Advocating a Naturalistic View in a Catholic Ethics Class

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Discussion by: ArmchairCat

 I’ve come to ask you folks for a bit of advice and information, but let me give you the context before making the request.

I’m in a medical ethics course at a private Catholic university. In almost every way, the quality of education here is phenomenal, and that includes the classroom experiences of critical thinking, unrestrained yet respectful debate of ideas, and due academic rigor in research and paper-writing. Yet as it turns out, my current ethics professor subscribes to the natural law philosophy borne of Catholic theology, and this framework structures and determines the course. More positively, the professor welcomes evaluation of that framework from other perspectives in the pursuit of debate and the examination of how arguments are devised and developed. All in all, no complaints on my end.

Anyway, we’ve come to a discussion in class about the apparent proofs of human spirituality/immortality, and one of the lines of argument presented deals with the metaphysical existence of ideas and concepts. In an extremely simplified sense, the claim is that because we experience abstract - immaterial - “things” (e.g. concepts, logic, the mind itself – almost like Platonic Forms, and yet not), we know that humans are more than just material creatures, and then the theological implications of that are laid out. Basically, we can’t point to a chunk of matter extended in space and say, “That thing there is an idea,” and so immateriality and spirituality necessarily follow.

Now, as a budding student of neuroscience, I can only say so much when we cover this material. I can point out, for example, that thoughts (if not ideas, specifically) have their form in particular patterns of electrical activity across the neocortex, but that isn’t exactly a response to the claims.Thoughts themselves, instantiated in neurons, are not the concepts themselves – they’re only referents. It’s like how if you write “balloon” on a sheet of paper, the shapes made of ink are not themselves the concept of a balloon (nor an actual balloon), only physical symbols that mean it. Abstracts, believe it or not, are abstract.

 

So I was hoping that some of you folks might have come across in your readings, those of you who are philosophically inclined, authors who treat this problem of metaphysics in an intelligible way. What, precisely, are concepts/abstractions, and what are the ways philosophers have reconciled them with physical reality? I’m afraid Google, keyword searches in library catalogs, and dustjacket summaries are too time-consuming and unreliable a way for me to ferret out what I’m looking for given the rest of my courseload, so I’m seeking the insights of people who may have already tread this path. If anyone here can recommend a good article, blog, book, or whatever, I’d sure be grateful!

24 COMMENTS

  1. Long ago, in a former life, when I was a Catholic theology student, I was introduced to this philosophical question in very much the same terms as you have stated. The mind, because of its apparently immaterial contents and actions, was believed to be an immaterial substance, and the body, of course, a material substance, and, although it was evident that the two functioned together as one organism, how they did so was “a natural mystery”. That was, and remains, the conclusion of the matter in Catholic theology and Catholic-approved philosophy. Catholics are quite accustomed to living with mysteries, most of which are “supernatural”, so they are not at all bothered by a mere natural mystery. There is nothing more to be gained from Catholic thought on this subject – you need to look elsewhere for useful information about the mind-body problem and to bring what you find there into your work in the medical ethics course.

    If you are a student of neuroscience, you are probably much more aware of the literature in this field than I, who am really only beginning to acquaint myself with the works written for the general educated readership. At present I am half-way through Consciousness Explained by Daniel Dennett, who has written quite a few other noteworthy books on similar and related topics. What is clear from Dennett’s works and works by other writers on this topic, like Michael Shermer’s The Believing Brain, is that no academic can ignore the evidence in support of the view that consciousness, even our abstractive, rational consciousness, is in fact generated by the brain. I cannot see how you can avoid bringing the findings of neuroscience into your medical ethics coursework, especially where theologically motivated philosophical teaching has left the question entirely unresoved.

  2. I’m not sure I fully understand your question. I don’t understand how having the ability to entertain abstract ideas is any proof of an afterlife or of immortality. I’d like to believe that I will have an afterlife and that it’s going to be really great. But the desire for a life after death does not prove that an afterlife is reality.

