Science, Body, and Soul 3 (RJS)

We began a couple of weeks ago to look at Kevin Corcoran’s book Rethinking Human Nature: A Christian Materialist Alternative to the Soul where he develops a constitution view of human persons.  Professor  Corcoran is a philosopher teaching at Calvin College specializing in philosophy of mind, metaphysics, and philosophy of religion  – a philosopher who tries to connect philosophy with bible, theology, faith, and science.

If “nothing-but” materialism is inadequate, but dualism also seems troubling, where can we turn? Today I will try to put forth the essential points of Corcoran’s discussion of the Constitution View for discussion. Next Tuesday we will move to some of the implications.

According to the Constitution View “human persons are constituted by our bodies without being identical with the bodies that constitute us.” (p. 65) Corcoran uses the example of a statue to make his point – a statute may be constituted by a piece of copper, but is not identical with the piece of copper. After all, the copper statue can be melted down – and the copper remains, but the statue is gone.

Human persons are constituted by their bodies such that if the body ceases to exist the human person will cease to exist. But the human person is not identical with the body because the body can exist after the person ceases to exist, and (perhaps) the body existed before the person began to exist.

This gets to a key question – and one with ramifications for many kinds of ethical questions today, including the stem cell research question.

So what makes a human being a person?

Or to ask a slightly different question, why is Kevin Corcoran (above) a person, while my cat (below) is not?


Corcoran suggests that a human person is a being with a capacity for intentional states. But this is not enough – my cat certainly has the capacity for intentional states. When he runs into the living room next to the brush, rolls over on his back and looks at me, he definitely has beliefs, desires, and hopes – and he is quite intentional – even insistent.

So added to the capacity for intentional states, the constitutive view considers that a human person is a being with the capacity for a first person perspective. But this needs some elaboration – what is a first person perspective?

A first person perspective is the capacity to think of oneself as oneself without the need of a description or third-person pronoun. … When I wonder, for example, whether I will live long enough to see my children graduate from college, I am thinking of myself from a first-person perspective. (p. 68)

Corcoran claims that nonhuman animals seem to lack a first-person perspective, and this disqualifies them from personhood. I’d like to see this developed a bit more – because It seems to me that it is a different kind of capacity for abstract thought and relationship that disqualifies nonhuman animals (like my cat) from personhood.

Is this view of personhood attached to first-person perspective enough?

Christian tradition and Scripture itself, on the other hand, provide suggestive material for thinking that personhood and relationality are essentially linked. For example the Christian tradition claims that God exists in three persons in intimate Trinitarian relationship. And the creation account of human beings in Genesis 2 is equally suggestive. … What is not good, of course, is that “man” should be alone on the earth. … It is no exaggeration to say, therefore, that human persons are always – from the beginning of the Christian narrative to its very end – persons-in-relation, It is plausible to believe that this feature of the biblical narrative is eminently relevant to the issue of personhood. (p. 74)

While the constitutive view (CV) of human persons does not require relationality to define personhood, it is entirely consistent with a relational character of personhood.

Now for a couple of theological questions - how does this view of human persons relate to the Christian concepts of incarnation and imago dei?

On the topic of incarnation – well this is a mystery. But it is as much a mystery for a dualist view of human persons as for a constitutive view of human persons. How the person of Jesus was fully human and fully divine is not solved by an immaterial Spirit (God) occupying a material body – this would not be incarnation. Rather in a dualist view we need an immaterial and material “fully human” Jesus along with a full immaterial divine nature.  In a CV of persons – the incarnation is a both immaterial and material as human and divine.

Imago dei is another objection – how can a material object be created in the image of an immaterial God?  Corcoran suggests that we image God by caring for creation, in loving relation to other beings, in acts of mercy, hospitality, love and kindness. And here is an interesting idea:

Finally, we also image God in our suffering.God is love. To love is to open ourselves up to suffering.When we lay down our lives for our friends, and yes, our enemies too, we image God who laid down his life for us in Jesus. (p. 81)

Nothing in this picture of the imago dei is inconsistent with a material view of human persons. We image God not through our material or immaterial nature but through our personhood – the definition of which goes beyond the CV view, but is consistent with it.

There are questions that remain – and we will come to these in the next two posts  next week (on The Stem Cell Challenge – the ethical questions raised, and The Resurrection of the Body and the Life to Come – how a material view of persons fit with the idea of resurrection).

For now …

Does a constitutive view of human persons make sense? Why or why not?

