Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Has time run out on Cartesian dualism?

Inspired by a comment and a conversation in a mail room.

(1) Suppose there's an apriori argument for either substance dualism (or, more carefully, immaterialism about minds).
(2) We know apriori that such an argument would establish that minds stand in no spatial relations.
(3) We know apriori (well, from the armchair) that minds stand in temporal relations.
(C) We know apriori (or from the armchair) that things can stand in temporal relations without standing in any spatial relations.

That seems to be the sort of thing we cannot know apriori, and not (just) because it seems false.

Can we turn this into an argument against dualism?
(1) If substance dualism were true, minds would stand in no spatial relations.
(2) If minds stood in no spatial relations, it would stand in no temporal relations.
(3) Minds do, however, stand in temporal relations.
(C) Dualism is false.

Solution. Mental events aren't temporally related to anything, not even other mental events. Problem. I just thought of that response, I thought of the argument much earlier.

Can the dualist challenge (1) or do they just put their faith in the idea that there can be temporal relations of things like simultaneity between things that are spatial and things that are not even though we cannot assess temporal relations between spatial things apart from some frame of reference?


Michael said...

I'm not sure I see how the second argument flows from the first. Is premise (2) in the second argument supposed to be motivated by the outcome of the first? If so, I don't get it. If I understand correctly, the first argument is supposed to be a reductio; at any rate, you claim the conclusion is absurd. But that's of course not something that can be established *by* the argument. And if it is granted, all that follows directly is that 1-3 can't be jointly true, hence presumably (holding 2 and 3 fixed) that there can be no a priori argument for substance dualism. But I don't see how that helps with the argument *against* substance dualism unless you had a separate argument that if substance dualism were true, that could be known a priori.

Or again, even if we take the absurdity of (C) for granted it doesn't seem to help much since what's at issue in (2) of the second argument is whether minds *could* stand in temporal relations without standing in spatial relations, whereas the denial of C only entails that we can't know a priori that they can.

In other words, yes, the dualist is probably committed to saying that minds can stand in temporal relations without standing in spatial relations, but I don't see how the argument here supports the view that they can't.

ADHR said...

I agree with Michael on that point. I think there are other concerns, though. I think the notion of "spatial relation" and "temporal relation" need to be cleaned up. Descartes is committed, for example, to the claim that minds don't exist in any particular location, but he's also committed to the claim that they can interact (or seem to interact) with an object that does have a particular location in space-time (i.e., the pituitary gland). Is that a spatial relation? Is it a temporal relation?

Moreover, while it certainly seems true that minds stand in causal relations, I'm not sure what the basis is for the claim that minds are in temporal relations at all.

Finally, even if this argument works against Cartesian dualism, we have to face the interpretive problem of figuring out if Descartes is an interactionist or a parallelist (the latter might get him off the hook completely). And, if we walk away from specifically Descartes, occasionalist or epiphenomenalist spins on substance dualism are also possible, and neither of which seems to have to say that minds are involved in temporal relations.

caroline said...

Hi there-
I stumbled on your blog, and had to tell you how much Ienjoy your political posts, esp. your open letter to the Glenn Beck t-shirt-wearer.

I work on a blog called Speakhealth.org-- we just posted about duelism, namely, its impact on (western) medicine, and cultural views of health. thought you and your readers might want to have a look. we'd love to hear your thoughts if you have a moment. http://speakhealth.org/do-your-thoughts-impact-your-health/

thanks, keep up the great posts,