  3. The use of the term “natural law philosophy” borne of Catholic theology, is to misrepresent the “Natural Philosophy” which is now classed as science. Included in this misrepresentation of “nature”, is the description by the “infallible” Pope Pius IX misrepresenting rational thinking in his “get-out-of logic claim” as being “right reason”!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic-Church-and-evolution

    “10. Not only can faith and reason never be at odds with one another but they mutually support each other, for on the one hand right reason established the foundations of the faith and, illuminated by its light, develops the science of divine things; on the other hand, faith delivers reason from errors and protects it and furnishes it with knowledge of many kinds.” (Vatican Council I)

    “9. Hence all faithful Christians are forbidden to defend as the legitimate conclusions of science those opinions which are known to be contrary to the doctrine of faith, particularly if they have been condemned by the Church; and furthermore they are absolutely bound to hold them to be errors which wear the deceptive appearance of truth.” (Vatican Council I)

    You will see this claim that “revelation”, can be used to trump science, and a “get out of logical reasoning” way of uncritically accepting dogma as “RIGHT REASON”, is included in the last sentence of the quote from the “Catholic Encyclopedia”.

    The Catholic Encylopedia makes this claim, which is essentially an unevidenced, irrational, dogmatic, assertion – after softening up the audience with a few plausible examples:

    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09076a.htm

    The norm, however, of conduct is not some particular element or aspect of our nature. The standard is our whole human nature with its manifold relationships, considered as a creature destined to a special end. Actions are wrong if, though subserving the satisfaction of some particular need or tendency, they are at the same time incompatible with that rational harmonious subordination of the lower to the higher which reason should maintain among our conflicting tendencies and desires (see GOOD). For example, to nourish our bodies is right; but to indulge our appetite for food to the detriment of our corporal or spiritual life is wrong. Self-preservation is right, but to refuse to expose our life when the well-being of society requires it, is wrong. It is wrong to drink to intoxication, for, besides being injurious to health, such indulgence deprives one of the use of reason, which is intended by God to be the guide and dictator of conduct. Theft is wrong, because it subverts the basis of social life; and man’s nature requires for its proper development that he live in a state of society.

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    There is, then, a double reason for calling this law of conduct natural: first, because it is set up concretely in our very nature itself, and second, because it is manifested to us by the purely natural medium of reason.

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    In both respects it is distinguished from the Divine positive law, which contains precepts not arising from the nature of things as God has constituted them by the creative act, but from the arbitrary will of God.

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    This law we learn not through the unaided operation of reason, but through the light of supernatural revelation.

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    These are simple explanations from basic sources, but more theological sources are likely to simply be wrapped up in muddled obfuscating complexity, to further obscure the contradictions.

    There are undoubtedly features of social cooperation and altruism in human populations, but these are neither “set in concrete”, nor “naturally” conforming to Catholic dogma or dualism!

    Obviously in an ethics discussion, references should be made to scientific studies, and the codes of conduct of professional bodies.

  4. i don’t get it. humans evolve, they develop language, they use abstractions which improve their ability to generate subjective concepts, having philosophised on the concept of a concept they convince themselves they’ve created something immaterial. ergo our souls

    ergo arseholes. sounds like just another duallist word game

    read Consciousness Explained by Daniel Dennett

  5. I would come at it from the standpoint of the history of science. Trying to refute these arguments on their own grounds is like trying to argue with a religious person about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Just pretending that there is a framework that can support rigorous analysis is a flawed starting point.

    This argument belongs in the same bucket as arguments about the four fundamental elements and how various elements seek their own nature (air rises, earth falls to the ground) etc. Also similar to astrology and alchemy. We don’t bother with point by point refutations of astrology and alchemy because we have astronomy and chemistry. So its the same with these issues which relate to human psychology. In fact I don’t think that neuropsychology is even the most relevant field here. I would emphasize more cognitive psychology.

    There is growing support for the hypothesis that humans are born with cognitive modules for processing certain kinds of concepts. For example look at anthropologist Scott Atran’s writings about folkbiology (basic model of living things), folkpsychology (model of agents, intentions beliefs, etc.), etc.. So the reason we view the world in terms of agents, sets and subsets, hierarchical recursive structures, etc. is that our brains have processing built in to them from birth to conceptualize the world that way. In this hypothesis there is no discussion about metaphysical forms or anything like that, the ideas that just as language evolved because it gave humans an evolutionary advantage so the ability to think abstractly gave humans an evolutionary advantage because it enabled them to make complex plans, build tools, and eventually form language.