If you wish to contact me, you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net

  • Rick

    Aristotle comes to mind in this discussion (am I still human if I lose my hand?).
    However, there are issues related to that which need to be discussed, in addition to the stem cell issue (Dr. Collins was interviewed on Campbell Brown’s CNN show last night), and the resurrection.
    Namely, you wrote “Human persons are constituted by their bodies such that if the body ceases to exist the human person will cease to exist. But the human person is not identical with the body because the body can exist after the person ceases to exist, and (perhaps) the body existed before the person began to exist.”
    But with advances in biomechanics, the person can exist without the numerous parts of the body. At what point does a person stop being human if they have had numerous portions of their body replaced by artificial limbs or organs? In Star Trek terms, when does a human Borg (for a lack of a better term) stop being human? 25%? 51%? 99%?
    How would this fit into the Constitution View that says “human persons are constituted by our bodies without being identical with the bodies that constitute us.”

  • Scot McKnight

    RJS, one of the issues that always arises when I bring Kevin’s view up with people, and not just lay people, is the matter of how the Bible talks about humans: Why, they ask, does the Bible talk so much about “soul” and “spirit” and “body” if the Constitutive view is most accurate? Doesn’t the Bible suggest a kind of dualistic human nature?

  • MatthewS

    About essential properties of a person: my 10-yr-old son the other day made a comment about one of the bad guys in the game Halo, that you could make hunter character ride a bike and use a squirt gun but it would still be a hunter. Profound, no?
    Our dog begs for attention and acts depressed when we get too busy. He comes unglued when his leash comes out and he knows he’s going with us somewhere. Certainly an emotional creature. He dreams.
    Fruit of the Spirit vs. fruit of the flesh… Thinking about what little I know of the desert fathers and the ascetics – somehow “dark night of the constituted being” just doesn’t have quite have the same ring as “dark night of the soul.” Thinkers from ancient times have considered interior spaces. So many references in Scripture to heart, soul, mind, spirit. In spite of my dog’s similarities to humans, even in some intangible ways, he has never painted a picture, saved for retirement, or sought out a doggie Jungian interpreter of his dreams (which we presume include triumph over the wily cat). I am completely unable to engage Corcoran on his own intellectual turf but FWIW I would say I have a gut feeling he is shortchanging the human soul.

  • EricG

    RJS — Corcoran’s view of what a human is sounds a bit like Doug Hofstadter’s view (from “Godel Escher Bach,” or “I Am A Strange Loop”). Is it similar, or am I misreading it? (Just curious — I think the view has merit).

  • Frog Leg

    “Human persons are constituted by their bodies such that if the body ceases to exist the human person will cease to exist.”
    So is it true that from this viewpoint there is no afterlife? I’m not sure what the alternative is.
    “Corcoran suggests that we image God by caring for creation, in loving relation to other beings, in acts of mercy, hospitality, love and kindness.”
    But this is different from saying we are _made_ in the image of God. In Corcoran’s view the imago is just potential; it is not there until we act. In the latter view we are already Imago Dei.
    Eric, I agree with you that this view is very similar to Hofstadter’s view in GEB. It also has a lot of similarities to Colin McGinn’s writings on consciousness.

  • RJS

    Rick,
    Corcoran expands on the idea of causal connectedness here. The human person persists however constituted when its existence in the immediate past is causally connected with and relevant to its existence now.
    This means the “borg” idea is not a problem until the change modifies the essence of what makes this person a unique person.
    A dead body is causally connected to the living person, but is not a person because it does not possess the capacity for intentional states, first-person perspective, or relationality. This also means that heart-lung or liver transplants do not change personhood – there is causal connectedness in the capacities and capabilities that make one a human person.
    Replacement of body parts does not change the causal connectedness as long as personhood remains. Loss of body parts has no effect as long as personhood remains.

  • http://www.virtuphill.blogspot.com phil_style

    #5: Frog Leg “So is it true that from this viewpoint there is no afterlife”
    Correct. Not without bodily resurrection anyways,…. ;)

  • Frog Leg

    As I said in the previous postings, a viewpoint from which personhood is a quality derived purely from a material body is a slippery place to stand upon, since every measurable physical quantity (mass, velocity, color, etc.) is subjective, since it depends on the viewpoint of the observer. If one wants to resolve a metaphysical question like the body-soul problem, one needs to be able to talk about the things-in-themselves, not just the collection of physical observables we wrap up and call the material world.
    Since the qualities of the material world depend on the observer, it makes sense to treat the physical world as appearance. Once you get there, saying that the body is the appearance of the soul is a natural next step which solves the dualism without resorting to a purely materialist viewpoint (natural next step for me at least–no one has commented on my previous postings in this vein, so I’m not sure whether others here view this as right, wrong, or not even wrong).

