Metaphysics: Ontology: Dualism vs. Materialism

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 9 August 2016

Metaphysics: Ontology: Dualism vs. Materialism

The original idea of the word ‘philosophy’ was a ‘love of wisdom’ (Cowan 2). Philosophy is meant to explore the ‘big questions’ and try to find answers as best we can in the time we have been given. One of the areas of study in philosophy is metaphysics, which deals in the ideas of the nature of reality. “We look at the world, and we assume that it is the way it appears to be. It is not.” (Carreira 7). There is much to reality that can be discussed, debated, and disagreed upon. Within metaphysics is the realm of ontology, which poses the question ‘what is there?’ (Cowan 146). Two of the major views in ontology are Dualism and Materialism, both of which deal with the nature of the world. Between the two ontological arguments, Dualism and Materialism, Dualism is the superior view as it explains many aspects of our world that materialism does not. Metaphysics is a very complex area of study and requires a bit of a background to fully understand the ontological arguments being presented.

Metaphysics is the study of understanding what is real. There are many subcategories found within metaphysics, from the nature of human beings to the reality of truth. Francisco Suarez argued that metaphysics is the study of not just being, but _real_ being. He also posed that there is an overarching, abstract concept of being that applies to all beings. There is no difference in “Peter being and being Peter” (Kenny 637). All of this falls into the category of metaphysics. What is the world comprised of? Is this world that we can see, taste, touch and smell even real? There are arguments against the study of metaphysics. They contend that actual metaphysical knowledge cannot be gained. The two main arguments against metaphysics are Kant’s “Copernican Revolution” and logical positivism.

Both of the arguments placed against metaphysics hold to some form of the argument that metaphysical knowledge cannot truly be gained. Kant argues that reality is separated into two worlds, one that we are able to perceive and a second that we cannot. Logical positivism poses that the only knowledge and information that is meaningful is verifiable, at least in principle. These two arguments, while they oppose the field of metaphysics, do have pitfalls of their own that keep them from completely blocking the possibility of metaphysics (Cowan 147-152).

Kant’s “Copernican Revolution” consists of the argument that there are two worlds that comprise our reality. The first is the ‘phenomenal’ world, the world we are able to see, taste, touch, smell, and hear. The world we comprehend and understand. The second is the world of ‘noumenal’ world, the ‘real’ world that we cannot really understand and comprehend (Cowan 149). He has divided the world into a world of senses and a world of intellect, claiming that the world of the ‘noumenal’ is not accessible by either (Kenny 621). If we cannot gain knowledge of this ‘noumenal’ world than we cannot really gain any metaphysical knowledge. There are of course fallacies and problems with the Kant’s “Copernican Revolution” argument.

It is posed that Kant’s distinction between these two worlds he has presented is self-defeating. “Kant attributes properties to the noumena such as being atemporal and nonspatial. But, if Kant’s view were true, these properties would not apply. Rather, Plantinga shows that, on Kant’s view, “the noumena would have to drop out altogether, so that all that there is is what has been structured or made by us. The idea that there might be reality beyond what we ourselves have constructed out of experience would not be much as thinkable.”” (Cowan 150).

This could lead to radical relativism and antirealism, basically, the world we perceive would be something that is built by our own minds and reality is defined by what is real to you. This creates the possibility of contradictory realities and even the idea that no one besides oneself exists as they are all constructs of your mind. This makes Kant’s “Copernican Revolution” less of an obstacle to the field of metaphysics (Cowan 150).

Logical positivism is the second presented obstacle to the study of metaphysics and much simpler than Kant’s “Copernican Revolution”. Stared by Schlick and the Vienna Circle the viewpoint of logical positivism sought to set up science to a standing as a ‘unique and privileged’ way of knowing and get rid of speculative metaphysics (Cowan 150). They contended that knowledge was only gained through experience and theories were only worthwhile if they could be proven or disproven by experience (Kenny 799). This ‘verification principle’ has undergone several changes and versions since its original development, but one of the most well-known defenders of the viewpoint, A.J.

Ayer worded it this way: “A proposition is meaningful fi and only if it is empirically verifiable in principle.” (Cowan 151). In other words, an idea or concept is only meaningful if it can be proven or disproven, even if only in theory. Since the concepts and ideas put forth by metaphysics are not able to be proven or disproven, even in theory, they are seen by those holding the logical positivism view point as being completely meaningless. The view point of logical positivism however, has a fatal flaw built right into it’s very definition and therefore can be disproven as an obstacle to metaphysics.

The whole principle of logical positivism is that a concept is only of value if it can be proven or disproven by experience, even if it is only in theory. If the statement made by Ayer himself is put to this very idea, the statement itself cannot be verified by experience. Therefore it is innately self-defeating. It fails its own test. If the argument is true then, just like most of the concepts put forth by metaphysics, it too is meaningless. Since the theory is self-defeating it can no longer be seen as a hindrance to the study of metaphysics (Cowan 152).