  6. So, animals don’t fall into that category then. Hmm heard this argument before.

    And since you’re into neuroscience, you should have insights into what traumatic brain injuries do to cognitive capabilities and other higher brain functions. Can’t be of much help, I’m not a specialist, but it seems pretty obvious to me that the brain is where the buck stops. Then take all kinds of mind altering substances. There is no spirituality there, only chemical imbalances.

    What they talk about is not proof. Where’s the experimental evidence? This? It’s typical theology, just pull anything out of your arse and call it gold.

    • In reply to #7 by N_Ellis:

      “we know that humans are more than just material creatures”

      We don’t know that, we just think it

      Or for those who understand Thermodynamics:-

      We don’t** know** that, we just think it very very unlikely! – even before we get into the perverse theist dualist contortions of why human brains have different “afterlife” physics and biochemistry from their ancestors and all the related life forms on Earth!

  7. Perhaps mine is a sophomoric view, but I fall back to proof. The connections that they are attempting to make are not logical conclusions. I can prove outright that logic exists. I can prove (with a bit more “fuzziness” that these things called minds exist.) I cannot, however, then jump to a conclusion of “there, poof, there must be immortality…. or god…. or pan dimensional octopi…. or or or or or or…”

    Alan 4 brings up thermodynamics and I’d hinge my argument on this idea. If there was any soul or feature that survived the lifespan of the person, we could measure and track it through it’s energy. Otherwise, it violates the laws of thermodynamics and CANNOT exist.

  8. “Catholic Ethics Class”

    That cracked me up, Thanks for the laugh. :)

    This is complete nonsense however: “because we experience abstract – immaterial – “things” (e.g. concepts, logic, the mind itself – almost like Platonic Forms, and yet not), we know that humans are more than just material creatures”

    Humans are only material creatures, isn’t it amazing how wonderful material can be arranged to produce the mind.

  9. Thanks for all the helpful replies, folks! I know we can quickly move to science and point out how consciousness and mind are well understood as products of brain function, but unfortunately that aspect alone doesn’t solve the problem of immaterial things.

    Re. the argument for human immortality: It’s not a convincing argument, no. But before even considering the argument from mind to immortality, I’m curious about understanding how abstract things themselves “exist.” Using the example of thermodynamics, we can check the world for lingering mental “energy” after a death and find none. But what about ideas, or knowledge? A mind doesn’t survive death to the best of our knowledge, but (so long as they were communicated) that mind’s ideas and knowledge can. You can also share an idea infinitely many times and never have any less of the idea than you began with – so thermodynamic logic doesn’t seem to apply to abstractions. In other words, I’d agree that we can all spend less time worrying about refuting the idea that the mind is fundamentally immaterial; cognitive neuroscience is deftly shedding light on that old shadow every day. What I’m asking about are the kinds of things minds can consider: abstractions, e.g. numbers, concepts, logical relations, etc.

    This strange sort of “existence” that abstractions have, then, is what piques my curiosity. I don’t understand how abstract things imply God either, but before even getting to that phase of the discussion, I’d like to better understand this notion of abstract things’ “existence” itself. I’ve heard it said that, in philosophy, half the work is defining your terms, haha. And for better or worse, this discussion seems more amenable to philosophic methods than scientific.

    I’ll see if I can find Deleuze, thanks. And I have only read one book by Dan Dennett so far, and to be honest had a hard time reading it. He’s not as accessible as Dawkins or Pinker, for me. If I’m going to check out Consciousness Explained (assuming it covers topics that are not updated by more recent work in cognitive science and philosophy of mind..?), I’ll have to set aside a hefty chunk of time, heh.

    • In reply to #12 by ArmchairCat:

      I have no referrence works to offer, no formal training, and no real expertise in the subjects you raise, but I do think I spot the fallacy here.

      The entire line of thinking which you raise here seeks to derive – through reasoned logic – the “fact” that immaterial things “exist.”

