Saturday, December 26, 2020

The Concluding Portion of Kevin Corcoran's "Rethinking Human Nature" (Pages 127-138)

I reviewed Corcoran's book here:

The following points represent scattered notes on his book, which I have taken some time to edit.

1. Kevin Corcoran makes an important distinction between gappy and non-gappy existence. A question that I have is whether gappy existence makes a difference in the resurrection, that is, a situation in which someone experiences an existential gap postmortem.

2. Immanent causal condition (ICC): pages 127-128. How does one define this terminology? What does it actually mean?

3. ICC and gaps of existence. Corcoran insists that an earlier stage of pre-gap existence must be causally relevant to a later post-gap stage of existence in order to safeguard personal identity.

4. ICC is supposed to be a diachronic condition for biological organisms and their qualitative identities such that ICC preserves a biological organism's identity qua identity. Page 131.

5. Corcoran dicusses the terms, "diachronic," "metaphysical must" and "nomological must" on page 131. It seems that "must" could be replaced with "necessity" in this instance.

6. Death is an enemy, which is a clear biblical teaching (1 Corinthians 15:26). See  p. 131. There should be no serious debate about this point.

7. The constitution view, p. 136. Bodies constitute persons like marble or wood constitute tables. Another example that Corcoran gives is dollar bills and diplomas: both things are constituted by paper but not identical with paper. In this part of the book, he unfolds exactly what the metaphysics of constitution signifies.

8. Is reductive materialism able to provide a suitable ethic that protects the life of a human fetus and others? Corcoran says "yes," but not by itself. The benevolent divine intentions of God must supplement a materialist theory of ultimate reality. Someone might raise the famous Euthyphro Dilemma to rebut the suggestion that God's benevolence provides a suitable foundation for ethics. However, a number of robust answers have been given to the dilemma, including one by Anthony Kenny. One problem with the dilemma is that it seems to presume there is a transcendent Good which exists prior to and beyond God.

9. Another problem is the act of defining what it means to be a "person." What defines a person? Is it the capacity for a certain range of intentional state or the capacity for self-referentiality? Or maybe both? Persons are also constituted by relations, according to Corcoran. One traditional definition of personhood is by Boethius and others, "an individual substance of a rational nature." But it seems that this definition of "person" will not work unless one nuances it (thus says Aquinas). Maybe another defining criterion that we could suggest for the word "person" is incommunicability. That is to say, a person is unique or cannot be reproduced without loss of personhood (e.g., cloning).

10. Materialism and the afterlife. See p. 137-138.


Roman said...

I haven't read the book, but point number 7 intrigues me ... and the constitution view, is reductive materialism compatible with the idea that the dollar bill actually IS more than the paper/ink? Or is whatever more it is just a construct which itself can be reduced to mental processes which themselves can be reduced to mattter in motion? Don't we get thrown back to the Platonic problem of the forms again?

Edgar Foster said...

Hey Roman, for more on the constitution view, see

Reductive materialism argues that a thing (material object) can be reduced to its matter/atomic structure. For instance, water is just h2O or mental states are reducible to brain states. But a reductive materialist could believe that dollar bills have the value they do, for social reasons (i.e., they're dollar bills by virtue of social construction/social assent).

I'm not sure that the problem you mention has to be a difficulty for the reductive materialist, but the position is certainly problematic on some level. One can opt for non-reductive materialism or John Searle is a biological naturalist. All theories have their own set of difficulties, however.

Edgar Foster said...

As a reductive materialist, I could believe (a brain state on this view) that a dollar is a piece of paper because a group of people have agreed to impute such value to the paper or currency (in the case of coins). Yet, does that commit me to the idea that the paper and ink are reducible to mental processes, which are reducible to matter/brain states? I don't see this as a necessary inference logically, but a few philosophers have gone this route. I might add, very few.

Roman said...

Thanks for the link, the Stanford Encyclopedia of philosophy (as well as the Internet encyclopedia of philosophy) has been so helpful for me.

I don't mean that the paper and ink in themselves are reducible to mental process, but the constitution of paper and ink into an intelligible object distinct from other objects is reducible to a mental process, which itself is reducible to neurological activity ... so I agree that money is a social construct, but social constructs are just atoms and subatomic particles in motion.

Chalmers has the zombie problem, I wonder, do think that philosophical zombies are possible? i.e. something which has the physical make up of a human being, atom by atom, but with no consciousness/intentionality? If it is possible, is that something you consider a problem for the materialist view?

I think that I could take on a materialist view if the view of matter changes from a mechanistic view to something else (perhaps something closer to pan-psychism, not where everything is aware, but everything has some kind of precurur to consciousness, and a teleological view of matter, not exactly like Aristotle but something around that).

The thing about reductionism for me is something like this
The neurons that make up my brain don't love my wife.

So you can describe the material qualities of the neurons, and describe them mathematically completely, and among those mechanistic and mathematical descriptions "loves God" will not be among them.

Yet I love my wife.

And I don't think "I love my wife" can be described as "such and such neurons connect with such and such neurons" and still capture the reality of love.

Edgar Foster said...

I will offer a brief reply for now.

Thanks for clarifying the point about mental processes. There is one philosopher (secular) named Shelly Kagan (I think he spells his name that way), but he concedes that we humans are nothing more than matter, but he argues that we're unique parcels of matter because we can reason, think abstractly, and more. Thomas Hobbes (in the Leviathan) also concedes that thought is nothing more than atomic motion, and so is the ability to will and speak. Yet, Hobbes also points out crucial differences between animals and humans. So it's possible that even if we're material beings, it makes a difference how matter/atoms are arranged or how they're configured. As Hobbes contends, humans strike compacts (covenants), but animals do not.

Regarding zombies, I and probably most materialists don't see it as problematic. I believe that zombies are logically possible, but not metaphysically possible. It's hard to deny that they could exist (metaphysically) but as far as we know, they don't, just like unicorns don't exist. So, I personally don't find the zombie argument all that forceful, but I do see it as helpful when applied to the "other minds" problem.

I recommended John Searle earlier because he discussess all of these issues and so does Jaegwon Kim. Our view of matter does not have to be mechanistic; in fact, John Searle posits biological naturalism, which is a different from many physicalist accounts. Lynne Baker is another writer, who might be helpful.

Roman said...

Thanks brother, I had heard of John Searle before, but I hadn't heard of biological naturalism, I have more to learn.

I also know Shelly Kegan, he has a lecture series on death that's very good.

Edgar Foster said...

Today was busy for me, and tomorrow will be more of the same. But I wanted to cap off my comments above:

I understand what you're saying above love, and I've been going back to read literature about the brain here lately and check out some videos. Frankly, I don't want to become an eliminative materialist like the Churchlands (Paul and Patricia), but I'm sympathetic to the synaptic self view of Joseph LeDoux and the embodied self theory of Antonio Damasio. I don't think one theory is able to fully explain consciousness, emotions or feelings and John Searle's approach to philosophy of mind avoids the traps of other theories, although Feser has critiqued aspects of Searle. But that happens to every theory.

Going back to your "I love my wife" example, maybe non-reductive materialism can explain emotions/feelings without equating particular neuronal firings with the love a man has for his wife.

Kagan makes that statement concerning material objects in his lecture series about death. His lecture style is different from mine, but I love how he sits on the desk and becomes so animated. Kagan makes you think about materialism versus dualism, whichever side you accept. I don't see how any student gets bored with him in the classroom. :)

You're welcome, and as always, I appreciate your thoughts and suggestions.

Edgar Foster said...

Regarding David Chalmers and zombies, see the review here: