Curt J. Ducasse

C. J. Ducasse

(1881-1969), French-born, highly respected Professor of Philosophy at Brown University. Awardee of the Carus Lectures prize (American Philosophical Association). Contributed to the "Journal Information for Philosophy and Phenomenological Research", "Causation", "Immortality" (Edited by Paul Edwards), "Philosophical Dimensions of Parapsychology" (edited by James M. O. Wheatley). Ex-student of Josiah Royce. Pursued a career in philosophy but retained a strong interest in logic - so much so that he took the initiative to create the Association for Symbolic Logic with its Journal of symbolic logic. Among his many important papers on survival are "How the Case of The Search for Bridey Murphy Stands Today" Journal of the ASPR 54: 3-22, and "What Would Constitute Conclusive Evidence of Survival After Death?" Journal of the SPR 41: 401-406. His books included "A Critical Examination of the Belief in Life After Death", "Paranormal Phenomena, Science and Life After Death" (Monograph), "A Philosophical Scrutiny of Religion", "Nature, Mind, And Death", "Truth, Knowledge and Causation", "Philosophy As a Science: Its Matter and Its Method" and "Philosophy of Art".

A Critical Examination of the Belief in a Life After Death - Part 3

Chapter 13: Lamont's Attack on Mind-Body Dualism

1. Dualism and supernaturalism | 2. Naturalism and materialism | 3. The senses in which ideas respectively are, and are not, ultimately private | 4. Lamont's position actually an ontological dualism | 5. The mind as a "productive function" of the body | 6. A supposititious puzzle | 7. "Verdict of Science?" or "Turning aversions into disproofs?"

 - Curt J. Ducasse -

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          MOST OF the items, which in Chapter III were cited as together constituting the essentials of the case against the possibility that the mind survives the body's death, are presented in considerable detail by Lamont in his book, The Illusion of Immortality(1). As he proceeds, he points out various difficulties which he regards as insuperably standing in the way of a dualistic conception of the mind-body relation, and as dictating instead a monistic and naturalistic conception of it. Let us now consider some of the chief of his remarks both concerning the dualism he attacks and concerning the monism which he contends constitutes "the verdict of science."

(1) Philosophical Library New York, 1950.

1. Dualism and supernaturalism

A few words are in order to begin with concerning the relation assumed by Lamont to exist between dualism and supernaturalism. Again and again in his characterization of the other-than-bodily constituent of man, which dualism envisages, we find Lamont referring to that constituent as a "supernatural soul" (e.g., p. 116.). He alludes to "the notion that a supernatural soul enters the body from on high, already endowed with a pure and beautiful conscience ..." (p. 95); also to the idea that "a transcendental self or a supernatural soul holds sway behind the empirical curtain;" again, to the supposition that "some kind of supernatural soul or spirit is doing our thinking for us ..." (p. 117); to the notion of "an agent soul or mind somehow attached to the body and somehow doing man's thinking for him" (p. 124); and to the idea that "the personalities of human beings ... enter ready made into this world" (p. 93). In the same vein, he speaks of dualism as paying homage to the human faculty of reason "by elevating it to a superhuman and supernatural plane" (p. 100); and by conceiving ideas as "existing independently in some separate realm" (p. 100).

All that need be said concerning the use of such expressions in characterizing dualism is that - whether or not they be faithful to certain of the speculations which some theologians or theologizing philosophers have put forward on the subject of the constitution of man - those expressions of Lamont's are nothing but smear words if alleged to apply to dualism as such. For they then gratuitously load upon it vagaries that are as foreign to its essence as they are to Lamont's would-be monism.

They can, of course, be inserted into dualism, but they do not constitute an intrinsic part of its conception of mind, any more than, for instance, do atoms as conceived by Democritus constitute an intrinsic part of materialism's conception of matter.

Nor does the hypothesis of survival after death-whatever merits it may otherwise have or lack-have to be formulated in terms of Lamont's "supernatural soul." To attack dualism as painted by him in the expressions quoted is to attack but the freak offspring of an irresponsible affair between dualism and theology.

