The Atman, Part 6
Part 6 of 10: The Views of the Philosophers
The philosophy of consciousness, better known as the philosophy of mind, has a rich history. Countless philosophers have speculated about such concepts as the soul, the mind, the Atman, and the self. In this essay, I will summarize the views of some of the most famous philosophers on these topics. For each one, I will focus on their ideas about the philosophy of mind, although I may briefly mention some of their other ideas, too.
I have divided my list into two parts: philosophers of the past and philosophers of the present. The philosophers of the present are then subdivided into the atheist philosophers and the religious philosophers. This list is by no means exhaustive. Also, I realize that this piece of my series is unbearably long, but it had to be, because I had to discuss the ideas of so many different philosophers.
Additionally, I apologize for the fact that all the philosophers on this list are from either Europe, the United States, or Canada. I am aware that there have been just as many great thinkers from other parts of the world. (And I’ve only recently begun to discover them.) But due to the time constraint, I didn’t get a chance to research their ideas. I wanted to finish this series by the end of July, and researching takes a long time.
Without further ado, here is my list of the philosophers of mind:
Philosophers of the Past:
The philosophers of the past are generally characterized by a belief in some sort of entity, presumed to be immaterial, inside our heads. (Personally, I am advocating a return of that belief.) Different words evolved to describe this entity. The Ancient Greeks called it a soul (psyche). That word was then picked up by the Christian tradition and was used by medieval philosophers like Thomas Aquinas. Meanwhile, on the Indian subcontinent, they called it an Atman. The word “mind” became popular later on and is most closely associated with the ideas of Rene Descartes. As the centuries progressed, some philosophers (e. g. Locke, Hume, James) preferred to talk about the “self” rather than the “soul” or “mind”. And by the 20th Century, the atheist worldview, under which there is no “soul” or “self”, was beginning to take hold. But most of the philosophers of past ages (David Hume being one very notable exception) did believe that some sort of entity exists inside us that forms the locus of our consciousness.
Democritus (c. 460 — c. 370 BC) proposed the atomic theory of the universe. He proposed that the soul is made of fire atoms. In other words, he was a materialist: he thought that even the soul was made of matter. He was the Daniel Dennett of his day.
Plato (c. 425 — c. 347 BC) believed that the soul is immaterial and immortal. He divided it into three parts: logos, thymos, and eros. The eros is the basis for your physical desires, namely your desire for food and drink and your desire for sex. The thymos is more spirited and is the basis for your desire to be recognized (my thymos compels me to write this blog). The logos is the faculty of reason. You use it to think logically and rationally about things. Plato considered the logos (i. e. abstract, logical thinking) to be superior to the desires of the body.
Plato speculated that the eros is located in the abdomen, the thymos in the chest, and the logos in the head. He was not completely wrong about that.
As you can see, Plato used the word “soul” to mean something that encompasses your consciousness, your thoughts, and your emotions. But he thought that the whole thing was immaterial.
Aristotle (384–322 BC) considered the soul to be the form of a living being.
Aristotle thought that every object in the world had both matter and form. The form of an object is what makes it recognizable to us and what gives it a function. He applied this same line of reasoning to living things and conjectured that the soul is just the form of a living thing. As such, the soul is what makes something alive. Unlike Plato, he did not think the soul was separate from the body. He thought it was just the form of the body.
Aristotle classified souls into vegetative souls, sensitive souls, and rational souls. He thought that plants have only a vegetative soul, that animals have both a vegetative soul and a sensitive soul, and that only humans get to have all three. Only humans, with their rational souls, can use reason.
Aristotle was not a materialist, but on the other hand, he was much more focused on the material world than was his teacher, Plato.
Plotinus (c. 204–270) built on Plato’s theories and speculated about the origin of the soul. He thought that everything begins with The One, which then creates Nous (the Divine Mind), which then creates the World Soul, which then creates individual human souls, which then create matter (which he regarded as the lowest form of existence). He also thought that if you meditate, your soul can detach from the corrupt material world and reunite with The One.
Plotinus’ ideas remind me of the lyrics of the Beatles’ song “Tomorrow Never Knows.” He was so trippy.
Saint Augustine of Hippo (354–430) was an influential Christian theologian. He was influenced both by Plato and by Plotinus (and Plotinus, in turn, had been influenced by Plato). Thus, Augustine was a Christian Platonist (or should I say a Platonist Christian?).
