, you haven't made your case.

            as many have over the past 2,000 years

            Irrelevant.

            that conceptualism and nominalism cannot account for this fact

            How would I know? You've simply stated it. You've shown no indication that you are well enough versed on those positions to dismiss their thinking.

            realism can account for this fact, therefore it is most rational to believe that realism is the true fact of reality.

            You haven't made that case. Forgive me if I don't take your word on it. You've been unclear, completely vague about the categories to which you're referring, and you've done nothing to justify why anyone should accept your conclusions, whatever they are.

          • Phil

            Hey Susan,

            Please don't take my word for it! Go read those that are much better philosophers and writers that have written about this for a long time. But I'll do a quick rundown.

            Here we go:
            -----
            I. The Question: Human language is composed almost exclusively with concepts and universals. We realize we communicate very easily and effortlessly with them. What is the ontological status of these entities? In other words, do these concepts and universals actually exist and if so, in what manner do they exist?

            II. The Possible Solutions:
            1) Conceptualism: Universals and concepts simply exist in the mind of the human person.

            2) Nominalism: Universals and concepts don't actually exist. They are some sort of illusion. Only particulars exist. Such as this particular tree or that particular house. We can't truly say in reality that two different trees actually are both "trees", they may simply "resemble" eachother.

            3) Realism: Universals and concepts actually exist in reality outside the mind of the human person.

            III. Problems with Conceptualism and Nominalism

            Conceptualism:

            a) We cannot account for the coherency of language between persons in using concepts or universals. Any attempt to explain what a concept or universal itself is, such as "tree", uses a concept or universal. We enter a vicious infinite regress which means everything goes unexplained. (E.g., explaining "tree" by using "trunk" and "leaves" etc.)

            b) Similar to (a), On a conceptualist account there is no inherent connection between the outside object and the universal or concept we are using to describe it. (Because our mind imposes the universal upon the object.) A conceptualist will have to come up with a way to explain how universals and concepts come about without making any reference to there being something "in" the object that we recognize (since these universals/concepts don't actually exist in the object). But any attempt to explain this will itself use universals, again leading to an infinite regress which then explains nothing.

            Nominalism: (a) A nominalist also faces an viscous regress problem. They will deny that there is actually no such thing as the universal/concept of "tree" or "redness" and will attempt to explain universals be saying that these object simply resemble eachother. But "resemblance" itself is a universal!

            IV. Realism to the Rescue

            Realism simply holds that universals and concepts actually exist and they exist outside of the human person's mind. This solves the issue of communication because all properly developed human person's are capable of getting the universal from the actually existing external object. This solves the issue of connection between concepts and external objects, because there is obviously a direct connection is the universal is coming from the actual object. (Obviously the main nominalist issue is never present on a realist view.)

            ------

            Well, I tried to write that up clearly and concisely as I could by just focusing on the main issues with each. (There are other issue with conceptualism and nominalism but that can be for deeper discussion.)

          • Danny Getchell

            Let's try an example within very recent history. Not "tree-ness" but "planet-ness".

            Anyone who is over thirty grew up with the understanding that there were nine planets in our solar system. Today, the understanding is that there are but eight.

            Not one molecule contained within the sphere of Pluto acted to change this understanding, nor is that ex-planet affected, in any way detectable, by its "reduced" status.

            Therefore I conclude that "planet-ness" exists in our collective minds, and there alone.

          • Phil

            Hey Danny,

            What word we use to designate the concept doesn't really matter. Words merely point to natures beyond themself that exist in reality. (Again things pointing beyond themselves in reality is another point for realism over conceptualism/nominalism.)

            What we do know is the objective nature of Pluto did not change, even though we are using a different word to name it. Pluto is still a semi-circular object that is orbiting around the sun. The other option could be that we simply mislabeled Pluto. Maybe it never was actually a planet in the first place. So to call it a planet was wrong.

            We can use trees in this example, because there could be something we labeled a tree, but then after later investigation we discovered it had a nature that was actually different from what the actual nature of "tree" is.

            Again the difference between epistemology and ontology comes up. Just because it can hard to figure out something epistemologically doesn't mean that something is purely subjective or arbitrary.

            (This applies very directly to ethics when people argue either that figuring out the right thing to do is hard or people have held different things as ethical so therefore ethics/morals are subjective. It's like no...you are mixing up epistemology and ontology.)

          • Danny Getchell

            Sometimes, figuring out the right thing to do is hard.

          • Phil

            Sometimes, figuring out the right thing to do is hard.

            I couldn't agree with you more, Danny. But that does not then mean that objective right and wrong don't exist.

          • Ben Posin

            Your philosophy and arguments seem to be based on an ignorance of the facts surrounding each example you marshal, whether it's neuroscience and psychology's study of abstraction and language, the evolutuinary history of trees, and now your attempt to discuss Pluto. With Pluto it's not an issue of mislabeling or hard determinations of Pluto's objective nature, astronomers just found that there are tens of thousands of other objects that we would consider planets if we were consistent with any definition that included Pluto, and people didn't like the idea of having that many planets, it seemed a greater upset to our familiar and comfortable view of the solar system to jiggle the definition of planet to exclude Pluto. We changed our labels. Nowhere in this does an objective or universal "planetness" emerge.

          • Phil

            What specifically we call it doesn't really matter. The big question we have to answer is why we can call anything the same universal. Why can we actually call both Earth and Jupiter a planet? Because they obviously are not the same physical thing. That's the question that needs to be answered.

            I'm not putting forward anything unique or new here, just several thousand years of much better intellectuals than I thinking about it.

          • Ben Posin

            Minus 10 points for attempting to hit the reset button. Danny Getchell showed with his example of Pluto that "planetness" exists in our minds. I explained why your objection to that is incorrect. You are now jumping back a step as if nothing has been said.

            Do you now agree that "planetness" is a label created in our mind, and not a "universal"? If not, please explain how you think Pluto became a non-planet.

          • Phil

            Do you now agree that "planetness" is a label created in our mind, and not a "universal"?

            No backtracking here, I've held from the beginning that the specific word we use doesn't really matter. Pluto either does or does not have "planetness" in it. If a planet is simply a large object that orbits the sun then Pluto is a planet, as well as Jupiter and Saturn. But if someone thinks that there is an objective reason for considering Pluto not a planet and Saturn a planet, they can have at it. That doesn't change the objective nature of Pluto or Saturn, they are what they are.

            The question the whole time has still been why can we call both Saturn and Earth "planets"? Since they are obviously two distinct objects.

          • Ben Posin

            Minus 5 points for writing all that without taking a position on whether Pluto is a planet. No one is arguing that the physical nature of Pluto has changed, so stop equivocating that with its universal/concept, as that's what you seem to be trying to prove exists. Minus 10 points for that.

            Was Pluto a planet? Is it now? Again, no one discovered anything new about Pluto's physical nature or orbit when Pluto lost its planethood. So it's not about us getting it wrong about Pluto.

            Maybe it would be easier for you to give up on planet being a universal, and try to move to something at a lower level of description?

            Ps: you are running out of points.

          • Phil

            Let's not get juvenile, as that does not help the discussion at all. Let's keep it professional.

            Without taking a position on whether Pluto is a planet.

            Well, let's figure it out. What specifically does the concept "planet" reference? In other words, What is the exact definition of planet we are working with? Let me know what it is and then we can easily figure out if Pluto is a planet or not.

            No one is arguing that the physical nature of Pluto has changed, so stop equivocating that with its universal/concept, as that's what you seem to be trying to prove exists.

            A while ago in our discussion I specifically mentioned that nature, concept, and universal ultimately all reference the same exact thing. So there is no equivocating going on. Simply following the argument where it leads.

            Maybe it would be easier for you to give up on planet being a universal, and try to move to something at a lower level of description?

            Doing so would ignore the truth of the matter. That fact that we call two distinct physical objects, such as Earth and Jupiter "planets" already gives it away that it is a universal.

          • Ben Posin

            "Let's keep it professional." There are worse things than a little teasing, in a discussion like this--for instance, one could repeat unjustified assertions ad nauseam without an attempt to make an actual argument. Better to talk in good faith with a smile, willing to give and take, than to put out an endless loop with a serious expression.

            "What specifically does the concept planet refer to?" And that's part of the point. It depends, doesn't it, on how we want to define it. What's a tree? What's red? What's a human? What's a planet? There's objective physical reality out there, and there are labels we draw around it, and we can change our labels by agreement, shifting the lines so they capture different areas. I don't see where that leaves room for "planetness" as a "universal" (or anything else).

            "A while ago in our discussion I specifically mentioned that nature, concept, and universal ultimately all reference the same exact thing. So there is no equivocating going on. Simply following the argument where it leads."

            What's throwing me off is your use of "objective nature." To me that sounds like the actual physical, material reality of something. If that's what those words mean, you're equivocating in a big way. Because we all agree in the physical reality. If you don't mean that, if you're using the words "objective nature" as a synonym for "universal" with no additional implications, that's fine. Let me know, and you can have those ten points back.

            "That fact that we call two distinct physical objects, such as Earth and Jupiter "planets" already gives it away that it is a universal."

            It's a good thing you have a shot at getting those ten points back, because you need them for this. I told you before: I'm not playing this game anymore. This is pure assertion by you until you demonstrate otherwise, no matter how many philosophers (blech) have made the same assertions over millennia.

          • Phil

            There's objective physical reality out there, and there are labels we
            draw around it, and we can change our labels by agreement, shifting the
            lines so they capture different areas. I don't see where that leaves
            room for "planetness" as a "universal" (or anything else).

            The great thing is that even shifting labels does not undermine the fact of objective natures/universals existing in external objects. We could change a definition billions of times, but as long as we are still recognizing something about the actual objects, we are recognizing universals/natures present in the external objects.

            To me that sounds like the actual physical, material reality of something.

            The nature of a physical object definitely includes its physical reality, but is not reducible to it. As we both agreed, an object is what it is (at this very moment), our job is to recognize what exactly this is. And this "whatness" is its nature.

            This is pure assertion by you until you demonstrate otherwise, no matter how many philosophers (blech) have made the same assertions over millennia.

            Would you say we can rationally call at least two different objects "planets"?

          • Michael Murray

            That fact that we call two distinct physical objects, such as Earth and Jupiter "planets" already gives it away that it is a universal.

            You can assert this. But it seems a strange definition of something being universal that it is subject to argument and redefinition by a small bunch of chimps on a planet circling one star amongst 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 other stars. Here is the latest attempt those chimps have made

            The IAU's final Resolution 5A preserved this three-category system for the celestial bodies orbiting the Sun. It reads:

            The IAU ... resolves that planets and other bodies, except satellites, in our Solar System be defined into three distinct categories in the following way:

            (1) A planet1 is a celestial body that (a) is in orbit around the Sun, (b) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes ahydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, and (c) has cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit.
            (2) A "dwarf planet" is a celestial body that (a) is in orbit around the Sun, (b) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape,2 (c) has not cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit, and (d) is not a satellite.
            (3) All other objects,3 except satellites, orbiting the Sun shall be referred to collectively as "Small Solar System Bodies."

            Footnotes:1 The eight planets are: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.2 An IAU process will be established to assign borderline objects either dwarf planet or other status.3 These currently include most of the Solar System asteroids, most Trans-Neptunian Objects (TNOs), comets, and other small bodies.

            Although concerns were raised about the classification of planets orbiting other stars,[17] the issue was not resolved; it was proposed instead to decide this only when such objects start being observed.[34]

            Notice the last sentence. We haven't apparently finally decided what this "universal" planet means.

          • Phil

            Notice the last sentence. We haven't apparently finally decided what this "universal" word planet means.

            Yes, and just because we may be still trying to define what "planet-ness" it has no bearing over whether "planet-ness" objectively exists or not.

            There is, and probably always will be, things that we never discover and "define" but that does not mean they don't have some objective nature/universal. They are what they are.

            ----

            I mentioned this to someone else, but if we have two different but exactly identical sticks lying next to eachother, the fact that we can call them both "sticks" witnesses to the fact that universals exist.

            The question is whether universals exist purely in the mind or exist in the actual sticks lying in front of us.

          • Danny Getchell

            Phil:

            Does a banana tree, or a palm tree, possess "tree-ness"?

            Does Pluto possess "planet-ness"?

            Yes or no?

          • Phil

            Hey Danny,

            Before I answer your questions, I'm gonna try and make it even easier.

            We have in front of us two sticks. They are exactly the same, I mean exactly. We do say that they are both "sticks". We realize that they are not the same object, they are two different objects yet they share something because we are calling them both the same thing.

            As long as we can rationally call them both sticks then we are committed to the existence of universals/concepts/natures. Figuring out the ontological status of them has been our job.

            Does a banana tree, or a palm tree, possess "tree-ness"?

            As long as both can rationally be called trees then yes they absolutely do possess "tree-ness".

            Does Pluto possess "planet-ness"?
            Yes or no?

            If it can rationally be called a planet, then yes it possesses "planet-ness". But if it rationally cannot be called a planet, then no it does not posses "planet-ness".

            I am not an astronomer or cosmologist so you will have to inform me as to what it actually means for something to be a planet.

          • Ben Posin

            What does it mean to "rationally" call a tree a tree? Or a planet a planet? Where do you get the criteria from? How do you tell?

          • Phil

            What does it mean to "rationally" call a tree a tree? Or a planet a planet? Where do you get the criteria from? How do you tell?

            From the actually existing external object. We look at it and see, "This object has these properties and some of these we notice are essential to it, while others are merely accidental to it". (E.g., your potential rationality is an essential quality to you being a human being, your height is merely accidental.)

            We then look to another object and see, "Hey, this object also has the same essential qualities as the last object, therefore it would seem that they both share in 'X-ness'".

            You and I both have "human-ness" within us. Even though we are very different physical beings. We recognize these essential qualities we both have and call a spade a spade.

          • Ben Posin

            That's not very helpful. Who decides which properties are essential and which accidental, and how? This is a place where knowing something about biology or evolution might be helpful to you. How did you determine that humanness has "potential rationality" (whatever that is) as an essential aspect of humanness, and how do you map this on to rationality developing bit by bit over countless generations?

          • Phil

            Who decides which properties are essential and which accidental, and how?

            Reason can tell us.

            For example:
            Would you say that a rubber ball that has lost is "roundness" by being melted down is still an actual ball?

            My answer would be, of course not. Therefore, reason tell us that an essential quality of an actual ball is "roundness".

            An accidental quality of the rubber ball is that it is "red". A ball could lose its "redness" by me painting it blue, and it could still be rationally considered a "ball".

            This is a place where knowing something about biology or evolution might be helpful to you.

            I know enough about biology and evolution "to be dangerous" as they say. How would you like to use it to explain?