2. Naturalism and materialism

Lamont's belief that psychophysical dualism is inherently supernaturalistic is only a corollary of his wholly arbitrary equating of naturalism and materialistic monism.

The fact is that a dualism can be just as naturalistic as a monism unless by "naturalism" one tacitly means ontological materialism (or, of course, ontological idealism;) for Nature is simply the realm of events that are effects of other events and that in turn cause further events; and a responsible dualism insists that mental events and processes are nowise "supernatural" but exactly as natural in the sense just stated as are the material events and processes of the human body.

Lamont writes that "ideas ... are not apart from but are a part of Nature" (p. 101); and the responsible dualist too, of course, contends exactly this, but does not, like Lamont, base the contention on the tacit and quite arbitrary equation of Nature and the material world, and hence of Naturalism with ontological materialism. The dualist bases it on the fact that the events denominated "mental" or -psychological" and more specifically "occurrences of ideas" are not anarchistic any more than are those denominated "material" and more specifically "physiological." Both alike are causally determined by some anterior events and in turn causally determine posterior ones-which means that both alike are wholly natural.

3. The senses in which ideas respectively are, and are not, ultimately private

At this point, something must be said concerning Lamont's comments on the connection between dualism and the privacy of ideas, as contrasted with the public character of material events. He writes that although "for the individual who is thinking to himself ideas are private and to that extent subjective ... ideas are also objective in that human beings can communicate them to one another ..." And he goes on to say that "the objectivity and non-materiality of ideas has been a strong factor in impelling philosophers of a dualist bent to set up a realm of ideas or mind apart from and above Nature" (p. 101).

As regards the last words of this statement, we have pointed out in what precedes that ideas are not "apart from and above Nature" unless one arbitrarily equates Nature with the material world as Lamont tacitly does; and does inconsistently with the fact that occurrence of an idea is an event, which has causes and effects, and yet which according to Lamont's own declaration is not a material event. For he tells us that "ideas, which are nonmaterial meanings expressing the relations between things and events, occur inhuman thought" (p. 100).

Concerning, however, Lamont's assertion that ideas can be communicated and hence are not inherently private, it is obvious that his assertion altogether ignores the differences between an idea's being published and its being public. The analysis of it we supplied in Sec. 1 of Ch. V need not be repeated here. But it is worth while to notice that Lamont's failure to distinguish between the sense in which "ideas" are, and that in which they are not, inherently private arises out of the ambiguity of the blessed word, "meanings," in his definition of ideas as "non-material meanings expressing [in a sense he does not specify] the relations between things and events."

The point is that the word "meanings" may designate occurrences of the meaning activity, or may designate the objects meant. This is the distinction between the idea itself and what the idea is of; or, to put it in still other terms, the distinction is between the psychological act of objective reference and the object referred to by it. The former is the idea itself, is a psychological event, and is inherently private. The object meant, on the other hand, is the idea's referent, and can be anything whether material or mental. Two persons may each have an idea of the same object, but the idea of it one of them is having is not only existentially distinct from the idea of it the other is having - which is the case likewise with their bodily movements; but, unlike their movements, which are public, their ideas, being psychological events, remain unalterably private; i.e., accessible only to the introspection of each. What is communicated, when anything is, is what object is meant, not the idea itself, which has it as object. And the communicating of what object is meant consists, on the one hand, in the communicator's "coding" the object's nature into public symbols, usually words, i.e., in his "describing" it; and, on the auditor's part, in then "decoding" the symbols, i.e., "understanding" what object they designate.(2)

(2) The privacy of mental events has been attacked also by Gilbert Ryle in his book, The Concept of Mind. For a pointed criticism of his attack, see a paper by Arthur Pap, Semantic Analysis and Psycho-physical Dualism, in Mind, Vol. LXI: 209-221, No. 242, April, 1952.

4. Lamont's position actually an ontological dualism

Let us, however, return to the monism which Lamont tells us is the verdict of science concerning the nature of the mind-body relation.

