Tag Archives: Beyond Death

What Are the Differences between Mental and Physical Entities? Part 8

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!!

What Are the Differences between Mental and Physical Entities? Part 7

Post Author: Bill Pratt

The next major difference between mental and physical entities is how personal identity through change is handled.  Dr. Moreland asks us to…

Imagine a wooden table that had all its parts removed one by one and replaced with metal parts. Now suppose someone took the original wooden parts and made a new table.  Which one would be the original table – the metal one or the wooden one?  The answer seems to be clear.

The original table would be the wooden one. Why? Because if something is made out of stuff called parts, then it cannot remain identical to itself if it gains new parts and loses old ones. If a table here and now is going to be the very same table as one that was here, say an hour ago, this table must be made out of the same stuff as the one an hour ago. If not, then they are different tables. In general, physical objects cannot remain literally the same if they gain new parts and lose old ones.

But what about people?  How do we view the identity of human persons who are constantly losing parts?

Each moment I lose hundreds of thousands of skin cells, some hair, and other microscopic parts. In fact, every seven years my cells are almost entirely replaced. Do I maintain literal, absolute sameness through change?

Dualists argue that persons do maintain absolute identity through change, because they have, in addition to their bodies and current mental experiences or mental capacities (say, the capacity to remember a childhood event), a soul that remains constant through change. Personal identity is constituted by sameness of soul, not sameness of body or mental abilities, such as memory.

How do physicalists handle personal identity through change?

Physicalists . . . have no alternative but to hold that personal identity through change is not absolute. Usually they argue that persons are really ancestral chains of successive, momentary “selves” (called person-stages) that are connected with one another in some way. At each moment a new self exists (since the organism is constantly in flux, gaining new parts and mental experiences and losing old parts and mental experiences), and this self resembles the self prior to and after it.

The relation of resemblance between selves, plus the fact that later selves have the same memories as earlier selves and the body of each self traces a continuous path through space when the whole chain of selves is put together, constitutes a relative sense of identity. At this moment I merely resemble a self that existed a moment ago: My body resembles that body; my memories resemble the memories of that earlier self; my body was reached by the body of the earlier self through a continuous spatial path.

So substance dualists hold to a literal, absolute sense of personal identity, and physicalists . . . hold to a loose, relative sense of personal identity that amounts to a stream of successive selves held together by resemblance between each self in the stream— similarity of memory or brain, similarity of character traits, and/or spatial continuity. But this perspective creates certain problems for physicalism.

Next post we will look at the problems it creates.

What Are the Differences between Mental and Physical Entities? Part 6

Post Author: Bill Pratt

After a little break from this series, it is time to pick it up again because there is plenty more to discuss.  Philosopher J. P. Moreland explains yet another way that mental and physical entities differ: the first person perspective.

A complete physicalist description of the world would be one in which everything would be exhaustively described from a third-person point of view in terms of objects, properties, processes, and their spatiotemporal locations. For example, a description of an apple in a room would go something like this: “There exists an object three feet from the south wall and two feet from the east wall, and that object has the property of being red, round, sweet,” and so on.

The first-person point of view is the vantage point that I use to describe the world from my own perspective.  Expressions of a first-person point of view utilize what are called indexicals—words such as I, here, now, there, then.  Here and now are where and when I am; there and then are where and when I am not. Indexicals refer to me, myself. “I” is the most basic indexical, and it refers to my self that I know by acquaintance with my own consciousness in acts of self-awareness. I am immediately aware of my own self, and I know who “I” refers to when I use it: It refers to me as the owner of my body and mental states.

But how does physicalism handle the first-person point of view that we all clearly have?  Is there room for the first-person perspective?  Moreland thinks not.

According to physicalism, there are no irreducible, privileged first-person perspectives. Everything can be exhaustively described in an object language from a third-person perspective. A physicalist description of me would say, “There exists a body at a certain location that is five feet, eight inches tail, weighs 160 pounds,” and so forth.

But no amount of third-person descriptions captures my own subjective, first-person acquaintance of my own self in acts of self-awareness. In fact, for any third-person description of me, it would always be an open question as to whether the person described in third-person terms was the same person as I am.

