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The debate over what consciousness is and how it interacts with the body is a debate in which both science and philosophy operate. Philosophers have generally referred to this debate as the mind-body problem. The two general views on how to confront this problem are materialism and dualism. “Materialism is the idea that human beings are material objects — brains, perhaps, or some part of the brain — without immaterial selves or souls” (Plantinga 3). Conversely, dualism is the view that human beings are comprised of an immaterial soul and a material body. Under this broad view, humans are not only their body; they are primarily a soul. Both of these views are metaphysical positions. If materialism is true then human beings are just one substance. If dualism is true then human beings are two substances – an immaterial substance and a material one. I will not be analyzing how these two substances are integrated in the human being. Some philosophers think that human beings are composites and not necessarily two substances. Analytic philosopher Alvin Plantinga puts forth two arguments against materialism in his essay. His argument strategy is to use the modal intuitions of possibility and impossibility in relation to the mind-body problem. I will argue that Plantinga is correct in his assessment of materialism and that his two arguments are valid and sound.
Plantinga’s first argument is called the replacement argument. He thinks is it possible for a person to exist when their body doesn’t. He does not argue that we can exist disembodied but rather he does argue that we could exist in a different body. If materialism is true, then I am a material object. I am most likely identical to my brain or some part of my body. It seems completely possible that I could exist while my body no longer exists. Plantinga says that if it is true that a person could still exist even when their body no longer exists, then that person and his body are not identical (4). This is true because of Leibniz’ Law, specifically the identity of indiscernibles. “This says that if A is strictly identical with B, then A and B have exactly the same properties” (Armstrong 3). If the modal properties are different, then those two things are not identical. In the case of me and my body, the modal properties are different. Plantinga imagines a situation where modern science has advanced so well that it can replace body parts extremely quickly. The process can replace all of his body parts. He also imagines that his old body is annihilated. All of this takes place while he is “reading the comic section of the newspaper” (Plantinga 5). Science says all the matter in our body is completely different from our old body some time ago. Plantinga thinks that accelerating the process seems possible regardless of cell assimilation (6). Cell assimilation is the time required for new cells to integrate into the body. Our bodies are constantly creating new cells and these cells assimilate through causal activities with other cells in the body. All that is required for this argument is the following (B standing for body): “It is possible that: the cells in B are replaced by other cells and the originals instantly annihilated while I continue to exist; and the replacement time for B and those cells is shorter than the assimilation time” (Plantinga 6).
Alvin Plantinga considers a few objections to his thought experiment. He responds to an objection from a “Star Trek” scenario where a person is beamed or teleported to a new location. The objector thinks that this thought experiment is analogous to Plantinga’s and thus it clearly shows that it’s possible that your body survives this type of replacement. Plantinga does not think that this thought experiment is analogous. His argument says that your old body is completely destroyed while the Star Trek thought experiment is just a disassembly and reassembly of your same body. Another objection says that persons are events, not necessarily a material substance. It is true that I am the same as my life – an event– in the actual world, but my life could have been different. There is no necessary identity with me and my life. It fails to get around the replacement argument (Plantinga 7-11). Plantinga’s argument does seem to be true. It does seem possible that I should exist in a different body while my former body is destroyed. As long as this is logically possible then materialism cannot be true since we are not necessarily identical to our body.
