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Searching for the soul - the inner life?


To: Patricia V.
From: Geoffrey Klempner
Subject: Searching for the soul - the inner life?
Date: 5 April 2006 08:47

Dear Patricia,

Thank you for your email of 19 March, with your first essay for the Philosophy of Mind program, in response to the question, 'Select one line of argument from units 1-3 and express it in your own words. (Imagine you are explaining the argument to a friend who knows nothing about philosophy.)'

You have given your essay the title, 'Searching for the Soul - The inner life?'

Let's start at the very beginning. We know, or we are vaguely aware that we live in, or experience two worlds, two realities - the private and public, or the inner and outer, or the mental and physical. And we also have the intuition that this contrast or split is reflected in our own dual existence as 'soul' and 'body'.

Unit 1 is concerned to develop this intuition. For a philosopher, intuitions are 'raw material', a kind of 'data'. But we cannot simply take the data at face value. Hence the logical questioning leading to doubt.

I am with you on the idea that there is something more to I than the 'GK' that everyone knows, a human being who traces a path through space and time from my birth to my death. In my view (as I shall argue towards the end of the program) this is not the 'soul' as traditionally conceived in different religions or by philosophers like Descartes who believe in mind-body dualism. I won't try to explain this now except to ask a question, which you may think about.

Imagine a world exactly like this one in every detail. Maybe there are 'souls' or maybe everything is material - it makes absolutely no difference. In this alternative world there is GK writing an email to PC, or PC reading an email from GK. GK (or GK's soul) thinks all the thoughts that I am thinking, feels all that I feel. GK is every bit as real as the GK in this world. But GK is not I, because *I do not exist* in that world. (This is what I imagine. When you do this experiment, substitute 'PC' for 'GK'.)

I believe that many persons share the intuition that 'I might not have existed' in this sense, the sense in which the existence of GK (or whoever) is not sufficient for the existence of I. The question is how one can make sense of this intuition from a philosophical point of view. That is what my book 'Naive Metaphysics' is about (

The philosophy of mind program is concerned with challenging our intuitions about the inner, and criticizing theories (like mind-body dualism) which try to identify the inner with a non-physical 'substance'. I will argue in various ways that this is a serious error. First, the theory of physical and non-physical 'substances' does not stand up to logical scrutiny. Secondly, it wouldn't solve the problem even if it were true.

The inner world is a fact. Some persons are more aware of their inner world than others, but everyone has an inner world. But how exactly is the inner related to the outer? This can be approached as a question about knowledge. We have the intuition that our thoughts and feelings are 'private', that no amount of observation of our speech and behaviour, or the state of our physical body by another person would be sufficient to reveal what we are thinking or feeling. But is that so? How do you know?

You say, 'my inner experience of the outer world is mine alone. No one can share this or experience exactly the same thing'.

There are two possibilities to consider. The first question is how anyone else can ever know that you are *telling the truth* about how you feel. Say, you decide to leave work early because you have a headache. Your boss says, 'I don't believe you.' Judging by your behaviour he can never know for certain whether you have a headache or not, no-one can.

But there is nothing special about this kind of scepticism. When you tell a close friend that you have a headache, your friend learns something which is every bit as good as knowledge. You wouldn't lie to your friend! Much of human knowledge is based on testimony in this sense. We 'know' many things which we have not seen or discovered for ourselves because other people whom we trust have told us.

But now we come to the second possibility. Let's say that you want to tell your friend what kind of headache you feel, and how much it hurts. This is something we do. 'It started with a throbbing at the back of my neck, then spread like sharp spikes piercing my brain.' 'I know just what you mean,' says your friend. Of course, there is always more to say when you are describing something. Words never seem enough. But this is just as true if you are describing external things, like a sunset or a football game.

The problem is that in the case of pain or other inner experiences. it seems as if words do not even begin to describe the 'thing itself'. We would never know if everything I see as red you see as blue or vice versa. We can never take our experiences of 'red' or 'pain' and compare them.

This may seem just obvious to you, but I am going to argue in the program that this is false. The idea of a 'thing itself' or 'private object' whose properties only you can describe is logically incoherent. It is nonsense. This has profound implications for the way we view the 'inner' and 'outer' and consequently for theories about the relation between 'mind' and 'body'.

This logical criticism leaves the inner world intact. The aim is not in any way to downplay its importance. The point of the investigation is that our intuitions about the inner are confused, our ideas about ourselves don't add up. The aim is to draw a picture of ourselves - of our 'mental' life - which does add up.

All the best,