Monday, September 26, 2005

Out of the e-mail archives: some comments by Steve Thomas on Parsons's critique of my argument

This is some comments by Steve Thomas in response to Keith Parsons' Philosophia Christi response to my presentation of the argument from Reason. He wrote this in 2003, but I think the points are still interesting.

Dear Victor,

I just received my copy of the latest Philosophia Christi with the symposium on the Argument from Reason.  Congratulations!  Its great to see the issues you raise get this sort of attention in print.

I haven't read the whole thing yet -- I've only skimmed over some of it at this point -- but I wanted to comment on something Parsons said, to complement your response.  He writes

    "Consider the interaction problem... Descartes took this criticism very seriously, and he should have.  Surely dualists owe the rest of us some sort of account.  After all, they posit an entity that has no physical properties..."

First, I would like to see Parsons (or any naturalist, for that matter) give an account of *physical causation*.  For example, what does it mean to say that one billard ball "made contact with" another billard ball and caused the second to move?  Perhaps the initial response would cite the molecular structure of billard balls.  Eventually, I think, it would turn to descriptions of *forces* at the atomic or subatomic level, employing terms like "push", "repel", and so on.  Now, just what are those forces?  How do they do what they do?  Do physicalists owe some account of the "what"s and "how"s here, or are we just supposed to buy into the idea that they understand what is going on at fundamental levels of causation?  For Parsons to suggest that dualists "owe the rest of us some sort of account" suggests to me that he has an overly inflated view of scientific knowledge, and perhaps "the rest of us" (non-dualists?) do as well.

Second, from the fact that dualism posits "an entity that has no physical properties", it does not follow that there are no properties in common between material and immaterial substances -- unless by "no physical properties" Parson means that immaterial substances have no properties whatsoever.  Material and immaterial objects may share a host of properties on the one hand, and still differ from one another qualitatively in ways that justify a different classification of substances on the other.

Just a couple of thoughts.  I welcome your reflections, as you have time.

Take care,

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