His second argument is also from a modal intuition but this time it is an argument from impossibility. The motivation behind offering this second argument is because some critics might not fully trust possibility intuitions. For this second argument he explains basic features of consciousness we all know to be true. All of us have first person experience of emotions. We all have desires and beliefs. All things being equal, we cannot be identical to anything that lacks these properties. The problem for materialism, and the main point of this argument, is consciousness itself. How can a material object have beliefs, desires, experiences of pain et cetera? (Plantinga 11-12). Plantinga cites Leibniz’ thought experiment on how this can be demonstrated. Leibniz asks us to imagine a machine that perceives, desires, and thinks. Imagine that this machine is the size of a mill – we can enter this machine. When we look into the machine, all we can see are parts that are causing these perceptions to happen. But the interaction of these mechanical parts does not show any content as to what the perception or belief is. This seems false because we know the content of our own minds. Therefore, Leibniz thinks that materialism cannot adequately explain the content of our minds (Plantinga 12). What are beliefs comprised of in a materialist perspective? The materialist would argue that these beliefs are events. These events are something that takes place in the neuron structure of your brain. These beliefs have propositional content. Plantinga jokingly uses the example that his “belief that naturalism is all the rage these days has as content the proposition Naturalism is all the rage these days (Plantinga 13). All beliefs must be able to express propositional content. This is problematic for materialism because, as Leibniz’ argument showed, neurons firing in the brain does not reveal any type of content. How can a set of neurons be related to a proposition? It seems impossible to see how material interactions could possess content of this sort. If they have no content they how can material beliefs be about anything? (Plantinga 15). One objection could be that computers have propositional knowledge. Computers are material objects that have wires, mother boards, and hard drives. We can store propositions on a computer such as “naturalism is all the rage these days” (Plantinga 16). Thus, the objection would show that material objects can contain content. But this does not follow since, in the example with the computer, the content has to be original and not derived from actual consciousness. We input the proposition into the computer; the computer does not think up the proposition on its own. Peter van Inwagen sees this as a difficulty for materialism. He thinks it is hard to account for beliefs and content under materialism but he also thinks that dualism is not better off. An immaterial substance interacting with a material substance is equally mysterious because we cannot have a mental image of an immaterial substance (Plantinga 17-18). Plantinga thinks that this is irrelevant because just because we cannot have a mental image of something does not mean it’s mysterious. We do not have mental images of numbers for example but it seems clear we can know what numbers are to some degree. We have an understanding of numbers. Peter makes the second point that materialist can at least have a representation of the interaction amongst the material parts while dualist cannot have one. Dualism implies the soul, which is a simple entity that is not comprised of parts (Plantinga 19-21). To ask for a representation of how the interaction takes place is to misunderstand the nature of the soul. It is to want a set of causes to explain the interaction. If the soul is a simple substance, then the interaction is direct. Plantinga concludes that consciousness is only mysterious when we think of it in materialist terms. He also concludes that his argument and rebuttals to objections show that a material thing cannot have beliefs or content (Plantinga 20-22).
Alvin Plantinga’s arguments are correct. It seems to me that both are valid and sound. The use of modal intuitions seems to be fair in his method of argumentation. I think it is clearly possible that I could exist while my body does not. This could be false in the actual world. Just because it is false in the actual world does not mean that it is false in all possible worlds. I can imagine a world in which it is true. The argument from impossibility seems to be even stronger than the first. It seems hard to see how a material object can be about something. Our brains are just neurons firing away that have no content of what the beliefs are. Both arguments against materialism are successful and show that dualism has more explanatory power over it.
I have shown both arguments Alvin Plantinga puts forth in his essay Against Materialism and have argued that they are both true. The importance of the mind-body debate is not only philosophical but also practical in how we view human beings. Questions of ontology effect how we think in all other branches of philosophy and life.
Armstrong, D. M. Universals: An Opinionated Introduction. Boulder: Westview, 1989. Print.
Plantinga, Alvin. “Against Materialism.” (n.d.): n. pag. Web. 21 Nov. 2014. <http://www.andrewmbailey.com/ap/Against_Materialism.pdf>.
For many centuries theistic philosophers have been formulating deductive arguments to prove God’s existence. One type of argument is called a cosmological argument. The cosmological argument “looks at chains of causes” and “asks how the existence of [the universe] could be explained” (Stairs 57). It is different from other arguments for God’s existence such as the teleological argument or the moral argument. The specific version of the cosmological argument that will be examined and discussed in this paper is the argument from contingency which deals with explanations rather than specific causes. The argument is heavily influenced by the principle of sufficient reason which the rationalist philosophers all held to. This essay will examine the principle of sufficient reason, the argument from contingency, criticisms, and counter arguments and will ultimately argue for God being sole explanation of the universe.
