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'We Are Basically Physical Beings.' to What Extent Do You Agree?

In: Philosophy and Psychology

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Ideas of how we are not just physical beings but also have non-spacial elements to us, is an idea that has existed for thousands of years. Nearly all major world religions have ideas about this; from the Hindu ideas of atman, to the Judeo-Christian ideas on the soul. The main argument I'm using to examine us being 'basically physical beings' is dualism and the connection between the mind, body and the soul.

One of the first recorded forms of dualism was platonic dualism. Plato (429-347 BCE) believed that the body was physical and is rooted in the four dimensions of space and time which is subject to change, he called this the 'sarx'. But a 'being' also had another part, a soul, which existed in the world of forms and was made up of three distinct elements; reason, emotion and appetite. These three instincts in Plato’s view are what animates us. This therefore makes us not just physical beings. Plato though, saw the soul as pure or 'simple' and therefore the body was inferior something which trapped the soul until death. Plato appears to believe that the soul will be reborn in a new body after that. Aristotle (384-322 BCE) at the time also agreed that we had a 'soul'. But he believed that the body and soul were inseparable, this is the earlier monist ideas. Due to the soul and body not being able to separate this mean that the idea did not allow the soul to survive death. Aristotle did rethink this at times wondering if we did have non-physical elements to us, but it's not likely since he believed people couldn't live after death in any sense.

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274 CE) was one of the first to integrate dualism into Christianity. Aquinas mainly followed Aristotle's view and believed that the body and soul were inseparable making the soul a physical being, Thomist Monism. This was a problem though as Aquinas believed in the now catholic idea of Hell, Purgatory and the Beatific vision (Heaven). This meant that even though he believes in the soul being part of the body it's still not in the empirical universe. Aquinas' Monist ideas therefore have flaws as if the soul survived but not the body even though they are one substance they would be separate, and this would be a more dualist idea that he rejects.

Réne Descartes (1596-1650 CE) was a French philosopher who wrote his variation on dualism which argues completely against us being 'basically physical beings'. He wrote about the 'mind' being separate from the brain, the 'mind' is therefore the seat of all the feelings, thoughts, desires and emotions, all of which Descartes claims can not locate physically. This meant that the body though was still physical and is located in time and space, but it is not conscious. Descartes also believed that the point of this interaction between the non physical was then the brain (specifically the pineal gland). This view is much similar to Plato's but rather than the 'soul' being this animating force it is instead the 'mind' but of course both of these are non-physical. The main problem with Cartesian dualism though is the paradox it creates, since the mind is completely separate from matter yet it can still manage to interact. The ideas of Cartesian and Platonic dualism have been taken on by protestants in the contemptus mundi idea in which due to the separation of the body and soul, the soul is immortal and pure and it is attached to this impure body. The idea of contemptus mundi is where protestants then reject the body. John Hick (1922–2012 CE) has his own monist ideas on our non-physical properties of the body and soul. The replica theory is what he talks about, this is where on death both our body and soul die but what lives on after death is a replica. This replica comes to life in heaven or hell as an exact copy of what was on earth. This view means that the soul is non-physical but unlike platonic dualism, Hick believes that the body and soul are one and unseperable. This is also a much better theory for orthodox Christianity as it fits in with St Paul's letter in 1 Corinthians where we get “a new body in Christ.” Another aspect Hick considers relating to us not being just physical beings is where this 'resurrection world' is where all the replicates are, “not situated at any distance or in any direction” this of course makes this non-spacial and is similar in some regards to Descartes dualism. Bernand Williams (1929–2003 CE) criticised this in terms of personal identity, in heaven it is meant to be perfect yet if you have an exact replica do you still have these faults. Is this new body you from birth or once you died? do you still age? Even with a copy are you still you? He brings up these questions and as of yet these stil

These theories of the mind, body and soul all argue that we are not just physical beings, but there are many who believe that we 'beings' are basically physical. This group of people are known as materialist. Gilbert Ryle (1900–1976 CE) describes the dualist theory as a category mistake, the mind and the body are the sum total of a 'being' and do not exist as separate entities they are just physical and the sum total of mental thought. In his book, 'The Concept of Mind' he says that “it makes no sense to conjoin or adjoin the two.” This however doesn't necessarily disprove us being physical beings as Hick's monist views still work with this as the soul is the non-physical aspect of a 'being' but is still not existing separate. Another viewpoint of this, about us being basically physical beings is from Thomas Henry Huxley (1825–1895 CE), the epiphenomenon view. The 'mind' was a by-product of the brain that has no influence upon the brain and just played a casual role. Huxley compared it to a steam whistle that contributes nothing to the work of a locomotive.

Another Materialist view is of neo-Darwinism proposed by Richard Dawkins (1941- CE). These ideas result to us most definitely being just physical beings then. He holds the idea of the 'soul' as a mythological concept, invented by man-kind. He says that also the mind is non existent and the driving force in humans is simply 'survival instincts'. “There is no spirit-driven life force,” this only leaves the evolutionary drive a physical aspect, making us basically just 'physical beings'.

To conclude...

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