  • dopderbeck

    There are a number of things I don’t like about Corcoran’s view. Scot (#2) touches on one: it seems inconsistent with the Biblical witness. Others in this thread have touched on another: an essential component of human personhood seems to be that of persistence, including persistence apart from a body after death, which implies some kind of dualism.
    A third problem I’d like to raise is the question of “potentials.” Corcoran seems to locate personhood in what is actualized through the body. It seems to me this implies that people are then “more” or “less” persons depending upon their bodily faculties. My son who has a neurological disability has a less developed sense of self and a narrower capacity for relationality than “normal” children. Severely autistic people have even less of these capacities than my son. And “normal” newborn babies have even less of these capacities than severely autistic people. And so on.
    What if instead “personhood” were related in some way to “potential?” A newborn baby does not have all the characteristics we might associate with full human “personhood,” but it possesses the potential for those characteristics. The same is true for an unborn baby (but see “note” below). The same is also true for people with disabilities, particularly if we understand their essential personhood to persist after death in anticipation of the body being raised and transformed in the eschaton.
    And this leads to a final observation: doesn’t how we define human personhood ultimately have to be a proleptic definition, looking back from the eschatological horizon to the present? Biblically, we are not in essence what we are, we are most really what we will become. The “constitutive” approach seems to ossify the fallen present.
    “Note”: what about the “potential” of an embryo prior to implantation in the uterus? The issue is more complicated, but I think there are good ethical arguments that embryonic stem cell research should nevertheless be restricted. But I’ll wait for the thread on that to follow up.

  • dopderbeck

    Frog Leg (#8) — I don’t like your idea of treating the physical world as “appearance.” That sounds Gnostic. The physical world is real. It seems better to me to say the physical world is real but comprises only one layer of reality. There is a spiritual layer of reality that is not observable by empirical methods tailored to observation of the physical layer. The physical and spiritual layers are connected and complimentary, not radically distinct, and so it is no surprise that we don’t see “gaps” in mental causation that would be filled by the “soul.” As Aquinas put it, “the soul is the form of the body.”

  • http://cathlimergent.ning.com/ John Sobert Sylvest

    Terry Deacon, a neuroscientist who’s also heavily invested in Charles Sanders Peirce’s semiotics, has advanced an hypothesis that the human brain co-evolved with language. This would seem to be consistent with the constitutive view AND would affirm that we are radically social animals, intrinsically relational.
    Changing gears, Charles Hartshorne described a human person in terms of what he called a “nonstrict identity,” a temporally asymmetric reality which can be contrasted with the more popular Leibnizian conception of strict identity, which gets employed in substance metaphysics. This is his way of dealing with humans in terms of concrete lived experience and not mere abstractions. This has implications for how we view incipient vs sentient vs sapient life and define human personhood. Daniel Dombrowski explicates Hartshorne’s approach in this article at Religion Online: “A nonstrict identity is composed of two or more successive concrete actualities with partly identical and partly differing qualities. It makes sense to claim that a person in a later state includes that person in an earlier state, but not vice versa.”
    Use of such terms such as soul and spirit and body might best be interpreted in a vague phenomenological and even semiotic sense rather than a robustly metaphysical sense, in my view. The truths of Christianity as expressed in Scripture and Tradition are not inextricably bound up with one metaphysic or another even though they’ll be inculturated in this or that idiom, which happens to be heavily invested in certain terms which are heavily laden with metaphysical implications. As for the afterlife, THAT and HOW are two different things, the former reality creedal, the latter not. Common sense and everyday experience gift us with all the anthropology one needs to know to realize life’s values, including the Good News.

  • http://www.virtuphill.blogspot.com phil_style

    RJS, I’d love to see a review of Christology amnd Science by Leron Shultz, which I think has some important things to offer on this subject.
    Additionally, for me, the famous cases of clive wilding (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clive_Wearing) and phineas gage (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phineas_Gage) say alot about how dependant our “person” is on the material parts of our brain.

  • EricG

    Dopderbeck,
    I haven’t read Corcoran, but I am assuming his views are similar to Hofstadter’s (see my comment above).
    If so, he would agree that human-ness is indeed related to potential (that is precisely how he responds to your objection regarding newborns). And that our self is not static. And that there is a soul. All of this arises from the fact that an essential aspect of human-ness (what distinguishes us from cats, for example), is our self-referential ability. This self-awareness, or self-reference, creates a never-ending feedback loop (not too different from your own repeated theme of dual-direction loops on other issues, e.g., on biblical interpretation). This self reference, iterative loop creates the “I,” or soul; because of this loop, the “I” today is very different from the “I” tomorrow, although they are clearly related. A blog is too limited to go into why he believes that such feedback loops can create “soul,” but in a nutshell he says that experience demonstrates time and time again that such self reference has profound results. (think, for example, Mandelobrot sets in math, for those math-inclined; he also gives examples of Bach for those musically inclined).
    This is very different from the traditional Christian view, but they are perhaps reconciliable. Its not surprising, for example, that God would create us such that there is a physical basis for our souls. And although Hostadter thinks death is the end, his view of the soul doesn’t have to say anything about what God may choose to do with us when we die.