The principle of sufficient reason plays a tremendous role in explaining the argument from contingency. Rationalist philosopher, Gottfried Leibniz defined the principle of sufficient reason. In his writing Monadology, he says that “no fact can be real or existing and no proposition can be true unless there is a sufficient reason” (Kolak 170). This is to say that everything needs some sort of sufficient reason of its existence. This principle applies to the question, “why is there something rather than nothing?” And from this, the argument itself hinges off this principle of extrinsic or intrinsic explanation.
The argument from contingency is a formal argument and it is worded like this:
- Everything existing has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause.
- If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.
- The universe is an existing thing.
- Therefore the explanation of the existence of the universe is God. (Moreland 466).
This argument is different from the other cosmological arguments particularly because it does not need to appeal to a temporal universe. It can fit perfectly with an eternal universe.
The first premise appeals to the principle of sufficient reason. It seems perfectly reasonable to think that everything that exists needs some sort of sufficient reason of its existence. For something to be necessary that would mean that it could not not-exist. It must exist in every single possible world. Something that is necessary has an explanation within the necessity of its own nature – as premise one shows. If some existing thing were to have a cause outside of itself as an explanation of its existence, that thing would be a contingent thing. Something that is contingent means that it is neither necessarily true nor necessarily false. This means that its existence is solely dependent on something else. It seems reasonable to accept premise one on these grounds.
Premise two takes the first premise and says that if the universe has an explanation then it would have to be God. The universe does not seem to be necessary but rather contingent. We can imagine a world in which the universe does not exist. It also seems to be comprised of contingent things. The expansion of the universe seems to be wholly contingent based on the initial big bang. It seems that if the universe is contingent then it would need an external cause because of premise one. The explanation of its existence cannot be found in the necessity of its nature because the universe is contingent and therefore dependent on another explanation. This premise really gets to the question that was mentioned earlier: why is there something rather than just nothing? Some necessary being must exist that is the explanation of contingent things. If there is no necessary explanation, then contingency goes onto an infinite regress. This necessary being does not need an external cause because it has an internal explanation of its existence.
Premise three seems to be blatantly obvious. There is no good reason for denying the external world outside of ourselves. Solipsism seems quite absurd. The conclusion of the argument follows from the premises that followed it.
There have been some criticisms of this argument. Philosopher Bertrand Russell has responded to this argument by saying that the universe does not need an explanation. The universe is just static, eternal, and has no explanation according to Russell. He also says that because things are contingent within the universe does not mean that the whole universe itself is contingent. He believes the theist commits a fallacy of composition (Cosmological). The fallacy of composition says that because individual things have certain characteristics that does not entail that the whole group of those things have all those same characteristics. This criticism still avoids the question “why is their something rather than nothing?” and instead tries to show that the theist is merely applying his intuition to the universe based on individual contingent parts of the universe. Russell does not want to face the fact of why the universe exists at all so he does away with its need for an explanation.
Philosopher Immanuel Kant objected to the argument because he thinks it will lead to the ontological argument ultimately and since according to him the ontological argument does not work, therefore the cosmological argument does not work either (Cosmological). This seems to be a red herring – an irrelevant criticism of the current argument. The ontological argument has no bearing on this cosmological argument whatsoever. The ontological argument is a different proof meant to prove God’s existence by the definition of God Himself. Kant is trying to show that the ontological argument explains the definition of a necessary being because the ontological argument argues for a being who’s fundamental nature is existence. This does not seem to be the exact type of meaning of the word necessary that is shown in this argument from contingency. This criticism from Kant seems to fall flat on its face.
