5.0 PERSONS

We've previously argued that not all humans are persons. Shortly we will define persons. To get started on that task we must first ask how persons differ from animals and machines? A common answer of theists is that we have souls, and a common answer of nontheistic dualists--for one need not be religious to believe that we are more than physical processes--is that we have minds. Both sorts of dualists insist that persons are not caused but rather are themselves causes. Our conscious experiences are not reducible to brain activities; instead, our brain activities give rise to phenomenal, subjective experiences that we know 'from the inside.' As Leon Kass puts it, the soul is the vital form of the body, "the integrated powers," the "ground and source of awareness, appetite, and action." And that vital form controls the body, directing its motions and behaviors.

Monists deny the dualistic premise. Reductionist monists such as Melnyk hold that we are nothing more than physical processes and argue that there is no evidence for souls and plenty of evidence against them. Defenders of scientism such as Rosenberg insist that we are explained by blind mechanical causal processes--preeminently the evolution of species and the growth of neural networks through processes of random mutations and environmental filtration. For the monists Daniel Dennett calls heterophenomenologists, every 'vital form' of the body, every integrated act of awareness, appetite or action that dualists attribute to the soul or mind is, or will eventually be, explained in a much more satisfactory way by the physical sciences using whatever is the best account of physics.

Which is it? Am I the expert, the final authority on my conscious experiences--be it the perception that this computer monitor is dimming, or the hope that a tenth guy will show for a pick-up basketball game, or the pattern of sounds that seems to me like Bach's 4th cello suite? Or are these conscious experiences nothing but motions of electrons in my head, subject to gross misinterpretation by me and to careful correction by third-person methods? Can objective naturalist approaches correct my subjective experiences of the world? Or can they only provide partial explanations of the causes of my experiences--experiences with meanings ultimately determined by their subject, me?

Author: comstock
Maintained By: Gary Comstock
Last Updated: 2010-02-07