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Examine the Strengths and Weaknesses of Dualism

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Examine the strengths and weaknesses of Dualism

And what is that which is termed death, but this very separation and release of the soul from the body- Socrates (reff.1)

Dualism is the belief that the body and the mind are separable, and at death, the non-physical mind, or soul, leaves the physical body on earth to decay, whilst it passes on to an afterlife of a different realm to the one we are experiencing. This has religious implications, that the life we are living is part of a much bigger picture.

In Phaedo, a play by Plato, Socrates, who was being put to death, explained why he was not fearful in his last few days. His reasons stemmed from his belief in dualism. Socrates said that all philosophers should welcome death, as it is merely the separation of mind and body. This is beneficial to the philosopher because the body is a hindrance to our thought process due to "petty physical demands" such as an itch, dull pain or hunger. As the philosopher is the searcher of truth or wisdom, he should welcome the relief of life away from the body. Socrates explains why he believes in dualism in response to a critical question posed by his friend about whether the soul can survive without a body. He responds by saying that all things have opposites, i.e. sleeping and waking, and cooling and heating, and that these opposites are always moving from one to the other. In the same way, Socrates concludes, life generates death, and death generates life, so when we die, we shall live again. This is an a posteriori argument, focusing on the way the world works, and applying it to belief in an afterlife.

Aquinas also wrote on dualism (reff.2). He described the soul as Ð''the anima', that which animates the body, and said that as the soul is non-physical it is also non-divisible. He goes on to say that things that are divisible decay, so because the soul isn't divisible, it can't decay and therefore must survive death.

Much of dualism relies on simple logic, and its popularity as a theory of after life is based on this logic. Firstly, it is easy to accept the idea that in some way our body and mind are different "types" of thing. We all have physical characteristics, which we can see, but we are also fully aware that everyone has non-physical attributes as well. Descartes described the mind as a "non-corporeal" substance which is distinct from material or bodily substance (reff.3). A property of the mind's substance is consciousness whereas properties of the body include length, breadth and depth. This isn't evidence for the theory, but because of its empirical nature, it is conceivable for many to believe that the body and mind are separate entities, thus being able to understand dualism's reasoning. Also, assuming that there is some kind of after life, dualism has the advantage over recreation theory in that there is no need for a physical body in the afterlife. The main criticism of recreation theory is the morality of what body is had in the afterlife. If someone dies old and incontinent are they to remain like that for eternity? However if they live eternity 20 years younger with a clean bill of health is it still the same person? With dualism this problem is not considered, (reff.4) as Kant said-

"Ð'...our personal identity is not tied to a body, but our very essence"

As already mentioned, Cebes poses the criticism that we don't know the soul can live without the body, and it was also mentioned that Socrates answers using the opposites argument; all things have opposites that breed each other, so death breeds life. A major criticism of this is that believing death will breed life is too big an assumption as we can't experience this happening. However, to criticize due to the theory not being verifiably empirical is impractical, as it is surely obvious that a theory on the afterlife can't hold any kind of verifiable empirical evidence, because it occurs after life. Also, we would not be arguing today on the afterlife if we knew exactly what happens. The point is that believing death will breed life, in the same way sleeping breeds waking, is not something that can be proved, but is a simple, yet logical theory.

A vitally important strength of dualism is that it has a lot of religious reference. Almost all denominations of Christianity, the largest religion in the world, believe in the Holy Trinity. This is the belief that God is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is something that is compatible with belief in Dualism; something that has no physical feature, but is very evident and present to believers. Also, there are several references in the Bible of a Spirit form of Jesus, who was physically killed, but returned spiritually, i.e. appearing in the locked room to the disciples in the story of "Doubting Thomas" (reff.5). A.J. Ayer would dismiss the concept of a holy spirit as meaningless, and regard the bible as a form of very weak verification, but for many people this is irrelevant. Religion is often based on blind faith and hope, and so these logic-based criticisms would have absolutely no impact on many believers. So whilst there may be criticisms of the religious reference to dualism, faith would override, creating many believers in dualism.

One limitation of discussing any kind of theory of afterlife is the limiting factor of empirical evidence. This would seem obvious, we can't know for sure what happens until we are dead and are experiencing the events. However, evidence has been gathering in the form of near death experiences (NDEs). Events have taken place that have been inexplicable to many doctors, where patients can recall events of a religious nature that took place whilst being clinically dead. Many cases include patients floating above their body and being able to watch what is happening, together with a heightened sense of awareness and lack of pain. Patients have a sense of euphoria before moving down a tunnel with a bright light at the end. Patients will see friends and relatives before being told that it is not their time and will return to the body. The ability to recall events that took place whilst being clinically dead is astounding, but there are challenges in the form of the chemical make up of the brain. Dr. Blackmore put the tunnel of light down to the lack of oxygen, the euphoria on the release of endorphins, and the recalled events on the fact that hearing is the last thing to go in consciousness, causing the mind to paint a picture. Despite this challenge, there are cases of no brain activity for hours that truly cannot be explained. NDEs are a strength of dualism because the images

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