Some people have objected to the argument based on the validity of the principle of sufficient reason. If the principle is false then that might possibly undermine the argument itself. If the explanation for the universe is contingent then another explanation is needed, but if the explanation is necessary, then the universe is also necessary (Moreland 467). Christian theism says that God’s actualizing of the universe was a completely free act. That act was contingent on God’s will. God could have existed by Himself in some possible world. But if that act is contingent that would make the explanation of the universe contingent and thus in need of another explanation. William Lane Craig says that “one must ultimately come to some explanatory stopping point that is simply a brute fact, a being whose existence is unexplained” (Moreland 467). It seems that even if one were to deny the principle of sufficient reason as Leibniz formed it, one would still need to get to some sort of transcendent explanation of the universe. It also seems that these critics seem to be defining the word sufficient as something stronger than Leibniz wanted it. Leibniz might have meant sufficient in the sense of “adequate” or something weaker than what these critics think the word sufficient means.
So what is one to think of this argument? This argument seems be a tried and true argument and is ultimately convincing that God exists and that He is the necessary explanation of the universe. The principle of sufficient reason seems at the very least highly likely rather than necessarily false. And even in the general use of the word reason, the universe still needs some sort of necessary explanation. The criticisms of the argument do not work to explain the argument’s premises as being false or the conclusion itself being false. As Kant and Russell have shown, it is very easy to deny or just swerve around a certain premise of this argument.
“Cosmological Argument (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 11 Sept. 2008. Web. 24 Mar. 2011. <http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/cosmological-argument/>.
“Fallacy: Composition.” The Nizkor Project. 2009. Web. 24 Mar. 2011. <http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/composition.html>.
Kolak, Daniel, and Garrett Thomson. The Longman Standard History of Modern Philosophy. New York: Pearson/Longman, 2006. Print.
Moreland, James Porter, and William Lane. Craig. Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2003. Print.
Stairs, Allen, and Christopher Bernard. A Thinker’s Guide to the Philosophy of Religion. New York: Pearson Longman, 2007. Print.
For many centuries philosophers have been discussing evil, how it exists in the world, and how this relates to God. The discussion on evil and its relations to us is not an easy one though. It is commonly called the problem of evil. The problem is generally used to disprove God’s existence by showing an inconsistency between an all-powerful, all-good, and all-knowing God and evil. Christian philosophers over the centuries have tried to show that there is no inconsistency with God and evil. Gottfried Leibniz was born in Leipzig Germany in 1646. Leibniz was a Christian idealist philosopher who was heavily influenced by Benedict Spinoza. Leibniz tried to solve the problem of evil. He said that we live in the best of all possible worlds because God chose to create this world. Philosophers have objected to this claim and maybe rightly so. This paper will focus on the modalities of logic, namely, possibility, necessity, and contingency, the problem of evil and how Leibniz solves it, free-will, and objections to Leibniz’s claims.
Much of Leibniz’s philosophy is focused on the concept of God and modalities. The modalities are possibility, necessity, and contingency. What it means for something to be possible is that it exists in some possible world. President McCain possibly could have been elected president of the United States in 2008 but he did not in respect to the actual world. The modal concept of possible deals with things that could be. It is possible that America could have had different founding fathers. It is possible that the pilgrims and Indians could have not fought and all got along together. Now what are possible worlds? Possible worlds are possible realities. They are not worlds in the respect to planets but in respect to everything in existence. The actual world is the world which actually exists. The possible worlds do not all exist but they are used to explain and understand possibilities in a logical sense. For something to be necessary means that it exists in all possible worlds. It is necessary that two and two make four. It is necessarily false that a married bachelor can exist. Leibniz says that God is a necessary Being. He is necessary because He exists in all possible worlds. There is even a possible world in which only God exists according to Leibniz. A contingent truth is something that is not necessarily false nor necessarily true. Leibniz calls these truths of fact. Things which are contingent are things true in one or more possible worlds and false in one or more possible worlds. Leibniz said that all propositions can be reduced down to a subject-predicate format. He says in his work Necessary and Contingent Truths that “an affirmative truth is one whose predicate is in the subject; and so in every true affirmative proposition, necessary or contingent, universal or particular, the notion of the predicate is in some way contained in the notion of the subject” (Kolak 153). All the predicates are literally contained within the subject. The statement “the bird is flying” means that flying is contained within the bird (which is the subject). This theory of proposition will help Leibniz as he defends God’s choosing of possible worlds.