On examination this monism turns out to be of a very queer sort indeed; for Lamont expressly states, as we have seen, that ideas "are non-material meanings," and endorses the "non-materiality of ideas" (pp. 100/1). In so doing he is, of course, automatically - although seemingly unawares - declaring himself an ontological dualist, since those words of his expressly acknowledge, in addition to the material world, a non-material realm of being that comprises ideas at least, to say nothing of other mental states and processes.

Moreover the ontological dualism automatically embraced when one declares that not only material events but also nonmaterial ideas occur is not in the least done away with or impaired by the particular manner in which mental activities on the one hand, and on the other bodily or more specifically cortical activities, may turn out to be related - for instance by the extent, if any, to which the two may happen to be, or not to be, independent or separable. For the point here crucial is that, unless the relation between them be strict identity, not just "connection" or "conjunction" of some sort, what one then has is not an ontological monism but an ontological dualism. Thus, Lamont's statement that "the experience of thinking or having ideas is distinguishable from man's other activities, but not existentially separable" (p. 101) does not save the monism for which he is arguing. That ideas may be so connected with certain bodily processes as to be existentially inseparable from them is a possibility nowise inconsistent with ontological dualism. Only if the existential inseparability consisted not in connection but in strict identity would dualism be excluded.

More generally, if two things, activities, or experiences are distinct from each other in the sense that neither of them is a constituent part of the other, (as on the contrary an angle is a constituent part of a triangle or a motor a constituent part of an automobile), then the two are not only distinguishable but also theoretically separable. That is, they are separable in the sense that to suppose either to exist without the other implies no contradiction. Then the question arises as to whether, or how far, they are in addition separable existentially, i.e., separable in fact not only in theory. But this question cannot be settled, as in Lamont's quoted statement concerning thinking and bodily activities, by dogmatic negation; nor by declaring, as in the statements quoted from his chapter, that the connection between mind and body is "so exceedingly intimate that it becomes inconceivable how one could function properly without the other," or that "man is a unified whole of mind-body or personality-body so closely and completely integrated that dividing him up into two separate and more or less independent parts becomes impermissible and unintelligible" (pp. 89, 113).

Rather, the only way to settle the question as to the existential separability, in whole or in part, of body and mind is - aside from the experimental way which would consist in shooting oneself in order to observe whether one's mental activity survives that drastic laboratory procedure - the only way, I repeat, is to consider, as we have done in the preceding chapters of Part III, what various types of connection or union between the two are conceivable; and what grounds there may be for concluding that the union of body and mind is of a type that entails or permits, or of one that precludes, their partial or perhaps total existential separability.

In the absence of such an inquiry as basis for the quoted assertions of inseparability, those assertions are merely pseudoscientific dogmatism.

5. The mind as a "productive function" of the body

But, as we shall now see, the strangeness of the monism Lamont professes in the name of science is not exhausted by the fact that it describes the mind-body relation in dualistic terms.

Lamont contends that the mind is a "productive function" of the body; declaring, for example, that "when ideas, which are non-material meanings expressing the relations between things and events, occur in human thought, they always do so as functions or accompaniments of action patterns in the cerebral cortex of a thoroughly material brain" (pp. 100/101). Again, he tells us that the findings of the sciences that deal with man "have inexorably led to the proposition that mind or personality is a function of the body; and that this function is ... productive and not merely transmissive" (p. 113).

To make clear that what he means by a "productive" function is a function in whose case one of the variables stands to the other as effect stands to cause, Lamont offers as example that "steam is a productive function of the tea-kettle and light of the electric circuit, because the kettle and the circuit actually create these effects" (p. 102).

According to these explicit statements, therefore, when Lamont asserts unqualifiedly that the mental and emotional life of man is always a productive function of "action patterns in the cerebral cortex of a thoroughly material brain" (p. 101), what he means is that the latter stand to the former as creative cause stands to created effect.

The facts Lamont refers to as basis for this contention are:

(a) That "the power and versatility of living things increase concomitantly with the development and complexity of their bodies in general and their nervous systems in particular."

(b) That the genes or other factors from the germ cells of the parents determine the individual's inherent physical characteristic and inherent mental capacities."

