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Substance Dualism and Materialism

Dualism is a kind of philosophical concept that treats the body and the mind as two different notions. It is obvious that the body is a material object – that is to say, it is subject to the physical laws of the universe. The mind, on the contrary, is a nonphysical phenomenon. It can be explained by the fact that mind is not subordinate to the tangible universe, and is not directed by any laws of physics, biology, or chemistry.

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Famous philosopher Rene Descartes provided a detailed description of this idea, which has been influencing people’s perception of the mind up to the present days. According to Descartes’ vision of dualism, the mind is not spatial. Consequently, it has none of such properties, as weight, size, color, or mass, which can be associated with physical objects. Thus, it is possible to say that it can be characterized in terms of the absence of these properties. However, Descartes states that the mind, along with the soul, belongs to the substance.

Substance dualism is based on the philosopher’s belief that the mind as well as the soul has its own existence, which does not depend on the body. According to Descartes, if the mind is not a part of the matter, it implies that it does not have its own independent existence. Therefore, the mind or the soul would cease to exist, when the body dies, and, consequently, there would be no immortality.

Descartes also states that the mind’s defining property is its ability to think. By the notion of thinking, the philosopher understands everything that is possible to consider as a mental state. In other words, it includes such psychological processes as dreaming, desiring, doubting, believing, and so forth. For instance, when an individual believes in something, his conviction is a nonphysical property of a nonmaterial substance.

In contrast, materialism bases on a theory that human beings consist of nothing else but the physical substance. From the perspective of materialism, it is possible to prove only the existence of matter. Therefore, everything consists of various particles, and all kinds of phenomena are merely the outcome of their interaction without any participation of consciousness or spirit.
There are several types of materialism in philosophy. For instance, reductive and eliminative kinds are different from each other, despite basing on the same concept. From the perspective of the first sort, such mental phenomenon as sensation is nothing more than a certain brain process. The reductive materialism or, as it also called, the identity theory, attempts to explain that the theoretical contribution of the common sense psychology to the brain science is decreasing. According to this theory, all processes in the human body can be explained in two ways, which are different. The first one is mental, while the second one is neurological.

For example, such emotions as love, hate, anger, happiness, and so on are psychological processes, which physics and neuroscience deal with. The mind is the result of the brain’s activity. Humans’ mental states do not exceed the potential of what the working intelligence, the central nervous system, and the rest of the body can do. These are the main ideas of the reductive materialism.

Eliminative materialism denies the existence of any types of mental states. According to this theory, with the development of neuroscience, the conception of mental states will be eventually eliminated. In other words, unlike the reductive materialism theory, this one states that there are no such things as beliefs, desires, pain, and hopes. Human mutual understanding and introspection might be reconsidered within the conceptual framework of advanced neuroscience. Some philosophers consider the eliminative theory to be by far more powerful than the common sense philosophy, which it is likely to displace, and more substantially connected within physical science. Taking learning and memorizing some information as examples of mental processes, it is possible to explain them as neurobiological reactions between cells in the certain parts of the brain.

It is evident that both types of materialism rely on the statement that only brain and its neural activity exists. However, the reductive theory still presupposes the presence of some kind of mind, which is then attributed to the part of the brain. In contrast, eliminative materialism theory, instead of assuming the reality of the mind and its belonging to the brain, denies any possibility of its existence whatsoever. Followers of this theory argue that the idea of mental phenomena can become obsolete, because it does not refer to anything that is real or existent.

In light of the criticisms, faced by both substance dualism and materialism theories, it is possible to say that the first concept is more plausible. If materialists understand pain as a process that is happening within a body, and is caused by it, then it is obvious that there is no pain beyond the body. Thus, the concept of pain will have no semantic significance, as the body generates it. The same approach can be applied to all kinds of emotions. Even though it sounds logical and true, materialists have many faults in their theory. For instance, if there is nothing but the physical bodies that can be decomposed into atoms, then what distinguishes humans from robots? The answer is emotions, free will, and consciousness. If the ideas of dualism were false, the mind would be limited to the physical and neurological structures of the brain. The laws of matter would define the functioning of such mind, and people would not be responsible for their actions. It raises a question of how materialists can explain such phenomenon of people’s experience, as clinical death. Another question is the matter of mankind’s existence and evolution. If materialists are right, and humankind arose from chemicals of primordial waters, then why is it not happening anymore, and where did these chemicals originate from, if nothing existed? All these questions demonstrate that Descartes’ substance dualism gives more answers than materialism and, therefore, makes more sense.

The Problem of Personal Identity

For centuries, many philosophers have pondered an issue known as the problem of personal identity. This problem centers on the question, whether there is something that unites various sensations of the people. In other words, it tries to understand, if personal identity of an individual can change over the time, and if a person is responsible for his past actions. Some philosophers adhere to the opinion that people possess a soul, which unites all the aspects of psychological life. There are many different understandings of this question in philosophy. For example, a British philosopher John Locke and a Scottish philosopher David Hume both had logical but different views on this problem.

Locke’s interpretation of the personal identity problem bases on the phenomenon of memories. The philosopher identifies an individual as a thinking being. Thus, each person has his or her own mentality and beliefs that remain the same disregard the time or place. According to Locke, it is not the soul that identifies the personality, but the consciousness. He supports his statement by saying that soul is an immortal substance, and if it defined the human identity, then the same people could live in different times.
David Hume, on contrary, addressed a point that the personal identity is entirely an illusion. According to the philosopher, the perceptions of some people can bear a certain degree of resemblance or relation to one another. The perceptions themselves are not identical. Moreover, no one’s entity can be involved in two perceptions. Thus, he says that a case of personal identity is not a case of identity at all. Hume’s point of view can be proved by the fact that people might change their perception of the same object, and the new sense can be temporarily contrasting with the previous one. Even though, perceptions might be only slightly different, they are still new. Thus, all the individual features a person possesses at any given time, are the results of his experience. Consequently, every mentioning of the word “you” involves the influence of some other subjects.

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Both these philosophical concepts are not perfect. However, it is reasonable to suggest that Hume’s point of view offers the most plausible response to the problem, even though Locke’s statement that consciousness identifies personality is partly true too. Certainly, memories have a big impact on the shaping of a personality but they do not play the main role. The philosopher’s theory is inaccurate in some other aspects. First, people do not remain the same throughout their lifespan. For example, if a person did something wrong in the childhood, according to Locke, this person would remember it but would never change. It is wrong because people learn from their mistakes and experiences and, as a result, often change their perception of good and evil. Second, people become different because of the obstacles and circumstances they encounter in their lives. They might acquire new tastes and preferences and become very different from what they used to be. From Locke’s perspective, memories identify personality. However, people might forget something, suffer from memory loss, or have false memory, but still be the same personalities, and maintain their habits and principles. Thus, Hume’s theory of the personal identity as an entire illusion makes more sense.

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