God is a necessary Being and therefore God knows all the possible worlds to create. He knows this because the knowledge of possible worlds is innate in His mind because He is omniscient. He has foreknowledge of all future contingents. This view is known as conceptualism. Before creation, God had to know all possible worlds, that is, all worlds which are logically capable of creating. God had to know the blueprint of everything within each possible world. The predicates, or possible worlds, are contained within the subject, God. This knowledge allows God to choose the possible world He wanted to create. His choosing of anyone of these worlds is a completely free action on God’s part because He could exist by Himself. Leibniz says that we live in the best of all the possible worlds because since God is all-good and all-knowing, He would have to choose the best of all of these. This seems to be a misled thought though. Maybe a best possible world does not exist. And even if that it were true that the actual world is the best world, why is their so much pain, suffering, and moral evil in the world? The fact that evil exists in the world would contradict this best possible world theory. Would God need to even actualize the best possible world if it were to exist? This seems to be quite a problem indeed. Now, the actual world, while still having evil in it, is an extremely good world. It is good because of free-will. The fact that we have free-will is better than if humans were morally all-good. For if we were all-good we would have no freedom of the will to make choices and choose good or evil. These choices are better than not having choices. This is known as the free-will defense in response to the problem of evil. Leibniz seems to have trouble with the concept of free-will. His metaphysics with the theory of propositions and the possible world idea seems to contradict free-will. If God chose any world, the people in that world would have to do whatever God chose. Although their actions might be contingent, God still causally determined it to occur. Leibniz seems to think that free-will has to exist in the world because it would make all responsibility meaningless. He says in Primary Truths,
“it is manifest that God chooses, from an infinity of possible individuals, those which he thinks most consistent with the highest hidden ends of his wisdom. Nor is it exact to say that he decrees that Peter shall sin, or that Judas shall be damned; he decrees only that a Peter who will sin — certainly, indeed, though not necessarily but freely — and a Judas who will suffer damnation shall come into existence in preference to other possibilities. In other words, God decrees that a possible notion shall become actual. And although the future salvation of Peter is also contained in his eternal possible notion, yet that is without the concourse of grace; for in the that same perfect notion of this possible Peter, the assistance of divine grace which has been given to him is also contained under the aspect of possibility” (Kolak 151).
There seems to be a dilemma here for Leibniz. God’s choosing of a possible world is a completely free act and cannot err if God is all-powerful. Therefore everything we do in the actual world was known and chosen by God. Everything we do must occur but this does not mean it is necessary but rather foreordained by God. The Calvinist theologian would agree with this and say that free-will does not really exist. It is unknown whether or not Leibniz was influenced by Calvinist thinkers during this time. Whether Leibniz accepts this divine determinism or not, he still wants to have free-will intact. The free-will theodicy must work for Leibniz in order for the problem of evil to be solved.
