Dualism versus Materialism - Philosophy

This Paper shall tackle the long-term debate between dualism and materialism. It shall first present and define the concept of dualism. Then, it shall present the argument or arguments of the dualists, which shall be rebutted by the argument or argument of the materialists. After these, the concept of materialism shall be defined. Then, arguments for materialism shall be presented, which shall be rebutted by the argument or arguments of the dualists. Finally, the writer shall discuss his viewpoint on the matter — whether he believes in dualism; whether he believes in materialism; whether he believes in both; and why if any.

Dualism as the term implies is a belief that there are two different substances or types of being (http://skepdic. com/dualism. html). These two are distinct and independent from one another as one is material and the other is spiritual (http://skepdic. com/dualism. html). The former is the one that is defined as the physical or the empirical world (http://skepdic.

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com/dualism. html). This is what we can identify through our senses — sight, smell, touch, taste and hearing (http://skepdic. com/dualism. html).

In addition, this type of substance can be identified through instruments that extend our senses, such as radar, telescopes, etc. (http://skepdic. com/dualism. html). In short, external proof can easily be gathered as to the existence and essence of this type of substance. On the other hand, the latter type of substance is described as the negative of the other, i. e. non-physical, non-material and non-empirical (http://skepdic.

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com/dualism. html). This is also known as the psychological, mental or spiritual world (http://skepdic. com/dualism. html). The dualist believes in the existence and the interaction of both types of substances. A manifestation of this is the belief in the immortality. The dualists believe that as the spiritual world, as you may call it is separate from the material world, when the latter withers away, the former remains. Rene Descartes is a known dualist. He is also known as the Father of Modern Philosophy. He lived in a time of doubt and disappointment, which is why he devised the method known as the Universal Methodic Doubt.

Through this method he doubted everything until he attained something that he could no longer doubt (Descartes, Meditations Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy). From this process, he realized that “[i] think therefore I am” (Descartes, Meditations Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy). For him this is the only thing that cannot be doubted is that he doubts (Descartes, Meditations Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy). Through his process, he realized that clear and distinct ideas are the first truths (Descartes, Meditations Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy).

Examples of these ideas are the truths of mathematics. More importantly, through this method, he also realized the dichotomy between the spiritual and material world in that he can doubt the existence of his body but he cannot doubt that he exists as a being (Descartes, Meditations Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy). The dichotomy is further bolstered through the fact that his body is subjected to different rules or laws as compared to his mind (Descartes, Meditations Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy).

His body is governed and follows the laws of physical science but his mind does not (Descartes, Meditations Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy). He posited the relation of the material substance to the spiritual substance in this wise: [e]xternal motions affect the peripheral ends of the nerve fibrils, which in turn displace the central ends. As the central ends are displaced, the pattern of interfibrillar space is rearranged and the flow of animal spirits is thereby directed into the appropriate nerves.

It was Descartes’ articulation of this mechanism for automatic, differentiated reaction that led to his generally being credited with the founding of reflex theory (Wozniak, citing Descartes, Meditations Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy). Husserl and Merleu-Ponty as they define the “body” in a different wise, criticizes the Descartes depiction of the body. The latter criticizes Descartes in that human beings do not relate to the body the way it relates to other external objects, such as a table or chair (Merleu-Ponty).

Proof of this is the fact that a human being does not move or affect an external object the way he/she moves or affects his/her own body (Merleu-Ponty). Husserl points out that doubting the body already assumes that the body is a mere physical thing (Husserl). Such assumption does not come from philosophical thinking but from the scientific thinking that was prevalent during Descartes’ time (Husserl). Ryle points out: …one person has no direct access of any sort to the events of the inner life of another.

He cannot do better than make problematic inferences from the observed behaviour of the other persons body to the states of mind which, by analogy from his own conduct, he supposes to be signalled by that behaviour… (p. 16). …mental happenings occur in insulated fields known as “minds”, and there is, apart maybe from telepathy, no direct causal connection between what happens in one mind and what happens in another… The mind is its own place and in his inner life each of us lives the life of a ghostly Robinson Crusoe.

People can see, hear and jolt one another’s bodies, but they are irremediably blind and deaf to the workings of one another’s minds and inoperative upon them. (p. 15) On the other hand, materialism is the belief or school of thought that all beings are composed of matter, material force or physical processes (Stack). All events and facts are explainable, actually or in principle, in terms of body, material objects or dynamic material changes or movements.

In general, the metaphysical theory of materialism entails the denial of the reality of spiritual beings, consciousness and mental or psychic states or processes, as ontologically distinct from, or independent of material changes or processes. Since it denies the existence of spiritual beings or forces, materialism typically is allied with atheism or agnosticism (Stack). One of the formulations of the materialism is the belief that one rule is reducible to another rule (Stack). This is reflected likewise with the fact that one matter is reducible to another (Stack).

For instance, H2O is reducible to hydrogen and water. A chinese sharpie is reducible to animal, dog and crumpled (Stack). In other words, matter as it exists is composed of other formulations of matter. This preservation of causal/explanatory role is reflected in at least one of two ways: (a) the laws in the reduced and reducing theories are similar (this concerns whether they isolate the same covariations in the world) and (b) theoretical-predicate pairs across the reduced and reducing theories isolate, or pick out, the same objects (Churchland; Hooker, cited in http://philosophy.uwaterloo. ca/MindDict/materialism. html).

The problem with materialism is that it shuts the possibility of the non-spatial’s existence. There is no attempt, based on the sub-classification of materialism, to reconcile the notion to its principles. Materialism is more persuasive simply because there is empirical data to support the principles that it furthers. There is support with the belief that there are smaller components of matter that form part of other matter. This has already been proven by science.

On the other hand, the causal connection between a consciousness and the body, which dualism furthers, while I feel exists is not addressed by materialism. However, the findings and the logic that was used in dualism seem to lack persuasion in it.


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  8. “Towards a General Theory of Reduction,” Dialogue 20, 38-59, 201-36, 496-529. Husserl, E. (1972) Experience and Judgement, Evanston, Northwestern University Press. Merleau-Ponty, M. (1962)
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  12. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Edward Craig, New York, Routledge. The Cambridge Companion to Descartes, ed. by John Cottingham (Cambridge, 1992).
  13. Wozniak, Robert H. (1992) “Mind and Body: Rene Descartes to William James,” Washington, National Library of Medicine and the American Psychological Association. .

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Dualism versus Materialism - Philosophy. (2016, Aug 21). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/dualism-versus-materialism-philosophy-essay

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