(c) That, during the course of life, "the mind and personality grow and change, always in conjunction with environmental influences, as the body grows and changes."

(d) "That specific alterations in the physical structure and condition of the body, especially in the brain and cerebral cortex, bring about specific alterations in the mental and emotional life of a man."

(e) And, "conversely that specific alterations in his mental and emotional life result in specific alterations in his bodily condition" (p. 114).

Taken by themselves, the facts under the (a), (b), (c), and (d) headings would support the unqualified contention that man's mental and emotional life is a productive function in the sense stated above, of the activities of his body. But the facts which come under the (e) heading, and on which Lamont dwells at some length, clearly testify that, contrary to that unqualified contention, the causal relationship in their case is in the opposite direction; i.e., that, in their case, it is the bodily state which is a productive function of the mental and emotional state!

Indeed, Lamont writes that his "citation of facts showing how physical states affect the personality and its mental life does not in the least imply that mental states do not affect physical" (p. 87). As examples of the latter, he mentions that we are "constantly altering our bodily motions according to the dictates of mental decisions." Also, he cites "the far-reaching results that optimism or worry, happiness or sadness, good humor or anger, may have on the condition of the body;" also the remarkable bodily effects which can be caused by auto suggestion or by suggestion under hypnosis; and, most striking, the fact that in the case of St. Francis and of a number of other saints or mystics, long meditation by them on the wounds of the crucified Jesus causes corresponding wounds to appear on their own bodies.

It is interesting to note in this connection that Lamont feels called upon to add that "modern psychologists believe that the phenomenon of the stigmata can be explained in entirely naturalistic terms and that it is due to as yet undiscovered mechanisms of the subconscious or unconscious" (p. 89). But what does he mean here by explanation in naturalistic terms? Does he mean in terms of material causes? Or does he mean that stigmatization, like every other event in Nature, is caused by some anterior event - here by the mental event he himself has mentioned, namely, "prolonged meditation upon the passion and crucifixion of Jesus"?

When Lamont considers the stigmata of St. Francis and the other facts he mentions in the same connection, he apparently realizes that they render indefensible the unqualified statement that man's mental and emotional life is a productive function, i.e., a creation, of his bodily states. Accordingly, his then much less radical contention is only that those facts point "to a connection between the two so exceedingly intimate that it becomes inconceivable how the one could function properly without the other" (p. 89). Or again that "as between the body and personality, the body seems to be the prior and more constant entity"; and hence that "it has been customary to regard the body as primary and to call the personality its function rather than the converse" (pp. 113/4). (Italics mine.)

But, as if to mitigate departure even to this extent from his would-be monistic naturalism, Lamont - like the murderer who sought to diminish the heinousness of his deed by observing that the man he had killed was only a small one - Lamont observes at one place that anyway "many of the mental states that exercise an influence on the condition of the body are set up in the first place by phenomena primarily physical" (p. 89).

This is true enough. But it is equally true, as shown by the facts he himself cites, that many of the bodily states that exercise an influence on the condition of the mind are set up in the first place by phenomena primarily mental. For example, among other facts now recognized by psychosomatic medicine, that the painful physical phenomenon of stomach ulcers is in some cases set up in the first place by such mental states as anxiety, tension, and worry. Anyway, just how would Lamont propose to decide in any given case which place constitutes "the first place"?

The upshot of the comments in the present section is that when Lamont attends not only to the facts which come under the (a) to (d) headings of his list, but also to those which come under the (e) heading, the purported monistic psychology of science turns out actually to be an interactionistic dualism! An interactionistic dualism, it is true, that involves no "supernatural soul" but only, besides processes in a material body, various non-material ideas and other mental occurrences. The "supernatural soul" however, which functions as the Devil in Lamont's would-be monistic creed, may well be left to such employment; for a responsible interactionism has no need of it.

