08 October 2007

Dualistic theories in the modern world

Dualistic theories are extremely unpopular in the modern world. We may remember that dualism, in which the mind may be regarded as to some extent separable from matter, permitted spiritualistic theories and various forms of survivalist religion. Incidentally, or perhaps not so incidentally, they could be interpreted as compatible with a high evaluation of individuality. It was always a problem for theistic religions that it might occur to their members to claim that they had some direct information from God and that they set more store by this than by the authority of the Church. However, in a sense this was not much of a problem, as the Church always seemed willing to wipe out deviancy with the utmost physical cruelty.

This, perhaps, provides us with a clue to the great preference for materialism shown by modern leaders of thought. It has always been by means of the physical that people acting on behalf of the collective have exercised their greatest and most inexorable force on other people as individuals. So, whatever the evidence either way may be said to be, and whether or not anything could be considered as having any real bearing on the question, modern thought rigorously hunts down and rejects any lingering vestiges of dualistic thought.

In one respect this might seem confusing to an outside observer, because it seems clear that the collective wishes individuals to be subordinated to it, and it also wishes to promote egalitarianism. Egalitarianism might seem easier to justify on the assumption that each individual has a non-material component called a soul, and that this is of great importance for reasons which do not depend on social consensus. If you allow for existence of souls, it is perhaps less remarkable that individuals should be regarded as equal in value, without consideration of any other attributes they may have. However, in practice it does not seem to work like that.

Leaders of modern thought are keen on regarding all aspects of the human being as derived from the evolutionary process. This is not surprising, as the theory of evolution is attractive, and it becomes possible to relate the characteristics of living organisms to the coded genetic material with ever-increasing completeness. But justifiable as this concern with evolutionary processes may seem to be, and difficult as it may be to see any justification for entertaining ideas of any non-materialistic elements in the situation, I nevertheless have the impression that the drive towards materialistic explanation is motivated. There is, I think, a positive desire to eliminate any possible remaining vestige of dualism.

Many modern philosophers would not admit that consciousness was a meaningful concept, but among those who do you will easily hear it said that the puzzle of consciousness is: what evolutionary reason can be given for its presence? It would seem that all the functions of a human being could be carried out equally well by a sufficiently complex but unconscious computer. But all features of human beings, it is argued, must have arisen from evolutionary procedures and from nothing else.

Dualists, who may entertain beliefs in a supernaturalist religion, might wish to maintain that consciousness was there because a human being had a soul, or some such thing, but the leaders of modern thought not only reject such ideas, I think one may say that they wish to reject them. A totally materialistic viewpoint is sought after, this being a part of the modern religion.

What is desired to arrive at is a certain psychological, and even political, position which is, however, not quite as much justified by the facts as it is emotionally taken to be. However thoroughly materialistic and reductionist you are, this really tells you nothing about how human beings 'should' conduct their affairs.