I do not know my self because I know some third-person description of a set of mental and physical properties and I also know that a certain person satisfies that description. I know myself as a self immediately through being acquainted with my own self in an act of self-awareness. I can express that self-awareness by using the term “I.”

“I” refers to my own substantial soul. It does not refer to any mental property or bundle of mental properties I am having, nor does it refer to anybody described from a third-person perspective. “I” is a term that refers to something that exists, and “I” does not refer to any object or set of properties described from a third-person point of view.  Rather, “I” refers to my own self with which I am directly acquainted and which, through acts of self-awareness, I know to be the substantial possessor of my mental states and my body.

It seems that the physicalist cannot account for the first-person perspective that we all have.  Surely this is a serious deficiency in any theory that attempts to explain what human beings are.

Continue with part 7 of the series.

What Are the Differences between Mental and Physical Entities? Part 5

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In the book Beyond Death, philosopher J. P. Moreland continues to review differences between the mental and the physical.  The next point of departure is the awareness each of us has of our own self.  Here is Moreland:

When we pay attention to our own consciousness, we can become aware of a very basic fact presented to us: We are aware of our own self (ego, I, center of self-consciousness) as being distinct from our body and from any particular mental experience we have.  We simply have a basic, direct awareness of the fact that I am not identical to my body or my mental events; rather, I am a self that has a body and a conscious mental life.

Moreland offers the following experiment in case you doubt his point:

Right now I am looking at a chair in my office.  As I walk toward the chair, I experience a series of what are called phenomenological objects or chair representations.  That is,  I have several different chair experiences that replace one another in rapid succession.  As I approach the chair, my chair sensations change shape and grow bigger.  Further, because of the lighting in my study my chair experiences change color slightly.  Now the chair doesn’t change in size, shape, or color; but my chair experiences do.

I am, of course, aware of all the different experiences of the chair during the fifteen seconds it takes me to walk across my study.  But if I pay attention, I am also aware of two more things.  First, I do not simply experience a series of sense-images of a chair. Rather, through self-awareness, I also experience the fact that it is I myself who has each chair experience.  Each chair sensation produced at each angle of perspective has a perceiver who is I.  An “I” accompanies each sense experience to produce a series of awarenesses – “I am experiencing a chair sense-image now.”

I am also aware of the basic fact that the same self that is currently having a fairly large chair experience (as my eyes come to within 12 inches of the chair) is the very same self as the one who had all of the other chair experiences preceding this current one.  In other words, through self-awareness I am aware of the fact that I am an enduring I who was and is (and will be) present as the owner of all the experiences in the series.

So what does this mean for dualism and physicalism?

These two facts – I am the owner of my experiences, and I am an enduring self who exists as the same possessor of all my experiences through time – show that I am not identical to my experiences.  I am the thing that has them.  In short, I am a mental substance.  Only a single, enduring self can relate and unify experiences, a fact that . . . physicalists cannot adequately account for or explain away.

Continue with part 6 of the series.

What Are the Differences between Mental and Physical Entities? Part 4

Post Author: Bill Pratt

One of the most important differences between the mental and physical is the property of intentionality.  Philosopher J. P. Moreland explains just what intentionality is and why physicalism does not account for it.

Intentionality is the mind’s ofness or aboutness.  Mental states point beyond themselves to other things.  Every mental state I have is of or about something – a hope that Smith will come, a sensation of the apple, a thought that the painting is beautiful.  Mental states can even be about things that do not exist – a fear of a goblin or a love for Zeus.

Does physicalism account for intentionality?

Intentionality is not a property or relation of anything physical.  Physical objects can stand in various physical relations with other physical objects.  One physical thing can be to the left of, larger than, harder than, the same shape as, or the thing causing the motion of another physical object.  But one physical object is not of or about another one.

Moreland gives a concrete example to draw out the difference:

When I am near a podium, I can relate to it in many ways: I can be two feet from it, taller than it, and my body can bump into it.  These are all examples of physical relations I sustain to the podium.

