3.4 Contention: "Persons have physical causes."

An argument for the existence of souls insists we know our souls exist because we have first-hand knowledge of them. Simple reflection on our own experience reveals that each of us is a conscious being who can freely turn our backs on our animal instincts and decide to act on the basis of reasons alone. Our minds therefore have "fundamental purposeful explanations." These explanations are not causal explanations because they do not appeal to impersonal physical facts to explain our actions. They appeal to our minds; they appeal to us.

Andrew Melnyk disagrees. He argues that nothing has a fundamental purposeful explanation. Everything that has a purposeful explanation has an explanation only because nonpurposeful facts have caused it. My first-person experience of making up my mind on the basis of reasons has a purposeful explanation. But the explanation does not "fundamantally" point to me; it points to physical facts--events occurring in neural networks throughout my brain.

"So," writes Melnyk, "... my visiting the gym really does have a purposeful explanation--I really do visit the gym for the sake of my health; but my visiting the gym for the sake of my health is simply the fact that my going to the gym is caused by my mental state of wanting to be healthy and my mental state of believing that visiting the gym promotes my health. A purposeful explanation isn't some kind of noncausal explanation; it's just a special kind of causal explanation--one that cites the wants (or purposes) and beliefs of an agent."

Whereas GT argue that our souls do not have physical causes, Melnyk argues that all things--including my feeling that I cause myself to make up my mind to go to the gym--have physical causes. If Melnyk is right, then souls--which by definition are uncaused, and outside the closed physical universe--do not exist.

Author: comstock
Maintained By: Gary Comstock
Last Updated: 2009-09-02