      Okay, so what is the starting point for this line of reasoning? Observation one, that immaterial things exist.

      Um…what?

      That’s right, the conclusion is simply asserted and assumed as a starting point, then victory is claimed at the end of a chain of reasoning which actually did not go anywhere.

      I’m curious about understanding how abstract things themselves “exist.”

      This is exactly the point, and you are right to use scare quotes. As you say, defining terms is key, but it isn’t necessary to complete the very difficult task of understanding how abstract things “exist” in order to dismiss this line of argument. One merely needs to note, and acknowledge, that in WHATEVER sense it may ultimately be said that abstract things “exist” it is ABSOLUTELY NOT the same sense in which physical things exist. Whatever the hypothetical nature of immaterial “existence” maybe, we are IN NO WAY justified to leap to the assumption that abstract things “exist” in the common, vernacular sense of the word.

      If we were reasoning honestly, we would agree that using the word “exist” at all in this context is therefore confusing at best, and dishonest at worst. Abstract things have a nature of some sort, but saying they “exist” simply implies the conclusion we are seeking to support.

      And it is not enough just to say “of course the ‘existence’ is different. That’s dualism, the idea that there are TWO SEPARATE planes of existance.” Acknowledging the difference does not excuse the assumption that the two types of existence also must share some traits. The reasoner relies on the hearer to import certain assumptions about what it means to “exist” into our reasoning about abstractions – to equate one type of existence with another, with no evidence of a relationship between them. The entire argument rests on a conflation of two necessarily different definitions of that word.

      Many theological arguments use this trick. My favorite is the way “knowledge” and “truth” are frequently abused with special definitions that apply only in theology. Yet theologians happily encourage their audience to assume those words have the commonly understood definitions when using them to support claims.

      A mind doesn’t survive death to the best of our knowledge, but (so long as they were communicated) that mind’s ideas and knowledge can.

      No they cannot. At least we have no evidence that they can. COPIES of those ideas can continue to exist IN OTHER MINDS. All of our research in this area has shown that mental constructs are dependent for their “existence” upon a physical medium. It’s like saying that the information on my heard drive survived a complete crash because I had backed up my files to disk. It seems true at first glance, but in actuality, before my system crash I had two copies of the data, not some single “abstract concept” of data. The crash destroyed one. The wiped one is no less destroyed because the back-up exists.

      This fact becomes more apparent when copying methods have lower rates of fidelity. Copying errors occur in most forms of duplication. Some are tiny, some are large. When I pass on an idea to someone else, A new idea, slightly different in detail, is actually created. In addition, the original copy in my brain is very likely undergoing slight revisions with the passage of time; through reconsideration or minor shifts of memory. We have no evidence that the abstract “idea” exists somewhere independent of the copy in my mind or the copy in my students mind. The actual nature of “ideas” seems to be slow decay through various processes of degradation.

      You can also share an idea infinitely many times and never have any less of the idea than you began with – so thermodynamic logic doesn’t seem to apply to abstractions.

      This is an assertion which does not survive scrutiny. Every time an idea is “shared” (I’d say “copied”) the potential for change exists. Just play a game of Chinese whispers and tell my that infinite sharing leaves you with no diminishment of ideas. High fidelity copying of ideas from one mind to another is actually an extremely costly enterprise. Just look at your tuition bill sometime. There is a great deal of energy required to preserve “knowledge,” because there is in fact a form of “entropy” degrading it over time. Coincidentally, the rate of decay for an idea seems to be about equal to the decay rate of the vessel containing it.

      In other words, I’d agree that we can all spend less time worrying about refuting the idea that the mind is fundamentally immaterial; cognitive neuroscience is deftly shedding light on that old shadow every day. What I’m asking about are the kinds of things minds can consider: abstractions, e.g. numbers, concepts, logical relations, etc.

      Here’s another way of looking at it. Oddly, this may seem to contradict what I said earlier. There IS a sense in which the “existence” of abstractions can be equated with the existence of perceived physical phenomena. It’s just that the equivalence is actually the opposite of the one implied by the argument you raise.