  • Nancy Janisch

    I am unclear about what Corcoran means by a “first person perspective”. From the description here, it doesn’t seen significantly different that what biologist and ethologist call “self awareness” simply put the ability to know that I am an individual distinct from others. The self awareness of certain animals has been well demonstrated.
    Again I am unclear about his concept of relationality as a marker of humanity. Is he talking about the human- divine relationship or about human-human relationship? The capacity for animals to develop deep, apparently meaningful and complex relationships is well documented. As to the human- divine relationship, yes that occurs. But as to animal- divine relationships, what can we know? Just because we are not aware of that relationship, at this time, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. I would be quite reluctant to say that God cannot be in relationship- of some sort- with you cat, or my cat or anything else in creation.
    As a person with a DVM and an M Div, I have spent a bit of time thinking about what makes us human. Defining ourselves as human as distinct from animals, doesn’t work very well even though that is historically how we have thought about the imago dei. There are better ways to think about the imago dei,perhaps a topic for another day.

  • http://cathlimergent.ning.com/ John Sobert Sylvest

    dopderbeck (#9) wrote: “There are a number of things I don’t like about Corcoran’s view. Scot (#2) touches on one: it seems inconsistent with the Biblical witness.”
    I addressed this tangentially in a prior post, but let me toss out this quote from Alfredo Denis:
    “The concept of a soul is not theological but rather philosophical. As a consequence, one may leave it out of the theological discourse. Concepts like ‘mind,’ ‘soul,’ ‘self,’ and ‘consciousness’ are not specifically theological concepts. They are rather philosophical concepts.
    Theology has over the centuries used such concepts to express some religious beliefs, but such beliefs do not have a necessary connection with those concepts and certainly not with the metaphysical meaning they have in some philosophical traditions. Today, however, it is the sciences, especially the cognitive sciences, that wish to clarify such concepts.
    In this task, they are most of the time against religious beliefs because such beliefs seem to be necessarily connected with those concepts. I want to argue that this is a mistake, and that most authors in the cognitive sciences are basing their analysis on misleading presuppositions.
    But it is also true that a new theology needs a new anthropology, one that is less dependent on the traditional metaphysics of Thomas Aquinas and more in line with a relational paradigm.”
    Further, with Hans Kung, one might argue against the idea of a separated soul between particular judgment and the general resurrection as understood in either a platonic or aristotelian-thomist way, recognizing that, in Kung’s words, “man dies a whole, with body and soul, as a psychosomatic unity … into that eternity of the divine Now which, for those who have died, makes irrelevant the temporal distance of this world between personal death and the last judgement.”
    I have re-posted some of my thoughts from prior years which include quotes from Nancey Murphy and others here: Theology & Anthropology – body, soul, spirit?. They bear very directly on the topic at hand but needn’t be reiterated here, being too lengthy and maybe not of general interest.

  • http://cathlimergent.ning.com/ John Sobert Sylvest

    Eric G. (#12) wrote: “All of this arises from the fact that an essential aspect of human-ness (what distinguishes us from cats, for example), is our self-referential ability.”
    All of that was well said. As Terry Deacon would say, semiotically, we are the Symbolic Species, which thus gives us this ability to symbolically represent self.
    Of course, I still view the problem of consciousness as “hard.” So, I do not come down unequivocally on the side of Hans Kung or Nancey Murphy or Corcoran. My main thrust is that their metaphysical hypotheses are not unreasonable and not incompatible with the faith. If I am, rather, a ghost in a machine or constituted some other way, I’m looking forward to any experiences that might be in store for me, now or later. Presently, in my view and in my life, it is difficult to cash out any practical value of one of these conceptions vs another, so I remain metaphysically agnostic re: philosophy of mind and/or reality of the soul.

  • Brad

    Scot, can you give some specific scriptures that would seem to suggest a dualistic human nature and that would contradict a constitutive view? Is a dualistic view wholly incompatible with a constitutive view?

  • Brad

    Frog Leg #8 and dopderdeck #10
    I would have to agree that the physical world is real. To assume otherwise is basically solipsism, isn’t it? (Not that I’m saying solipsism is a demonstrably false philosophy. It’s just not very debatable.)
    Isn’t a viewpoint that personhood is a quality NOT derived purely from a material body also a slippery slope? Couldn’t potential scientific advancements in brain research continually shrink the role of the “non-material personhood” over time, creating a “person of the gaps” type of view? After all, lots of things that might have seemed mysterious aspects of the immaterial soul are now know to be physical functions of the brain. E.g. using electrical probes to touch different parts of the brain, researchers can cause a person/patient to experience feelings or smells or memories.