Augustine believed that a human consists of two parts: body and soul. Like Plato, he considered the soul to be immaterial, immortal, and responsible for reasoning. Also like Plato, he had a certain amount of contempt for the body, as he considered the pursuits of the soul to be superior to the pursuits of the body, and believed that the body was a distraction to the soul.
Augustine was also deeply ashamed of his own sexuality. He lamented the fact that human sexuality exists and wrote that lust is evil. Given his preference for the soul over the body, I guess we shouldn’t be surprised. Regardless, it’s a shame that people took him seriously on these topics. You can really damage someone’s development by making them fear their own sexuality. But I digress.
Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) was one of the greatest theologians of all time. He attempted to create a coherent, rational, systematic theology under which the doctrines of the Catholic Church could be derived through reason. He attempted to fuse the ideas of Aristotle with Catholic theology. Aquinas is most especially remembered for his five arguments for the existence of God.
With regard to the soul, Aquinas followed in the tradition of Aristotle, arguing that the soul is the form of the body. He believed that the soul is the thing that makes you a living human being. He also believed it was present throughout the human body, not just in the head. However, like Plato and Augustine, he also believed that the soul is immaterial, immortal, and responsible for reasoning. Aquinas argued that while all animals possess souls, only humans possess immortal souls (that is, only humans can go to heaven or hell after death).
I have mixed views about Aquinas’s ideas. He was a brilliant thinker, but a lot of his ideas are very outdated. I also think that he treated religion as an intellectual exercise, which does not reflect the true value of religion in people’s lives. Religion is not geometry class.
Rene Descartes (1596–1650) was the most notable advocate of mind-body dualism. He thought that the brain and mind were two different things. He thought that the mind was immaterial, while the brain is just a physical organ. He thought that the brain is responsible for sensations, movements, and emotions but that the mind is what you use for thinking. As such, he thought that thinking was an immaterial process.
Although Descartes considered the brain and the mind to be distinct, he also thought that they influence each other. He thought that the mind receives information from the brain and then decides how to respond to it. Its commands are carried out by the brain. Descartes also speculated that the connection between the brain and the mind might lie in the pineal gland in the brain. That is, he thought that the pineal gland creates the mind. This has been proven false. In reality, the pineal gland is just an endocrine gland that secretes melatonin.
Descartes is also remembered for his famous declaration, “I think, therefore, I am.” In other words, you cannot possibly doubt the existence of your own consciousness. If you think that you exist, then you exist, because if you didn’t, then, well, who’s doing the thinking? Your consciousness (i. e. your existence) is the one thing that you cannot possibly doubt. This was a brilliant insight on Descartes’ part, and I even think it is relevant to the hard problem of consciousness.
Descartes’ ideas have been very influential in the philosophy of mind. His ideas have also permeated our popular conception of the mind. He was one of the greatest philosophers ever.
Baruch de Spinoza (1632–1677) was a controversial philosopher who broke with traditional theology. With regard to the mysteries of consciousness, he argued against Descartes’ dualism. He argued that there is just one kind of “stuff” in the universe, and that the distinction between physical and mental is just an artificial distinction that we humans came up with. This view is called neutral monism. Spinoza was also a complete determinist, and while he was not exactly an atheist, he certainly did not believe in the traditional conception of God.
John Locke (1632–1704) defined the self as “that conscious thinking thing …… which is sensible, or conscious of pleasure and pain, capable of happiness or misery.” This is similar to how Descartes understood the mind.
Locke was a prominent empiricist. He believed that we gain knowledge only through experienced. He claimed that at birth, a human baby is a blank slate (tabula rasa) and that we are shaped only by our experiences in life. In this regard, he has been proven wrong. We are not born as blank slates. However, I do like how Locke defined the self.
Locke was also an important political philosopher. His political theories would ultimately influence the founding fathers of the United States.
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646–1716) was a prolific philosopher, mathematician, and scientist. With regard to the soul, he wrote about the processes by which we process incoming information (which today would be considered psychology, rather than philosophy). But Leibniz also criticized physicalism. Specifically, he criticized the idea that the mind could be generated through neurological processes alone. He was essentially pointing out the hard problem of consciousness: crude physics cannot account for first-person experiences.
George Berkeley (1685–1753) thought that the mind was everything and that matter doesn’t even exist. He thought that matter only seems to exist because we perceive it, and he thought that the entire material world is really just an idea in our minds (or in the mind of God). He was also an empiricist, arguing that knowledge comes only from experience.