      While we have no reason to think that abstract numbers, concepts, etc. share any existential qualities with physical objects, it is true that OUR PERCEPTION of the physical world – everything we see, hear, smell, touch, taste – is in fact an abstract representation of the world created inside our minds, AND NOT the world itself.

      For example, color as we perceive it is not a property of nature, it is an abstract mental property created in a mind to map onto various wave-lengths of light. color could be viewed as mental software program for interpreting data and constructing a model of external reality.

      Professor Dawkins has suggested – intriguingly in my view – that non-human minds could just as easily use color as a place holder for some other type of sensory input – say sound input in echolocators like bats, or smell input for canines. Bats could construct a model that looks just like the one in your head, but use sound waves instead of photos to provide the blueprint.

      Using this line of thought we might conclude that human minds – in essence – are highly evolved abstraction machines. We survive by building abstract models in our heads. This ability is so advanced that we can create these abstractions either from true sensory input, OR WITHOUT IT. That may be the only difference between an abstract idea and a “concrete” idea.

      Some of the purely abstract models we create turn out to be useful, such as mathmatics or alphabets. Others bear insufficient resemblance to objective reality. We call such ideas delusions.

      And for better or worse, this discussion seems more amenable to philosophic methods than scientific.

      Only rigorous application of the scientific method can allow us to distinguish confidently between good and bad mental constructs; between true observations and self-created delusions. The mere fact that we can conceive of and entertain an idea is not sufficient to lend it credibility- or “existence” for that matter. Abstract reasoning in the absence of testable input tends inevitably to derail. Done right, philosophy is a vital part of science. It may be invaluable to pioneering new avenues of exploration, but pure thought is unreliable and requires the grounding of experimentation. This is ultimately the limit of pure philosophy, and why science is indespensible for productive philosophical discussion..

  10. ArmchairCat – I’m curious about understanding how abstract things themselves “exist.” Using the example of thermodynamics, we can check the world for lingering mental “energy” after a death and find none. But what about ideas, or knowledge? A mind doesn’t survive death to the best of our knowledge, but (so long as they were communicated) that mind’s ideas and knowledge can. You can also share an idea infinitely many times and never have any less of the idea than you began with – so thermodynamic logic doesn’t seem to apply to abstractions.

    If you think about it, “abstractions” do not exist in the absence of matter and energy. Ideas are recorded in material books, hard-drives, or brains.
    People’s ideas can certainly out-live them. We have books with the ideas of many great scientists and the structures built by great engineers – but they are all recorded in matter and energy. Even the inanimate mathematics & physics of planets, stars and galaxies is recorded in the matter and energy they are composed of.

    Those who claim dualism is supported by “abstractions” are simply postulating a circular argument about information in material brains or other material recording devices (natural or manufactured) by the thermodynamically refuted claim they are “immaterial”.
    Matter and energy, and arrangements of matter and energy recording information, are not “immaterial”.

  11. I took a 400 level philosophy of the imagination course in college and it was about this very topic. Current neuroscience alone is not enough to understand how we know things (epistemology), it should be considered with different concepts of what reality is (metaphysics). Catholics and Plato are dualists, in that they believe in two realities. Consider that there are more than just dualist ways of looking at reality. You can start by looking up philosphy of the imagination, and go from there, but it is important to have a foundation of epistemology before looking at metaphysics. Your professor is probably going to throw Descartes at you considering what your professor said. Look at “noumena” which basically means that things exist outside of our conception of them. Existentialismis another that will get you thinking. It’s a complicated subject and you may not find any concrete answers.

    • In reply to #14 by Montag:

      I took a 400 level philosophy of the imagination course in college and it was about this very topic. Current neuroscience alone is not enough to understand how we know things (epistemology), it should be considered with different concepts of what reality is (metaphysics).

      The point about thermodynamics is that you do not need to understand all the complexities of neuroscience to know that brains and thoughts, work on electrical impulses and biochemistry. – just as you do not need to understand all the complexity of computing, to know that microchips work on switching electricity! Energies can be measured!

      The complexity is just another diminishing gap for the gods-of-gaps to hide in. There is no “dualist” physics and chemistry! It is a mythical construct wrapped in verbosity!

      Catholics and Plato are dualists, in that they believe in two realities.

