The Evolution of the Soul

Richard Swinburne wrote the book The Evolution of the Soul in 1997. The latest edition appeared in 2005. The author was able to provide additional materials in New Appendices C and D, while reusing some previous data, which was printed in two articles Thisness, and Faith and Philosophy. The book consists of the preface, introduction, three major parts, and appendixes. The fits one is called ‘The Mental Life’ and it encompasses such topics as sensations, brain events, thoughts, purposes, desires, and beliefs. The second part is called ‘The soul’ and it consists of three sections: body and soul, the evidence of personal identity, and the origin and life of the soul. The last part is called ‘The Human Soul’. It consists of five paragraphs, which include such topics as languages, rationality, and choice; moral awareness; the freedom of the will; the structure of the Soul; and the future of the soul. The whole book is an attempt to argue for substance dualism. The author is able to do it in different ways. One of the strongest points of the book is the fact that the majority of the author’s arguments are grounded on a biological and philosophical basis.

The majority of current philosophers are considered to be physicalists. It practically means that they believe in an appropriate sense, which acknowledges that everything, incorporating the universe, feeling, natural phenomenon, material objects, etc. is eventually physical. However, currently, due to Chalmer and his authoritative work on phenomenal consciousness, a lot of physical began to consider property dualism in a more serious way. It means that despite the fact that there is a lot of solid reasoning for physicalism, physical sciences as such are not able to attribute and clarify everything in the world (Reames 92). Despite these facts, the number of philosophers, which take substance dualism into serious account, is very small. Swinburne defines such a substance dualism as two different substances. On the one hand, there is a mental substance, which stands for the soul; on the other hand, there is a physical substance. In fact, they are different, but they cooperate and interact with each other. Thus, Swinburne’s book can be defined as an attempt to convince for substance dualism.

As it was already mentioned, the first part consists of six chapters, which provide six interrelated topics. This is the part, where Swinburne convinces that mental event together with physical events are ontologistically obvious and clear. Therefore, the author discusses the very nature of sensations and feelings, including visual sensations, pains, auditory sensations, etc. These are considered to be mental events in the author’s sense (Swinburne 22-23). Thus, the author concludes that despite the fact that sensations are caused by brain-events, they are not brain-events themselves. In fact, the pain as such is a brain-event (Swinburne 36). However, science describes only firings of neurons in the brain, without actual explanation of actions appearing in the brain. The facts show that there are after-images and pains, and science has to state these facts and try to explain them. Therefore, the author considered behaviorism and identity to be false, due to the fact that they cannot provide any satisfactory and tolerable sensations (Swinburne 44). Afterwards, the author examines such notions as purposes, desires, beliefs, and thoughts. These notions are relevant to mental activities (Swinburne 45). As the author appeals to the causal efficacy of conscious episodes, he renounces epiphenomenalism as such. Later on, he clearly stated that “the balance of the argument suggests that epiphenomenalism of belief is false” (Swinburne 289).

The second part is the one where the author advocates substance dualism. Swinburne argues that a man living on the Earth is a substance, which consists of two substances, the body, and the soul. The body is a material body, but the soul is not a material object or anything alike, as it occupies no volume of space. In fact, the author shows that the body and soul are connected at present, thus, the body affects the events in the soul and conversely (Swinburne 84). Therefore, all mental events which happen to the human being as the body, in virtue happen to the soul of that person. On the other hand, bodily events, which happen to the human being, do so in virtue of happening to the body (Swinburne 102). That is the dualism that the author defends throughout the book.

The third part encompasses the last five chapters, where the author examines the structure, abilities, and capacities of the human soul, contrasting with the animal soul. The author clearly states that the human soul is different from animal soul due to the fact that the first posses the freedom of will, powers of sophisticated and logically based thought, a perception of moral virtue and duties (Swinburne 231). Moreover, the author depicts that despite the fact that the structure and character of the human soul partially depend on the brain, it is fundamentally and practically independent (Swinburne 253).



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As the thesis of Swinburne’s book is persuasion in substantial dualism, while providing various arguments in order to prove the idea, it is important to evaluate its presentation. Swinburne dualism is a version of Cartesian dualism (Reames 95). The dualism presented by the Swinburne is grounded on the idea that mental events and physical events inter influence each other. Due to the fact that an essential ontological gap definitely exists between the two, it can be easily concluded that it is insufferable for them to enter influence each other. Thus, if there is an interaction, the gap cannot exist as such. Moreover, the author himself admits that he cannot account for the very inter influence, saying that “we cannot explain how it works” (Swinburne xi). However, he believes that such a gap cannot be a serious problem for the main idea of dualism, saying that “it seems no good argument against the existence of a causal connection, which can be repeated endlessly at will” (Swinburne xi).

The idea can be opposed to antidualism as such. On the one hand, Swinburne acknowledges that dualism is veritable and apparent, as it is clear that the mental and physical substances are ontologically differentiated entities, which inter influence each other. On the other hand, antidualism suggests that dualism can be rejected on the basis of the idea that due to the fact that mental substances and physical substances are ontologically distinct, the inter influence cannot be possible. As Swinburne cannot adequately reject this idea, all his claims beg the question against antidualism. The idea seems very weak due to the fact that the author simply repeats that the very inter influence of the two is obvious, but he does not provide any clarification, explanation, or evidence of its existence. Moreover, the appearance of mental and physical inter influence might be explained as ineffable. However, then, the author has to define why the notion is ineffable. As a matter of fact, the author attempted to interpret it in Chapter 10 in the last part of the book. Thus, the author states that inter influence cannot be eternally interpreted with the help of physics or chemistry, as these sciences “cannot be enlarged so as to become a super-science dealing with both physical and mental properties” (Swinburne 188). Such an explanation is given on the basis of Colin McGinn’s argument, and Swinburne is clearly appealing to it. The argument is known as the undecidability of mind-body questions. However, generally speaking, the argument provided by Swinburne differs from the one represented by McGinn. In fact, McGinn believes that it is impossible to solve the mind-body issue due to the fact that people are cognitively restricted concerning the problem resolution. McGinn believes that despite the fact that there is the question resolution, human beings have limited or denied access to it due to human being’s remarkable and unique cognitive restrictions. Thus, it is visible that the argument presented by Swinburne does not actually allude to such cognitive restrictions. Moreover, Swinburne applies a religious basis while presenting the inability to describe the existence of inter influence. He states that “the ability of God’s action to explain the otherwise mysterious mind-body connection is just one more reason for postulating his existence” (Swinburne 198). On a contrary to this phrase, McGinn frankly and distinctly denies that his argument implicates anything supernatural, including the subsistence of God. McGenn believes that there permissible creatures that have dissimilar cognitive aptitudes, which can access the resolution. Moreover, despite the fact that the arguments presented by Swinburne might justify dualism altogether, they are not usable to substance dualism. The argument depicts that only mental events cannot be eternally explicable utilizing physical terms. Thus, inter influence is explainable in a different manner. The author typically utilized special formulas in order to describe and schematize some notions and arguments and depict the general interconnection and dependence of phenomena. He uses everyday life experiences or everyday situations for such explanations. They usually simplify understanding and provide generalized data. Moreover, Swinburne applies a lot of theories in order to ground the information provided. However, not all of his evidence and motivations are adequate and fully justified.

Probably the best phrase, which characterizes the book and its thesis, belongs to Nicholas Evritt. He concluded that “Swinburne’s primary argument for dualism has no force because it simply assumes what it is trying to prove” (Everitt 344).


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