He is also the namesake of UC Berkeley. I’ve always found this to be a little amusing. It’s funny that a major research university is named after an abstract 18th Century philosopher who believed that matter doesn’t exist.
David Hume (1711–1776) argued that there is no such thing as the self. He thought that we just have a bunch of experiences and that these experiences do not constitute a “soul”, a “mind”, or a “self”. Rather, they are just experiences.
One interesting consequence of Hume’s theory is that your current existence (however you understand it) would not persist through time. If our lives are just a sequence of experiences, then there is no coherent you. There would be no qualitative connection between the person you are now and the person you were five years ago.
According to this view, if you make a comparison between your current self and your past self, and then you make a comparison between yourself and someone else, there is no qualitative difference between those two comparisons. Substantively speaking, you are just as different from your past self as you are from another person.
David Hume was an empiricist, like Locke and Berkeley. He was also essentially an atheist. He did not explicitly say, “I am an atheist,” because in those days, you could get in big trouble for saying that (as Spinoza did). But his writings make it pretty clear that he didn’t believe in the traditional Christian God. His secular, naturalist ideas were quite radical for his time. He was not the only philosopher to promote the idea that the “self” is nothing but a bundle of experiences, but he was one of the first major philosophers to break away from the religious, theoretical tradition and to make a philosophy that is based on science, matter, and the real world.
Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) was concerned with the question of how it is that we humans come to understand the world. He argued that the mind has some knowledge a priori, such as knowledge of space, time, and causation. He also wrote about consciousness and the soul, but his style of writing was so abstract and so difficult to read that I really struggle to understand what points he was trying to make.
William James (1842–1910) divided the self into the I and the Me. The I is the subject, the agent, the self. In contrast, the Me is how the I refers to himself, as if it were a separate person. He further divided the Me into the material self, the social self, and the spiritual self. Essentially, the Me is how you perceive yourself, or how you refer to yourself in the third person. James was also a panpsychist.
Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) was a psychiatrist who came up with a lot of theories about the workings of the mind, some of which were totally bonkers.
With regard to the philosophy of mind, Freud divided the mind into three parts: the ego, the id, and the superego. The id is an unconscious bundle of drives, most especially the sex drive. The superego is a sort of mental policeman that tries to suppress the id. The ego is the self, and in any given situation, the ego chooses between the rambunctious id and the repressive superego. The ego is mostly conscious, the superego is partially conscious but mostly unconscious, and the id is entirely unconscious.
Modern-day psychologists have mixed views of Freud. Some of his ideas did have some truth to them, and he was an important figure in cultural history. However, some of his other ideas were totally absurd. In general, his theories are no longer taken seriously.
Alfred North Whitehead (1861–1947) was a prominent proponent of panpsychism, which is the idea that everything in the world has consciousness, at least to some extent. He thought that reality consists of events rather than material objects, and that all these events are at least partially mental, which means that everything has a mind.
Bertrand Russell (1872–1970) argued against the view that the universe is divided into matter and mind. In other words, he was a neutral monist, like Spinoza. Russell thought that modern science has shown that both matter and mind are nothing like what we thought they were. He thought that there are really just particles and events and that matter and mind are both just conceptions that we made up to organize them. Russell was an atheist, and although he was not a complete materialist, he was leaning in that direction.
Martin Buber (1878–1965) wrote about how the personal pronouns that we use (I, me, you, it) reveal our inherent understanding of the fact that each of us has a distinct self (a. k. a. a distinct soul, a distinct Atman). He distinguished between an “I-You” relationship, in which two people respect each other, and an “I-It” relationship, in which one person considers the other to be subhuman and unimportant.
Gilbert Ryle (1900–1976) argued against mind-body dualism and asserted that the mind does not exist as its own entity. In his view, what we call the mind is really just the workings of the brain. He rejected the idea of an immaterial mind and ridiculed this idea by calling it “the ghost in the machine”. In his view, there is just the machine: the brain. There is no ghost in the machine.
He was the doctoral adviser of Daniel Dennett (see below). Dennett would carry on Ryle’s physicalist views.
Francis Crick (1916–2004), the co-discoverer of DNA, rejected the idea of an immaterial self/soul. He stated, “You are nothing but a pack of neurons.” This is the crudest (and bleakest) form of materialism. Even Sam Harris, who is an avowed atheist, has stated that he finds this quote from Crick to be a little too reductionist.