      .. One physical material reality for which there is abundant evidence, – and one fantasy mythological unreality, for which not one scrap of evidence has ever been found.

      Consider that there are more than just dualist ways of looking at reality.

      There are many ways of looking, and many ways of pandering to illusion and delusion, but only scientific methodology consistently shows what works in the material universe. – and it often shows it to incredibly high levels of probability and accuracy (as for example in astronomical calculations) .

  12. The discussion is interesting and stimulating, as I suppose perhaps the course is as well. The problem of metaphysics is mentioned. (No one brought up the possible distinction between Pre-Kantian metaphysics and what is sometimes called Post-Kantian “ontology.”) (Montag at iem 14 has some good points.) The question of epistemology is also raised. Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (look at the Cambridge U.P translation, which is more accessible) is usually thought of as being the beginning of the end of strictly Roman Catholic Medieval Platonic or Aristotelian metaphysics and the beginning of a more “natural philosophy.” Eventually that led to what we now tend to call “natural science,” “life science,” and even “social” or “behavioral” science (e.g. Auguste Comte’s view of stages). What is missing from the discussion, I would like to suggest, is any mention of ethics (or, technically, axiology). The blanket statements made (e.g. “Humans are only material creatures, .. -BornAfterTV at item 11) and “we can all spend less time worrying about the the idea that the mind is fundamentally immaterial; …” at item 12 by ArmchairCat) are off the mark. (Remember, we make a distinction between “brain” and “mind.” The brain is fundamentally material, but does “mind” even exist is precisely the question!) It would be interesting for you to discuss fascism and the Nazi Holocaust. If there is no such thing as “mind” and if humans are only material creatures then what was the problem with exterminating six million Jews, not to mention millions of Roman Catholics, homosexuals, Gypsies, etc. The theories about thermodynamics and neuroscience would not, in and of themselves, explain any reason for any ethical or moral decision. To put it more simply, suppose your best friend (or brother, or father) were shot and killed. What would be the basis for having any thoughts about that? In terms of the whole infinite Universe it does not matter any more than a cat being run over by a car or millions of people dying from natural causes (e.g. typhoid). The quotations from Pope Pius IX concern a differentiation of “faith” and “reason.” To my little brain (and maybe to my “mind”) those ideas are something to consider carefully and not simply dismiss out of hand. (Too bad the Roman Catholic Church did not take a strong stand during WWII; it could have saved a lot of lives.) Also, quotations from an Encyclopedia of any kind do not represent a refined argument. Encyclopedias are tertiary sources. Go to the original sources. For example, read Isaac Newton. His theology may have been wrong, but few would argue that he was stupid. The co-discoverer of the calculus, Leibniz, also struggled with the question that is being raised in the medical ethics course. I am abysmally ignorant of many, many things. But I do know this is a very serious question. The metaphysical and ontological problem of monism, dualism and some form of modified dualism/modified monism is not so easily dismissed. You might want to look more deeply into theology before completely rejecting all forms of theological thinking. The book that has influenced me a great deal is by Randall Collins (1998) The Sociology of Philosophies (Cambridge, MA: Belknap/Harvard U.P.). If anyone wants to discuss this further I will write a bit about C. S. Peirce, son of Benjamin Peirce, the Harvard mathematician, and the founder of American Pragmatism. He was a master of logic. He wrote “A Guess at the Riddle.” Cheers, Hans

    [Link to personal website removed by moderator]

    • In reply to #17 by hans.bakker.7731:

      What is missing from the discussion, I would like to suggest, is any mention of ethics (or, technically, axiology).

      That aspect of human individual and collective thinking is really a separate subject.

      The blanket statements made (e.g. “Humans are only material creatures, .. -BornAfterTV at item 11) and “we can all spend less time worrying about the the idea that the mind is fundamentally immaterial; …” at item 12 by ArmchairCat) are off the mark.

      This is purely an unevidenced assertion.

      (Remember, we make a distinction between “brain” and “mind.”

      Do we??? There is no evidenced basis for this.

      The brain is fundamentally material, but does “mind” even exist is precisely the question!)

      I thought neuroscience had shown that “the mind” is simply the functioning of the brain!

