Monday, July 03, 2006

Monism, dualism, & freewill

Calvinism denies freewill, right? Everyone knows that Calvinism denies freewill. If they know nothing else about Calvinism, they know that much. Indeed, there’s nothing else to know, is there? That’s all there is to Calvinism, right? The denial of freewill? Nothing less and nothing more.

Of course, it’s not that simple. Historically, the question swirls around the Calvinist/Arminian debate, which, in turn, goes back to the Pelagian controversy.

But there’s another way of approaching this question. And that is in terms of the debate between monism and dualism. By “monism” I mean materialism. By “dualism” I mean Cartesian dualism.

Daniel Dennett is a militant monist and archenemy of dualism. He likes to talk about the Cartesian theater. His criticism is actually aimed at what he calls Cartesian materialism, which he regards as a remnant of Cartesian dualism.

In the Cartesian theater, the soul plays the role of a homunculus who scans sensory input projected onto a big screen, makes decisions on the basis of this input, and directs the body to act accordingly.

It’s like the scene in Men in Black where what looks like a human body is really a space ship piloted by miniature alien. The skull is the “bridge, the eyes the view screen, and so on.

Because these illustrations are humorous, they are meant to ridicule the very idea of dualism.

But let’s give this a second thought. On the one hand, traditional Christian anthropology is, indeed, dualistic.

The soul is the seat of personality. The soul does, indeed, process information coming in from the senses. The soul does, indeed, direct the body to do certain things in response to this sensory input.

And this is the real basis of freewill. It isn’t the freedom to do otherwise. Rather, it’s a faculty for moral and rational deliberation.

Choice does not involve freedom of opportunity, for, as a practical matter, we can only make one choice at a time.

But it does demand an ability to entertain various alternatives, whichever of these bare possibilities turns out to be a live option.

Due to dualism, a person is a self-conscious being. He is able to objectify his own awareness. To see himself apart from his surroundings. He has a capacity for imagining hypothetical scenarios.

In physicalism, by contrast, such detachment is impossible. The brain is it. There is no antecedent observer to inspect the input and choose the best course of action.

Rather, mind and brain are identical, and the brain is governed by the laws of physics. The person cannot step outside of his brain. He can’t step away from his neuroprocessing center to review the input with critical detachment, or direct the body accordingly.

He doesn’t have a body. He is a body. So he can’t put any distance between his mind and his brain.

There’s nothing behind the eyes except a data processing machine, mindlessly registering external stimuli—like a security camera, voice-activated tape recorder, or seismograph.

In place of a homunculus we have a zombie. If physicalism is true, then moral or rational deliberation is illusory.


  1. Dualism? This is almost entirely bankrupt in today's philosophical world.

  2. I still don't see why if "Cartesian dualism" is true as opposed to "monism", that free will is not illusionary. It simply adds one more step in the process of what "God" abosolutely controls and determines. So instead of God determining how your body functions, he controls how your soul controls how your body functions. So what you're left with is the illusion of deliberation in one's soul. Big whoop.

  3. What is intellectually bankcrupt is Loftus' nugatory comment, which fails to interact with the actual argument, as well as ignoring the extent to which dualism is a very live issue in the current literature:'sReviewOfKim%20(PC%207.2-463-473).pdf

  4. Slaveofone is failing to draw some elementary distinctions:

    i) Freewill is not even a possibility if physicalism is true.

    ii) Freewill is a possibility if dualism is true. That doesn't make it true, but it does distinguish it from physicalism in this respect.

    Dualism allows for something which physicalism disallows. It supples a necessary, if insufficient, condition for freewill.

    iii) Slaveofone is also assuming that freewill is incompatible with determinism.

    But that assumes a certain definition of freewill, along with certain preconditions.

    There's a vigorous and extensive compatibilist literature which would take issue with his assumptions.

  5. Steve, I never said philosophers don't discuss dualism. And there are still a small minority who defend it. [JP Moreland's substance dualism is simply laughed at].

    I have a job and cannot write about topics as much as you I guess you win by default. can write more than me. Let's give that boy an award or something....the most prolific writer on the block.

    But substance? Naw.

  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  7. I must be too young or too unread to get the joke by "John Lost Us"

  8. Whoops. I see it was deleted.

    It was, "Only MY arguments have substance. Your wee little attempts to refute me are futile, BrouHAHAHAHA! If I didn't have a job I would destroy your argumentation. Since tomorrow is a holiday I'm going to sit down and obliterate your pathetic response, then I'm going to the park to watch some fireworks. As my mentor Mork used to say, "Nano, nano"........"

  9. Only MY arguments have substance. Your wee little attempts to refute me are futile, BrouHAHAHAHA! If I didn't have a job I would destroy your argumentation. Since tomorrow is a holiday I'm going to sit down and obliterate your pathetic response, then I'm going to the park to watch some fireworks....

  10. Daniel,

    I removed that Mork thing for your sake, I know you're young. Meet me back at the DC headquarters so we can get our utility belts re-charged. Don't forget the password. See you then...

  11. Good grief.

    While it's true that substance dualism is a minority position, it's by no means a dead issue in contemporary metaphysics. Hart, Moreland (really more Thomistic than Cartesian), Taliaferro, Goetz, Larmer, Plantinga, Robinson, and Swinburne all come to mind.

    Robinson's article in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy gives a thorough and levelheaded survey of recent work here.

    Besides, all of the arguments against substance dualism are silly.