  • Sue

    So what about a human being who is unable to be self-aware, such as someone who is profoundly handicapped or who is in a coma? What makes those humans “persons”?

  • Karl

    In previous threads on this book we’ve raised and briefly discussed the question of how Corcoran’s view deals with the “in-between” state that (all? most?) Christians believe exists, between our physical death and bodily resurrection. Where, and What, are we?
    Besides “it’s a mystery” (which I grant) I’ve yet to see anything offered even as a hypothesis, that would allow reconciliation of even a Constitution View, with Jesus’ statement to the thief on the cross that “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” Both Jesus’ body and the thief’s body stayed on earth and were disposed of/buried. So who/what are the “you” and the “me” in Jesus’ statement?

  • RJS

    Karl,
    I have not finished the book yet – but I think we get there in chapters 5 and 6. Next Thursday.

  • dopderbeck

    Brad (#18) asked: Couldn’t potential scientific advancements in brain research continually shrink the role of the “non-material personhood” over time, creating a “person of the gaps” type of view?
    I respond: Yes. In fact, neurobiology considers the “soul” or “mind” a “ghost in the machine” that will eventually be entirely explained away by biology. But this is what I’m trying to drive at with my critical realist approach to multi-layered reality: even if the explanation at the physical layer is causally complete, this doesn’t preclude another non-empirical layer of reality; and this additional layer continues to do some work, at least concerning the persistence of the person after material death.
    John (#15) — I agree that the concept of the “soul” doesn’t need to have the metaphysical meaning ascribed to it in Greek philosophy (and taken up from Greek philosophy in much of the Christian tradition). Yet at the same time, I’d like to suggest that the Christian tradition does bequeath to us a metaphysical perspective that must be richer than materialism. Again, this is why I’m attracted to critical realism, and why I personally don’t see any reason to resort to purely physicalist approaches such as those of Corcoran and Murphy.

  • Frog Leg

    #10 dopderdeck: The difference between what I was saying and Gnosticism is that Gnostic considers the material to be base. If the physical world is appearance, the Gnostic views it as illusion. Seeing it is appearance is not the same as saying it is illusion. If we say the physical world is appearance, we have to talk about the reality behind the appearance (Kant). Since the body is the appearance of the soul, and the soul is eternal, this viewpoint raises the status of the material rather than lowering it. Saying instead that the body is that part of the soul which is physical (which is very close to your statement) is not very different from mine.
    #18 Brad: I don’t see how this viewpoint leads to solipsism. There is more than one observer to see the material universe. And it is clear that there is a common ground between how each of us perceive the material world. I am of course assuming the part about different observers, but this is no different from the standard assumptions needed to get away from solipsism.
    Regarding the “person in the gaps” hypothesis, I think you are (a) overstating how far science has come in understanding the brain and (b) understating how destructive a complete scientific understanding of the brain would be. If we for example had a complete scientific understanding of consciousness and free will, doing so would necessarily involve a causal model of how it works. By definition, this would mean the will is not free. The only scientific explanation of free will possible is to show that free will does not exist. And without free will, there’s not much point talking to religion, is there?

  • Scot McKnight

    Brad at #17: I just got back from class. What I’m asking is how to explain language about heart and soul and spirit etc that evoke something “more than” body and why were such terms chosen when they, in the Greek world, were often connected to dualistic thinking?
    So, eg., 1 Thess 5:23: “may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound…”

  • RJS

    Scot,
    Now I get your meaning in #2 a bit better. I have a question – is this dualism both OT and NT or is it predominantly in the NT – in letters to Greek churches?

  • RJS

    Or to put what I meant a little clearer: Is this use of dualistic language (body, soul, spirit) NT or both OT and NT?

  • Scot McKnight

    RJS, it’s both Testaments.
    I don’t recall all the issues in Kevin’s book, but sometimes I think the approach of this language through the lens of neurosciences is a way of bracketing “soul” and “spirit” etc and then, having learned to think through the lens of the empirical, concluding that such language is not needed or mistaken.
    Do you sense this?

  • RJS

    I’m not sure if it is in Kevin’s book or not. You are probably right that it is sometimes then concluded that such language is not needed or mistaken.
    I wonder though if the better approach is not that it isn’t needed – but that an understanding of the neurosciences (and we have nothing even close to a complete understanding here) needs to help interpret how we understand soul and spirit.