Philosophers of the Present:
With regard to the philosophy of mind, the philosophers of the present can be divided into two camps: the religious philosophers and the atheist philosophers. The religious philosophers still believe in an immaterial soul, a ghost in the machine. The atheist philosophers do not. When it comes to the philosophy of mind, the most famous religious philosophers are probably William Lane Craig and Richard Swinburne, while the most famous atheist philosophers are probably Daniel Dennett, Thomas Nagel, and David Chalmers.
Typically, when I look up the opinions of the religious philosophers (who are usually Christian), I find that I agree with them about the immaterial soul (a. k. a. Atman) and the existence of God but little else. Personally, I am Catholic, and I believe in God, but I actually reject the majority of Catholic doctrines. For example, many of these Christian philosophers will promote ideas like the resurrection of Jesus, the resurrection of your physical body in heaven, the existence of hell, and the Trinity. Personally, I don’t believe in any of those things. But I do believe in the immaterial Atman.
The atheist philosophers can be subdivided into several camps, according to how exactly they try to address the hard problem of consciousness. There are the strict physicalists, like Daniel Dennett. There are the new mysterians, like Colin McGinn, Steven Pinker, and Sam Harris. There are some, like Roger Penrose, who say that only quantum physics can explain consciousness. And finally, there are the panpsychists, like Galen Strawson, Thomas Nagel, and David Chalmers.
I will begin with the atheist philosophers. Everyone on this part of the list has explicitly stated that they don’t believe in God.
The atheist philosophers:
Daniel Dennett (b. 1942) is a strict physicalist. He holds that neuroscience alone can explain human consciousness. In fact, he contends that it already has. He wrote a book called Consciousness Explained in which he argues that all mental activities, including consciousness, are really just processes in the brain. Since he contends that consciousness is a purely neurological phenomenon, he argues that there is no such thing as the hard problem of consciousness.
But Dennett’s arguments have been widely criticized, even by his fellow atheists. His critics charge that he is presenting consciousness only as a third-person phenomenon and is neglecting the first-person aspect of it (and I agree with them).
Colin McGinn (b. 1950) has promoted the view known as new mysterianism, which states that consciousness is a purely scientific phenomenon but that we will never be able to understand it. McGinn points out that there are some scientific realities that we just can’t quite grasp intellectually, but we have no doubt that they are a part of the material world. And he argues that consciousness is just one of those realities.
He uses the metaphor of astronomy. We will never be able to discover every planet in the universe, but we have no doubt that undiscovered planets exist and that they are part of the material universe. So it is with consciousness, he contends.
Steven Pinker (b. 1954), who is one of the world’s most famous intellectuals, is an atheist and a physicalist like Daniel Dennett, but is slightly more realistic than Dennett. Like Colin McGinn, he has endorsed new mysterianism, and he has used the metaphor of seven-dimensional space: we cannot visualize seven-dimensional space, but we have no trouble conceiving that it could exist.
Pinker denies the existence of an immaterial soul. In 1999, he and Richard Dawkins gave a joint seminar entitled, “Has Science Killed the Soul?” in which they argued that neuroscience has disproven the idea of an immaterial soul (a. k. a. immaterial mind, Atman, self).
Steven Pinker is not exactly a philosopher, but he has provided his opinions on this topic. (He has provided his opinions on just about every topic under the sun.)
Sam Harris (b. 1967) is one of the world’s most vocal critics of religion. He has criticized religion on scientific, philosophical, and societal grounds. He has also promoted the idea of spirituality without religion.
Like McGinn and Pinker, he is a new mysterian, arguing that while consciousness is a physical phenomenon, we humans will never be able to grasp how or why it exists. He has also argued that the self is an illusion. Making the same arguments as David Hume, he suggests that our lives are really just a sequence of experiences and that there is no “self” or “soul” that persists through time.
Harris has also made quite a few controversial statements about society. For example, he has stated “Islam is all fringe and no center,” “We should profile Muslims,” and “Torture may be an ethical necessity in our war on terror.” He has also repeatedly come to the defense of the controversial Charles Murray, who is known for his argument that white people are genetically more intelligent than other races (which has been proven false). And that goes to show that atheists are not as purely rational as they want you to think.
Sam Harris is married to Annaka Harris (see below).
Roger Penrose (b. 1931), who is one of the smartest people on earth, is a proponent of the quantum mind, which is the hypothesis that the secret to understanding the mysteries of consciousness lies in quantum physics. According to the quantum mind, classical science is incapable of explaining consciousness, but quantum physics will be able to do it.
Penrose argues that we will have to develop a new branch of quantum physics in order to explain consciousness. He believes that wave function collapse and quantum gravity (two concepts in quantum physics) will be central concepts in this new physics.
Penrose connects his theories of the quantum mind to questions in artificial intelligence, specifically to the age-old question of whether a computer will ever be conscious. Penrose argues that today’s computers could never be conscious because they are algorithmically deterministic. In his view, in order for something to be conscious, it has to be non-algorithmic (though it can still be deterministic).
Honestly, the majority of Penrose’s ideas are over my head. While I have a solid understanding of classical physics, I have very little knowledge of quantum physics or of artificial intelligence.
However, even if his ideas are over my head, I still have the right to criticize them. I think he’s wrong, because I think the mysteries of consciousness are simply beyond science — even quantum physics. I think that if he were unbiased, he would admit that it is beyond science, but because of the widespread academic bias against the idea that something can be beyond science, he just can’t see it.
John Searle (b. 1932) promotes a view that he calls biological naturalism. According to biological naturalism, consciousness is a part of the physical world, but it cannot be reduced to anything else in science. This is similar to David Chalmers’ hypothesis that consciousness is simply one of the fundamentals of physics, along with mass and energy.
However, unlike Chalmers, Searle rejects mind-body dualism. Honestly, I find Searle’s opinions on these topics to be a little contradictory. If he says that consciousness cannot be reduced to anything else, then that means he’s a dualist. He seems to be contradicting himself.
Searle has also advanced the “Chinese room” argument, which holds that no computer can ever be truly conscious. This is similar to an argument made by Gottfried Leibniz 300 years earlier. But I actually don’t agree with it. I think it is theoretically possible (though unlikely in the real world) to create a conscious computer. But don’t take my word for it, because I don’t know anything at all about artificial intelligence.
By the way, John Searle and Colin McGinn have both been forced to resign from their academic posts due to allegations of sexual harassment. That’s not relevant to their philosophical ideas, but I feel like I ought to mention it anyway.
David Chalmers (b. 1966) is a giant in the debates over the nature of consciousness. It was he who coined the phrase “hard problem of consciousness”. The reason he calls it “the hard problem” is to distinguish it from “easy problems”, such as explaining how it is that we integrate information in our brains, or how our brains react to stimuli, or how our brains have self-awareness. In contrast, the “hard problem” is the question of how the matter of our brains gives rise to first-person experiences (qualia) on the inside.
He deserves praise for popularizing this distinction. When people like Daniel Dennett and Christof Koch try to persuade you that consciousness can be explained scientifically, they usually start to discuss the neuroscience of how our brains receive and process input from the senses. But Chalmers would respond, “No, no, that’s only the easy problem. You still haven’t addressed the hard problem.” And he’s right.
In an attempt to address the hard problem of consciousness, Chalmers proposes that consciousness is one of the fundamental properties of the universe (along with mass, energy, charge, etc.), distinct from all the other properties. So according to David Chalmers, there is mass, energy, charge ……… and consciousness. I partially agree with him on this point. I agree that consciousness is some sort of fundamental property of the universe, but unlike him, I think it is a metaphysical property, not a scientific property.
Because Chalmers considers consciousness to be a scientific property that is separate from all other scientific properties, he calls himself a “naturalistic dualist”. He’s a dualist because he believes that consciousness cannot be reduced to neuroscience alone, but he’s also a naturalist (a. k. a. a physicalist) because he still considers consciousness to be part of the natural, scientific world. He has proposed that there are “psychophysical laws” which determine which physical systems are given consciousness (and if they are, what kind). I actually agree with him that these psychophysical laws exist, but unlike him, I think they can only be known by God, not by science. I do think that there are rules that determine exactly when a developing fetus gets an Atman and that determine which animals have Atmans and which ones don’t. But I don’t think we humans will ever discover exactly what these rules are, because I think they are outside of science.
Chalmers has also popularized the concept of a “philosophical zombie”, which is conceived as a creature that is just like a human in every possible way except that it isn’t conscious. It looks, speaks, and acts like a human, but it’s not really there. If you’re in a room with your friend, you’re not alone, but if you’re in a room with a philosophical zombie, you are alone. Philosophical zombies don’t actually exist, of course, but they could exist in theory. Chalmers deserves praise for popularizing this concept, too, because the idea of a philosophical zombie demonstrates the impossibility of pure physicalism, under which the brain is the only thing we need to understand consciousness.