Free-will is best understood if one accepts Molinism as a way to explain God’s choosing of the worlds and the problem of evil. Molinism was created by Luis Molina during the Counter-Reformation. Molina was a Jesuit priest who was responding to the Protestant Reformation and in particular, Calvinism. Molina believed that humans have libertarian free-will. Libertarian free-will is best explained as the ability to do otherwise. If a person is at a crossroads he has the ability to either select route A or route B. If that person selects route A they could have chosen B and they had that ability. Molina also believed God had middle knowledge. He broke down God’s knowledge into three types: natural knowledge, middle knowledge, and free knowledge. God’s natural knowledge is knowledge of necessary truths and all possible worlds. This falls right in-line with Leibniz’s view of possible worlds. God looks over all the possible worlds which He can create. This natural knowledge is knowledge of what could be. God’s middle-knowledge (which is still prior to actualization of the world) is counterfactual knowledge. Counterfactuals are if-then statements in the subjunctive mood. Examples of these are: If Meg Whitman became Governor of California, she would create much prosperity and help the budget crisis. This could be true, it could be false, but God knows these counterfactuals perfectly. He also knows them for every set of circumstances. This knowledge reduces the possible worlds into feasible worlds. Since God cannot infringe on human freedom He is limited in His choice of worlds. God’s middle knowledge is knowledge of what would be. God is not stopped from accomplishing anything He wants in the actual world though. With middle knowledge, God can only decree circumstances or events for humans and knows what would happen in each and every circumstance perfectly. With these two types of knowledge (which are not temporally prior to one another, but logically prior) God can choose which world He wants to actualize. After creation God has free knowledge of the world. This free knowledge is knowledge of contingents and the actual world. Molina defended this middle knowledge view with Scripture. 1 Samuel 23:6-13 affirms God having counterfactual knowledge. In this text David asks God what would happen if Saul came down to the city of Keilah. David first asks if Saul will come to the city and find him and God tells him that Saul will. Then David asks if the men of Keilah will deliver him into the hand of Saul and God says that they will. David then flees the city because of God’s counterfactual knowledge (Beilby 119-143). This verse affirms God having counterfactual knowledge. If Molinism succeeds and libertarian free will is indeed real then it would seem that Leibniz could solve this problem with the free-will defense.
Many philosophers have criticized the best possible world theory and God’s perfection. Voltaire, who wrote a most damning book against Leibniz called Candide, thought the whole idea of the actual world being the best possible world or even a really good world was a complete joke. In his book, he parodies this notion of this world being really good. It is a fiction in which the main character goes through life meeting all these evils and challenges yet continually says that this is the best of all possible worlds. David Hume wrote a more intellectual critique of Leibniz’s philosophy by attacking the design argument for God’s existence. In his work entitled Natural Religion, he writes a dialogue between two men, Cleanthes and Philo. Cleanthes argues that this world is proof of God’s existence based on the design and wonder of the world. He says that “Since, therefore, the effects resemble each other, we are led to infer, by all the rules of analogy, that the causes also resemble; and that the Author of Nature is somewhat similar to the mind of man, though possessed of much larger faculties, proportioned to the grandeur of the work which he has executed” (Hume). Philo then refutes Cleanthes by saying that we cannot know that God is perfect. He argues that God is imperfect because of the mistakes in the world and thus turns the argument from design on its head in relation to God’s perfection at the very least. But if the free-will defense works, then moral evil’s existence is understandable. Hume seems to attack natural evil and the fact that there are natural imperfections in the universe. Hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, et cetera, are described as natural evils. The free-will theodicy does not really work in respect to Hume’s arguments. Whether these objections are good or not, Voltaire’s argument seems sophomoric at best, and Hume’s argument seems at least somewhat thoughtful.
Leibniz’s philosophy has helped solve the problem of evil but never fully solved it. His views on how God chooses to create the world create more problems for what Leibniz was trying to solve. And Hume’s objections seem to cast doubt on how natural evil can exist in the universe. The problem of evil might be a problem for Christian theists that will never fully be solved. Maybe the answer is so far beyond human understanding or reason. Maybe belief in God is justified regardless of this problem that is presented by atheists and skeptics alike. Christians have done a lot of work in solving this problem and hopefully have at least solved some objections.
Beilby, James K., Paul R. Eddy, and Gregory A. Boyd. Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2001. Print.
Hume, David. “The Reading Selection from Natural Religion.” Philosophy Home Page. Web. 12 May 2010. <http://philosophy.lander.edu/intro/introbook2.1/x4211.html>.
Kolak, Daniel, and Garrett Thomson. The Longman Standard History of Modern Philosophy. New York: Pearson/Longman, 2006. Print.
“Voltaire.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 31 Aug. 2009. Web. 12 May 2010. <http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/voltaire/>.