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A heroic defence of Cartesian Dualism,
This review is from: Mind, Brain, and Free Will (Paperback)
This is a book that can be considered as having three parts: first an introduction to metaphysics and a critique of physicalism; second an account and defence of Cartesian substance dualism; and finally a defence of human (libertarian) free will and moral responsibility.
The first part of the book is admirable and very clearly written. It is refreshing to read a philosopher who is willing take a metaphysical approach to the subject, instead of the currently over-fashionable analytic method. Some definitions are made in non-standard ways, such as allowing an event to have an arbitrary duration, so that, as Swinburne says, his `event' is ether an instantaneous event, or a very brief event like an explosion, or a `state of affairs'. Whenever Swinburne makes a non-standard definition, he explains and motivates it clearly. He discusses topics such as the ontological character of the laws of physics: are these just observed regularities (as Hume claimed), or are they descriptions of the causal powers and liabilities (= `propensities to behave') that belong to physical entities, or are they something else? He argues in some detail against mind-brain identity theories. There are thorough, interesting and informative discussions of many other topics. Extended additional notes at the end of the book are also useful.
The second part is a defence of Cartesian substance dualism. This is a welcome, detailed and clear account of this minority position. At university I had been led to believe that substance dualists had been extinct for several hundred years, so it is good to know that one or two are still alive and kicking. Swinburne's first tactical step is to make the mental/physical distinction in terms of our privileged access to mental properties. Along the way he discusses the alleged causal closure of the physical world, and whether or not there are any purely mental events. He goes on to argue that human persons are pure mental substances. He defends basic beliefs (such as `the delicious flavour of the chocolate mousse is the cause of me reaching for another spoonful') using his controversial `Principle of Credulity', roughly that one should give credence to such beliefs unless there are conflicts with other basic beliefs. I believe that this principle has some value, but it has to be applied with extreme care, taste and discretion. The system you arrive at could depend a great deal on what you initially believe about the world. (The same critique could be made about its polar opposite, `Occam's razor'.)
In the end, partly as a result of the clarity of Swinburne's writing, I have come out firmly against Cartesian dualism. But now at least this is no longer an ignorant prejudice of mine! Having two distinct substances - with four different types of causation (mind-mind, body-body, mind-body & body-mind) - results in a very clunky universe. Swinburne admits that his theory allows for the logical possibility of zombies. Among the difficulties of dualism there are the questions of which animals have minds, and how minds remain `appropriately attached' to brains.
The final two chapters are an excellent defence of human (libertarian) free will. My only quibble with this part is that, because he considers mind and body to be distinct substances, Swinburne's account underplays the degree to which our moral responsibility might be diminished either through brain damage or an appallingly abusive upbringing.
It is not necessary to agree with everything in a book in order to find it full of stimulating and worthwhile ideas.