  • http://www.jesustheradicalpastor.com John W Frye

    Like some have mentioned, I am not anywhere near the skill of Kevin’s philosophical abilities. I think we pastors and theologians need to listen (read) and learn from scientists and philosophers. Without trying to be reductionist, but instead fair to the Bible, what do we do with CV and Genesis 2:7? From what I’ve read so far of the CV, Genesis 2:7 should read simply as “…the LORD God formed the man (person) from the dust of the ground.” Period. End. Finis. Yet, we are wonderingly led to the next phrases, “…and breathed into him the breathe of life, and the man (person) became a living being.” I will be interested in Kevin’s view of “breathe of life” as the man was already constituted (2:7a) materially (“dust of the ground”). The constituted man becomes a “living being” (what is that?) only after the breathe of life. It sure seems from the beginning, material and immaterial are stressed in a comprehensive definition of human being.

  • Dana Ames

    I think the language “problem” arises because we need a way to talk about “that which is unseen” in order to communicate. Such use of language and vocabulary does not necessarily imply “dualism”; it simply means that language will ultimately fall short. My understanding is that the Hebrew understanding of reality, and a Person, is that it “consists of” that which is seen and that which is unseen, but is still *one thing*, a Unity. But there were different words to indicate different aspects of that unity, and this use of language/vocabulary was carried over into how Greek was used when the NT writers were writing.
    I think a case can be made that even Paul, to some degree, took Greek vocabulary and gave it a (Jewish/Hebraic) spin, thus altering the meanings. I think this is what happened with the Greek Fathers. They were all highly educated in a fairly common course of study, and shared a certain vocabulary. Just because they used the vocabulary doesn’t mean they brought Greek philosophy/Platonic dualism into Christianity. You know scads more about the “Greek world” than I do, Scot- and I think you might be tempted, because of some unfortunate aspects of later philosophical developments in the west, to write off how the Greek language helped the church. (No, I am not one of those west=bad/east=good converts. I noticed this even before Orthodoxy was on my radar screen.)
    The more I read of the Greek church Fathers (and Paul in light of N.T. Wright’s vocabulary “adjustment/spin” of the dik- words), the more obvious it is to me that the vocabulary *enriched* Christian thought but did not at all displace it with dualism. So it might be helpful to compare Corcoran to the essence/hypostasis model -which doesn’t anticipate developments like stem cell research, but could add to our understanding considerably.
    Dana

  • http://www.jesustheradicalpastor.com John W Frye

    With Dana (#30) I believe that a person is constituted from both material and immaterial and yet a person exists as “one thing”, a unified reality. I don’t want my comments regarding Gen 2:7 to imply that I believe in disembodied spirits…souls as things in themselves. Greek dualism is not the conclusion of biblical terminology for the immaterial aspect of human being.

  • RJS

    John,
    Then the question is what this immaterial is. I don’t think that Genesis 2:7 means that God breathed the substance of a soul into clay or into an animal, but some other immaterial reality. Perhaps the kind of abstract capacity that makes a human a person? It is hard to put a finger on it.
    Self-awareness, relationality, imagination, will, …

  • RJS

    phil_style #12,
    I did a short series on Shults’s book about a year and a half ago. I’d have to go back and look at what he has to say on this particular topic. That book was a tough row to hoe though (i.e. hard to read).

  • AHH

    I wonder if part of our problem grappling with this lies in the unspoken assumption that what makes us “human” or “persons” must be in the realm of capacities or abilities (like self-reference or relationality, where several commenters have pointed out problems), or “potential” (presumably potential capacities or abilities).
    What if we start by saying that what makes us human is being made in the image of God? And the OT scholars (see for example Middleton’s The Liberating Image) seem to be telling us that the “image of God” is not fundamentally about capacities, but rather about function and responsibility, the role God has given to us to be God’s vice-regents and representatives of the kingdom. So maybe we should look at “personhood” more as a God-assigned role than as a special capacity, in which case attempts to look at our characteristics to find what makes us human would be misguided.
    I probably do have some qualitatively different capabilities than RJS’s cat (maybe even including some distinct “soul”), but maybe what makes me a person is more that God has given me the responsibility to be God’s person/image.