          • Phil

            Hey Ben,

            Here is a question that I was reflecting on and I wanted to get some feedback from you guys. Let's use the simple concept/universal of "stick":

            This universal/concept can be represented in many ways: via the actual physical written word, through the spoken audible word, through simply thinking about "stick". In fact there is a potentially infinite amount of ways that the universal "stick" can be presented.

            How is it possible to posit that all these things reference the same exact thing, the universal concept "stick", without believing that the concept must transcend the physical occurrence. Whether is be written, auditory, or a mental brain state?

          • Michael Murray

            As long as both can rationally be called trees then yes they absolutely do possess "tree-ness".

            So if I think it fits the definition of tree and you think it doesn't what happens then. Does it still have treeness ? Every time humans make a definition we divide the world into things we can all agree fit the definition, things that we can all agree don't fit the definition and a bunch of things that we argue about.

          • Phil

            So if I think it fits the definition of tree and you think it doesn't what happens then. Does it still have treeness?

            We have to then figure out what the actual nature of a tree is.

            Every time humans make a definition we divide the world into things we
            can all agree fit the definition, things that we can all agree don't fit
            the definition and a bunch of things that we argue about.

            Exactly, and making definitions is recognizing universal qualities in things. It presupposes universals. And I simply hold that the universals actually exist in the external object, which then explains why we easily have coherent human language and conversation.

          • Michael Murray

            Exactly, and making definitions is recognizing universal qualities in things. It presupposes universals.

            I disagree. It doesn't have anything to do with the universals being "in" the things. It is just a matter of recognising that the thing satisfies some property more or less. The property is in our minds and is an abstraction from the real world around us. Whether or not a thing in the real world satisfies the definition. Look at the definition of planet on wikipedia. It includes the planet assuming a "(a nearly round shape)". So there is ambiguity about whether or not a body in space satisfies that requirement -- how nearly round should it be ?

          • Phil

            Hey Michael,

            Here is a question that I was reflecting on and I wanted to get some feedback from you guys. Let's use the simple concept/universal of "stick":

            This universal/concept can be represented in many ways: via the actual physical written word, through the spoken audible word, through simply thinking about "stick". In fact there is a potentially infinite amount of ways that the universal "stick" can be presented.

            How is it possible to posit that all these things reference the same exact thing, the universal concept "stick", without believing that the concept must transcend the physical occurrence. Whether is be written, auditory, or a mental brain state?

          • Michael Murray

            I really don't see the problem. Our brain forms models of the world it experiences. Sticks are a common occurrence and we have a bunch of memories in our brain of experiences with sticks. I would think the verbal, auditory and mental states are labels for that bunch of experiences. We see something knew in the world we compare it and see how closely it matches all the other things we have called sticks.

            I'm not a neuroscientist so possibly I have this wrong. I guess I am thinking of pattern matching in a neural network.

          • Phil

            Since I was the one that split up several comments, I'm gonna go ahead and combine my response to your last 2 comments into one here so that things stay organized. (I will group the other two together)

            I really don't see the problem. Our brain forms models of the world it
            experiences. Sticks are a common occurrence and we have a bunch of
            memories in our brain of experiences with sticks.

            Okay, so my brain forms a model and your brain forms a model. How do we know that when you say "stick" your model is the same as the model that I think about when I think "stick"?

            --------

            I disagree. It doesn't have anything to do with the universals being
            "in" the things. It is just a matter of recognising that the thing
            satisfies some property more or less. The property is in our minds and
            is an abstraction from the real world around us.

            Can you clarify the last sentence here, because when you say "abstract" that makes it sound like there is something actually in the object that we are recognizing. And you did just deny that the concepts actually come from the physical object them self. (In fact "abstraction" is the word that most realists use.)

          • Michael Murray

            Okay, so my brain forms a model and your brain forms a model. How do we know that when you say "stick" your model is the same as the model that I think about when I think "stick"?

            I've no idea what the actual model in your head is. Maybe that will be possible in the future with technology. But we can compare the collections of things that are sticks and see if they agree.

            Can you clarify the last sentence here, because when you say "abstract" that makes it sound like there is something actually in the object that we are recognising.

            Replace abstraction by simplification if you like. Consider the planet definition that contains the phrase "nearly round". The abstraction would be "perfectly round" i.e. satisfies the mathematical equation for a sphere. But really it's a simplification because no real world object has a surface which satisfies that equation. The actual surface of a planet is probably not even well defined if it has an atmosphere or liquids on it. Which water or air molecules are part of the planet and which are not ?

            I don't see why you want to persist with the idea that things contain their properties. It's just not a useful approach and contrary to all the evidence we have of how brains work. Our brains model and simplify. It's the way they evolved. When you are attacked in the wild any stick like object you can find on the ground will do.

          • Phil

            I've no idea what the actual model in your head is.

            Exactly, and even further, you have no idea if anyone that ever lived, or will live, concept/universal of "stick" is the same as yours.

            We have no reason to believe that we are having a coherent conversation about "stick" right now because we have no way to know if our subjective concepts are even remotely similar.

            Our second option is to say, no we can have actual coherent conversation about concepts such as "stick", what is a theory that can account for this? Saying that concepts are merely in the subjective mind cannot account for coherent conversation.

            I don't see why you want to persist with the idea that things contain their properties.

            Are you proposing that you would hold that there is actually nothing "sticklike" about a stick?

          • Michael Murray

            Exactly, and even further, you have no idea if
            anyone that ever lived, or will live, concept/universal of "stick" is the same as yours.

            To me this is a kind of meaningless philosophical point: "How do I know you don't see purple when I see red". "So what ? The important point is whether or not the collection of things you call sticks is sufficiently similar to the collection of things I call sticks so we can communicate. Generally it is.

            We have no reason to believe that we are having a coherent conversation about "stick" right now because we have no way to know if our subjective concepts are even remotely similar.

            Yes we do. I show you some samples of sticks and ask if they look like sticks to you. Here you go:

            Images for sticks

            Do they look like sticks ?

            Saying that concepts are merely in the subjective mind cannot account for coherent conversation.

            Why not ? You exaggerate the degree of coherence in any case. It's coherent enough for most purposes. But it's often incoherent and confused. Witness how many internet conversations degenerate into "but what is your definition of xxxx".

          • Phil

            The important point is whether or not the collection of things you call
            sticks is sufficiently similar to the collection of things I call
            sticks so we can communicate. Generally it is.

            What do you mean by "sufficiently similar" here? Do you mean that there is actually something "sticklike" about the two different sticks we are looking at?

            Yes we do. I show you some samples of sticks and ask if they look like sticks to you. Here you go:
            Do they look like sticks ?

            This already assumes I know what you mean by "sticks". Remember I have no clue. It could be the case that when you say "stick" you mean the little "bud" sticking out of it where a new branch grows.

            Why not ? You exaggerate the degree of coherence in any case. It's coherent enough for most purposes.

            It's not that it's coherent enough. It (concepts/universals merely in the subjective mind) can't account for coherency at all!

            To me this is a kind of meaningless philosophical point

            My view is that we should hold a philosophical view that accounts for the evidence. The evidence is that we can easily have interpersonal communication using concepts/universals. So therefore we should have a theory that accounts for this. Conceptualism and nominalism cannot account for this at all, realism fully accounts for it. That is why I give realism the edge.

          • Michael Murray

            This already assumes I know what you mean by "sticks".

            No it doesn't. I said

            I show you some samples of sticks and ask if they look like sticks to you.

            I did show you some samples with a link to google images. Did they look like sticks to you ?

            It (concepts/universals merely in the subjective mind) can't account for coherency at all!

            Yes it can. We can check each others definition and we use the commonality of the way our brains work. You want to know if something is straight ? Your visual system can recognise straight edges.

          • Ben Posin

            He doesn't get it. He doesn't want to get it. Your latest posts here are about as cogent as I can imagine being on this subject. I know I'm being hypocritical as I keep feeding the beast, but I think it's time to unilaterally declare mission accomplished (Phil's arguments have been shown to be non-arguments, his every point rebutted, his attempt at reasoning a failure), and call it a day.

          • Michael Murray

            It's definitely time to get back to the reason I am being paid to sit in front of this computer !!

          • Phil

            Nope. [there is not actually something "sticklike" about the two different sticks we are looking at]

            There is nothing "sticklike" about sticks. That's awesome, I would point out that that is a slightly absurd statement. ;)

            If there is nothing sticklike about the stick, then why the heck we calling it a stick?

            I did show you some samples with a link to google images.

            Michael: Did they look like sticks to you?

            Actually this is good. Let's follow this conversation:

            Phil: "Well, what do you mean by "stick"?"

          • Michael Murray

            There is nothing "sticklike" about sticks. That's awesome, I would point out that that is a slightly absurd statement. ;)

            Not if you read it in context. You are talking about sticks containing universals. Is that not what you meant on this occasion ? Sticks don't contain stick-likeness is my point. They more or less satisfy a list of properties that humans agree are what roughly define the set of things called sticks.

            If there is nothing sticklike about the stick, then why the heck you calling it a stick!

            So now I guess you have backed off from universals and are agreeing with me that what makes a stick a stick is that humans agree that to call them sticks.

            Looks like Ben is right and we are done.

          • Phil

            Not if you read it in context. You are talking about sticks containing
            universals. Is that not what you meant on this occasion ?

            I am simply asking if there is anything actually "sticklike" in an actual stick?

            So now I guess you have backed off from universals and are agreeing with
            me that what makes a stick a stick is that humans agree that to call
            them sticks.

            Man, if only it was that easy!

            My position is that all actual sticks actually are "sticklike" and we use the word "stick" to designate this universal.

          • Michael Murray

            Man, if only it was that easy!

            It is that easy.

          • Phil

            If you get a chance the conversation about the picture of the stick was good, so if you wanna continue it I think that could be productive:

            Phil: What do you mean by stick?

            -----
            I don't think we figured out if there is there anything actually "sticklike" about an actual stick?

            It is that easy.

            Only when we don't account for reality as it actually exists ;)

            We need to describe reality as it is; no more, no less.

          • Michael Murray

            We need to describe reality as it is; no more, no less.

            What have we missed ?

          • Ben Posin

            Phil, for the final time, you still haven't explained what the problem is. People have similar brains, with the same basic ability to abstract and form generalizations, the same senses, the same basic capacity for language....why shouldn't people be able to agree on common labels and language? Since we agree that there's an objective reality out there to be perceived and described? It's not going to be perfect always, and people will disagree sometimes or be confused. But through interaction and observation we can mutually calibrate and get better at communicating.

            It takes a medieval mind to manufacture a problem here, one who thinks in terms of mysteries without a background of modern knowledge informing his views. Come out into the light.

            But if you can't recognize that you haven't made a case yet, we can't have a meaningful conversation. Somehow I'll learn how to quit you, Phil. Hopefully the others carrying on this conversation can too. Because while there's a certain compulsion to trying to get you on board with reasonable argument, I worry that you're unable to distinguish between positive and negative attention, and are getting an unrealistic idea of how seriously your views are being taken.

          • Phil

            People have similar brains, with the same basic ability to abstract and form generalizations,

            What are we "abstracting" and from where? Abstract means to extract or remove something. I thought that you were arguing that concepts/universals exist only in the subjective mind of the person.

            Maybe a Freudian slip? If so, your subconscious may be pointing you towards the truth of reality! ;)

            why shouldn't people be able to agree on common labels and language?
            Since we agree that there's an objective reality out there to be
            perceived and described?

            You are the one arguing that there is no objective concepts and universals in objective reality. ;) You are arguing that there are common labels but that they have no objective connection to objective reality. That's where your issues are coming from and why I can't agree with the view you are putting forward.

            I am putting forward that we are describing objective reality through universals and concepts that actually have a direct connection to objective beings.

            I worry that you're unable to distinguish between positive and negative
            attention, and are getting an unrealistic idea of how seriously your
            views are being taken.

            Hey, that's fine by me. Truth is the truth is the truth. If I'm right, great. If I'm wrong, great--I hope someone puts forward an argument to solve the issues with conceptualism or nominalism. Until then, I'll stick with realism, which solves the issues.

          • Michael Murray

            You are arguing that there are common labels but that they have no objective connection to objective reality.

            What's an objective connection rather than a connection? Of course they have a connection. The connection is the majority of humans agree this is what we call a planet or a stick. In the case of planets this is the definition created after agreement and study of the existing examples of things we might like to call planets by a bunch of planetary scientists.

          • Danny Getchell

            You can't have it both ways Phil.

            You can't say upthread that "'planet' is just a word with which we label something, and say now that "planet-ness" is contingent upon an astronomer telling you what it actually means for something to be a planet.

          • Phil

            You can't have it both ways Phil.

            You can't say upthread that "'planet' is just a word with which we label something, and say now that "planet-ness" is contingent upon an astronomer telling you what it actually means for something to be a planet.

            I don't want it both ways. The word "planet" is just arbitrary and can be whatever you want it to be. It's the concept that is not arbitrary. The concept "planet" has no inherent connection to the word "planet".

            Would you agree that the concept "planet" and the word "planet" are two distinct things? If so, that's all I was pointing out by the specific word one uses doesn't matter much.

          • Michael Murray

            It's the concept that is not arbitrary.

            No the concept is arbitrary. This is clear from how we refine it and the fact that it lacks precision. The definition of planet

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IAU_definition_of_planet

            is imprecise. It will be further revised as we study more celestial bodies in and beyond our solar system.

          • Phil

            No the concept is arbitrary. This is clear from how we refine it and the fact that it lacks precision. It is imprecise. It will be further revised as we study more celestial bodies in and beyond our solar system.

            I am hesitant to agree with the argument: Because the concepts and universals we use can be imprecise therefore concepts and universals don't exist outside out mind.

            I don't think its really a valid argument, because it is very possible that we are trying to understand something that is very precise, yet we are working with imprecise language and intellectual capabilities. It is also possible that the concepts exist, just in always changing and imprecise manners. But none of this directly means that universals/concepts don't exist outside our mind. Catch my drift?

          • Michael Murray

            I am hesitant to agree with the argument: Because the concepts and universals we use can be imprecise and changing therefore concepts and universals don't exist outside out mind.

            I don't think its really a valid argument, because it is very possible that we are trying to understand something that is very precise, yet we are working with imprecise language and intellectual capabilities. It is also possible that the concepts/universals exist, just in always changing and imprecise manners. But none of this directly means that universals/concepts don't exist outside our mind. Catch my drift?

            I wasn't asserting a precise proof. It's about evidence. If the world looks like there are no universals where is the evidence they exist ? Of course you can invent explanations for why there are universals even though it doesn't look like there are. It's a bit like Harry Potter. I can claim there are wizards living in the real world, you say they have never been seen, I say that's because they change people's memories when they are seen, you say ...