But in addition to these, I can be a conscious subject that has the podium as an object of various states of consciousness I direct toward it.  I can have a thought about it, a desire for it (perhaps I want one like it), I can experience a sensation of it, and so forth.  These are all mental states, and they have intentionality (ofness, aboutness) in common.

Hence, mental states possess intentionality, while physical states do not.  Mental states are not physical states.

Continue with part 5 of the series.

What Are the Differences between Mental and Physical Entities? Part 3

Post Author: Bill Pratt

There is another way that the mental differs from the physical, and that is in the subjective nature of experience.  J. P. Moreland offers the following illustration:

Suppose a deaf scientist became the world’s leading expert on the neurology of hearing.  It would be possible for him to know and describe everything there is to the physical aspects of hearing.  Nothing physical would be left out of his description.  However, something would still be left out: the experience of what it is like to be a human who hears.

Moreland quotes Howard Robinson: “The notion of having something as an object of experience is not, prima facie, a physical notion; it does not figure in any physical science.  Having something as an object of experience is the same as the subjective feel or the what it is like of experience.”

Moreland explains that “subjective states of experience are real.  I experience sounds, tastes, colors, thoughts, and pains, and they are essentially characterized by their subjective nature.”

Philosopher Thomas Nagel points out the problem this causes for physicalism:

If physicalism is to be defended, the phenomenological features [the felt quality or experiential texture of experiences that make them the kinds of things they are, e.g., the painfulness of pain, the sounds, colors, odors, of sensory experiences] must themselves be given a physical account.  But when we examine their subjective character, it seems that such a result is impossible.  The reason is that every subjective phenomenon is essentially connected with a single point of view, and it seems inevitable that an objective, physical theory will abandon that point of view.

In summary, Dr. Moreland argues:

The subjective texture of our conscious mental experiences – the feeling of pain, the experience of sound, the awareness of color – is different from anything that is simply physical.  If the world were only made of matter, these subjective aspects of consciousness would not exist.  But they do exist!  So there must be more to the world than matter.

Stay tuned for more differences next week!

What Are the Differences between Mental and Physical Entities? Part 2

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In our continuing series, today we look at the fact that mental properties are self-presenting and physical properties are not.  Philosopher J. P. Moreland explains what self-presenting means:

Mental properties – such as feeling sad, experiencing red, having a thought that three is an odd number – are self-presenting.  They present themselves directly to the knowing subject.  They are psychological attributes that are directly present to a subject because that subject simply has them immediately in her field of consciousness.  There are two pieces of evidence for the claim that mental properties are self-presenting while physical properties are not: I can have private access to my mental properties and not to my physical ones, and I can know my mental properties incorrigibly but not my physical ones.

Private Access

I have private access to my own mental life.  I am in a privileged position to know what I am thinking and sensing.  Whatever ways you have for finding out if I am presently sensing a red afterimage (by analyzing my brain states or by looking at my behavior, say, my shouting ‘red’ after looking at the flag), those ways are available to me, too.  But there is a way of knowing I am having a red afterimage that is not available to anyone else – my own immediate awareness of my own mental life.  I am in a position to know my own mental life in a way unavailable to anyone else.

But that is not the case for any physical property, including my brain and its various states.  Physical objects, including my brain, are public objects, and no one is in a privileged position regarding them.  A neurophysiologist can know more about my brain than I do, but he cannot know more about my mental life.  I have private, privileged access to my mental life because it contains self-presenting properties.  Physical properties, however, are not self-presenting.


If something is incorrigible to a knowing subject, then that subject is incapable of being mistaken about that thing.  Suppose I am experiencing what I take to be a green rug.  It is possible that the rug is not there or that the light is poor and the rug is really gray.  But it does not seem possible for me to be mistaken that I seem to see something green, that I am having a green sensation.  The former claim is about a physical object (the rug); the latter claim is about a mental state within me – my seeming to see something green, my having a green sensory experience.