Chalmers has also fallen under the sway of panpsychism, but fortunately, he does not endorse it completely. He considers panpsychism to be just one of several possible solutions to the hard problem of consciousness. He has also proposed that nonliving entities possess “proto-consciousness,” as opposed to true consciousness. But even under his modified view, I still consider panpsychism to be an absurd idea, which is why I reject it.
David Chalmers is a brilliant thinker, and I respect him as an intellectual. And again, I agree with his view that consciousness is some sort of fundamental property of the universe, but unlike him, I think it’s a metaphysical property, not a scientific property. But I think that Chalmers has a bias against the idea that something can exist outside of science, as do so many of his colleagues.
Thomas Nagel (b. 1937) is the author of the famous essay What Is It Like to Be a Bat?, which he published in 1974. In this essay, he shut down crude physicalism by pointing out that a purely neurological explanation of consciousness could never explain what it is like to be something. He stated, “An organism has conscious mental states if and only if there is something that it is like to be that organism — something that it is like for the organism.” And he was right.
Nagel chose the example of a bat, because bats are assumed to be conscious, but their experiences are so different from our own. For example, they perceive their environments by using echolocation, which we humans cannot do. As such, we will never know what it is like to experience echolocation — because we’re humans, not bats. Even if we knew everything that goes on in a bat’s brain, we still wouldn’t know what it’s like to be a bat, because we haven’t experienced it ourselves. His point was that our lives contain subjective, first-person experiences (qualia), and no third-person, objective explanation, as in neuroscience, could ever explain that. I would say that Nagel was posing the hard problem of consciousness, although it was Chalmers who coined that phrase, not Nagel.
Unfortunately, Nagel attempted to resolve the hard problem of consciousness through panpsychism. In 1979, he published a book which (among other things) advocates panpsychism. It’s a shame: he made a brilliant contribution to the world by writing What Is It Like to Be a Bat?, but then he fell under the sway of panpsychism, which is a ridiculous idea.
Galen Strawson (b. 1952) is also a panpsychist. He considers himself to be a physicalist, but he specifies that in order for physicalism to be credible, we must admit that consciousness cannot be reduced to neuroscience alone, which means we must consider it to be a separate scientific property (David Chalmers has made the same argument — see above). But unlike Chalmers, Strawson contends that panpsychism is the only way to make sense of this property. He believes that the “property” that is consciousness suffuses the entire universe.
Galen Strawson is the son of P. F. Strawson, who was also a prominent philosopher.
Annaka Harris [year of birth not found] is a science writer. She is the author of the best-selling book Conscious: A Brief Guide to the Fundamental Mystery of the Mind. In this book, she presents the hard problem of consciousness and explores the various attempts to answer it, including panpsychism. While she does not completely endorse panpsychism, she certainly considers it to be a viable theory and has stated that it is “most probably true.”
She is married to Sam Harris (see above).
Peter Singer (b. 1946) is a philosopher of ethics whose views are somewhat controversial. He endorses the ethical theory known as utilitarianism, and he applies it to the issue of animal rights. He believes that the measure of life is the ability to feel pain; that is, an organism is alive if and only if it can feel pain. I disagree with him on this point because I think pain only exists if it is accompanied by consciousness, which makes consciousness the true definition of life — see Part 8.
The religious philosophers:
All of the people on this part of the list are religious, and they believe in God. Specifically, they are all Christians, although I am sure there are other philosophers of mind who belong to other religious traditions. Three of the people on this part of the list (Swinburne, Craig, and Moreland) are what we could call Christian apologists. A Christian apologist is someone who tries to come up with rational, philosophical arguments to defend the doctrines of Christianity. I typically have mixed views about these Christian apologists: I think they are absolutely right about consciousness being insoluble, but I also think that they have a bias in favor of the doctrines of Christianity. I think that an unbiased person could recognize that consciousness is insoluble without endorsing the specific doctrines of Christianity.
Without further ado, here are the religious philosophers of mind:
Richard Swinburne (b. 1934) is an expert Christian apologist. He has spent most of his career defending the existence of God and Christian doctrines.
