Keith Ward, in his new book, More Than Matter?: Is There More to Life Than Molecules?, says Yes indeed. This may be the best written piece of philosophy I’ve ever read, though it is hard to outflank Elizabeth Anscombe’s famous Intention. This series on Keith Ward’s book is meant to complement RJS’s series on Joel Green’s book — and so it is appropriate for me today to begin this series on one of her days of posting — Tues and Thurs.
Ward begins with Francis Crick, and so shall I. Crick lays down these lines as a way of reminding us, however brutal, of who we are:
You, your joys and sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve-cells and their associated molecules.”
And Keith Ward, who thinks Crick’s view is philosophically and scientifically naive, ends his introduction with this riposte:
… you, your joys and sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are much more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve-cells, and that ‘more’ gives each personal life a significance and value that expresses and points to the ultimate meaning of the universe itself. Human persons are not accidental mistakes in a pointless perambulation of fundamental particles. They are a window into the inner reality, value, and purpose of the cosmos.
So there. Ward was a student of Gilbert Ryle, and that means he was up against the odds because Ward is a Christian and Ryle, well, he wasn’t.
Which leads him to a well-written, wry, and witty set of observations on the eight theories of the relationship of body and mind, or body and soul, or the ontology of humans. Here’s the way we work: our commonsense tells us about consciousness and about something more in who we are (person, soul, spirit, mind, etc) and it tells us that the mind can influence what is happening in the real world, and that we can explain intentions and the like. But is this all true? Are these just mental acts that do not really explain the world “out there”? Here are his eight views:
1. Phenomenalism: radical empiricism; nothing exists except sense-data. What happens is what you see; what you don’t see does not happen.The mind makes sense of sense-data.
2. Naive realism: objects do exist — continue to exist — even when we are not observing them.
3. Materialism: nothing exists but matter — publicly observable things with location in space and time.
4. Dualism: humans are made of two parts, body and mind (or soul). They normally exist together, but can exist in principle apart from one another.
5. Epiphenomenalism: minds, consciousness, and mental properties exist, but are wholly caused by brain-events, and have no causal role in the universe.
Now he enters into three forms of idealism, which means that material objects would not exist without mind or consciousness, so that mind is the primary form of reality, and causes material things to exist. “Minds are not illusory ghosts in real machines. On the contrary, machines are spectral, transitory phenomena appearing to an intelligible world of minds” (58).
6. Critical idealism: we must assume that reality is ultimately mind-like, but we cannot theoretically demonstrate it, and the material world is not just in our human minds. (Kantian transcendental idealism is another way of framing this theory.)
7. Absolute idealism: there is one Absolute Mind of which all finite minds and all matter are parts, or which that Mind generates by inner necessity. Hegel belongs here.
8. Pluralistic idealism: the theory that mind, not matter, is the ultimate reality. But there are many minds, not just one (not just the mind of God, for example).