6. A supposititious puzzle

As we have just seen, Lamont is definitely committed to psycho-physical interactionisrn by such statements as that on the one hand "physical states affect the personality and its mental life" (p. 87), and on the other that, conversely, "specific alterations in [man's] mental and emotional life result in specific alterations in his bodily condition" (p. 114). It is therefore surprising that, when considering "certain fundamental difficulties that have always characterized the dualistic psychology," he should assert, as constituting one of them, that "it is impossible to understand how an immaterial soul can act upon and control a material body" (p. 102). To the same effect, he speaks of "the insoluble riddle of how the immaterial can be associated with and work together with the material ..." (p. 104).

Two comments on this supposititious riddle immediately suggest themselves. The first is that, as we pointed out in an earlier chapter, the Causality relation is wholly neutral as regards the ontological nature of the events that enter into it. Hence no paradox is involved in the supposition that a mental, i.e., nonmaterial, event causes a material event in the brain cortex; any more than is involved (or apparently found by Lamont) in the fact, which he asserts, that bodily events produce or affect mental ones.

The second comment is that to understand "how" an event C causes another event E never has any other meaning than to know what the intermediary causal steps are, through which C eventually causes E. Hence, where, as in the case of a mental and of the corresponding cortical event, proximate not remote causation is what one has in view, the question as to the "how" of causation loses the only meaning it ever has. That is, the question becomes literally nonsensical, and to ask it is absurd because of this, not because mental and material events are ontologically heterogeneous; for the absurdity of asking for the "how" of proximate causation remains the same no matter whether the two events in view be one of them mental and the other material, or both of them mental, or both of them material(3).

(3) Lamont is of course not alone in overlooking the absurdity just pointed out. Prof. Ryle too among others, does so. He assumes that if mind and matter should be two species of existents instead of merely "existing" in two different senses (as the behaviorism he espouses requires him dogmatically to assert), then interaction between mind and matter would be "completely mysterious;" for one would then have to ask: "How can a mental process, such as willing, cause spatial movements like the movements of the tongue? How can a physical change in the optic nerve have among its effects a mind's perception of a flash of light?" (The Concept of Mind, pp. 23, 52, 19) As we have just seen, however, the "how" of causation is capable either of being mysterious or of being known only where remote not proximate causation is concerned. Hence, to ask "how?" concerning the latter is to be guilty of a "category mistake." But there is no room here to consider the various strange assertions concerning mind, dictated in that book by the caricaturing of contentions attacked, which is employed there as a method.

7. "Verdict of Science?" or "Turning aversions into disproofs?"

We have now examined in some detail Lamont's attack on psychophysical dualism, and have seen, (a) that he tacitly and gratuitously equates naturalism and materialistic monism, and hence, (b) gratuitously assumes dualism to be inherently supernaturalistic; (c) that he misconstrues the communicability of the referents of ideas as entailing that ideas themselves are communicable and hence not inherently private; (d) that, besides material objects and events, he acknowledges also the occurrence of ideas, which he explicitly declares to be non-material; (e) hence that, notwithstanding the monism he proclaims, what he actually sets forth is a dualism; (f) that, having declared without qualification that the mental life of man is a product of his bodily activities, he nevertheless contends - citing facts in support - that not only do bodily states affect mental, but mental states too affect physical; (g) that this entails that actually, what he contends for under the misnomer of "monistic psychology" is an interactionistic dualism; (h) and this notwithstanding that the action of mind on body, which he explicitly declares occurs, is with equal explicitness declared by him to be an insoluble riddle, impossible to understand, that rules out dualism!

What then is to be said concerning the chapter of Lamont's The Illusion of Immortality in which the above mass of inconsistencies and non-sequitur is to be found? Suggestion for an appropriate characterization of it may be found in the title which, in a later chapter, he gives to a section where he cites pointed examples of a procedure to which protagonists of immortality are addicted. The title of that section is: "Turning wishes into proofs." I submit that, correspondingly, the appropriate title for the chapter Lamont entitles "The verdict of science" would have been: "Turning aversions into disproofs!"

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Contents | Preface | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11 | Chapter 12 | Chapter 13 | Chapter 14 | Chapter 15 | Chapter 16 | Chapter 17 | Chapter 18 | Chapter 19 | Chapter 20 | Chapter 21 | Chapter 22 | Chapter 23 | Chapter 24 | Chapter 25 | Chapter 26

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