Swinburne’s series of Gifford Lectures provide a philosophical account of the nature of the human person as an underpinning to a Christian understanding of the nature of the soul. The first part focuses on central themes in the philosophy of mind. In examining the data of sensations and their relation to brain events, thoughts, purposes, desires and beliefs, he builds up an argument for what he terms ‘soft dualism’, which he takes to be a satisfactory alternative to the untenable positions of either hard dualism and materialism. The next part of his lecture series continues to defend in more detail his substance dualism, its relation to his account of man as union of soul and body and the nature of personal identity. The third part describes the essential features of the human person, examining the significance of language and rationality, moral awareness and freedom of the will. Swinburne then examines the structure of the soul and its capacity for change as well as conditions of identity. He concludes by suggesting the light that Christian theism sheds on his account of the human person.
KEY WORDS: Aquinas, Aristotle, Belief, Body, Choice, Desires, Dualism, Free will, Immortality, Materialism, Morality, Natural selection, Personal identity, Purposes, Soul
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Swinburne introduces his study of the concept of the soul with a brief overview of the background concepts and the general methodological principles underpinning his ensuing arguments. He suggests that his approach is in alignment with the principles of rational scientific enquiry. The human person is a point on the evolutionary chain that must eventually lead back to inanimate beings, and it seems obvious that there are radical differences between living conscious things and objects like rocks and rivers. Based upon intuitive facts about our experience, Swinburne outlines what he terms his ‘soft dualist’ position, and contrasts it with opposing positions.
In Part I, Swinburne examines the concepts that constitute the mental life. There are six headings to this task: Sensations, Sensations and Brain-Events, Thoughts, Purposes, Desires, and Beliefs.
Swinburne analyses sensation as events that form the basic constituents of the mental life if it is to be distinct from the public physical life. The following section leads naturally to a closer analysis of the relation of sensations to brain events, arguing that the mind/brain thesis is false, since brain states and sensations fail to meet certain criteria of identity.
The next section examines the nature of thoughts. Thoughts, as Swinburne defines them, are distinct from sensations, and in contrast propositional, and occur to subjects at a given time. Judgements are thoughts, but not all thoughts are judgements. Thoughts can express beliefs, but beliefs can exist in the absence of thoughts. Thoughts are not to be identified with public behaviour; they are mental events that can be passive, in the sense that they can occur to a person, or active, in the sense that a person can purposively think about something. Like sensations, a subject has privileged access to his or her own thoughts. Thoughts must be potentially expressible in language, but they can exist in the absence of language. Swinburne devotes a substantial section to the relation between thought and language.
Section 5 aims to provide a detailed account of purposes as mental events. The focus of this is Swinburne’s analysis of intentional action. Intentional action involves an agent causing some event through action. He looks at understandings of how the agent’s state is to be understood, rejecting analyses that tend towards a reliance on passive states causing events. He goes on to endorse a variety of volition theories, which deny that any passive states are necessary for intentional action, but insists that the act of will is crucial. He notes some misleading aspects of such theories in their tendency to over-emphasise or under-emphasise the active component of intentional action. He concludes his analysis of ‘purposings’ by showing how and in what sense they are efficacious, what other mental events they involve, and their relation to physical events.
In the next section, Swinburne inquires into the nature of desires. He distinguishes them from intentions, since they are passive and not directly voluntary; they are natural inclinations upon which we can choose to act or not. The section concludes with remarks on intention and the possibility of modifying desires.
In his final section on the mental life, Swinburne explores the nature of belief. While beliefs are passive and involuntary, they are modifiable, much like desires. He then analyses the relationship between belief and action in light of an agent’s purposes and view of the consequences of held beliefs. He goes on to outline the nature of and means by which we can know the beliefs, purposes and desires of others. He concludes by suggesting that all mental events can be analysed in terms of sensations, thoughts, purposings, and the beliefs and desires that constitute the background to the first three.
Part II, in which he defends more thoroughly the substance dualism suggested in Part I, is devoted to the concept of the soul.
The first section explores the relationship between body and soul. Man is union of body and soul, but the soul constitutes identity and continuity. What follows is an assessment of the nature of and evidence for personal identity. Bodily criterion can only offer indirect evidence. Evidence in the form of memory claims can be outweighed, but possesses the primary authority; in general, people must be judged to be whom they remember being.
Swinburne devotes his next section to speculating on the origin and life of the soul. Since the soul is what identifies a person and has a mental life, there must be an account of what it is to have a soul in the absence of mental events, such as in periods of deep sleep.
Part III is entitled ‘The Human Soul’. In it, Swinburne looks at the essential aspects of the human soul. The first section deals with language, rationality and choice. He assesses the extent to which animals may possess or use language, and then the nature of language use in humans and its special features and role in human development. Language allows a person to make evaluative choices based on worth rather than desire; without language, an animal is a wanton.
In the next section, Swinburne describes the phenomenon of moral belief, with speculation over how it would have arrived on the evolutionary scene. He links the arrival of morality with language and deals with questions surrounding the relationship between morality and evolutionary survival in light of morality’s inner logic.
The third section looks at the freedom of the will. Humans are not determined by their brain states, and their free will is connected with the ability to resist desire.
In the penultimate section, Swinburne tries to show that an important characteristic of man is that his soul has a structure, an integrated belief-desire set. There is also a mechanism through which beliefs and desires can be changed, and Swinburne suggests normal and abnormal ways in which this can occur. The notion of a person’s character is related to these considerations, and Swinburne connects the resistance to abnormal change or tampering to the integration of belief and desire sets.
In the final section, Swinburne discusses the future of the soul. The issues surrounding personal identity and the brain are raised again when he overviews the implications for the possibility of resurrection of the soul after death. He looks at various claims from parapsychology and does not find evidence of the soul functioning without the brain functioning. He then rejects familiar dualist arguments for the natural immortality of the soul, holding that the soul cannot possess immortality in its own intrinsic nature. Any argument for the soul’s survival of death must be via some metaphysical theory, and he suggests that Christian theism is one such theory, and one fully consistent with his lectures on the human soul.
University of Aberdeen