            For example, We know somewhere between a square and a circle there is a crossover region where things get "grey". But that doesn't then mean that a square and a circle don't objectively exist.

            Where do they exist ? Not in the real world.

          • Phil

            Here's the thing, I am only positing that universals and concepts exist outside the mind because it is the most complete explanation of the evidence we have at hand which is:

            -Coherent conversation, that we have should have reason to believe is coherent
            -Using the same concept/universal to describe multiples of physical objects
            -Concepts/universals that can easily translate from language to language, person to person--even over centuries.

            Realism is still the most comprehensive, coherent, and consistent when it comes to explaining these 3 pieces of evidence here.

            (I'll answer your other comment in a few. Off to a previous commitment!)

          • Michael Murray

            -Coherent conversation, that we have should have reason to believe is coherent
            -Using the same concept/universal to describe multiples of physical objects
            -Concepts/universals that can easily translate from language to language, person to person--even over centuries.

            I just don't see that any of these require an explanation beyond the commonality of the material world we all exist in (assuming you believe in that) and the commonality of our shared brain structures. Friar Bill of Ockham told us not to add additional hypotheses beyond what are required.

            OK day job calls.

          • Phil

            I just don't see that any of these require an explanation beyond the
            commonality of the material world we all exist in (assuming you believe
            in that)

            Exactly! What you are proposing relegates universals/concepts to the subjective mind with no direct connection to the common objective material world. There is nothing "objective" or "common" about the theory you are proposing. That's is why you will have all the issues I am pointing out.

            Realism states that we experience common universals/concepts in the objective external world, which is what you are hinting at in the quote above.

            OK day job calls.

            Good timing as I have to run as well! Talk to you soon!

          • Michael Murray

            Exactly! What you are proposing relegates universals/concepts to the subjective mind with no direct connection to the common objective material world.

            You keep saying this and I keep pointing out that is not my claim. There are objects in the real world that humans agree to call sticks.

            The common thing as I said is we share a common reality and a collection of common brain structures.

          • Phil

            You keep saying this and I keep pointing out that is not my claim. There are objects in the real world that humans agree to call sticks.

            I do because when we hold that there is nothing actually sticklike about an actual stick, we have no basis for explaining coherent langauge or conversation.

            Neither a common external reality or common brain structure can explain why we can have coherent conversation about objective reality using concepts and universals.

            Only the fact that you and I can both recognize that there is something objectively "sticklike" about an actual stick completely explains coherent conversation about sticks.

          • Michael Murray

            These are just assertions on your part. I don't share these concerns. I think a common external reality and a common brain structure are sufficient for explaining the degree of coherent conversation that we have.

            I think we have reached the end of the line on this one where agree to disagree or otherwise we go around and around in circles.

            Thanks - Michael

          • Phil

            Hey Michael,

            No need to respond, but you brought up a very interesting point that is worth pursuing--the thought of a common brain structure explaining coherent language between persons. (Because I think you may realize that a common external reality doesn't guarantee common subjective conceptual reality.)

            I think a common external reality and a common brain structure are sufficient for explaining the degree of coherent conversation that we have.

            This is a very Kantian position as you probably are aware. And lucky for us I just studied some Kant last year, so it is still fresh in my mind!

            --------
            There are two mains problems with this:

            1) The major problem with this, is if a person holds that no universal/nature exists in external objects, that means that the human brain itself does not have a nature/universal attached to it. We have no way to say all brains actually do function in the same way and actually have the nature/universal of "human brain". We only study the human brain from the 3rd person view, i.e., it is also part of external reality. And the person arguing this Kantian view says that we can't actually know natures/universals from the external world (or they just don't exist as you are arguing).

            Ultimately, there is no way to know that the brain actually is mapping everything between persons the same exact way because the person doesn't believe that there is such a thing as an objective nature/universal of "human brain-ness" that all human brains take part in.

            In the end, this view undermines itself because it assumes that the universal of "human brain" actually exists outside her own mind while at the same time trying to say that universals don't exist outside her own mind!

            2) If we start by assuming that all our brains do map reality is a very similar/the same way, we have to assume that somehow our brain comes "pre-programmed" with all the universals and concepts that we could ever experience. We then see an object and line up the concept in our mind with the object. Our brain is like a computer program that has a algorithm for defining universals. (E.g., Brain is programmed that if X object has Y then it is a Z). We must realize that this is a potentially infinite list.

            Firstly, we don't have any evidence that our mind comes "pre-programmed" with these universals. Secondly, this seems like an odd hypothesis just to explain coherent language between people. Finally, we come to understand a concept when we experience the actual object in some way, either through seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting, or smelling it. Or be someone explaining the universals as compared to something we have already saw, heard, felt, tasted, or touched.

            In other words, we don't develop concepts purely out of thin air. If we never had any experiences, we wouldn't have any concepts/universals. This gives credence to the fact that universal concepts actually come from the externally existing world. (This of course is slightly different for pure abstract concepts like math. But again it ultimately still takes an experience of the senses to understand math.)

          • Michael Murray

            The major problem with this, is if a person holds that no universal/nature exists in external objects, that means that the human brain itself does not have a nature/universal attached to it.

            I don't see that at all. What observation tells us is that external reality has a high level of consistency and regularity. Physics here is the same as physics on the other side of the world. A collection of atoms here will behave in a similar way to a similar collection of atoms somewhere else in a similar physical environment. So brains that are similar in structure will interact with the world in similar ways. You seem to want to say that this is a result of a human brain having some universal brain-ness attached to it. I don't see why that layer of explanation is needed.

            what my brain is programmed to call "stick" yours could just as likely be programmed to call "planet".

            I rather suspect that I say stick because when I picked one up before I knew its name up my parents pointed at it and said "stick".

            In other words, we don't develop concepts purely out of thin air. If we never had any experiences, we wouldn't have any concepts/universals. This gives credence to the fact that universal concepts actually come from the externally existing world.

            No it gives credence to the idea that concepts come from interaction with the external world. For a concept to exist you need both us and the external world. The concept is a pattern in the brain of a human. No human brain no pattern.

            Think about a photon of a frequency we identify as red hitting the retina. It is detected and something in the brain records "I saw red". Where is the red ? In the photon ? In the brain ? Why do I call it red ? Because my parents told me to. Why is it always red ? Because external reality and my brain structures have a certain regularity and consistency.

          • Phil

            So brains that are similar in structure will interact with the world in similar ways.

            How would you go about proving this? One could observe two brains observing the same tree and you have no guarantee that they will come to the same universal, let alone using the same word. (See using different langauges)

            You can observe the physical workings of the brain. You could even observe all that is happening in the brain when a person thinks about "tree", but to say that you are observing the concept "tree" is ludicrous. The concept "tree" does not equal "firing neurons" just as much as the subjective experience of seeing the tree in the first place is not reducible to firing neurons.

            You seem to want to say that this is a result of a human brain having
            some universal brain-ness attached to it. I don't see why that layer of
            explanation is needed.

            You are trying to say that my brain is the same as yours. To say that means that there is something "human brainlike" about both mine and your brain. Well, that takes universals to say that, but you've already denied that universals actually exist in reality. So one has no ground to actually say that my brain is the same as yours.

            What observation tells us is that external reality has a high level of
            consistency and regularity. Physics here is the same as physics on the
            other side of the world. A collection of atoms here will behave in a
            similar way to a similar collection of atoms somewhere else in a similar
            physical environment.

            Well, so it seems but there is no way to prove this on the view being argued here, but that's a whole 'nuther discussion and issue that comes up when one gets rid of natures/universals of objects. ;)

            I rather suspect that I say stick because when I picked one up before I
            knew its name up my parents pointed at it and said "stick".

            This is putting the chicken before the egg, because in trying to show how people can coherently talk about subjective universals you are having people talk about universals. In other words, a circular argument, and one that infinitely regresses which is why one can't say that coherent talk about universals comes about purely by "talking and comparing with others", since this assumes that one can already coherently talk about universals.

            Them saying that "this is a stick" is assuming both you and your parents both see the universal, but that's exactly what we are dicussing.

            The concept is a pattern in the brain of a human. No human brain no pattern.

            How do you explain then an English person coming to the universals "stick" and a Spanish person coming to the universal "palo"? If universals concepts are simply patterns in the brain why do we end up with different ways of describing them?

          • Susan

            Neither a common external reality or common brain structure can explain why we can have coherent conversation about objective reality using concepts and universals

            Why not?

          • Max Driffill

            Indeed why not?

          • Ben Posin

            Because how do you KNOW we're both talking about the same thing when we say brain structures? And how could hoagie and grinder both refer to the same thing, when they're spelled and pronounced differently? Plus you could write those words in cursive or printing. Therefore, universals. C'mon, Susan.

          • Phil

            Why not?

            This is a very Kantian position. And lucky for us I just studied some Kant within the past year, so it is still fresh in my mind!

            --------

            There are two mains problems with this:

            1) The major problem with this, is if a person holds that no universal/nature exists in external objects, that means that the human brain itself does not have a nature/universal attached to it. We have no way to say all brains actually do function in the same way and actually have the nature/universal of "human brain". We only study the human brain from the 3rd person view, i.e., it is also part of external reality. And the person arguing this Kantian view says that we can't actually know natures/universals from the external world (or they just don't exist as you are arguing).

            Ultimately, there is no way to know that the brain actually is mapping everything between persons the same exact way because the person doesn't believe that there is such a thing as an objective nature/universal of "human brain-ness" that all human brains take part in.

            In the end, this view undermines itself because it assumes that the universal of "human brain" actually exists
            outside her own mind while at the same time trying to say that universals don't exist outside her own mind!

            2) If we start by assuming that all our brains do map reality in the same way (which there doesn't seem to be any way to objectively show this as mentioned above), we have to assume that somehow our brain comes "pre-programmed" with all the universals and concepts that we could ever experience. We then see an object and line up the concept in our mind with the object. Our brain is like a computer program that has a algorithm for defining universals. (E.g., Brain is programmed that if X object has Y then it is a Z). We must realize that this is a potentially infinite list. Also there is no set word for a certain universal/concept which is obvious from the fact of different language referencing the same universal. (E.g., what my brain is programmed to call "stick" yours could just as likely be programmed to call "planet". And what's with English people calling it a "planet" and Spanish people a "planeta". Sounds like English and Spanish people have differently programmed brains! )

            Firstly, we don't have any evidence that our mind
            comes "pre-programmed" with these universals. Secondly, this seems like an odd hypothesis just to explain coherent language between people.
            Finally, we come to understand a concept when we experience the actual object in some way, either through seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting, or smelling it. Or be someone explaining the universals as compared to
            something we have already saw, heard, felt, tasted, or touched.

            In other words, we don't develop concepts purely out of thin air. If we never had any experiences, we wouldn't have any concepts/universals. This gives credence to the fact that universal concepts actually come from the externally existing world.

          • Ben Posin

            "Would you agree that the concept "planet" and the word "planet" are two distinct things?

            Nope.

          • Phil

            Nope. [I woud not agree that the concept "planet" and the word "planet" are two distinct things]

            When a Spanish person says "planeta" are they talking about an entirely different concept than when we say "planet"?

            If the concept is directly identified with the word, then any change in the word changes the concept. Unless, you may be proposing something else about words and concepts?

          • Ben Posin

            "When a Spanish person says "planeta" are they talking about an entirely different concept than when we say "planet"?"

            As best I can tell, there's also no difference between the concept planet and the Spanish word planeta.

          • Phil

            As best I can tell, there's also no difference between the concept planet and the Spanish word planeta.

            You are proposing now have two completely distinct words are, and can, successfully represent a single concept "planet".

            If that is the case, then there is a distinction between the word "planet" and the concept "planet". Contrary to what you held in your previous comment.

          • Ben Posin

            "If that is the case, then there is a distinction between the word "planet" and the concept "planet". Contrary to what you held in your previous comment."

            Nope.

            A word is a label. It's a line drawn around bits of objective reality. It doesn't matter what color you draw the line in (i.e., English, Spanish, new new replacement words we invent right now, what have you). The label is the line is the concept. There's zero reason to think it exists out there free floating as a "universal"; it's a subjective, collective imposition on objective reality by our minds.

          • Phil

            There's zero reason to think it exists out there free floating as a "universal".

            I have never actually espoused this "floating universal" position. Maybe I'm not explaining the realist position well. There are no universal concepts "floating out there". They exist in actual physical objects. And we are able to abstract those universals from the physical objects themself and we name those universals with ultimately arbitrary words. In other words, we call a stick a "stick" because it actually has the universal of "stick".

            (Again the specific word we use doesn't matter since we could use the Spanish word for "stick" and nothing would change.)

            A word is a label. It's a line drawn around bits of objective reality.

            Okay, What specifically is it labeling? When we call the thing lying in front of you a "stick" what specifically is it labeling?

            You mention "objective reality", and this is good. Because you getting at the point it doesn't just exist in our mind--there is somehow a correspondence between when we think about "stick" and the actually existing things that are sticks. Which means you are heading slowly down the path of realism, since conceptualism cannot hold that there is any direct connection between the external object and our mind's "label".

            The label is the line is the concept.

            Okay, I think you are saying that there can be different labels for the same concept, such as "planet" and "planeta". So that would support the position that I was espousing--that there is no direct connection between the word we use and the concept it is referencing. In other words, the concept exists independently of the label we use, whether is be a written word or auditory word.

          • Michael Murray

            Would you agree that the concept "planet" and the word "planet" are two distinct things?

            So what is the concept of planet ? Is it the definition on wikipedia ? If not what ?

          • Danny Getchell

            We seem to be going round and round here.

            If what you intended to say upthread .....

            I am not an astronomer or cosmologist so you will have to inform me as to what it actually means for something to be a planet.

            ....... is that your determination of what constitutes "planetness" is contingent upon what astronomers consider to be the characteristics defining a planet, we have no disagreement, and can conclude the discussion amicably.

          • Michael Murray

            If it can rationally be called a planet, then yes it possesses "planet-ness". But if it rationally cannot be called a planet, then no it does not posses "planet-ness".

            So how "nearly round" does it have to be before it possesses planet-ness.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IAU_definition_of_planet

  • TomD123

    I would like to add that the immaterial nature of the soul is the only way to account for free will. In order to deny free will, one would have to say that we are all under a constant illusion (a very bold claim) and that true morality (because ought implies can) does not exist (another even bolder claim). Therefore, we ought to accept free will as true. Yet if the mind is reducible to the material organ of the brain, there can be no true freedom. This is because the brain, as matter, operates according to material principles, i.e. the laws of physics. Material things simply cannot be free because their action is completely described by these laws...there is no room for choice unless we introduce a non-physical entity. Now it is true that there may be ways in which the laws of physics are indeterminate and allow an opening for this choice, but in order to actually have true freedom, something essentially immaterial must be doing the choice making.
    Tom

    • Ben Posin

      Whether we have "free will" (and whether "free will" is even a clear concept) are very open questions. I don't feel unconstrained in what beliefs I possess, in what memories I have, in what emotions I feel, in what instinctual responses I feel, in any number of mental aspects of myself. Even if it feels like I am making "free" choices, surely these things, as well as subtle and automatic heuristics and biases, play a role in the "free" choices I make. And that's without even descending to the neuroscience level and getting into brain chemistry, how neurons work, brain damage, etc. While I possess a subjective feeling of agency and attribute agency to others, it's not at all obvious to me that it requires a "soul."

      I'm sorry, but if you want to make a serious argument, you have to first carefully define free will, show that it actually exists, and then show that this requires a "soul" (which you must also define carefully).

      • Elson

        Hi Ben.....I completely agree.....I posted my comment to Tom before I read further.....was not attempting to usurp what you have already said before I posted my comment.

      • TomD123

        This was a serious argument, at least for a combox.
        I did provide two reasons which would show free will exists. One, without true freedom, objective morality is meaningless. Two, we have the experience of having true freedom where we can actually make a choice. In order to deny free-will as is generally understood, that is, the ability to make a conscious decision which is not determined by anything but the actual act of choosing itself which is essentially capable of choosing between multiple options...one would have to accept there is no objective moral order and that we are under the constant illusion of having this choice...
        I think I gave a coherent definition of free-will above for a combox, but more importantly is that words can't always define exactly what is meant by free will. We do however know what it is from direct experience...that is-first person experience.
        Now, given what I have said, I explained quite clearly why we would need an immaterial component in us to explain free will. I need not define carefully a soul, I am not arguing for a specific-well defined soul. I am simply arguing that we need something that is not material in order to explain free will...for reasons specified in my first comment.

        • Ben Posin

          Your reasons, though argued in a serious manner, do not hold together. First, there may BE no meaningful objective morality, or it may mean something other than what you oppose. You've taken a questionable concept in free will and said it's proven by an even more questionable concept, objective morality. This is akin to arguing that virgins must exist because who else can approach unicorns? Well, maybe free will is a thing, but this is not the way to show it

          To the extent that I understand your supposed definition of free will ( not sure it is coherent), I don't believe in it. I don't think people make choices determined by nothing but "the actual act of choosing itself" where multiple options can be chosen. My choices are limited by my personality, my memory, my foresight, my emotions, my experiences,to name a few things. Do you really believe you are just capable of choosing anything at any time, unconstrained by anything? That has no relationship with the human condition as I understand it. I hate philosophy, but will paraphrase some Hume at you: the prisoner on death row tries to saw through his bars rather than simply ask to be released, so confident is he that the guards are not free to simply choose to release him.

          And yes, I have no problem believing people are typically unaware of the constraints on their thoughts and choices, or that the subjective feeling as to how these work is not a good description of the underlying reality, myself included.

          • TomD123

            1) "There may be no meaningful objective morality"
            Well, I have not given a defense of morality. I simply stated that this is what the denial of free will entailed. My argument was not meant as an air-tight proof but an inductive argument based on the absurdities of the denial of free will. The denial of objective morality I think is ridiculous. No one lives that way or deep down thinks that way. Would you tell a rape victim "What the rapist did wasn't really wrong, he really couldn't do otherwise, he did not have free will."? I hope not
            In any case, the denial of free will means the denial of any morality whatsoever because as the axiom goes: "ought implies can" and if we deny free will, we deny the "can"
            2) I don't consider objective morality to be so questionable to the average, every-day sensible person. Maybe to some "smarter than thou" armchair philosopher lurking in a combox, but not to normal people. By objective morality here all I mean is a right and a wrong, something that should be done and something that should not be done--imperatives on an individual.
            3) Maybe I should clarify: I do not mean to say that nothing else INFLUENCES the choice, there are many complex psychological and neurological questions in play...no doubt...only that ultimately, the act of choosing isn't an illusion. There really is a choice in which the choice determines the outcome and there are multiple actually possible outcomes---maybe I'm articulating it poorly but its a basic definition of freedom as we ordinarily experience it--like in the choice of what you had for breakfast.
            4) "Do you really believe you are just capable of choosing anything at any time unconstrained by anything?"
            No and nowhere did I say that
            5) Being typically unaware of one's subconscious reasons and influences is not the same thing as being radically tricked into believing we are making choices when in fact we are simply acting in accordance with the principles of biochemistry---it is not that we are unaware so much as we are deluded and THAT is a problem

          • Ben Posin

            Whether morality is objective is a long debated question, from antiquity to today. Colorful references to rape victims doesn't change that, and no one is arguing that morality isn't a concept/force/feeling hugely important to humans. Personally, I (a man sometimes found on the street) think that morality is only objective in the sense that it is built on common mental qualities and abilities that humans share as a product of their evolutionary history as social animals: our generally innate sense of fairness and empathy (aided by things like mirror neurons), and the commonalities we share as to the sorts of things that cause us happiness or suffering. But this sort of objectivity (such as it is) doesn't depend on spirits.

            So enough with the absurdity talk. You've given me no reason to think morality may not be subjective.

            Understand something: I am a materialist. I think we are matter from top to bottom. I think we ARE the functioning of our brains. I'm not afraid of the idea that my choices are the result of this functioning. And I just don't see why the fact that people have subjective perspective that FEELs like something else is going on should carry the day. People who are depressed don't feel like they have inadequate seretonin, but that's often the problem. People are deluded by neurological conditions all the time.

          • TomD123

            This could go on forever so I will be brief:
            1) If there is no such thing as a moral imperative, there is no morality period. Of course we feel as though there is, and we have concepts of fairness and empathy, but if there is no free will, there can be no moral imperatives, and that is the problem. No matter how much we sugar coat it, there is no such thing as a "wrong act" because there is no choice between good and evil.
            2) Well, we have the subjective experience of making a free choice not determined...that is, we can actually chose between multiple options. This would be an illusion if free will is to be denied. With regards to depression- 1) that is a disorder and 2) it isn't an "illusion" that one feels as though he does have serotonin although he lacks it, rather, he feels the negative feeling of depression as a result of lack of serotonin...no delusion, simply experiencing something from only one angle.

          • Ben Posin

            We are going a bit round and round, I suppose. Anyway:

            1) Putting aside that I still don't really understand what you meant when you tried to define "free will" (any more than Susan understands your definition of "immaterial"), and that we haven't discussed what a "moral imperative" is: maybe. For the sake of argument, sure, could be. Maybe the way we've been thinking about morality, if premised on "free will" is simply wrong. Wouldn't be the first thing people have been wrong about. Doesn't mean that we have "immaterial" souls. For my part, I don't have the faintest idea, other than the source I already named, as to where "objective" morality could come from.

            2) Yes, I think your subjective experience does not accurately reflect reality. Mine too. Everyone's. I get that you think this is hard to swallow, but I don't really understand why. I don't "feel" like I'm made of neurons. I don't have any subjective experiences that would tell me I've got neurons inside my skull, doing thinking stuff. But we do, right? Or here's an example for you: let's say I sit you down in front of a button, and tell you to pick one of your hands and push it. You may have some sort of subjective feeling of when and how you make that choice, but your subjective feeling is wrong. A brain scan can reveal which hand you're going to use several seconds before you're aware of the "decision" yourself. http://www.nature.com/news/2008/080411/full/news.2008.751.html

          • TomD123

            1) You keep missing the point. If we can't make choices, then we can't be expected to act a certain way.
            2) You miss the point here too-it is not about what we don't feel. It's about the fact that we positively DO feel that we have freedom of choice...which would have to be an illusion--not simply something missing.

          • Ben Posin

            I don't think I'm the one missing the point--but then i wouldn't, I suppose.

            1) Maybe, to at least a certain extent, we CAN'T be expected to act a certain way, depending on our past experiences, circumstances, and brain chemistry. Maybe people assign to each other more agency than is appropriate. Yes. Fine. That's what I'm saying, I guess. The common conception of morality may be WRONG. I don't understand at this point what you think we're arguing about. For all you deny it, this argument for the existence of a non-material soul really is just you not liking what you imagine the consequences of no soul to mean: less objective morality than you want there to be in the world.

            2) I feel like you're sticking your head in the sand here. The brain scan experiment I referenced shows that your subjective experience as to how and when you decided to move one of your hands is WRONG. You subjectively feel like you're making a decision (or,as you keep repeating you have the "illusion" that you're making the decision at that point), but what you're actually feeling is the result of a decision. That seems pretty on point to me.

            If you don't have a new direction to take this, I think I'm done with the merry go round. Am happy to stand by what I've written here.

          • TomD123

            1) Again, not to a certain extent, but completely. If we have no free will, we can't be expected to act a certain way period.
            2) Those experiments are more controversial than you realize for a number of reasons. For one, the difference in time is so tiny that it is really difficult to measure. For another, the decision is essentially trivial and could be strongly influenced by a number of other factors (handedness etc.) So it may not replicate the real world well.
            I agree that I am happy with what I have written here

        • Ben Posin

          Your reasons, though argued in a serious manner, do not hold together. First, there may BE no meaningful objective morality, or it may mean something other than what you suppose. You've taken a questionable concept in free will and said it's proven by an even more questionable concept, objective morality. This is akin to arguing that virgins must exist because who else can approach unicorns? Well, maybe free will is a thing, but this is not the way to show it

          To the extent that I understand your supposed definition of free will ( not sure it is coherent), I don't believe in it. I don't think people make choices determined by nothing but "the actual act of choosing itself" where multiple options can be chosen. My choices are limited by my personality, my memory, my foresight, my emotions, my experiences,to name a few things. Do you really believe you are just capable of choosing anything at any time, unconstrained by anything? That has no relationship with the human condition as I understand it. I hate philosophy, but will paraphrase some Hume at you: the prisoner on death row tries to saw through his bars rather than simply ask to be released, so confident is he that the guards are not free to simply choose to release him.

          And yes, I have no problem believing people are typically unaware of the constraints on their thoughts and choices, or that the subjective feeling as to how these work is not a good description of the underlying reality, myself included.

      • TomD123

        Additionally, with regards to brain chemistry and how neurons work: basically, as physical things, they are still governed by the laws of physics hence don't really allow for true freedom. Just as any other material thing, they act according to their natural principles.
        That said, a specific understanding of neurons and brain chemistry etc. might be of some use in understanding what actually happens at a physiological level when one makes a free choice, but that said, it doesn't really have to do with the core of the argument.
        We could talk about brain chemistry if you like, as I study neuroscience, but I am not sure how that would help your point

    • Elson

      In order to deny free will, one would have to say that we are all under a constant illusion

      Actually the concept of free will may not be so cut and dried as some would like to believe. I think that if one wants the truth, it behooves one to broaden their horizons on this matter rather than simply accepting the religious status quo on this matter. The broadening of those horizons would include what well the well known neuroscientists such as Sam Harris has to say on the matter. I wish I could simply give an opinion and point to information without constantly having to apologize in case I ruffle someone's feathers. So here goes....no offense intended Tom.....that is not what I am about. If one is going to have an opinion on free will, that opinion should be well informed in the light of modern knowledge regards the topic.
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pCofmZlC72g

      • TomD123

        No one said that it was cut and dried. Nor is there any reason to say that my comment was simply fitting in to what the "religious status quo" is. I would argue, that there is no such thing...at least not within Christianity...not even within Catholicism. Maybe you are not aware, but for centuries, many theologians in the Church debated vigorously the relationship between grace, free-will, and predestination...there were the Thomists, Augustinians, Molinists, etc. And fyi, St. Thomas's position is a kind of compatibilism in a way which I think (and many other modern theologians would also agree) simply does not cut it for free will.

        • Elson

          Maybe you are not aware, but
          for centuries, many theologians in the Church debated vigorously the relationship between grace, free-will, and predestination...

          Thankyou for the lesson for cretins.....but what has this to do with modern neuroscience brain mapping psychology, etc.

          You didn't understand a word I said did you? So much for the part of my comment that said....So here goes....no offense intended Tom.....that is not what I am about."

          • TomD123

            It has to do with your comment "religious status quo" as it is meant to show that there is no such thing.
            Second, understanding the mind and understanding the brain both go hand in hand in many ways. That said, my argument would stand no matter what the specifics of the neuroscience turn out to be.
            Further, what does this have to do with you saying 'no offense,"?

          • Elson

            Further, what does this have to do with you saying 'no offense,"?

            Just that It is just easy to get deleted and banned here if one offends someone or says too much contrary to Catholic teaching....just wanted to be sure that no offense is intended to anyone or the "church".

          • TomD123

            Well I am not sure why you said "so much for the part of my comment..."

    • If you're interested in how to understand "free will", you really need to read up on compatibilist accounts of free will. It turns out that you've made a lot of unnecessary assumptions about how things must be.

      For my part, I think the kind of free will worth having requires determinism of the sort provided by material.

      • TomD123

        I am familiar with it. Personally, I think that compatibilism as it is usually understood is incompatible with the notion of free will that has any worth to it...in other words, one that matches our experiences and allows for objective morality

        • incompatible with the notion of free will that has any worth to it...in other words, one that matches our experiences and allows for objective morality

          Well in that case we can happily resolve the matter: You're wrong. :) I know this because compatibilism matches my experiences and that of many others. Also many of us accept the objectivity of some moral rules.

          • TomD123

            Compatibilism essentially redefines free will in a way that is meaningless. Depending on the version, it basically makes it so that there is no real alternative, no real freedom involved in a choice. "Freedom" simply means something totally different than:
            1) What we as humans experience in making choices
            2) What would be required for objective morality.
            In defense of 1, I would say that the vast majority of people feel as though when they make a choice, they have the REAL ability to choose between multiple options and that the CAUSE of whatever they do pick ultimately resides in their act of choosing, not in a deterministic process of any sort....because of this, our experience shows that we are truly FREE and therefore compatibilism although one could say it isn't disproven by experience, describes a reality which is different from what is meant when people say that they made a choice.
            In defense of 2, there is an axiom in moral philosophy which says "ought implies can." This means in order to be expected to do anything, one must truly be able to do it. If there is no true freedom, that is, the ability to pick a certain option, INTRINSIC to the agent, then there is no real "can." Therefore, there is no "ought."
            Instead of simply saying "you are wrong" I provided a defense rather than a statement of what I hold to be true.

          • Compatibilism essentially redefines free will in a way that is meaningless.

            Ah, there it is again. Whenever an argument has no legs to stand on, you can bet its proponent will label his opponents' views "meaningless".

            An excellent starting point for philosophical discussions online is the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. We certainly don't have to agree with the theories and conclusions discussed there. But we should all start there as our common ground, as it contains expertly written, up-to-date summaries of the state of philosophy.

