[Wittrs] Is "Dualism" a Pejorative Term?

  • From: "SWM" <SWMirsky@xxxxxxx>
  • To: wittrsamr@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Thu, 04 Mar 2010 13:40:47 -0000

--- In Wittrs@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx, "iro3isdx" <xznwrjnk-evca@...> wrote:

> I do wish that both sides would stop accusing the other
> side of dualism.
> Regards,
> Neil

Dualism is not a pejorative, Neil. It merely denotes the idea that 
consciousness is ontologically basic, that it cannot be derived from anything 

It's possible, of course, to argue that it can be caused (as in brought into 
the world) by a physical process or event but still be ontologically basic, 
however. That, of course, would still be dualism though.

It seems to me the possibilities here are:

1) Consciousness is seen as a unique something that co-exists, at some level, 
with all that we call physical in the universe (atoms, energy, forces, etc.) 
but is of a fundamentally different type or nature from all the rest.

2) Consciousness is produced by some combination of the rest but, once produced 
is fundamentally different and stand-alone. A new something has been brought 
into the world.

3) Consciousness is a parallel realm of being that peers into the physical 
world through some physical window (the brain as lense to another dimension, 
you might say).

All three cases seem to be ways we can conceive of consciousness in a dualist 
way (a way that presumes it is ontologically basic).

Frankly, my view is that any of these might be true but that there is really no 
reason to think any of them are at this stage of our knowledge and plenty of 
reason to think we can adequately account for consciousness as a 
non-ontological basic (i.e., as simply another feature of the physical universe 
as we now know and understand it). If we can conceive of consciousness as 
physically derived in this fashion (Dennett's thesis, for instance), why take 
the added steps of presuming dualism which requires that we disregard the very 
useful rule of thumb called Occam's Razor and argue for (or presume) a more 
complicated universe, one with at least two ontologically basic constituents)?

I frankly don't see why people get their backs up about the term "dualism" 
except, perhaps, if it's because it has religionist connotations and most 
intellectually sophisticated people think they are being unfairly tarred with 
the religionist brush. But note, I am not doing that. My view, again, is that 
dualism could be true. It's just that there is no evidence for it, as far as I 
can tell, and, if a thesis like Dennett's (or Dehaene's or Hawkins' or 
Edelman's or Searle's) is convincing, then there is no reason to formulate 
anything more complex contrary to Occam's Razor.

I want to add here that, of course (based on many things I have said on this 
list and earlier), I find Dennett's thesis convincing though I am less 
enamoured of Edelman's explanation of how brains work or Searle's notion of how 
the features of mind should be understood. I am more comfortable with Hawkins 
and I am very sympathetic with the work and of Dehaene. But all of them 
(including Searle, explicitly anyway) agree, in principle that consciousness is 
the outcome of perfectly physical processes.

Against these views we have, perhaps, the ideas of people like Chalmers 
(consciousness is only explainable by adding another independent bottom-line 
principle to our picture of the physical universe) or Galen Strawson 
(consciousness is only explainable as a co-existent of physical things). And 
then you have mystics like the Russian philosopher of the early twentieth 
century, P.D. Ouspensky who argued that the brain is not so much a cause of 
consciousness as a lense through which minds shine from another, extra-physical 
realm of existence!

Dualism could be true but why do we need to rely on such fairy tales when the 
story can be told much more simply and in keeping with the way we currently 
understand the world? But it isn't pejorative, per se, to describe certain 
positions as being either explicitly or implicitly dualist. It is just 
important to call a spade a spade.


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