[ Author Bio ]
A Case for Physicalism about the Human Mind (Great Debate) (2007)
In this chapter, I describe evidence for the view that the human mind is a physical entity, in much the same way in which the human digestive system or the human immune system are physical entities. The first section characterizes this view more fully. The second section explains the evidential relevance of physicalism about the mind to theism. The third section sketches two kinds of evidence that support physicalism about the human mind, while the final section considers an antiphysicalist response to the reasoning of the previous section.
According to physicalism, what we ordinarily take to be a causally undetermined mental action is both caused and determined. But if physicalism is true, important elements of the first-person point of view are mistaken: Andrew Melnyk's choice to write his paper is not ultimately and irreducibly explained by a purpose, but by the nonpurposive causes of events in his brain. Physicalism implies that at bottom there are not purposive and causal explanations, but simply causal ones, and that there are not free and determined events, but only determined ones. Given these implications, why think that physicalism is true?
In "A Case for Physicalism about the Human Mind," I tried to assemble positive evidence that physicalism about human mentality is true, while insisting that no aspect of human behavior makes it necessary to adopt any kind of dualism about human mentality. In their reply, Charles Taliaferro and Stewart Goetz fail to engage my positive case for physicalism, and offer no examples of human behavior that can only be explained by some kind of dualism. Instead, they primarily object that my paper overlooks features of human mentality purportedly incompatible with physicalism and accessible only from "the first-person point of view," such as free choice and reasons for acting. My response focuses on this objection alone.
Naturalism, Free Choices, and Conscious Experiences (Great Debate) (2007)
Charles Taliaferro and Stewart Goetz offer two main objections to a certain kind of naturalism. First, naturalism concedes the legitimacy of purposeful explanation but conceives of it as a special kind of causal explanation, namely one that cites the wants (or purposes) and beliefs of an agent. But Taliaferro and Goetz object that some explanations--such as the explanations of free choices--are irreducibly purposeful. I argue that our everyday choices provide little if any evidence for fundamentally purposeful (noncausal) explanations. Second, Taliaferro and Goetz argue that the existence of a universe containing nonphysical conscious states requires a fundamentally purposeful explanation. But I argue that this does not follow even if one grants the questionable assumption that conscious states are physically irreducible.
Unlike naturalists, theists can provide a good explanation of the emergence of consciousness because their worldview offers an explanatory framework in which the goodness of conscious life and libertarian free will provides the fundamental reason why conscious, free subjects exist. Contrary to Andrew Melnyk, human choices can only be explained in terms of purposes or reasons for acting, and they do not have causes. In addition, conscious states are intrinsically nonphysical and not made up of parts, while physical explanations of the intrinsic natures of things are typically couched in terms of part-whole compositional relationships.