            Here's the key bit on how compatibilists define free will: "free will can be defined as the unique ability of persons to exercise control over their conduct in the fullest manner necessary for moral responsibility."

            That definition is semantically meaningful (what the terms refer to is clear), syntactically meaningful (the relationships of the terms is clear), and logically meaningful (the correctness of the proposition can be consistently evaluated). So in the strict senses it is perfectly meaningful. The definition was chosen precisely because it fits the explanatory purposes of many philosophers, so it is also pragmatically meaningful.

            I would say that the vast majority of people feel as though when they make a choice, they have the REAL ability to choose between multiple options

            Appeal to popularity is a fallacy. Worse, when talking about what other people think and feel, scientifically-untested human opinion is heavily contaminated by a cognitive bias called the typical mind fallacy.

            Also, compatibilists agree you have a real ability to choose based on your motivations. So you've mischaracterized the disagreement between compatibilists and libertarians; I'd again recommend the free-will-related SEoP articles to help you keep the distinctions clear.

            the CAUSE of whatever they do pick ultimately resides in their act of choosing, not in a deterministic process of any sort

            That's a fair description of some versions of libertarianism. I understand the intuition behind it, but when I think about how it would actually work, it seems awful. For example:

            * It means that your beliefs and desires cannot help determine your actions.
            * It means that you cannot make promises or vows, since what you intend to do cannot help determine what you decide to do.
            * It means that people who think they understand your character based on your past choices, deeds, and words are mistaken, since your actions were not determined by what kind of person you are.
            * It means that, if you found yourself in similar circumstances with a similar mindset as in the past, you could not be expected to behave similarly.
            * It means that attempts by friends to persuade or the law to threaten you to do one thing or another are futile since they cannot help determine what you end up doing.

            In addition to those personality-undermining implications, there's also a deep factual problem. For an act to not be determined by anything except itself, the only way to physically realize such a situation would be for the act to be an intrinsically random process, which could only be physically realized as a quantum process. But the brain does not appear to have access to quantum randomness, since it operates at far too large a scale and too high a temperature.

            there is an axiom in moral philosophy which says "ought implies can." ... If there is no true freedom, that is, the ability to pick a certain option, INTRINSIC to the agent, then there is no real "can." Therefore, there is no "ought."

            That's an invalid deduction because you did not demonstrate that metaphysical possibility is the only kind of possibility relevant to the "can" in "ought implies can".

            Compatibilism says that your decisions are free when they are the result of your own desires and beliefs, and that they are freer when there is less external influence and less free when there is more external influence. For example, if while on vacation you walk into the woods alone and decide to write a poem, that's about as free as it gets; if you are enslaved, marched into the woods and told to write the exact same dictated poem, that's about as unfree as it gets. The action could be the same; what makes an action free under compatibilism is not the action itself, but the kind of circumstances.

            Compatibilist free will is important because it means that:

            * Your beliefs and desires in a situation determine your actions, so if you have true beliefs and good desires, you can be trusted to live autonomously and interact with the community.
            * Legal punishments will produce desires in people to avoid the punishments and those desires help determine their actions, and so when there is law, even people with some false beliefs and bad desires can be trusted to live autonomously and interact with the community.
            * You can train yourself to develop good habits so that when you encounter similar circumstances, you can be counted on to choose well.
            * You can make meaningful promises and vows to loved ones, and contracts with business partners, because your intentions do help determine what you will do.
            * Your character isn't just a byproduct of your actions; it also helps determine your future actions.

            In short, there are good reasons that compatibilism has been the traditional viewpoint of philosophers for centuries.

            We're material and have every reason to expect the ordinary determinism of material applies to us as well. Beliefs and desires are material patterns in the brain, formed by neuronal connections being built up or degrading over time based on your experiences. With fMRI, we can even watch decisions being made by the brain's neural circuits! And we can see them settling into a decision before the person making the decision is consciously aware of deciding. So current science appears strongly in favor of compatibilism.

          • TomD123

            When I say that it is meaningless I am saying that the definition of free will which compatibilists give is essentially: "there is no such thing as true free-will but we don't want to say that so we will redefine "free-will" to mean something completely different" But let's say that your definition of "free will" is a valid one...that is fine. Let's call it FWC and my definition of free-will FWL (for compatibilism and libertarianism).
            I would argue that my point still stands, that is: materialism entails that FWL is false yet FWL is the only way to make sense of moral duty and our ordinary experience. Hence FWL is true which entails materialism is false. So regardless of what counts as "free-will" I say that FWC doesn't account for morality and subjective experience.
            The problem however with the definition of FWC is that it basically begs the question against my position by saying what it says about moral responsibility. The reason is that materialism would mean that a human simply behaves according to the laws of physics alone...that means that actions are either fully determined or if they are not, simply random. In other words, there is no room for a *choice* in the sense of a conscious act of picking between options where the picking actually determines which action is followed and that there is real possibility to chose otherwise. In order to have true moral duty, free-will must exist in this sense. Even if we redefine it along the lines of FWC, we don't have this sense. Free will is changed to mean no external influence, or something like that depending on the version of FWC. Yet this itself does not, in my view, account for moral duty.
            Further, what you say in your bullet points on my version of libertarianism miss a crucial point: I do not hold that nothing can influence a choice, nor am I saying that there are no instances in which case a person is not in fact free to make a choice. Only that there are instances where people have the ability to chose as defined in the portion of my comment which you quoted. Basically, of course our emotions, our past etc. influence our choice. The point is these nor any other biochemical process do not determine the choice and that is what is crucial but the materialist would have to deny because the mind simply is the biochemistry of the brain.
            Also, a truly random process is not determined by itself...to be random is to be not determined. Quantum processes, under the standard interpretation, are truly random but that does not make them free, otherwise, we would be attributing freedom to everything since everything is governed by the rules of QM (or you could say that it is only relevantly free on small scales but that doesn't change the odd conclusion that it would entail that certain atomic processes say are "free")
            That said, I think that QM does provide a possible opening for freedom in the brain, provided that quantum effects can take place in the brain. It has certainly not been demonstrated that this is not the case, and some prominent neuroscientists as well as physicists have argued otherwise.
            Actually, there is only one sense of can that matters here and that is actually can. even if a person's actions aren't determined by external factors, if they are determined by internal factors, he in fact can't chose otherwise. If someone does something, he cannot be expected to have acted otherwise simply because his brain state at the time he chose to act determined the way he acted and that brain state was determined by a previous brain state or some external factor. There is no room for any relevant choice which would make someone morally responsible.
            Okay, first of all, fMRIs don't actually watch a "decision being made." They measure brain activity by measuring blood-flow. No one denies a close connection between brain and choice, only that the latter is not entirely reducible to the former. Second, the experiments can be criticized on a number of different points which I could elaborate on. But for one, the time differentials measured are so tiny that there is a lot of room for error in people's exact perception of when they made the choice and that kind of thing.

          • When I say that it is meaningless I am saying that the definition of free will which compatibilists give is essentially: "there is no such thing as true free-will but we don't want to say that so we will redefine "free-will" to mean something completely different"

            That's not what "meaningless" means, and the pseudo-definition you gave is mere snark. Consequently I don't believe your interest here is in critically evaluating ideas to find truer ones. The rest of that last comment was chock full of internal contradictions, logical fallacies, and mischaracterizations of philosophy and science. The fact of the matter is that you can produce unsupported feel-good assertions faster than anyone can correct them, and the effort to correct them is a wasteful distraction from the important questions. Thus fruitful discussion requires all participants to be their own harshest critics.

            Now of course we don't automatically know how to do that well. It has to be learned. The first step, as I mentioned earlier, is learning the basics.

            Here is a link to the basics of compatibilism that you can read for free. Here is a similar link to the basics on incompatibilism. When your discussion shows that you understand the basics, then we can have a fruitful discussion.

          • TomD123

            There is some "snark" in what I said, and for a good reason. We can define free will in any way we want, its just a word. However, only some definitions will actually fit into the framework I am giving, namely, one that allows for objective moral standards and for the assumption that we are not constantly deluded. Compatibilism, as it must be understood by the materialist, cannot account for free-will in this framework. Actions are ultimately determined by brain states.
            I do know the basics, you have posted many links and have repeated "you are wrong" yet I have given arguments. I explained the problem with FWC as it would have to be understood by a materialist. The reason, let me repeat is this: if a choice is simply the result of the interactions of neurons alone, there is no room for freedom as the behavior of neurons is simply governed by the laws of nature which are fixed. Whatever you call a free choice doesn't really matter, the point is what I do now is DETERMINED by the state of my brain which is in turn DETERMINED by a previous brain state and the state of my environment. My argument is simple, posting links and acting as though I am not aware of what is going on in the philosophy of free-will does not make you right.
            I see no fallacies in anything that I said in my last comment. Also, I do not misrepresent science. I actually didn't say much about science other than that which is pretty basic and which is non-controversial. I mentioned I had a problem with some "free-will experiments" but I didn't delve into those problems, only mentioned one concern briefly. Playing the science trump card is an often used tactic, but it doesn't actually show anything.

          • You're still arguing on the basis of ignorance. Why bother? If you don't care to learn the basics of the subject, I don't care what arguments you think you have made.

          • TomD123

            To keep claiming that I am arguing on the basis of ignorance does not show that you are right and that I am wrong. I have consistently tried to explain why materialism entails that we do not have freedom in the sense required to have moral imperatives and have our subjective experiences to not be illusions hence this is evidence against materialism. All you keep doing is posting links and saying that I am wrong and calling me ignorant. This does not support your case.
            If it makes you feel as though you are correct, then fine, but it doesn't answer my actual arguments which I have presented ad nauseam.

          • To keep claiming that I am arguing on the basis of ignorance does not show that you are right and that I am wrong.

            And it's not intended to. I don't care about winning and losing arguments. I care about improving my understanding.

            I have consistently tried to explain why materialism entails blah blah blah

            Yes, and you have consistently mischaracterized the philosophy and science involved, contradicted yourself, and relied on fallacies in a way that demonstrates you aren't familiar with the position you're attacking or the one you're defending.

            All you keep doing is posting links and saying that I am wrong and calling me ignorant.

            So take the freaking opportunity to learn. Follow the links. Read the material. If you still disagree, you will disagree from a place of understanding what you're disagreeing with.

            This does not support your case. If it makes you feel as though you are correct, then fine, but it doesn't answer my actual arguments which I have presented ad nauseam.

            It's not intended to support my case; it's intended to support yours. It's not intended to make me feel correct; it's intended to give your arguments a correct foundation. I've already posted one lengthy comment that responded to your arguments; your choice to reiterate them without updating the thought behind them is indeed nauseating.

          • TomD123

            All you have done is claim I am ignorant. I have explained my problems with your position. You keep saying that I misunderstand but do not explain how so. You say I misrepresent science and philosophy yet do not explain how, as I do not think that I have. Again, this does not demonstrate a desire to learn...I have presented an argument, defended it, and do not see where it goes wrong.
            Again: any form of materialism entails a view on free will which is simply incompatible with moral imperatives and the subjective experience of making a choice. That is my claim and every objection to it I have responded to.

          • George

            so your axiom is the idea of moral imperatives, right? your chain seems to follow all the way down to that, and other emotionally charged terms, like "moral duty" and "morally responsible". if the facts are incompatible with these concepts as laid out by you, what do you think would or should change?

            I don't see how materialism with compatibalist free will implies any kind of necessary change to you/me/society to achieve some consistency. you and I would still DESIRE that violent murderers (the anti-social) have their actions restricted, and that peaceful social people not be restricted. Noah Luck was able to put things into tangible terms of behavior and incentives towards or against behaviors. could you do that?

          • TomD123

            I am working off of an axiom that there is a such thing as actual moral right and wrong--I have not defended that claim because for the sake of these comments there is no need and the claim should not really be contraversial, in order to deny that there is a right and wrong, one must claim that the phrase "rape is morally wrong" to simply be incorrect. I do not know what facts you are saying are incompatible with my views...
            Anyway, Materialism may or may not change how we live, that's not the point. The point is that it logically entails that there is no right and wrong because under the materialist account all we are is physical systems operated according to physical laws. Yet we cannot violate physical laws, hence, our behavior ultimately comes down to the laws of physics. At the end of the day, this means that we can't be expected to act a certain way, there is no such thing as a moral imperative - that would be like saying the earth is morally bound to rotate around the sun - its nonsensical.
            Of course we would still desire that murderers be kept out of society, BUT in my view, one can truly DESERVE to be punished because he has done moral wrong. With no free will however, punishment merely becomes the mechanism by which we manipulate brain chemistry so as to keep ourselves safe, there is no such thing as right and wrong.
            I do think that has some practical tangible consequences if we really accept there is no such thing as good and evil, but that's not the main point of what I am arguing today.

          • Ben Posin

            I thought that I was done, but I am apparently weak willed. One last shot: yes, you are working off of an axiom that a certain type of objective morality exists. But you haven't explained why we need to accept that axiom. That's why you are getting pushback on this point, and why it looks like you are just arguing based on unpleasant consequences. Can we agree that to whatever extent your argument (that we need an immaterial soul to have free will to have objective morality) is correct, it does not show the existence of an immaterial soul until the existence of objective morality is demonstrated? And that the existence of objective morality is not something that has been demonstrated?

          • TomD123

            I gave two reasons for free will, one of which was the existence of objective morality. So The leaving the other reason aside and working based on this, then yes- I can agree that if you do not accept morality, you do not have to accept free will. That said, while I a demonstration for objective morality, I am giving reasons why we should accept it as axiomatical - and why in fact everyone in this combox probably does even if they won't admit it. I will give the reason again, but I need to clarify, it isn't just objective morality but any kind of real moral imperative whatsoever, so there is simply NO morality if there is no free will. So the reason why I said we should accept it is because the alternative goes against what anyone with any common sense believes. To deny that there is a such thing as morality, one must deny this statement "Rape is immoral" - and if in order to avoid the immateriality of the soul, you chose to deny that statement, then so be it.

          • Ben Posin

            Whelp, I should have known better. We're back to me hating on rape victims, eh? And what everyone with common sense knows?

            If you define "real morality" as one requiring a free will that's only possible with non-material minds (whatever those are): then yes, I doubt that there's "real morality." And you haven't given me any reason to think that such a thing exists. The fact that people find rape abominable doesn't mean they aren't doing so with material minds. Regardless of what you think "anyone with common sense believes."

          • TomD123

            You simply do not address my argument as is clear by this statement: "requiring a free will that's only possible with non-material minds"
            I have repeatedly explained myself and explained why I think that I am correct yet you fail to say where I go wrong. Materialism entails there is no free will because it means that all we are is physical reality completely describible in terms of the laws of physics. Are the laws free? Of course not
            Further, since not having free will entails that one simply cannot choose between good and evil- then it follows naturally that there is no such thing as a moral requirement. No need to put quotes around "real morality." There is no sense to be made of the idea of a moral imperative if someone's behavior isn't free. Hence, it follows from materialism that morality doesn't exist.
            From that, since I believe morality to exist, I conclude materialism is false. Now you keep claiming that I don't provide evidence for this morality. The reason is that I think the denial of morality is simply something that no one reasonable would do. This is demonstrated by the fact that no one would say "rape is immoral" is false or any number of other grossly immoral acts are wrong.
            So to say "The fact that...doesn't mean they aren't doing so with material minds" is irrelevant. The reason being that my argument is meant to show why in order to be consistent one by logical necessity must hold materialism and objective morality to be incompatible.

    • George

      actually saying something is immaterial does not account for anything. all you're doing is adding a word for an undefined concept, only detailing that it's not physical. that's not helpful or informative at all.

      and let me ask you: do you think the immaterial has "immaterial principles" to complement matter's material principles? or is the immaterial completely chaotic and without it's own "laws"? how can the immaterial make a choice?

      and I believe you used an argument from consequences to say we must accept free will as true.

      • TomD123

        First, saying something is immaterial DOES account for something, that is, it says there is a type of thing that exists which is not made of matter yet it somehow is part of the human being. It doesn't tell us everything, but it does tell us that the human is not reducible to brain chemistry...
        The concept is pretty well defined...that is...something that is not made of matter. Now, that doesn't mean I have explained what it actually IS exactly, but I have said 1) that it exists and 2) what it is not
        I do not know what kind of "immaterial principles" it could have...but I do know this: matter is governed by the laws of physics therefore it excludes free choice. Immaterial things could have regularities and ways of behaving, that said, we simply do not know. What we DO know however is that there are material things which behave according to laws and I argue that this is incompatible with any notion of free choice, hence there must be something, if we believe choice exists, which is NOT made of matter.
        It is not an argument from consequences. It is essentially a "reductio ad absurdum" argument which says that if we deny free will, we are committed to the view that there is no objective morality and that our choices are illusions. These are consequences in the sense that they are particular views entailed by the denial of free will. Hence since I say these views are absurd and hopefully others would agree, it shows that the denial of free will is absurd. Hence the reductio argument...

        • George

          "matter is governed by the laws of physics therefore it excludes free choice."

          so what?

          seriously, what is your point?

          "if we deny free will, we are committed to the view that there is no objective morality and that our choices are illusions."

          do you call those things absurd because they're not possible, or because they're not pleasant to contemplate?

          • TomD123

            "so what?"
            Well, that shows that if materialism is true, free will does not exist...so that's what
            "Seriously what is your point."
            I am not sure what you are missing. This is what I am saying:
            Materialism entails no free will, no free will entails we are under a constant illusion and morality does not exist. I deny that we are under constant illusion and that morality does not exist, therefore, by the rules of logic, I must also admit that we have free will which means that I deny materialism. Since that is the essential issue at hand in the blog post, that is my point.
            I call them absurd because they are at least highly counter-intuitive and to the average person would seem absurd. For instance, to deny morality, one would have to say that the statement "child rape is wrong" is not a true statement, in which case, I hope you would agree THAT is ABSURD.

          • George

            first you speak of objective morality, now you're just saying morality, broadening the subject. anyway...

            you deny that your free will is an illusion, alright, then show how you could choose something else. can you reset the clock, go back in time, and observe a different outcome from the same initial conditions? no, you can't but hypothetically, what do you think could happen IF we saw that? if you REALLY believe in free will, why would you ever ask the question "Why did he/she do that action?" Do people's actions have causes or not?

          • TomD123

            1) objective morality is a kind of morality, I think that objective morality is the only real meaningful kind but that is really unimportant right now as the denial of free will logically entails the denial of any moral imperative (because ought implies can) hence denies any form of morality as we know it
            2) I can't prove to you that it is not an illusion, at least not in the way that you ask. But I can't prove that we are not brains in vats either....yet I assume that we are not deluded in such a manner. Maybe you do not understand my argument, but I am saying that it is a tough logical consequence, one that many would not want to accept, that we are under constant illusion. Hence the fact that materialism entails this view (as I have argued) would make it unappealing and counter-intuitive
            3) People's actions do have causes--sometimes that cause is a free choice. That does not mean that a choice does not have influences. No one ever said it did not. There are influences and reasons behind people's choices, this does not mean that there are no free choices

          • George

            "the denial of free will logically entails the denial of any moral
            imperative (because ought implies can) hence denies any form of morality
            as we know it"

            what kind of behavior do you think it denies? that's what I care about.
            and you're right, I don't think I understand your argument. being under an illusion: it's a tough consequence, it's unappealing, it's counter intiutive, people don't want to accept it. but it is true or not?

            what did you really use to support your position? you said that people feel like they're making these free choices. what is a free choice anyway?

          • TomD123

            Denial of free will logically entails there is no such thing as a moral imperative (Person A must do X and avoid Y). The reason is that Person A cannot be expected to do X and avoid Y if he has no ability to do X and avoid Y. He does not have that ability if the determining factor in what he does is the laws of physics as applied to the material system that is his brain.
            "but is it true or not?"
            I think that the idea that we are all under a constant illusion about our own internal psychology is so counter-intuitive and unappealing that this alone counts as EVIDENCE against the idea that free-will is false. The argument I am providing is not a logical proof, it is an induction which I think is sound.

            To support my position I made two points:
            1) If we deny free-will, we have to (under pain of incoherence) deny moral imperatives. Since I don't think that this is tenable, I say we ought to hold that free-will is real
            2) If we deny free-will, it means we are deluded into thinking that we have the ability to chose between multiple options. Since I think that this is a very bold claim unsupported and ultimately unsupportable, I say that we ought not to deny free-will

          • David Nickol

            I think that the idea that we are all under a constant illusion about our own internal psychology is so counter-intuitive and unappealing that this alone counts as EVIDENCE against the idea that free-will is false.

            What about the example, which someone used a while back, of the lottery ball machine? We accept these machines to "randomly" pick numbers that can decide who will win hundreds of millions of dollars. I don't think any reasonable person would challenge the fact that, for the purposes used, these machines produce random results. But the results are actually not random. The factors involved are just so immensely complex that results cannot be predicted.

            Why is it so difficult to imagine it is the same with human choices? And if choices are not in some way determined, what are they? Random? What does it mean to make a "free" choice? I ran across this quote in Owen Flanagan's The Problem of the Soul. It is from the philosopher Roderick Chisholm and represents the view that Flanagan disagrees with:

            The twentieth-century philosopher Roderick Chisholm sums up the main idea this way: When we act freely "we exercise a prerogative which some would attribute only to God: each of us, when we act, is a prime mover unmoved. In doing what we do, we cause certain things to happen, and nothing—or no one—causes us to cause those events to happen."

            I think Chisholm has made a very astute observation about what must be the case if there is "free will," but I find it difficult to make sense of it. When a person makes a choice, one would imagine it would be somewhat like the lottery ball—innumerable, complex forces all pushing the person in different direction but ultimately, in a yes-or-no situation, causing the person to go one way or the other. But somehow, under free will as (accurately) described by Chisholm, the forces acting on the person (everything he or she has ever learned or experienced) don't determine the outcome. There is no causal chain to follow when a person acts freely. So how do we explain the person's action? If everything that went into making a person what he or she is, at the moment that person makes a choice, on what is that choice based?

          • TomD123

            A few points:
            1) I don't see the relevance to the lotto machine here directly, but if our choices are just like lotto machines, then it follows that we really can't be expected to behave any way morally, just like we don't expect lotto machines to behave a certain way...our choices would be determined albeit by a complex mechanism. Also, it would be this mechanism which caused the illusion of free will which we have, but it would still be an illusion all the same.
            2) It is sometimes hard to define precisely what is meant by a free choice, I think the best starting point is what we experience, that is the ability to follow a course of action. That ability is truly free if we have the actual ability to follow multiple courses of action, that is consciously and deliberately move ourselves.
            3) A lot of commenters who have responded to me keep confusing 2 points and I am not sure why: I DO NOT DENY THAT CHOICES HAVE INFLUENCES. There is a difference between saying a choice is free and it is completely uninfluenced. I believe choices are influenced by all sorts of internal and external factors. This does not mean that I think that it is DETERMINED by these factors. It is because these factors do not necessitate the effect that the choice is free.

          • David Nickol

            but if our choices are just like lotto machines, then it follows that we really can't be expected to behave any way morally, just like we don't expect lotto machines to behave a certain way.

            But we do expect lotto machines to behave in a certain way. They perform very effectively and efficiently exactly the task they were designed for. We expect them to obey the laws of gravity. We expect the balls to be carried by air currents. We expect balls that strike each other to bounce. Lotto ball machines obey all the laws of physics slavishly.

            With human beings and moral laws, our expectations that people will behave morally (or patriotically, or in some other way according to the consensus of the group that socialized them) plays a very important part in how people do behave. Whether or not there is "free will," it is to the advantage of society to act as if choices were not determined. Because acting as if choices were not determined becomes a factor that shapes behavior. And it makes good sense to act as if choices are free, just as it makes good sense to act as if lotto ball machines produce random results, because for all practical purposes, it is the case.

          • TomD123

            Your first paragraph demonstrates my point: We expect lotto machines to act according to the laws of physics, not in the sense that we have a moral expectation, but that we believe they WILL behave a certain way given what they are. Now, that is not what a moral expectation is. A moral expectation is not about what someone will do but what he ought to do given what is morally right.
            Second paragraph, true we do act as if we were free, but that only provides evidence for freedom not against it. It isn't proof, but it doesn't help your case. If we are not truly free, then there is no sense to be made of moral duties because we simply do not have the ability to chose between good and evil, hence moral requirements are meaningless.

          • David Nickol

            Your first paragraph demonstrates my point . . .

            No, I am careful never to demonstrate the point of someone I am disagreeing with. :)

            The point I am making is that with the lotto ball machine, we expect it to function according to the laws of physics, but within those laws, we also expect it to make choices (or generate results) that are, for all practical purposes, "free." They are unpredictable, random, and undetermined (again, for all practical purposes).

            If we are not truly free, then there is no sense to be made of moral duties because we simply do not have the ability to chose between good and evil, hence moral requirements are meaningless.

            What I am saying is that we may be "free" in the sense that the results of a lotto ball machine are "free." They are utterly unpredictable. We treat them as random, even though if we had every bit of relevant data and a computer model that could process it all, we could predict what a lotto ball machine would do. But we can never have all the relevant data about every aspect of a lotto ball machine, and we can never have all the relevant data about a human being an instant before a decision that will allow us to predict the outcome. When we make decisions, we are undoubtedly unaware of all the complex factors that feed into the brain's decision-making "programs."

            You avoided answering my key question about the hundred identical universes. I know it is a purely hypothetical situation, but I think it gets at a key issue. If at any given decision point, a person can decide one way or the other irrespective of everything that has gone before, is that decision free? Or is it in some sense random?

            If an important decision is not determined by the sum total of who and what you are the instant that you make the decision, in what sense can it be your decision? If the decision is somehow outside the "causal chain," as the usual explanation for free will clearly requires, where does the decision come from?

          • TomD123

            Lotto machines aren't free in the same sense that we are---for one, they presumably have no subjective experience of making choices. Second, we do not have moral expectations for them. They are random, not free, there is a clear difference. Additionally, nowhere do I claim that free will means that there is no influence from other factors, only, that which actually determines the course of action is the choice--with its various influences.

          • George

            do you think that without those given influences, the choice would be different?

          • TomD123

            It could be, it really depends. Saying one is free to make a choice does not mean he isn't influenced by various factors. I imagine that you consider yourself free in what kind of car that you drive...right? Well I also assume that there are a number of factors in play that influenced the choice of what car to drive- for instance, your possible concern for enviornemntal factors, costs, other people who might drive the car, the personality of the various dealers etc.

        • George

          shouldn't the discussion just move on to the question of whether or not free will and objective morality are real things?

          • TomD123

            I was taking the existence of objective morality to be pretty much an axiom, although one could move the discussion there at some point.
            and I was using that axiom to defend my stance that free will is a real thing which I think entails there is an immaterial part of human beings

        • Susan

          The concept is pretty well defined...that is...something that is not made of matter

          That is not well defined in any sense.

          Now, that doesn't mean I have explained what it actually IS exactly

          It really doesn't.

          I have said 1) that it exists and 2) what it is not

          And if I claim that there is something that exists and that it is not a ball, I have said nothing about my claim nor have I supported that it actually exists.

          It is essentially a "reductio ad absurdum" argument which says that if we deny free will, we are committed to the view that there is no objective morality and that our choices are illusions.

          We are not. Our ideas about choices might be illusions but our choices remain. The moral consequences of our moral actions remain. Our responses to those consequences remain.

          I am not "committed" to the view that there is no objective morality. I am just tired of people asserting that there is without defining their terms meticulously and support that claim. It is a reset button that has been pressed since the beginning here at SN. It's a ridiculous assertion without meticulous definitions or support.

          You are making an argument from consequences.

          • TomD123

            "That is not well defined in any sense"
            It hinges on what means "well-defined." But that's not the point. The point is this: materialism is false given my argument. Simply saying "that is not well defined" does not refute the argument. I am not trying to give a detailed account of the immaterial part of man IN THIS COMBOX!
            "I have said nothing about my claim nor have I demonstrated what I'm talking about exists."
            Well, I think that my argument is meant to show that an immaterial component to man exists. It is a valid way of reasoning, so you are simply denying my conclusion without answering the argument here
            "I am not committed.."
            I am not so much concerned with what you personally believe as with what the view, namely the denial of free will entails logically.
            And for the defining terms business, let me be very clear: I do not need a specific definition of morality to make the point, if we do not have free will, NO SENSE OF MORAL DUTY EXISTS WHATSOEVER. The simple reason is this: If I cannot (because I am not free) chose to act rightly or wrongly, there is no sense to made of the claim "I ought to act rightly," It is just that simple, claiming we need more "definitions" is a red herring.
            Finally, you conflate two things here: I am not making an argument from consequences because I am not appealing to consequences in the sense of what will or might happen--negative or otherwise, because we accept a view. Is that clear? I am claiming what logically follows from materialism. Do you see the difference? Does everyone here understand what "logically follows" means?
            To repeat my claim one more time:
            Materialism entails we do not have the ability to make a free choice, this entails were are under a constant illusion and also that there is no sense to be made of any moral claim. Since I hold that these last two views are untenable, that means logically I must deny materialism.

          • Susan

            It hinges on what means "well-defined."