  • http://cathlimergent.ning.com/ John Sobert Sylvest

    dopderbeck (#22): “Yet at the same time, I’d like to suggest that the Christian tradition does bequeath to us a metaphysical perspective that must be richer than materialism.”
    We certainly need to distinguish between a thoroughgoing materialism that aspires to account for reality writ large with an eliminative stance toward God-concepts and all metaphysical discourse. That’s not philosophically tenable, for, as those who advocate scientism soon find out, in their anxiety to annihilate metaphysics, they inevitably and inadvertently do away with science itself. This philosophical materialism is not the same thing as hypothesizing about philosophy of mind, in particular. In my view, we can prescind from any robustly metaphysical account to a more vague phenomenological perspective where semiotic science already affirms the richness of our experience of reality (not to mention our undeniable experience, itself).
    The emergentist perspective, where we get something more from nothing but, accounts for genuine novelty in reality. The metaphysical perspective bequeathed us by the Christian tradition, I think, pertains mostly to reality’s initial, boundary and limit conditions, which we can conceive of in terms of a matrix, an implicate ordering (Bohm?), a tacit dimension, or even interpenetrating fields permeating all of reality, efficacious even if unobtrusive. And this provides for all the divine causal interactivity required no matter what root metaphor we end up choosing for our metaphysic (substance, process, experience, field). The same rules of alternating kataphasis (positive description), apophasis (negative description) and analogy/metaphor that are prescribed for predicates attached to God-concepts, also apply in highly speculative metaphysics, even theoretical physics. At best we are dealing with heuristic placeholders and in no way otherwise aspiring to explanatory adequacy. I’m somewhat sympathetic to those who decry a god-of-the-gaps or metaphysics-of-the-gaps approach, but I’ll make the deal that I won’t stick God in reality’s gaps if they don’t put Nietzsche guarding its perimeter (initial, boundary & limit conditions, which likely permeate reality through an through, semiotically & efficaciously).
    Science, for its part, hypothesizes much more incrementally and tentatively, which is to say, modestly, than that. It uses more theoretic terms (already negotiated concepts vis a vis the community of inquiry) than heuristic (still-in-negotiation) and eschews the dogmatic (non-negotiated). Christianity bequeaths us, in some sense, our semiotic terms (non-negotiable in the sense that, without them, meaning, itself, would be impossible). We presuppose the reality of other minds over against solipsism, the intelligibility of reality or metaphysical realism over against nihilism, moral realism over against an unmitigated relativism, various first principles like noncontradiction and excluded middle over against radical deconstructionism, common sense notions of causation over against anti-realisms, and so on. Ours is a semiotic realism that is intrinsically axiological or value-laden over against a nowhere anchored and paradoxical trust in what Kung calls this uncertain reality. None of these stances are empirically measurable or logically demonstrable but are basic presuppositions that are warranted by nothing more than a reductio ad absurdum. It is no accident, then, that science flourished due to this epistemic stance toward reality, which was reinforced by our Christian interpretive lenses, which provide a view of reality that is shot through and through with meaning. And richly so. I cannot prove this. No one can disprove it either, not without sawing off the epistemological branches where their ontological eggs are nested. It undeniably makes more sense. Do I add any particular philosophy of mind to the above presuppositions? No, I don’t think that’s necessary.
    We might heed Wittgenstein’s counsel that it is not HOW things are but THAT things are which is the mystical. Or, at least, that THESE things are (if one is reluctant to employ the word exist as a predicate of being). Haldane said that reality is not only stranger than we imagine but stranger than we CAN imagine, but Chesterton would caution that we do not know enough about reality, yet, to say what precisely is un/knowable.
    All that said, reality is RICH, whatever comprises the human soul. I know that just from being a Dad.

  • Brad

    Scot @ #24
    I guess I’m wondering if one could interpret Paul here as meaning something physical or constitutional here. Or at least not contradictory to a constitutional or physical view. Like is he meaning something like “I hope you are sound mentally, physically, and emotionally” rather than actually trying to draw a distinction between three separate constituent parts of the human being. I.e. is his language somewhat figurative?

  • Brad

    dopderbeck @ #22
    I agree. And I suppose that it could even be impossible for it to be impossible for the physical layer to be causally complete, depending on interpretations of quantum mechanics. Seems like physicist Roger Penrose made some arguments along these lines regarding AI and consciousness, but it’s been a long, long time since I read any of his writings.

  • Brad

    Ack. #37 should read
    “And I suppose that it could even be impossible for the physical layer…”

  • http://www.jesustheradicalpastor.com John W Frye

    RJS (#32),
    Why do we have to conclude that it was not the immaterial *human* soul, but some other animating reality? Yes, animals have souls in the sense of *nephesh* but the soul of man is particularly and specifically *God-breathed* giving it that aspect that makes in other-than-animal.

  • MatthewS

    Does he interact with 1 Cor 15:35ff, about the natural body being sown and a spiritual body being raised? I have always read this assuming that the body was part of the person but not the person – the person could be separate from the “natural body”. Perhaps there are ways to read 1 Cor 15 that are amenable to the CV?

  • RJS

    MatthewS,
    I haven’t read the end of the book yet, and there’s no scripture index, so I am not sure. But he does believe in the resurrection of the body and deals with both this and issues of “intermediate state.” We’ll get here next week.
    John
    What do you mean by soul? I have a hard time getting my mind around this concept.

