Philosophy Word of the Day – Manichaeism

The earliest portrait of Saint Augustine in a ...

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“The widely influential gnostic religion of late antiquity, founded and spread by the Persian Mani (216-77), taught a radical dualism of good and evil that is metaphysically grounded in coeternal and independent cosmic powers of Light and Darkness.  This world was regarded as a mixture of good and evil in which spirit represents Light and matter represents Darkness.  Manichaean morality was severely ascetic.  Before his conversion to Christianity, Augustine was an adherent of Manichaeism.”

— Philip L. Quinn, The Oxford Companion to Philosophy (Oxford, 1995), 519.

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Quotable – Why Mental States Are Not Physical (Brain) States

  • There is a raw qualitative feel or a “what it is like” to have a mental state such as a pain. [No physical state has this quality]
  • Many mental states have intentionality—ofness or aboutness—directed toward an object (e.g., a thought is about the moon).  [A physical state can’t be of or about anything]
  • Mental states are inner, private and immediate to the subject having them. [No physical state is private or limited to one individual’s perception]
  • Mental states fail to have crucial features (e.g., spatial extension, location) that characterize physical states and, in general, cannot be described using physical language). [A thought, for example, doesn’t occupy space, possess mass, or obey the laws of physics]

J. P. Moreland, “The Image of God and the Failure of Scientific Atheism,” in God is Great, God is Good (IVP 2009), p. 38.

Thus, mental states cannot be merely physical events in the brain.  The better explanation for these qualities of mental events is a substantial self that transcends the physical world – i.e., a soul.

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Philosophy Word of the Day – Reductionism

Reductionists are those who take one theory or phenomenon to be reducible to some other theory or phenomenon. For example, a reductionist regarding mathematics might take any given mathematical theory to be reducible to logic or set theory. Or, a reductionist about biological entities like cells might take such entities to be reducible to collections of physico-chemical entities like atoms and molecules. The type of reductionism that is currently of most interest in metaphysics and philosophy of mind involves the claim that all sciences are reducible to physics. This is usually taken to entail that all phenomena (including mental phenomena like consciousness) are identical to physical phenomena. (continue article)

(Via Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

If everything about us as humans is reducible to matter and physical laws, we seem to lose some important characteristics that we normally take for granted.  For example, that I am an “I,” some kind of persisting, conscious entity.  But there’s no way to describe an “I” in terms of physics or chemistry.  We seem to lose our personal identity on this account.

Beyond that difficulty, we also seem to be wholly determined in our behavior, since whatever we do is just one reaction in a causal chain of events determined by movements of atoms and molecules.  On a more macro level, as Richard Dawkins says, we merely dance to our genes.  But if that’s true, it appears we lose all moral accountability.  Nothing we do is either morally praiseworthy or blameworthy, since it’s strictly determined by factors outside of our control.

Those seem to me major drawbacks of reducing mind to matter.  However, these are not issues if we possess an immaterial soul that persists through time and grounds our personal identity – and survives death.

What think ye?

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Philosophy Word of the Day – Epiphenomenalism

In philosophy of mind, epiphenomenalism, also known as ‘Type-E Dualism‘ is a view according to which some or all mental states are mere epiphenomena (side-effects or by-products) of physical states of the world.

Thus, epiphenomenalism denies that the mind (as in its states, not its processing) has any influence on the body or any other part of the physical world: while mental states are caused by physical states, mental states do not have any influence on physical states.

Some versions of epiphenomenalism claim that all mental states are inert, while others claim that only some mental states are inert. The latter version often claims that only those types of mental states that are especially difficult to account for scientifically are epiphenomenal, such as qualitative mental states (e.g., the sensation of pain).

(Via Wikipedia)

Many Christian theists, on the other hand, insist that mental states are grounded in the soul, which stands in a two-way causal relationship with the body:  the soul can influence the body, and the body can influence the soul.  This position is also known as substance dualism.


René Descartes‘s illustration of dualism. Inputs are passed on by the sensory organs to the epiphysis in the brain and from there to the immaterial spirit.

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