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Substance Dualism Fortified

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 March 2011

N. M. L. Nathan*
University of Liverpool University of Birmingham


You have a body, but you are a soul or self. Without your body, you could still exist. Your body could be and perhaps is outlasted by the immaterial substance which is your soul or self. Thus the substance dualist. Most substance dualists are Cartesians. The self, they suppose, is essentially conscious: it cannot exist unless it thinks or wills or has experiences. In this paper I sketch out a different form of substance dualism. I suggest that it is not consciousness but another immaterial feature which is essential to the self, a feature in one way analogous to a non-dispositional taste. Each self has moreover a different feature of this general kind. If this is right then simple and straightforward answers are available to some questions which prove troublesome to the Cartesian, consciousness-requiring type of substance dualist. I mean the questions, How can the self exist in dreamless sleep?, What distinguishes two simultaneously existing selves, and What makes a self the same self as a self which exists at some other time?

Research Article
Copyright © The Royal Institute of Philosophy 2011

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1 Critique of Pure Reason, tr. Smith, Kemp (London: MacMillan, 1964)Google Scholar, B441/A414.

2 Philosophical Writings, tr. Cottingham, , Stoothoff, and Murdoch, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985)Google Scholar, II, 20. As Broackes, Justin points out (‘Substance’, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 106 (2006), 158 n.30)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, ‘that I know not what of mine’ is a closer translation of istud nescio quid mei than the CSM phrase ‘this puzzling “I”’.

3 Strawson, Galen, ‘What is the relation between an experience, the subject of the experience, and the content of the experience?Philosophical Issues, 13 (2003)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, 308.

4 Philosophical Writings, I, 215.

5 Strawson ‘what is the relation between an experience…’, 313.

6 Ibid., 308

7 Hume, , A Treatise of Human Nature, ed. Selby-Bigge, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978)Google ScholarTreatise, 252.

8 Cf. Swinburne, Richard ‘From Mental/Physical Identity to Substance Dualism’ in Van Inwagen, Peter and Zimmerman, Dean (eds.), Persons Human and Divine (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2007)Google Scholar, 143: ‘a mental property is one to whose instantiation the substance in whom it is instantiated necessarily has privileged access on all occasions of its instantiation, and a physical property is one to whose instantiation the substance necessarily has no privileged access on any occasion of its instantiation.’

9 That there are weak or strong resemblances between different ipseities is a thought which may perhaps help the Christian theologian. If he is willing to adopt a so-called social theory of the Trinity, and say that each divine Person is a distinct self, he will be able to say that each Person has an ipseity which resembles the ipseity of the other two Persons vastly much more than the ipseity of any Person resembles that of any non-divine self.

And then there is the Freudian, who comes under some pressure to admit that the human person is composed of more selves than one. ‘We must distinguish our own consciousness from that of our own alert or drowsy ego. For doesn't our ego consciously repress ideas? And how can it do so without being conscious of those which are dangerously erotic? Since our consciousness fails to register the harmful ideas and our ego's repressive behaviour, it follows there are two separate arenas of consciousness within us – our ego's and our own.’ (Thalberg, Irving, ‘Freud's anatomies of the self’, in Wollheim, Richard and Hopkins, James (eds.) Philosophical Essays on Freud (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982)Google Scholar, 257) Substance dualists believe that you have just one soul or self which is essential to your existence. Perhaps it is possible to diminish the gap between substance dualism and the multiple selves interpretation of psychoanalytic theory by saying that the different ipseities of the multiple selves composing one person resemble each other more than any of them resemble any of the ipseities of the selves which compose another person.

10 Hopkins, Gerard Manley, Sermons and Devotional Writings, ed. Devlin, C., (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1959), 123.Google Scholar

11 Hopkins, op.cit., 123.

12 Letter to P. Gibieuf, 19 January 1642, Oeuvres et Lettres, Pleiade ed. 1142.

13 Howard Robinson, ‘The Self and Time’ in Van Inwagen and Zimmerman, op. cit., 57.

14 Cf. Swinburne, Richard, The Evolution of the Soul (Oxford: Clarendon Press, rev. ed. 1997)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, 177: ‘…there seems to me nothing contradictory in allowing to a substance many beginnings of existence.’

15 Swinburne ‘From Mental/Physical Identity to Substance Dualism’, 143

16 Swinburne The Evolution of the soul, 333.

17 Swinburne, , The Christian God (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. (1994), 47–50.

18 BerkeleyPhilosophical Commentaries in Luce, A.A. and Jessop, T.E. (eds.), The works of George Berkeley (Edinburgh: Nelson, 1948–57)Google Scholar, 829.

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