      It would be interesting for you to discuss fascism and the Nazi Holocaust.

      What on Earth has that to do with a general discussion of neuroscience?? The holocaust was carried out by Nazi Christians, led by the Roman Catholic Hitler, who was billed as “The New Luther”, by his propagandists.

      If there is no such thing as “mind” and if humans are only material creatures then what was the problem with exterminating six million Jews, not to mention millions of Roman Catholics, homosexuals, Gypsies, etc.

      Oh dear! Not “morality comes from immaterial magic fairy dust again”, with a side-tracking Hitler fallacy thrown in!

      The “mind” is a description of a functioning brain. The ethical or unethical functioning of individual brains is an issue for the psychoanalysis of the brain functions of the individuals concerned.

      I think the exterminations were more readily related to that Roman Catholic Hitler – perhaps with a little help from the Deutsche Christen movement and Mussolini – – you know that fascist chap Mussolini, who did the deal with the RCC to set up the Vatican as a state!

      Alt Text – Deutsche Christen Flag – - Alt Text – Deutsche Christen Badge

      The Deutsche Christen (German Christians) were a German Protestantism movement aligned towards antisemetic principles of Nazism. The DC were sympathetic to Hitler’s goal of uniting the individual Protestant churches into a single Reich church.

      The DC was first formed in 1931 and the flag was flown during marches and demonstrations.

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      The theories about thermodynamics and neuroscience would not, in and of themselves, explain any reason for any ethical or moral decision.

      Of course thermodynamics would not. It explains why there cannot be any undetected energy entering or leaving the brain.

      The actual functioning of the brain is explained by neuroscience, but we do not yet have all the details. There are no other credible explanations of the brain’s decision making processes, and you have not even attempted to produce any.

      To put it more simply, suppose your best friend (or brother, or father) were shot and killed. What would be the basis for having any thoughts about that?

      The same basis as any other thoughts – electrical impulses through synapses, neurons, and biochemistry.

      In terms of the whole infinite Universe it does not matter any more than a cat being run over by a car or millions of people dying from natural causes (e.g. typhoid).

      It matters to the people involved. The rest of the universe is not involved and the material inanimate universe does not care.

      The quotations from Pope Pius IX concern a differentiation of “faith” and “reason.” To my little brain (and maybe to my “mind”) those ideas are something to consider carefully and not simply dismiss out of hand.

      They were considered rationally and objectively, before being discarded as irrational (claiming whimsical faith can over-ride logical reasoning), and unscientific, – claiming wishful mental “revelations” can over-ride scientific evidence. They are flawed thinking.

      (Too bad the Roman Catholic Church did not take a strong stand during WWII; it could have saved a lot of lives.)

      True! – but it was too busy doing deals with Mussolini, Franco and Hitler.

      Also, quotations from an Encyclopedia of any kind do not represent a refined argument.

      MMmm! You missed the fact some were quotes from original sources in the encyclopaedias , and that there were citations linked to original sources at the foot of the encyclopaedia pages!

      Oh! dear! No evidence or rational argument refined or otherwise, against the information, so you try to discredit the source!

      The quotes provide a concise clear comment appropriate for a discussion thread, which can be expanded later if need be.

      Encyclopedias are tertiary sources. Go to the original sources.

      Perhaps you could show some original scientific studies (if they exist) which contradict the information given, rather than making vague insinuations.

      I am abysmally ignorant of many, many things. But I do know this is a very serious question. The metaphysical and ontological problem of monism, dualism and some form of modified dualism/modified monism is not so easily dismissed.

      Unless you understand the physics of matter and energy, and the basics of the brain, in which case it is very easily dismissed as contradicting science and lacking any supporting evidence.
      Then the ethereal fairy-dust hypothesis of dualism falls apart as pure “immaterial” whimsicality with no substance.

    • If there is no such thing as “mind” and if humans are only material creatures then what was the problem with exterminating six million Jews, not to mention millions of Roman Catholics, homosexuals, Gypsies, etc.

      What a strange question. I’m going to copy and paste it again but this time without the editorial term “only”.

