Post Author: Bill Pratt
Last post we looked at the issue of personal identity through change. Dualists explain this phenomenon by positing the existence of a soul which remains constant throughout a person’s life. Physicalists, however, deny that there is an absolute sense of personal identity, but this creates problems for their view. J. P. Moreland draws out those problems below:
First, the fact that I can have a memory that an earlier self had presupposes that I am the same person as that alleged earlier self. Memory presupposes personal identity; it does not constitute it.
Second, in self-awareness I seem to be aware of the fact that I am literally the same self that continues to exist throughout my life and that unites my stream of consciousness into one stream that is mine. How can a physicalist . . . explain this basic awareness?
Third, why should I ever fear the future, say, going to the dentist next week? When the day arrives, I will not be present; rather, another self who looks like me (or has my memories) will be there, but I will have ceased to exist. The same issue arises with any emotion or attitude related to the future.
Fourth, why should anyone be punished? The self who did the crime in the past is not literally the same self who is present at the time of punishment.
Dr. Moreland summarizes the problems faced by the physicalist:
Physicalism . . . seems to require a radical readjustment of these basic, commonsense notions because these notions presuppose a literal, absolute sense of sameness through change, and this makes sense only if the soul is a substance that is a continuant (something that remains the same through change). If the intuitions expressed in points one through four above are reasonable—and we maintain that they are—then this provides further evidence for substance dualism.
The cumulative case for dualism and against physicalism continues to mount, but we have not even touched on some of the most important problems for physicalism. In future posts, we will look at the issues of free will, morality, responsibility, and punishment. Stay tuned!!