            I guess by "well-defined", I mean explaining what something is to the extent that you can think about ways that you might demonstrate that it exists.

            But that's not the point.

            It kind of is.

            The point is this: materialism is false given my argument.

            You and I both agree that matter exists. You are trying to claim that something else exists without defining it or demonstrating that it exists. You are making an assertion without supporting it.

            Simply saying "that is not well defined" does not refute the argument.

            I didn't simply say it. I explained why I found no meaning in your statement. If I say something exists that is not a ball, I have said nothing. I wasn't trying to refute anything. I was trying to explain that from where I stand, you have said nothing that I'm required to refute.

            I do not need a specific definition of morality to make the point, if we do not have free will, NO SENSE OF MORAL DUTY EXISTS WHATSOEVER.

            You need some sort of working definition if you're going to appeal to the term. Also, you haven't "made the point" you think you've made. You've only asserted something.

            How did you get from A to Z there?

            Materialism entails we do not have the ability to make a free choice.

            What is a free choice? How does my feeling that I'm making a decision not to run a stale yellow light suggest that matter is not a sufficient explanation?

            this entails were are under a constant illusion

            It suggests that our assumptions about the way we make what we perceive as choices might be inaccurate. There's no reason at all to think we can't go on discussing morality and making moral decisions.

          • TomD123

            1) We don't need to define it first in order to show that it exists...I am actually just showing that material things cannot account for what we observe in ourselves, therefore, we must not just be material things. This implies that there is some immaterial component to us. I am not trying to show some specific thing exists, only that some type of explanation is false (namely materialism...which of course does imply some sort of immaterial realm but it is vague, which would be expected in a combox anyway)
            2) We both agree that matter exists. I say that if all that exists is matter, there can be no free will yet we have free will. It follows from this that not ALL that exists is matter. If a bunch of objects were rolling down a hill and you claimed they were all balls and I pointed out: "but if one of them is actually sliding and not rolling, it could not be a ball whatever it is" and then pointed to a sliding object, I would have demonstrated that in the bunch a non-ball exists. Even though I wouldn't be demonstrating what shape the object was.
            3) You would have to refute my string that I have been repeating all along about what materialism entails.
            4) Here is how I got from A to Z: Any definition of morality involves the statement like this: "Person A ought to do X and avoid Y" Well, if we aren't free, Person A can't chose between X and Y. Hence, she cannot be expected to pick between either one, as the old axiom in moral philosophy goes: "ought implies can" so if there is no can, there is no ought.
            5) Free choice means we can pick between options and follow one...the actual act of choosing is what ultimately determines which course of action we follow and that in this act of choosing there are real alternatives.
            6) We would be under an illusion because we certainly have the experience of having a real choice, that is, being able to decide between alternatives. If free will is fake, our decisions are determined

  • cminca

    Really Brandon?

  • Proteios

    The most interesting (and frightening) part of atheism is their 'faith' that God cannot be. One of the weakest links are the myriad assumptions that support a position that by definition cannot have facts to support them (this impacts all sides of an argument about the existence of God). My own departure from atheism was based upon the pseudo-intellectualism that came with the new age atheism. Not content to simply not believe, we fabricated philosophies that never dealt with inherent assumptions against the unprovable possibility. As a scientist, this bothered me. The scientific method is the best hammer ever invented, but we must admit to ourselves that existence is not a nail. Even if there are many nails in it. The embrace of science is most definitely not to the exclusion of faith. No more than the existence of women must mean men dont exist.
    Modern atheism in the popular fashion I had to reject simply because in place of intellectualism was a pseudo-scientific understanding of reality (the multiverse is not a theory, but an idea), a blindness to their faith (that all things must be explained by one methodology) and the constant and insistent mockery of religion (FSM, darwin fishes and on and on and on ad nauseam). I walked away thinking atheism was intellectual laziness. Im glad to see a website like this that can focus our energies on arguing truths.

    • Elson

      The most interesting (and frightening) part of atheism is their 'faith' that God cannot be.

      I think that comment is unfair and grossly inaccurate. Most atheists/agnostics will simply say that they don't know if an entity such as a god in the usual parlance exists, not that a deist type entity cannot exist. I think that the god that most reject is the god of religions and in this venue...in particular the god of Catholicism and Christianity as described by the bible.

  • David Nickol

    If we have spiritual souls, where do our memories reside—in our brains or in our souls? If they reside in our brains, does that mean they are left behind when the soul separates from the body at death? If memories reside in our souls, then why do we misremember things or forget them entirely? I suppose one could theorize that the soul remembers everything, but the brain is not adequate to the task of dealing with all the memories stored by the soul. Does that mean that when people die, they will remember perfectly every experience they ever had?

    • Elson

      And on deeper down the rabbit hole we go. No offense to you David for asking a good and obvious question. A question to which the answer seems obvious unless we are actually living in WonderLand or the Land Of Oz....or perhaps Bizzarro World.

    • Phil

      Hey David,

      I don't think there is any reason why memories are not ultimately a both/and case in regards to the body and spiritual soul. It can be very hard to get away from the dualistic view that much of modern thinking places in regard to the body/soul. The human person is not fully reducible to either the body/soul. In other words, it seems that for memory to properly and fully function it takes a "fully functioning" body and soul. It seems I don't know that if one would be purely able to reduce where the memories are located in a human animal. I will do some more reflection and see if this can be teased out since I know you will desire more!

      In regards to after bodily death, as you might be aware from a Catholic POV because the person is body/soul composite the body is reunited with the soul after death to form. There have been many that have speculated about when this happens, but we also have to remember that outside of our physical cosmos time would function slightly different for us. Of course, Jesus is the archetype of this where his soul was reunited with a resurrected body. It was different in some ways from his earthly body, yet similar in others. But ultimately it was a physical body post-resurrection.

    • TomD123

      Personally I think that memory itself resides in the brain and not in the soul. This would mean that they are left behind but this makes sense as a soul separated form a body is very deficient and would have to learn things in a manner entirely different from what we are used to....it is kind of like a very sick human being (by analogy).
      That said, I think we will know about our life here on earth in the afterlife because we can learn via being told by God or the angels, etc. in some manner.
      What I say is pure speculation it does not represent Church teaching or the opinions of the great philosophers of Christian tradition. I also have to add that Phil makes some good points about dualism and body/soul thinking!

      • David Nickol

        If memory resides in the brain, in what sense does a person's identity continue after death? Even people with amnesia haven't lost all of their memories. It seems to me if a person leaves all memories behind at death, he or she becomes some kind of blank slate. Imagine a person with all memories gone. I don't even think such an entity would be a person. It would possess nothing acquired through experience from conception to death.

        • TomD123

          Maybe you are right, what I said was just speculation.
          But the problem is what if someone never formed memories? would they not be a person? Would a three day old infant who dies before she forms any memories not truly be a person? I doubt it...
          Besides, I don't think that it is theologically correct to say that the soul would be a blank slate because I hold that God along with the angels and saints and possibly demons if one was in hell would "tell" the soul things about its past...in other words...it wouldn't be blank but it wouldn't have its knowledge from life on earth

    • Alypius

      If we have spiritual souls, where do our memories reside—in our brains or in our souls? If they reside in our brains, does that mean they are left behind when the soul separates from the body at death?

      Not that the Catholic Church has defined this definitively or anything, but Aquinas taught that memories were physical, and not part of our spiritual nature. He called that aspect of ourselves the "imagination" (i.e. "storehouse of images").

      Insofar as the soul separates from the body at death, this is a completely un-"natural" state, and one that is only temporary. The post-resurrection union of body & soul will almost certainly include physical memories (though it is probably left only to speculation whether they would be all "new" memories or whether some "old" ones will be brought with as well...)

      • Jim (hillclimber)

        I am a bit confused by Aquinas's position on that. I guess that, while he thought of memories as physical, he didn't think they had shapes? More like a bunch of "shapeless marbles" in a bucket maybe?

        Based on our current understanding of memories as configurations of electrochemical potentials in our brains, it seems to me that memories would have to qualify as being part of the soul. If the soul of a thing is understood to be its form, and if memories are the "shapes" that our brains take, then memories are part of our soul.

        • Alypius

          Well, for Aquinas (as for anyone today in the Philosophy of Mind space who is a neo-Aristotelian) human functions were separated into two categories: "corporeal" (i.e. physical) and "spiritual" (non-physical). And the only stuff that went in the "spiritual" bucket were those associated with intellect (i.e. understanding concepts and the relations between them) and will. Everything else - memory, sensation, etc. went in the "corporeal" bucket.

          You're correct to pay attention to the various configurations of synapses between neurons. But insofar as the soul of a thing is its form, that statement is really referring to the shape/structure on a more macro level (i.e. an organism posessing a brain with a certain structure allows for a certain kind of functioning by that organism) and not on a detailed level (i.e. neuron A, B, & C firing together constitute memory X for this particular individual).

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            Thanks for this response Alypius. I always think you have great comments.

            I wonder about your macro / detailed distinction in your second paragraph though. Souls are not just generic forms, are they? Each individual has a unique soul. Aren't the details what make souls unique?

          • Alypius

            Thanks for the compliment, Jim! I'm humbled.

            You're correct that each soul is unique, but only it its particulars. Not in its essense (i.e. what it is). Think of it this way (and I'm going to play fast and loose with Thomistic terminology here, just for the sake of understandability): in the same way that everyone's ears are unique (some are pointy; others petite; still others like mine stick out like dumbo ears), they all have the same essense, being instantiations of the same sort of thing: ear, which functions in a certain way which is natural to an ear (i.e. funnelling sound toward the eardrum).

            In the same way, the souls of rational animals (i.e. humans) are all the same sort of thing: the form of an animal capable of rational thought - even if the individuals differ in their particulars (e.g. height, weight, ear shape, neuronal synapses accrued thus far in life, etc.)

      • David Nickol

        Alypius, when we pray to, say, Saint John Paul II to ask him to intercede with God, are you saying that, as a disembodied soul, he has no memories of his life on earth? Aren't certain saints designated "patron saints" and called on to intercede for particular things precisely because of their earthly-life experiences? Would you say that as disembodied souls, they don't remember those experiences?

        I know that Aquinas said something along the lines of Abraham's soul, strictly speaking, not being Abraham. But what (or who) is Abraham's soul? What (or who) is Mother Teresa, or St. Joseph? Does St. Joseph remember he was the foster father of Jesus and the husband of Mary?

        • Alypius

          Good question, David. I'm not saying that at all. Before I clarify, note that the following is purely my own rumination. The Catholic Church, while insisting upon certain things (the communion of saints, the resurrection of the body, etc.) has not exactly defined the specifics. And as much as I love Aquinas, I do sometimes wonder if modern physics has in a sense obsoleted his particular understanding of how the body/soul are separated in death (I'm talking about his details, not the general gist). Here's why:

          A) Bodily resurrection: insofar as humans are, by nature, physical beings, the resurrected form would naturally be physical as well, although the Church has indicated that our resurrected bodies will be glorified, and won't be exactly like they are now, affected as they are by original sin. Our bodies will be in a form that is appropriate for experiencing eternity, not entropy, which is constitutive of our current existence. Since memory is a physical thing, our resurrected bodies would be understood to undoubtedly have physical memories as well, presumably of all the things that happened to us while on earth. My only hesitation here is that, since the body is glorified and is somewhat different, I don't know (and haven't seen defined anywhere by Church or philosopher) what this means in terms of our memories/neurons. Whether all memories are present, or just some (i.e. maybe the really bad memories are whitewashed?). Suffice it to say that "enough" memories are present to help retain our identity.

          B) What is the "soul" of JPII that we pray to? Well, this is where I wonder if modern physics hasn't somewhat obsoleted Aquinas' specific details a bit. Aquinas was faced with two seemingly-opposed convictions: 1) an "immortal" soul for humans after death, and 2) Aristotle's doctrine of hylemorphism, under which it is conceptually incoherent to think of a form/matter composite existing without matter. Faced with those, he kind of jerry-rigged a solution in that a "spiritual" soul was a special form of the sort that could - for a time exist apart from matter.

          What makes me question that now is that for a time bit. Physics has basically demonstrated to us that time is a dimension (and thus a constitutive component) of the original-sin-tinged reality that we are all stuck in right now. Anyone dead is, by nature, outside of that reality. So we - praying to JPII - are stuck "in time", but JPII is not. There is of course a sense in which the bodily resurrection is waiting until the "end of time" when Christ comes for the Last Judgment, but really this is just metaphorical language speaking of of ontological dependency, not strictly a chronology, per se. I don't think I'm contradicting anything that the Catholic Church teaches in suggesting that perhaps, by virtue of being already in eternity (a non-time-based existence) the JPII that we pray to is already in a sense reunited with his body, memories and all.

    • Aldo Elmnight

      The brain is the interface between the soul and the world. If we get dementia we still have all the memories and will have them in heavan. They just cannot be expressesd/processed by our ailing brain. If God can and will reconstitute our bodies on the last day he can and does permit us to retain our memories even if our brains cannot hold or process them.

      • David Nickol

        If we get dementia we still have all the memories and will have them in heaven.

        How do you know this???

        One of the consequences of Alzheimer's disease is the inability to process new information and form memories. Would you contend that for an Alzheimer's sufferer, the brain doesn't make new memories, but the soul does so independently, outside of the awareness of the brain? Suppose an Alzheimer's sufferer becomes angry and aggressive (as some do). It would seem to me that they cannot be blamed for their behavior because their brain is diseased, but will they remember their abusive and hostile behavior to their loved ones after they die?

        The brain is the interface between the soul and the world.

        One would have to ask, then, why injuries to different parts of the brain have very different effects on the mind. For example, an injury to one part of the brain may affect short-term memory. Does the soul still possess a capacity for short-term memory that the brain cannot access? This would seem to imply that different parts of the brain are connected to different parts of the soul, and yet souls do not have parts.

        • Aldo Elmnight

          "How do you know this???"
          Because you reflect a certain aspect of God. God wants you to develop that and then Love him for all eterninty. If you lose what makes you,you, via a physical disease then this won't happen.

          The soul is informed by information is receives via the senses. That is why angels cannot learn anything on their own. Everything they know is infused to them is by God and via their intuition (which is very great)

          If a person has Alzheimer's disease then the brain can no longer act as the interface between reality and the soul. During the final stages of Alzheimers the brain could not inform the soul of what is happening. You would not have these memories in heavan unless God, via grace, grants you that ability. I would imagine God will infuse us with all sorts of knowledge when we die, perhaps how well our loved ones took care of us while we were incapacitated will be part of it.

    • Aldo Elmnight

      "Does that mean that when people die, they will remember perfectly every experience they ever had?"
      Yes. You will be YOU in heavan. If we were not to retain our personal characteristics (those pleasing to God) then there would be no point living and experencing life. The idea that we would not be ourselved and just absorbed into God when we die (like a drop of ink into the ocean) is a heresey of eastern philosophy.

