The Objections Of Dualism

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Many associate dualism with the religious themes seen amongst the works of dualist philosophers, such as Rene Descartes, often discrediting it amongst “most scientifically minded people.” (Gertler, 303) Many of which support the contrasting belief of physicalism, the belief that everything exists in a physical world. However, in the beginning of her argument, Brie Gertler states that contemporary dualists, like herself, similarly possess a scientific and secular approach. Using this approach, Gertler argues against physicalism and “the identity thesis.” In this paper, I will reconstruct this argument, stating her conclusion and identifying the premises used to arrive to it. Then, I will discuss objections to dualism, specifically those of Gilbert Ryle. Finally, I will discuss the soundness of Gertler’s argument expressing my own opinions in support of dualism.

Gertler uses the concept of pain to support her theory that the mind and body are distinct. She does this because the opposing concept of physicalism accepts “the identity thesis,” which states that pain is equivalent to C-fiber simulation. For things to be considered equal in philosophy, both things must need each other to exist. She argues this physicalist statement by offering the concept of phantom limbs. More specifically, she uses the sample of a double amputee being able to experience “the stubbed toe sensation.” (Gertler, 304) Despite “the sensation itself not being spatially located in the toe,” according to Gertler, the amputee is able to receive this sensation where a limb does not exist because “The sensation itself, rather then its cause, is a mental state” (Gertler, 304); where there is no tissue, there is no c-fiber stimulation. From her perspective, pain is not equivalent to c-fiber stimulation, but rather, pain causes c-fiber simulation and vice versa.

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She continues disproving “the identity thesis” through the disembodiment argument. According to Gertler, “the argument centers on the possibility that pain is present in the absence of any physical state.” (Gertler, 306) To explain this, she uses a thought experiment in which she asks you to pinch yourself. While doing this, the reader is told to consider the following premise:

  1. Even though I firmly believe that I have physical features, I can conceive of experiencing this very pain while possessing no physical features. In other words, I can conceive of experiencing this very pain while disembodied.
  2. If I can conceive of a particular scenario occurring, then that scenario is possible.
  3. It is possible that this very pain occurs in a disembodied being.
  4. If this very pain is not identical to any physical state.
  5. This very pain is not identical to any physical state.

So, (Conclusion) The identity thesis, which says that every mental state is identical to some physical state, is false.” Gertler acknowledges that there is much criticism about her argument, many claiming it is a product of “intellectual hubris (Gertler, 306),” and that she is out of touch with reality because of its reliance on a “concept.” However, she refutes this claim explaining that all academia lies in “concept.” (Gertler, 306) In order to address these objections, Gertler adjusts her first and second premise respectively to say “1.) Using concepts that are sufficiently comprehensive, I can conceive of experiencing this very pain while disembodied,” and “ If, using concepts that are sufficiently comprehensive, I can conceive of a particular scenario occurring, then that scenario is possible.” (Gertler, 307).

Although Gertler acknowledges this branch of criticism, critiques like that of Gilbert Ryle’s are not what she apparently anticipates. Ryle’s argument against dualism lies in the idea that dualism is guilty of a category mistake. He argues that dualists have mistakenly clumped mental and physical concepts into the same category. Unlike dualists, Ryle doesn’t see the mind as an independent mechanism. He believes the mind is not distinct from the body, and is, instead, a way to explain the body’s actions. Ryle’s argument is one that would undermine that of Gertler’s because of its undermining of dualism as a whole. Gertler speaks of dualism as the belief that the mind and body are distinct as seen through her premises.

However, Ryle would argue against them, specifically premise 1, “Even though I firmly believe that I have physical features, I can conceive of experiencing this very pain while possessing no physical features. In other words, I can conceive of experiencing this very pain while disembodied.” (Gertler, 306) Ryle would especially find issues within this premise because it expresses that an individual’s ”physical features” are disembodied from “this very pain” experienced. He would identify this as a category mistake. Instead of viewing this experience as a distinction between the mind and body, Ryle would explain that this pain conceived is a response stemmed from something experienced through the body. It is not disembodied in the sense that Gertler believes.

I believe that Gertler’s argument is sound, possessing both validity and relevance. Through the thought experiment provided and the argument provided, I am able to confirm that I can conceive of pain despite not physically experiencing it. Through her argument, Gerler is able to disprove that mental states are not equivalent to physical states. Both states consist of different properties. Mental events are subjective. The way a person perceives, hears, and feels something is individual.

Therefore, they cannot be equivalent to a particular physical state, as seen in the argument that pain is equivalent to c-fiber stimulation the same way that water is equivalent to H2O. If mental states were equivalent to physical states, things such as electric stimulation would hold the ability to cause people to think certain things, and brain waves would allow scientists to read what an individual’s thought. Mental states cannot be reduced to purely physical terms; therefore proving that physicalism is flawed. If physicalism were true, the body would be proven to exist simply because the mind exists. However, based on the ideas explored above, the mind and body are not equivalent. In reality, the body may be an illusion, but the mind cannot be because of the very thought process taking place within the mind to question its own existence. The act of thinking occuring disproves that the mind and body.

Though we are still unable to exactly define the mind, we know what it is. This may lead to criticism towards its existence, but there are many concept besides the mind that are accepted to exist despite their lack of a strict definition, such as beauty and love. Just because these things are not precise, we do not conclude that they are nonexistent. This same way of thought applies to the mind. It is clear that the human mind exists. It is the thing that allows us to want, believe, question, reasons, experience, etc. Because we have no issue understanding each of those things as concepts, then we should have no issue in understanding the mind as a concept. Though it is not easily pictured or imagined, the mind exists, and we know this simply by thinking it. By thinking, we are experiencing a function of the mind.

Therefore, we are proving its existence. Though often perceived to be an outdated philosophy driven by religion, Gertler’s argument for dualism shows that it has transformed into a secular and scientifically driven concept. Alongside this, Gertler disproves physicalism and the identity thesis. Through the reconstruction of Gertler’s argument, the starting of her conclusion and identifying of the premises she used to arrive it, I was able to understand contemporary dualism and recognize the issues present within physicalism and the identity thesis. Using her argument, I was able to conclude that though I cannot doubt my mind exists, I can conceive myself separate from my body making the mind and body distinct from each other. By discussing and analyzing objections to Gertler’s argument and dualism as a whole, specifically those of Gilbert Ryle, I was able to formulate an opinion in an unbiased fashioned.


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