Since the two main arguments against metaphysics have been shown to be false and therefore no longer set themselves as obstacles to the study of metaphysics there can be an expansion on the viewpoint of metaphysics as it asks the question ‘what is the world comprised of?’. Within the field of metaphysics you can find the study of ontology, which asks the question ‘what is there?’. “The world doesn’t just exist; it appears to us-and the way it appears is not necessarily the way it is” (Carreira 9). Ontology consists of the questions surrounding our world and it’s underlying nature, the idea of universals, and even the idea of what makes something what it is. Dualism and Materialism fall into the first category. What is the nature of our world?

Dualism and Materialism are both views that try to address the underlying nature of the world and answer the question of the one and the many. This concept can be phrased and introduced in several ways, but the example in ‘The Love of Wisdom’ is an excellent example. “… what makes you and the person who lives next door both human beings?” (153). While both Dualism and Materialism seek to grapple with the same questions and ideas they do so in two very different ways. Dualism is better at answering the question of the one and the many while incorporating much of the human experience. Whereas Materialism answers the questions about the nature of our world, it lacks the layers and fulfilling answers that Dualism gives.

Dualism has been the most widely accepted view in the history of philosophy as well as the school of Christian thought. Dualism consists of the argument that there is more than just one kind of realm, or world that makes up our reality and that everything we experience and perceive cannot be explained by only one realm. These two realms consist of one that lies within the physical realm. Plato put forth that the reality of our world is that of two realms, one of the physical, the realm of the many, and one of the spiritual, the realm of the one. He believed that the true forms of the things experienced in the physical realm were actually in the spiritual realm.

Therefore the things in this world are an impure and ‘evil’ version of what they should be as reflected off the spiritual realm. Rene Descartes, the philosopher who stated, “I think therefore, I am,” believed that there were two realms, but unlike Plato he didn’t believe that the physical realm was evil and the spiritual realm was perfect. Rather he proposed that the two realms existed and interacted, but there were things that belonged strictly to one and things that belonged strictly to the other. Dualism seeks to address the question of the many and the one and provides a much more well-rounded answer to everything that human life encompasses, whereas materialism is much more simplistic in its explanation of our reality (Cowan 154-157).

Materialism is the idea that the only thing our reality is comprised of is a physical realm, there is no spiritual world or spiritual beings, only what we can see and perceive in the physical realm (Cowan 157). Thomas Hobbs is one of the most well-known supporters of Materialism. “There was, for Hobbes, no such thing as a non-bodily substance, unextended and unmoving. There were no incorporeal spirits, human, angelic, or divine. The very expression ‘incorporeal substance’, he said, was as absurd as ’round quadrangle’.” (Kenny 534). From the viewpoint of Materialism the entire universe is purely physical and functions wholly on fixed natural laws (Cowen 158). Materialism answers only the enquiry about the nature of the world around us and lacks many answers for the problem of the many and the one that Dualism answers. Materialism also fails to account for much of the human experience.

Focusing on a Christian worldview the argument for Dualism is superior in many ways. For starters the belief we hold that God exists and interacts with our world agrees with the Dualistic argument for both a physical and spiritual realm. Materialism does not allow for this belief. Dualism also gives room for the concept that there is life after death. The interaction between the physical and spiritual realms in Dualism would imply that there is a part of you that survives the death and decay of your physical body (Cowan 156). There is also Biblical evidence for the viewpoint of Dualism. In the book of Matthew Christ warns his disciples not to fear the one who can kill our physical body, but the one who can destroy both the physical and the spiritual sides of us.

The author of the book of Hebrews discusses the concept that the tabernacle was more like a shadow, or reflection of the true temple in the spiritual realm (Holy). In the journal article ‘The Enduring Problem of Dualism’ author John White explores the work of Shirl Hoffman and the proposal that as a Christian heavily involved in sports there is evidence for Dualism. He claims that sports call to our spiritual sides more than our physical, providing evidence that there is both a spiritual realm and a physical realm (White 233). He also contends that this gives us a reasonable way to look at the order of the two realms, the spiritual being higher than the physical.

While both Dualism and Materialism seek to address the reality of the world around us, only Dualism offers a well-rounded and holistic answer to the dilemma of the many and the one. Between the two ontological arguments, Dualism and Materialism, Dualism is the superior view as it explains many
aspects of our world that Materialism does not. Metaphysics is a complex and layered field of philosophy and cannot produce theories that can be verified, but that doesn’t make them meaningless. “The world may be the way it is, but our perception of it is seldom completely accurate and probably never will be. Knowing this is really important,” (Carreira 7).


Carreira, Jeff. _Philosophy Is Not a Luxury_. N.p.: n.p., n.d. _Philosophy Is Not A Luxury_. Web.

Cowan, Steven B., and James S. Spiegel. _The Love of Wisdom: A Christian Introduction to Philosophy / Steven B. Cowan, James S. Spiegel_. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2009. Print.

Kenny, Anthony. _A New History of Western Philosophy: In Four Parts_. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2010. Print.

_The Holy Bible: New International Version, Containing the Old Testament and the New Testament_. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Bible, 1978. Print.

White, John. “The Enduring Problem of Dualism: Christianity and Sports.” _Implicit Religion_ 15.2 (2012): 225-41. Web.


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