Is the soul a physical part of you?30 May 2017
A metaphysical argument about the soul’s relation to the body.
Today we’re going to get into a small discussion about whether the soul is a part of you. Meaning; is your soul something that’s necessarily a physical part of you as a person?
To be more specific, this is an argument that was posed to posit the existence of the concept of “a soul” as an explanation for the phenomenon of human free will.
Note: If you have strong religious views on what the soul is and don’t enjoy questioning them, you may not enjoy reading this post. That being said, this post is not written to convince you of a particular point of view, but simply inform you about an interesting argument about the philosophical debate on the nature of the immaterial soul.
Laying the Groundwork
So before we can have this conversation, it may be useful to set a context for it. First, we have to talk about a couple of views about what people are before we can posit an argument in favor of one case or the other.
There are two prevailing views on this issue, there’s the dualist view, that a person is comprised of a body and a soul. Then there’s the physicalist view that a person is just a body.
Both of these views have interesting consequences, and the argument we’re going to discuss comes from the dualist perspective.
We need to define an important concept, the idea that a system can be deterministic. Meaning that if you reproduce an identical system multiple times, that a predictable outcome can be observed that follows specific rules. Most of physics uses determinism to predict how a system will unfold all the time. To quote google:
The doctrine that all events, including human action, are ultimately determined by causes external to the will. Some philosophers have taken determinism to imply that individual human beings have no free will and cannot be held morally responsible for their actions.
Let’s define another concept really quickly.
Free Will: the idea that if I am put into the exact same situation multiple times, I could make a different decision each time. There is nothing necessarily consistent about the actions of a being with free will.
So without further ado, the argument is the following.
There are three premises:
Humans have free will.
Nothing subject to determinism has free will.
All purely physical systems are subject to determinism.
Conclusion: Therefore, humans are not purely physical systems.
So to explain the concept of free will we appeal to the idea of a soul, something non-physical.
How should we evaluate this argument?
I think the first question that I asked when I heard this was “What is it about free will that proves that we’re not purely physical objects?”
Why would there be an incompatibility between the idea of having free will and the idea of things being determined?
But we’ll start our analysis with a couple of important questions.
Is this argument valid?
The first question we should ask is, “does our argument make sense?” Does this argument’s conclusions truly logically follow?
So I’ll save you some time and tell you that it’s conclusion does follow. Given these particular assumptions, it makes sense.
Are our assumptions valid?
Whether you realize it or not, this argument uses some serious assumptions, that we should be more rigorous about defining before we accept this radical conclusion.
premise one: This argument rests on the idea of free will. The idea that if we have free will we can’t just be purely physical systems. I think the strongest objection that someone could give would be that we don’t truly have free will. We might certainly believe we do; but free will isn’t something that can be observed. Perhaps the sense that we could have acted otherwise is an illusion.
premise three: “All purely physical systems are subject to determinism.” The statement asserts we can’t have free will and determinism. 3 is a pretty serious claim about empirical science.
Quantum mechanics as an example is certainly not deterministic. We can observe particles that might be found in one position $60%$ of the time; without knowing_ why_ they behave the way that they do. Determinism is not true at the level of quantum mechanics. This leads me to say that premise three might be false.
I should say that premise two can be challenged as well and I’d encourage you to think about why.
So I’ve told you the argument, I’ve told you what I think, let me know what you think~
Souls are … weird.
If you found this interesting, you may enjoy viewing the lecture series from Yale; Death (PHIL 176) : link here.