Misunderstood Dualism

As the term “dualist” is constantly used in philosophy debate, I felt it appropriate to tackle its definition. Too many people are improperly using the word. It seems to be used in place of some other concept the author has in mind but does not have a term for it. I believe that it is often associated between simply two variables and a form of contrast or comparison between the two. However, this is not dualism.

To truly tackle the problem, I will set to postulate what Dualism is in the philosophy field. Any other use of the term Dualism is simply a mistaken use of the word just as if I were to describe my computer as “salty” rather than an appropriate adjective because I do not know it.

I will not pretend to know everything or at all what this term is. I am simply going to use two sources and place emphasis.

What is Dualism? 

There are various ways of dividing up kinds of dualism. One natural way is in terms of what sorts of things one chooses to be dualistic about. The most common categories lited upon for these purposes are substance and property, giving one substance dualism and property dualism. There is, however, an important third category, namely predicate dualism. As this last is the weakest theory, in the sense that it claims least, I shall begin by characterizing it.

2.1 Predicate dualism

Predicate dualism is the theory that psychological or mentalistic predicates are (a) essential for a full description of the world and (b) are not reducible to physicalistic predicates. For a mental predicate to be reducible, there would be bridging laws connecting types of psychological states to types of physical ones in such a way that the use of the mental predicate carried no information that could not be expressed without it. An example of what we believe to be a true type reduction outside psychology is the case of water, where water is always H2O: something is water if and only if it is H2O. If one were to replace the word ‘water’ by ‘H2O’, it is plausible to say that one could convey all the same information. But the terms in many of the special sciences (that is, any science except physics itself) are not reducible in this way. Not every hurricane or every infectious disease, let alone every devaluation of the currency or everycoup d’etat has the same constitutive structure. These states are defined more by what they do than by their composition or structure. Their names are classified as functional terms rather than natural kind terms. It goes with this that such kinds of state are multiply realizable; that is, they may be constituted by different kinds of physical structures under different circumstances. Because of this, unlike in the case of water and H2O, one could not replace these terms by some more basic physical description and still convey the same information. There is no particular description, using the language of physics or chemistry, that would do the work of the word ‘hurricane’, in the way that ‘H2O’ would do the work of ‘water’. It is widely agreed that many, if not all, psychological states are similarly irreducible, and so psychological predicates are not reducible to physical descriptions and one has predicate dualism. (The classic source for irreducibility in the special sciences in general is Fodor (1974), and for irreducibility in the philosophy of mind, Davidson (1971).)

2.2 Property Dualism

Whereas predicate dualism says that there are two essentially different kinds of predicates in our language, property dualism says that there are two essentially different kinds of property out in the world. Property dualism can be seen as a step stronger than predicate dualism. Although the predicate ‘hurricane’ is not equivalent to any single description using the language of physics, we believe that each individual hurricane is nothing but a collection of physical atoms behaving in a certain way: one need have no more than the physical atoms, with their normal physical properties, following normal physical laws, for there to be a hurricane. One might say that we need more than the language of physics to describe and explain the weather, but we do not need more than its ontology. There is token identity between each individual hurricane and a mass of atoms, even if there is no type identity between hurricanes as kinds and some particular structure of atoms as a kind. Genuine property dualism occurs when, even at the individual level, the ontology of physics is not sufficient to constitute what is there. The irreducible language is not just another way of describing what there is, it requires that there be something more there than was allowed for in the initial ontology. Until the early part of the twentieth century, it was common to think that biological phenomena (‘life’) required property dualism (an irreducible ‘vital force’), but nowadays the special physical sciences other than psychology are generally thought to involve only predicate dualism. In the case of mind, property dualism is defended by those who argue that the qualitative nature of consciousness is not merely another way of categorizing states of the brain or of behaviour, but a genuinely emergent phenomenon.

2.3 Substance Dualism

There are two important concepts deployed in this notion. One is that of substance, the other is the dualism of these substances. A substance is characterized by its properties, but, according to those who believe in substances, it is more than the collection of the properties it possesses, it is the thing which possesses them. So the mind is not just a collection of thoughts, but is that which thinks, an immaterial substance over and above its immaterial states. Properties are the properties of objects. If one is a property dualist, one may wonder what kinds of objects possess the irreducible or immaterial properties in which one believes. One can use a neutral expression and attribute them to persons, but, until one has an account of person, this is not explanatory. One might attribute them to human beings qua animals, or to the brains of these animals. Then one will be holding that these immaterial properties are possessed by what is otherwise a purely material thing. But one may also think that not only mental states are immaterial, but that the subject that possesses them must also be immaterial. Then one will be a dualist about that to which mental states and properties belongas well about the properties themselves. Now one might try to think of these subjects as just bundles of the immaterial states. This is Hume’s view. But if one thinks that the owner of these states is something quite over and above the states themselves, and is immaterial, as they are, one will be a substance dualist.

+ http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/dualism/

State of being twofold or double, especially significant when regarding the mind-body problem…

~ Oxford Dictionary of Psychology

Examples of Dualism

– The belief that Good and Evil, or God and the Devil, are independent, mutually exclusive things.

– The belief that the Mind and Body are separate, exclusive entities.

 Dualism is Not Simply Two Acting Nouns 

Simply put, just because we are talking about two things does not mean that is dualism. If we are talking about apples and oranges and I say that I prefer apples to oranges, this does not mean I am a dualist. If I say that there is only apples and oranges in the world, we are getting close, but this is still not it.

When Plato or Descartes speak of Dualism, they do not mean to encapsulate two completely opposing philosophical concepts.  What they are describing are completely independent functioning entities in a local system.

Too often people throw about this term as though it is somehow pejorative.  However, the term is not the limitation of things to two separate entities, but the existence of two entities which interact, but do not depend on, each other.  To truly grasp Dualism is to simply have a respectful understanding of the essence of entities or philosophical concepts.  It is not the pejorative intellectual negligence, or ignorance, that many pretentious debaters will pontificate.

What do you think…?


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