Again, I can be wrong if I think that a chair is in the next room.  But I cannot be wrong about the fact that I at least think the chair is there.  The former claim is about a physical object (the chair); the latter is about a mental state within me – a thought that I am currently having.  In general, claims about physical states, including claims about my brain and its properties/states, can be mistaken.  But if I am being attentive, I can know my sensory states (the ways I am being appeared to, the current sensory experiences I am having) and my episodes of thought (that I am having such and such a thought right now).

Moreland then summarizes the issue of self-presentation:

To summarize then, physical states/properties are not self-presenting, but mental states/properties are, as evidenced by the twin phenomena of private access and incorrigibility.  Thus, physical states/properties are not identical to mental states/properties.

Continue with part 3 of the series.

What Are the Differences between Mental and Physical Entities? Part 1

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Philosopher J. P. Moreland outlines several differences between physical and mental entities in the book he co-authored with Gary Habermas, called Beyond Death: Exploring the Evidence for Immortality.  In previous posts, we have laid the groundwork for this discussion, so that you may want to review the last few posts before reading this one.

Moreland starts out with the basics.  He reminds us of the following differences:

Mental events are feelings of pain, episodes of thoughts, or sensory experiences.  Physical events are happenings in the brain and central nervous system that can be described exhaustively using terms from chemistry and physics.

Are these two kinds of events really the same kind of thing?

Physical events and their properties do not have the same features as do mental events and their properties.  My thoughts, feelings of pain, or sensory experiences do not have any weight; they are not located anywhere in space (my thought of lunch cannot be closer to my right ear than to my left one); they are not composed of chemicals; they do not have electrical properties.  On the other hand, the brain events associated with my thoughts, etc. – indeed, with material things in general – do have these features.

Moreland then asks us to to picture a pink elephant in our mind.  When you close your eyes and look at the image, you will see a pink property.  But note that there is no pink elephant outside you, but there is a pink image of one in your mind.  In addition, there is no pink entity in your brain; a neuroscientist cannot open up your brain and see a pink entity while you are seeing the pink elephant in your mind.

Moreland concludes, “The sensory event has a property – pink – that no brain event has.  Therefore, they cannot be identical.  The sense image is a mental entity, not a physical one.”

This is just a basic introduction to the differences between mental and physical entities.  We will introduce several more differences in later posts.

Why Is Identity Important in the Physicalism/Dualism Debate?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In previous posts we have surveyed the physicalist and dualist positions with regard to human beings.  Now it is time to start looking at arguments for the dualist position.  Before we start to defend dualism, we need to introduce the concept of identity, which will be an extremely important concept in the debate.

The law of identity simply states that A is A.  Yes, it’s that simple, but we need to draw out some implications from this law.  Philosopher J. P. Moreland helps us understand with the following example:

Suppose you want to know whether J. P. Moreland is Eileen Speik’s youngest son.  If J. P. Moreland is identical to Eileen Speik’s youngest son (everything true of one is true of the other), then in reality we are talking about one single thing – J. P. Moreland, who is Eileen Speik’s youngest son.  However, if even one small thing is true of J. P. Moreland and not true of Eileen Speik’s youngest son, then these are two entirely different people.  Furthermore, J. P. Moreland is identical to himself and not different from himself.  So, if J. P. Moreland is not identical to Eileen Speik’s youngest son, then in reality we must be talking about two things, not one.

Where does this example take us?  Moreland explains:

This illustration suggests a truth about the nature of identity known as Leibniz’s Law of the Indiscernibility of Identicals: For any entities x and y, if x and y are identical (they are really the same thing – there is only one thing you are talking about, not two), then any truth that applies to x will apply to y as well.  This suggests a test for identity: If you could find one thing true of x not true of y, or vice versa, then x cannot be identical to (be the same thing as) y.  Further, if you could find one thing that could possibly be true of x and not y (or vice versa), even if it isn’t actually true, then x cannot be identical to y.