      • David Nickol

        Yes. You will be YOU in heaven.

        I am me right this moment, as I type, and yet I do not remember perfectly every experience I ever had. Perhaps you did not interpret my question correctly. I was asking if the soul was a recording device with none of the limitations of the brain and if it (the soul) had perfect memory. Did you mean to answer yes to that? Do people in heaven remember being born, or remember what they were doing the first Friday of December at 10:00 a.m. in second grade?

        Also, isn't what we totally forget (or don't remember) very much a part of who and what we are? If I spoke French as a small child, but never used it after, say, age 7, and have completely forgotten it, then I currently don't speak French. If I had a perfect memory of speaking French, I would be able to speak it.

  • Danny Getchell

    5. Man Has A Natural Desire To Live Forever

    I have a natural desire to own a Jaguar D-type.

    Despite 30+ years of checking my garage every morning, one has yet to show up there.

  • David Egan

    5. Man Has A Natural Desire To Live Forever

    I have no desire to live forever. Does that mean I have no soul?

  • David Nickol

    Regarding choices and "free will," if a choice is not determined, how does it get made? Is it random?

    Suppose, for the sake of argument, there are a hundred identical universes (of which ours is one), and in each universe, a ruthless murderer is hours away from execution. At identical times in the hundred identical universes, identical priests visit the identical murderers and make identical pleas for the murderers to confess their sins and repent. There is free will in all hundred universes, since they are all identical to our own. If we know the decision of the murderer in our universe, say he repents, can we assume the same decision was made by the other 99? Or since they all have free will, is it possible that some of them repent and some of them send the priest away?

    If they all act identically under identical circumstances, I see no problem, except it raises the question of whether they really do have free will. But if they act differently what is the explanation for the fact that some repented and some did not? If everything is identical, what was it that moved some to repent while others decided not to repent? It would seem to me there would be no possible explanation, and that the decisions had to be inexplicable and consequently random.

    Narrowing it down to just our universe and one murderer, if the murderer truly has free will, and his decision can truly go one way or the other, when he makes his decision, what is it that "causes" it to go one way rather than the other? (I put "causes" in quotation marks because it would seem that if there is free will, "cause" should not enter into it.)

    • mriehm

      The roll of the quantum dice.

    • Phil

      Narrowing it down to just our universe and one murderer, if the murderer
      truly has free will, and his decision can truly go one way or the
      other, when he makes his decision, what is it that "causes" it to go one
      way rather than the other? (I put "causes" in quotation marks because
      it would seem that if there is free will, "cause" should not enter into
      it.)

      To have free will doesn't mean for something to be uncaused, rather it
      means that our actions and thoughts can come about through an individual person's own power.*

      If the murderer truly was acting freely, he could either have pulled the trigger or not. He was the efficient cause of the trigger being pulled. From within the very being of the person there came a point where he made that decision. (Again, assuming he was truly acting freely and there were no mental issues, etc.)

      To have free will simply means for the center of the person (i.e., the rational/spiritual soul) has the power to choose to be the direct efficient cause of certain actions--to be able to choose certain "self-motion" or "self-change" over another. We wouldn't say as well that this "power of choice" in the human person is uncaused. Obviously the Creator would be the cause of our power for free will.

      Sometimes it seems that we are so used to having free will that we tend to miss the obvious in regard to it.

      (*Obviously a full account of something coming to be would need more discussion which is the distinction between primary and secondary causality, but that's a whole 'nuther discussion!)

      • David Nickol

        I just wrote something that seems to me to deal with the issues you raised.

        It seems to me that an act made using a "free will" must be thought of as uncaused by anything prior in the causal chain of the natural world.

        (Again, assuming he was truly acting freely and there were no mental issues, etc.)

        Why would you consider some "mental issues" as interfering with free will and others not? Making a decision is all "mental issues." How do you decide which ones count and which ones don't? Suppose the murder was raised in a family of murderers to whom life was cheap. That is what the murderer has been raised to believe. If he commits a murder himself, is his upbringing a mitigating factor, or is it what made him an evil person?

        • Phil

          I just wrote something that seems to me to deal with the issues you raised.

          I might not be catching exactly the connection, so forgive me if I missed it, but it seems you might be suggesting that the "choices" that a human person are in reality not free, but simply so complex that we cannot even come close to accurately predicting them?

          It seems this faces the same hurdle that all theories that try to get rid of true human freedom do--that it gets rid of our ability to come to know truth, including the truth of the theory that is being proposed. It undermines itself.

          It seems to me that an act made using a "free will" must be thought of as uncaused by anything prior in the causal chain of the natural world.

          I think that's a fair assessment. We have the power of free will which does not originate in anything to be found in natural physical cosmos.

          Why would you consider some "mental issues" as interfering with free will and others not?

          I was trying to get at the distinction between making a completely free choice and one that is in some way compromised.

          A simple example is that of a lifetime alcoholic. When it comes to stoping drinking, a person who is physically/chemically addicted to alchohol will not be completely free to stop drinking as a person that has no physical/chemical addiction to it. This normally doesn't mean that a person that is addicted has no free will, but rather that is can be severely compromised.

          A mental example would be someone who would either be genuinely possessed or suffers from deep pschological issues. There can be a time were they did something completely unconsciously. If the person did not actually choose to do something in any manner, then they were not exercising free will whatsoever. Obviously the cases where the latter is the case are very rare, but possible.

          Suppose the murder was raised in a family of murderers to whom life was cheap. That is what the murderer has been raised to believe. If he commits a murder himself, is his upbringing a mitigating factor, or is
          it what made him an evil person?

          That doesn't mean he didn't have the choice to pull the trigger or not. He could have pulled it or not whatever his upbringing was and whether or not he genuinely thinks it was the right thing to do. We are not dealing with ethics right now but with free will. (Though obviously for ethics and morality to arise genuine free will is necessary.)

          • George

            how does it undermine itself? that seems to be a non-sequiter out of the blue for the sake of a gotcha. truth isn't a matter of choice.

            perhaps this stems from the rhetoric I hear, from catholic radio for instance, that belief and non-belief are choices.

          • Phil

            Hey George,

            Any theory that gets rid of true human free will ultimately destroy our knowledge of truth, including the knowledge that free will is an illusion is true.

            Think about it this way, one is saying that my belief that "free will is an illusion" was not freely chosen by me. It came from a long complex chain of events, or random events that eventually led me to say that "free will is an illusion". Or it came about because this is what brought me pleasure, or this is what helped me survive.

            Notice what we didn't say--we didn't say we actually believe it because it is actually true.

            This is because a "chains of events", "random events", "pleasure", and "survival" do not equal truth.

            Truth is something that is irreducible, which is why it makes complete sense that an immaterial mind with free will would be the only thing that can ultimately account for it.

          • George

            "Any theory that gets rid of true human free will". That's assuming it's already there to be rid of. What is the theoretical framework for "true human free will"? What follows is usually just throwing in a mysterious word - "immaterial" - which can do apparently anything when it suits one's purpose.

            "my belief that "free will is an illusion" was not freely chosen by me." Am I supposed to see a problem there? And do you not think that logic itself is a process? That complex chain of events includes observations as the base materials that make up our logic.

            What place, what role, does "because it is actually true" serve? I don't think either of us would accept that as the end of a given issue. We can ask "what MAKES that true", "how do you know that", "what did you observe?". I ask you, what does free will have to do with that?

            I don't recall seeing anyone say that pleasure, survival, randomness or determinism equals truth. We don't need those to equal truth, because truth is a quality of propositions.

  • dougpruner

    Referring to Mr Staples' parenthetical statement "(I say "natural" because human beings uniquely possess an immortal soul by nature. That means, according to Catholic teaching, man does not need grace in order for his soul to live forever. It would do so naturally, even if he ends up in the isolation and emptiness of hell forever.) This is a difficult point for many atheists."
    It's a difficult—impossible—point for me, a Christian. "Yahweh God shaped man from the soil of the ground and blew the breath of life into his nostrils, and man became a living being." The Hebrew word underlying "living being" is nephesh, or "soul". As in the Douay and KJV. That means that man does not HAVE a soul, he IS soul. Confirmed by Eze 18:4, KJV, Douay, and others. Any Bible reveals this truth if checked against, say, Strong's 5315: "nephesh; soul, life, person, mind, heart, creature, body, himself, yourselves, dead, will, desire, man, themselves, any, appetite, misc"
    The idea that man does not depend on God for life is indeed in the bible; it's found at Gen 3. "And the serpent said to her, What is this talk of death? God knows well that as soon as you eat this fruit your eyes will be opened, and you yourselves will be like gods, knowing good and evil."

  • Max Driffill

    1. "The Intellect possesses the power of abstraction."

    How this demonstrates a single thing about the putative nature of the undemonstrated soul I have no idea.

    Does a patient in a persistent vegetative state lack an immortal soul? How about children so developmentally disabled they don't possess the ability to "abstract?" What level of abstraction is required? Do chimps, some corvids, some cetaceans and maybe some others get to join the club? Abstraction is not a question of souls, which I again have to state, are not a given, posses no evidence in their favor etc, but a question of evolved capacities of and within the brain. We need not posit another entity.

    "2. The Soul Forms Ideas of Realities That Are Immaterial."

    The brain does this. And it isn't clear in what sense the stated "proof" is even correct.

    Ideas, and concepts, whether they have real referents or imaginary ones are media dependent. They exists as a patter of neuronal activity, or they exist on a webpage or a TV image or show, or a book etc, and contacting their physical representations triggers patterns of neuronal activity. Again this is the action of brains. It also isn't clear at all why souls are implied supported by this "proof." Indeed it isn't clear that proposition is even true.

    3. The Will strives for immaterial goods.

    Again I don't grant that this is true. The listed values need not be justified by things for which we have no evidence, especially when we know that valuing these things has very real temporal benefits, for not only communities but also for the individuals who make up those communities and who hold those values. So local values produce important peace, unity, opportunity. No need to appeal to a concept with out evidence.

    4 The Intellect Can Reflect Upon Its Own Act of Knowledge.

    "it could not do so if it were material." Baseless assumption. The intellect is the brain in action. it does the reflection. It is the action of neurons.

    5. "Man [Humans all together?] has a natural desire to live forever"

    This would prove nothing even if were wholly true. No animal behaves as if it wants to die. All strive mightily to live.

    6. "The Testimony of Mankind Over the Centuries and Millennia"

    This testimony is not useful. Nor does it universally proclaim an eternal afterlife.

    Norse legend tells us of a short afterlife, followed by a short war and then Ragnorak, which, as near as I can tell, will end with the vast majority of people off to nothingness and oblivion. Israelites had no afterlife in their Old Testament.

    7. The Existence of the Moral Law

    What moral law is that? What evidence of this law do you think you have.

    • Susan

      Excellent post, Max.
      Every point deserves a response.

  • severalspeciesof

    Yet that's okay, because this truth can be demonstrated through reason alone, i.e., through philosophy.

    Philosophy can be a tool (but not necessary) that can be used by reason, but is not reason alone. At that point I knew this would amount to be a series of assertions 'proved' by wordplay/ignorance at best, dishonesty at worst...

    Glen

  • mriehm

    Recipe for an apologetic and philosophical proof:
    1) Define concepts ("soul") and terms (death) in non-scientific manners that suit your argument.
    2) Bandy a few words and ideas about.
    3) Voila!

  • mriehm

    The illogic here has been bothering me for days. Staples defines death bizarrely, and completely without reference, as "The reduction of a composite being into its component parts." Well, that's a nice setup indeed, for what comes next.

    But no dictionary or scientist would ever define death as being anything close to that. How about, "Death is the cessation of all biological functions that sustain a living organism", instead? A much better definition, and one from which the rest of this fallacy would not follow.

    This is a mighty poor form of argument, indeed.

  • Mr. Mummers

    How does anybody who can breath unaided, believe this tripe?

    • Phil

      Hey Mr. Mummers,

      It's called following the evidence where it leads.

    • Study the old diagram Mr. Mummers.

  • LuckySEvans
  • LuckySEvans
  • The idea that because most people throughout history have believed in an afterlife that one exists is the appeal to majority fallacy. Additionally, there is no argument made for a moral law that is universal and everyone knows. The vast diversity of beliefs over moral subjects seems like powerful evidence against this. An objective morality might exist, but it's pretty silly to argue that everyone knows what it is. Otherwise we would find far less argument about this.

  • Miguel Lahunken

    God feels everyone's pain, therefore, He doesn't want anyone to suffer. You see, there are two things in the universe: energy; and, information, which is the conformation of energy, differentiations from energy; therefore, energy is itself differentiated from and by its differentiations. Differentiation causes consciousness. God is energy. See 1John1:5 where it says, "God is light". Light is energy, therefore, God is energy. We are only "information". Matter is called alpha code information. If we were energy we would never sleep.

    Energy is eternally conscious by its creations, differentiations, which are inevitabilities of God's theophysiology. The infinitesimal point nothingness, . , is rastered by time into timespace, U , which exerting its oneness in one direction, / , stirs closed circuitry, O , that all going the same way, vO^XvO^, clashes, X (a Big Bang), that forces confluency, = , whereby individual circuits undifferentiate back into nonexistence.

    In the one substance, energy, motion, differentiation, can only be in closed circuitry, that there be something to move out of the way and fill in behind. Our being is a closed circuit, of the one substance in the one substance, called a magnetic flux, maintained in the arising reticular formation of the medula oblongata of our brains by substance P neurons, pain neurons.

    Notice we are always doing something, actually to reduce differentiation, to relieve ourselves. What we call pains are actually further spurts of more differentiation. Energy, God, being the "other side" of all these differentiations, feels all these pains. As commonly believed, it seems that God "punishes" people who disobey Him, but, He doesn't want to cause anybody pain, for, He feels everybody's pain.

    God destroyed large populations in the past to reduce His pain. Those people were causing more pain than their destruction would cause. That which is called "Hell" is in globally bent timespace where there is a much faster polarity cancellation rate, fire, where one may undifferentiate into nonexistence (perish) easiest. It is actually an extreme orgy. Religious (businesses) have profited by either accusing God of incredible cruelty, or saying that the attainment of Nirvana (nonexistence) was very difficult. The obvious truth must be spread to common public knowledge.

    • lynda doerner

      You have some very interesting ideas I have been reading, but I will disagree with you here. There are such things as fallen angels, who cannot die. God made them, they are immortal. Where they spend the rest of their existence is the question. That is what Hell is, not some lovely escape.

      • Lazarus

        Why did God make them?

        • lynda doerner

          I do not know. I also don't know why He gave us free will and allows so much suffering. I simply love Him and His presence and do my best to listen to Him.