  • Tracy B. Dickerson

    The Hebrew word that is generally translated as ‘soul’ (nephesh) seems to more accurately translate/denote “bodily life in relation to God.” (It is also used in other parts of scripture when defining ‘pulse,’ and the basic physical lexicographical meaning of nephesh is “throat,” “neck,” or “trachea.”) The term “living creature” (nephesh chayah) used to describe the creation of the first human being in Genesis 2:7, is the identical term used for animals (Gen 1:19-24) and man as a whole person (Joshua 2:13, Exodus 21:23). We do not “have” a nephesh, we *are* a nephesh. Genesis 2:7 tells of how God breathes into the human’s form and then the human “becomes a living soul”- note the text does not say that the human “gains/gets/receives” a ‘soul’. The human form receives the ruach and becomes a nephesh (living soul). This is a very important distinction, because it allows for a differentiation between ‘soul’ and ‘spirit’- a necessary distinction in discussion regarding eternality and/or Imago Dei.
    The term ‘dualism’ is being used in this discussion very broadly (i.e. dualism vs. constitutive view). It should be noted that there are very significant and different permutations of dualism:
    Neo-Platonic dualism is the concept of the “ghost in the machine” that was referred to earlier, and the discussion has touched on Plato and the influence of Greek philosophy on Paul.
    Holistic dualism is more consistent with a Biblical perspective, in that it denotes the concept of “being a living soul” versus “having a soul” (ghost in a machine, again.)
    But it seems to me that the choices being offered the readers are limited to dualism vs. the constitutive view. Another perspective might also be holistic trichotomy- in which the scripture that Scot noted (#24) I Thess. 5:23 makes the most sense- as does Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Psalm 16:8-9, Matthew 22:37, Mark 12:30, and Hebrew 4:12. All of these scriptures mention three distinct (not necessarily separate or separable, though) elements of a human creature.

  • Tracy B. Dickerson

    What makes a human being a person? Is it, as Corcoran suggests, a capacity for “first person perspective,” or a capacity for “intentional states”? I agree with many of the points that Dave Opderbeck (#9) makes with regard to the importance of differentiating between the actualized versus the potentials of a person with regard to these capacitites. It does appear that Corcoran, as Dave aptly describes, “seems to locate personhood in what is actualized through the body…and seems to imply that people are ‘more’ or ‘less’ persons depending on their bodily faculties.” He (Opderbeck) then goes on to further elucidate (using the examples of newborns and disabled persons) that “potentials” might be a better identifier of what constitutes ‘personhood.’ Good points, there. In addition to the “soon-to-be” or “might-have-been” aspects that are implicit in Opderbeck’s description of personhood is the opposite concept: the “what-was-but-is-no-longer” (e.g. the person with dementia, head injury, in a coma, etc.) Both definitions suggest a *latent* ‘something’ that might develop or might recede, once developed, but is still there. What that ‘something’ is, whether evidenced or not, makes the difference. I believe that this ‘something’ that we are all trying to put our thumb on is “soul and spirit” and is precisely what makes us humans different. I’m not sure the difference between us and animals is “persistence apart from a body after death” as Opderbeck describes, as much as it is “having eternity set in our hearts” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)- and what that means is a mystery and must remain so. So, the word “person” and the concept of “personhood” become very vague when looked at through these lenses. When we determine that “personhood” defines value in a society, we are in great danger, argues theologian and medical ethicist Stanley Hauerwas of Duke Divinity School. Stanley Hauerwas’ article: Must a Patient Be a Person to Be a Patient? Or, My Uncle Charlie Is Not Much of a Person But He Is Still My Uncle Charlie speaks to this at length, and I highly recommend reading it because he makes the valid point that using and relying on the terms ‘person’ or ‘personhood’ does violence to the language and does not adequately convey the importance of human relationality, community or the historical narrative (personal story) of a human being.
    In other words, my 104 year old patient who has had organic brain syndrome since the 1970’s and has been in an infantile state of existence for nearly forty years is mad in God’s image- as opposed to RJS’s cat- despite her inability to self-reflect, care for creation, perform acts of mercy, or even be in mutual loving relation with others. She is made in God’s image not because of what she is or what she does or how she is made or what she is made of…she is made in God’s image because He has called her by name and says that she is.

  • Travis Greene

    Don’t the Seventh Day Adventists believe in a kind of non-conscious intermediate state between death and resurrection? Any SDA folks want to chime in?
    It seems to me that Corcoran’s view, while I am not entirely convinced by it, is at least not-inconsistent with scriptural witness. To take the statue analogy further, if an artist created a statue that was then melted down (in a fire, say) but then used the same metal to re-create the statue, is it not the same statue? Isn’t that a pretty decent picture of resurrection?


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