With regard to consciousness, Swinburne holds that neuroscience alone cannot explain it, because neuroscience only explains a physical system, not first-person experiences (qualia). This is, of course, the hard problem of consciousness. In defense of this point, Swinburne likes to discuss thought experiments which involve separating the two hemispheres of someone’s brain. I’m not sure I agree with the effectiveness of these thought experiments, but I do agree with him that the hard problem of consciousness is beyond science.
Swinburne has also argued that even if science could somehow explain how matter gives rise to conscious experience, it could still never explain how it is that my consciousness resides in my brain while your consciousness resides in your brain. In other words, even if science could answer the second of my two “mind-blowing” questions, it could never answer the first (see Part 1). I wholeheartedly agree with him on this point. There should be more emphasis on the first of the two “mind-blowing” questions, not just the second.
Swinburne connects his conclusions about the consciousness being beyond science to his Christian apologetics. He advocates the argument from consciousness, which is the idea that the fact that humans are conscious suggests the existence of a personal God. And I agree. In fact, the argument from consciousness is my favorite argument for the existence of God. It does not definitely prove God’s existence (nothing ever will), but it is more direct, effective, and compelling than any of the other arguments for God.
In an attempt to resolve the mysteries of consciousness, Swinburne posits that there exists an immaterial entity within our brains that makes us conscious. As such, he is a dualist (as am I). He calls this entity a soul, but it is roughly the same thing that I have been calling an Atman. However, there are some differences between his conception of the “soul” and my conception of the “Atman”.
When it comes to the mysteries of consciousness, Richard Swinburne is a brilliant thinker, and I think he understands the heart of the issue better than anyone else, whether religious or atheist.
But I also have a major problem with Swinburne, which is that I think he clings too tightly to the Christian doctrines that he was taught in his youth. In addition to his ideas about the soul, Swinburne has defended such ideas as the Trinity, the existence of hell, the divinity of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus, and the omnipotence of God. Personally, I don’t believe in any of those things. But in Swinburne’s mind, all of these ideas fit together with the arguments for God and form a single, coherent, framework of Christian doctrines, each of which can be derived by reason, in the tradition of Thomas Aquinas.
I honestly think that by attaching his ideas about the soul to a large framework of Christian doctrines (most of which are not really true), Swinburne is actually reducing his own credibility in the general public. His ideas about consciousness and the soul are brilliant, but if he tries to connect them to silly things like the Trinity, then most people in the general public will not take him seriously and will regard him as just another old-fashioned clergyman. It’s a shame.
William Lane Craig (b. 1949) is probably the world’s most famous Christian apologist and has participated in numerous public debates over the existence of God. While he does promote the argument from consciousness, it is not one of his preferred arguments. He prefers the cosmological argument, as well as the fine-tuning argument, the argument from morality, and several arguments involving Jesus.
Unfortunately, Craig takes the Bible and the doctrines of Christianity too seriously. For example, he has written two entire books defending the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus and he is currently writing a book about the “historical Adam”, which is absurd. His theological views are much more conservative than mine.
Charles Taylor (b. 1931) is a Catholic philosopher. He wrote a book called The Sources of the Self, which discusses how people’s understanding of their own consciousness evolved over the course of human history.
Godehard Bruntrup (b. 1957) is a Jesuit priest who has advocated panpsychism.
Philip Goff [year of birth not found] is an advocate of panpsychism, in the same spirit as Galen Strawson. In his Twitter bio, he describes himself as a “heretical Christian”. [Author’s note, February 2021: This was a mistake. Goff is an atheist (who practices Christianity). I put him on the wrong list.]
J. P. Moreland (b. 1948) is a Christian apologist. Like Swinburne, he has advocated the argument from consciousness and the existence of libertarian free will. Unfortunately, he is also very conservative. For example, he is a creationist and an opponent of same-sex marriage. And that is not helping his case in the eyes of the general public.
That concludes my list — finally. In my next essay, Part 7, I will go into more depth about how I both agree and disagree with these Christian apologists. I am on their side, and I want to believe in God, but I think they are using the wrong strategies, the wrong styles, and the wrong arguments.
Other parts of this series:
Part 1: Consciousness is Beyond Science
Part 2: Responding to Counterarguments
Part 3: We Need Not Fear Immateriality
Part 4: Definition of the Atman
Part 5: Brain, Soul, Self, Atman, Mind
Part 7: [under revision]
Part 8: The Atman is the Definition of Life
Part 9: Are We Always the Same Person?