Hopefully you have followed along, because now Moreland explains why this matters to the mind/body debate:

Physicalists are committed to the claim that alleged mental entities are really identical to physical entities, such as brain states, properties of the brain, overt bodily behavior, and dispositions to behave (for example, pain is just the tendency to shout “Ouch!” when stuck by a pin, instead of pain being a certain mental feel).  If physicalism is true, then everything true of the brain (and its properties, states, and dispositions) is true of the mind (and its properties, states, and dispositions) and vice versa.  If we can find one thing true, or even possibly true of the mind and not of the brain, or vice versa, then dualism is established.  The mind is not the brain.

At this point, it is critical to note that it is not enough for the physicalist to show that mental and physical entities in the human brain/mind are in a causal relation or are constantly conjoined. 

It may be that brain events cause mental events or vice versa: Having certain electrical activity in the brain may cause me to experience a pain; having an intention to raise my arm may cause bodily events.  It may be that for every mental activity, a neurophysiologist can find a physical activity in the brain with which it is correlated.  But just because A causes B (or vice versa), or just because A and B are constantly correlated with each other, that does not mean that A is identical to B.

Therefore, and this is critical, physicalism cannot be established on the basis that mental states and brain states are causally related or constantly conjoined with each other in an embodied person.  Physicalism needs identity to make its case, and if something is true, or possibly true of a mental substance, property, or event that is not true or possibly true of a physical substance, property, or event, then physicalism is false.

In future posts, we will look at whether mental states and brain states are truly identical.  Stay tuned!!

What Is Dualism?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In the previous post, philosopher J. P. Moreland explained what physicalists believe, particularly with respect to human beings.  Physicalism holds that humans are composed of nothing but matter.

Now we will see what dualists believe.  Again, we are quoting from Moreland and Habermas’s Beyond Death: Exploring the Evidence for Immortality.  Dualists disagree with physicalists that matter is all there is.  For dualists, there also exist mental entities.  Moreland gives three examples of mental entities:

1.  Sensations: These would include “experiences of colors, sounds, smells, tastes, textures, pains, and itches.  Sensations are individual things that occur at particular times.  I can have a sensation of red after looking in a certain direction or by closing my eyes and daydreaming.  An experience of pain will arise at a certain time, say, after I am stuck with a pin.”

Moreland continues his description of sensations:

Further, sensations are natural kinds of things that have, as their very essence, the felt quality or sensory property that makes them what they are.  Part of the very essence of a pain is the felt quality it has; part of the very essence of a red sensation is the presentation of a particular shade of color to my consciousness.  Sensations are not identical to things outside a person’s body – for instance, a feeling of pain is not the same thing as being stuck with a pin and shouting, “Ouch!”  Sensations are essentially characterized by a certain conscious feel, and thus, they presuppose consciousness for their existence and description.  If there were no conscious beings, there would be no sensations.

2. Propositional attitudes: A propositional attitude is having “a certain mental attitude toward a proposition that is part of a that-clause.  For example, one can hope, desire, fear, dread, wish, think, believe that P where P may be the proposition: ‘The Royals are a great baseball team.'”

There are at least two components to propositional attitudes:

First, there is the attitude itself.  Hopes, fears, dreads, wishes, thoughts, etc. are all different attitudes, different states of consciousness, and they are all different from each other based on their conscious feel.  A hope is a different form of consciousness from an episode of fear.  A hope that it will rain is different from a fear that it will rain.  What’s the difference?  A hope has a very different conscious feel from a fear.

Second, they all have a content or a meaning embedded in the propositional attitude – namely the propositional content of my consciousness while I am having the propositional attitude.  My hope that P differs from my hope that Q, because P and Q are different propositions or meanings in my consciousness.  If there were no conscious selves, there would be no propositional attitudes.  My hope that it will rain is different from my hope that taxes will be cut.  The contents of these hopes have quite different meanings.

3. Acts of will or purposings: “What is a purposing?  If, unknown to me, my arm is tied down and I still try to raise it, then the purposing is the “trying to bring about” the event of raising my arm.  Intentional actions are episodes of volition by conscious selves wherein and whereby they do various actions.  They are acts of will performed by conscious selves.”

So that is dualism in brief.  Our next task is to defend dualism against physicalism, and we will start that process next week by examining the nature of identity.