      If there is no such thing as “mind” and if humans are material creatures then what was the problem with exterminating six million Jews, not to mention millions of Roman Catholics, homosexuals, Gypsies, etc.

      Is the problem gone now?

      • And I should have deleted “if there is no such thing as mind” as well. The idea that “mind” is what “brain” does does not mean there is no such thing as mind. It simply means that “mind” is not what we intuitively feel it is.

        In crude terms, “mind” is to “brain” as “running” is to “legs”. Do you think that there is no such thing as “running” if our legs our material?

        • Yes, I’ve given this a bit of a look-in during my free time, and it’s not exactly something I’m an expert on, or even feel pretty excited about. It seems to me to be one of those things that philosophers worry over, but which doesn’t reward them or anyone else for the effort.

          Since this allies pretty closely with the concept of dualism, I take the same approach to the concrete-abstract distinction as I do to the brain-mind distinction; it’s referring to real phenomena, and it’s a useful way to frame the world depending on the topic of discussion, but it’s not a justification for dualism.

          Take mathematics, which I think is about as abstract as you can get. Simply put, concrete objects don’t exist without mathematical facts applying to them – even their nonexistence entails mathematical facts – and mathematics doesn’t work in isolation of them. Physicists may make predictions based on mathematics, but they bow down to what the concrete happenings of the real world actually tell them.

          Even theoretical mathematics is simply an extension (i.e. an induction) of the mathematical properties observed and understood in the real world of concrete objects, applied to hypothetical worlds and following those rules of non-contradiction etc. offered up by reality. The brain is one big induction machine, designed to extract more information from the environment than is actually given to it by the raw senses. Treating abstractions in the same way one would treat concrete material objects, such that you’d argue there’s an essence of abstraction independent of concrete objects, is making too many unjustified claims about reality that probably only apply to the mind’s abilities to depart from reality in the first place. They’re separable only to the degree that the mind can deal with each one on its own, not because they’re literally made of fundamentally different substances. Essentialism has repeatedly been refuted in areas such as biology and mind sciences. It doesn’t have a lot going for it.

          For instance, humans might have evolved “intuitive dualism” in which they found it easier to incline towards dualism (that the mind has its own existence independent of matter) than towards monism (that the mind and the matter of the brain are simply two sides of the same existential coin). While dualism has a grain of truth in it (you can treat mind and body differently because there are real differences between them), evolution doesn’t select for what’s accurate or even true as a matter of course. If it did, expert mathematicians would be the norm among people rather than restricted to the few geniuses who actually exist. Evolution selects for those phenotypes which will get the genes into the next generation, and if that means building a brain with a simplified and half-cocked but workable intuition about the reality of very complex creatures, then so be it. It’s none of the genes’ concern when individual thinkers entrench the idea in their culture.

          In reply to #20 by susanlatimer:

          In crude terms, “mind” is to “brain” as “running” is to “legs”. Do you think that there is no such thing as “running” if our legs our material?

          The difference between software and hardware is usually the favoured way of putting it. My laptop runs Microsoft Office 2007 software, but only minute examination of the wiring would reveal that it has a physical basis. My brain runs some pretty top-notch software for circadian rhythms, memory association, and self-restraint mechanisms, but you couldn’t tell it wasn’t arbitrary magic without examining the neural networks in my head.

  13. Challenges to Naturalistic view:

    Materialism:
    If you’re into Neuroscience Gilbert Ryle wrote this great book called “The Concept of Mind” – it’s all about how the the concept of mind and the immaterial is like a ghost in a machine..

    another form of it is Epiphenomenalism: this idea is basically the same thing as this that you mentioned “Thoughts themselves, instantiated in neurons, are not the concepts themselves – they’re only referents.”

    I think some really interesting challenges also come from Colin Blakemore but I’m guessing as a budding neuroscientist you’re probably more familiar with his work than I am…

    • In reply to #22 by zoe.garnett:

      another form of it is Epiphenomenalism: this idea is basically the same thing as this that you mentioned “Thoughts themselves, instantiated in neurons, are not the concepts themselves – they’re only referents.”

      That sounds more like substance dualism than property dualism. Also, unlike other forms of property dualism, epiphenomenalism is entirely reducible to physics.

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