Back Transdisciplinarity and the Unity of Knowledge: Beyond the Science and Religion Dialogue

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Georg Gasser
Matthias Stefan
Daniel Wehinger
Subjects in a Physical World


In philosophy of mind, non-reductive physicalism seems to be superior over reductionism and dualism: Superior over reductionism because the mental is taken as a reality of its own and superior over dualism for the assumption of mental substances seems implausible from a scientific point of view. We argue that non-reductive physicalism can plausibly be conceived as property dualism for it assumes that physical entities, such as biological organisms, are the bearers of two different kinds of properties—mental and physical. There are good reasons to assume that mental properties are distinct from physical properties because of their subjectivity. Whereas physical properties are completely describable from an impersonal point of view, there is no adequate way for construing mental properties without referring to the “what it is like” to be in these mental states as well. Mental properties need to be experienced by their bearers to exist—in contrast to physical properties whose existence does not depend on anyone experiencing them. Once we have acknowledged the subjectivity of mental properties, we must also ask what kind of bearers can account for this special characteristic of mental properties. Non-reductive physicalists are inclined to think that physical objects such as brains, nervous systems or sense organs are plausible candidates for being subjects of experience whereas stones, tables and skyscrapers are not. We suggest, however, that no compelling reasons can be brought forward for the thesis that physical entities are bearers of mental life. The question which physical object is a subject of experience amounts to a matter of mere stipulation. In the light of this argument, it is plausible to assume that similar to the mental states experienced subjects of experience are not part of the physical realm either. The bearers of mental properties—the subjects experiencing them—are mental too. We conclude that we are embodied mental substances. This has consequences for the interdisciplinary dialogue: It is often said that there is empirical support for physicalism and against dualism. If our arguments are sound, then this assumption needs further argumentative support. Philosophically interesting phenomena of our mental life, such as subjectivity, are issues science cannot settle at all. Furthermore, if there are compelling philosophical arguments for substance dualism, then an affinity towards dualism from a Theistic worldview is rationally vindicated.

Georg Gasser has worked since September 2004 at the Department of Philosophy, Theological Faculty, University of Innsbruck (Austria). He is the scientific collaborator of the research project “The concept of person and the new naturalistic challenge.” His main fields of research are action theory, metaphysics of theism, and the analysis of naturalistic models of explanation. Gasser received his MA of Systematic Theology in 2004 and his MA in Philosophy in 2003 from the University of Innsbruck. Since April 2005, he has been the secretary of the LSI-group Innsbruck.

Matthias Stefan studies philosophy at the Theological Faculty Innsbruck, Austria. Since 2006, he is a scientific collaborator in the Department of Philosophy at the same institution. He is a member of the LSI group at Innsbruck since its foundation in 2005. His special areas of interest are ontological commitments of contemporary naturalism, the epistemic justification of naturalism, and the philosophy of worldviews. Actually he is writing his MA thesis on rationality and worldviews with a special focus on Ted Peters’ interdisciplinary work.

Daniel Wehinger studies philosophy at the Theological Faculty Innsbruck, Austria. Since 2006, he has been a tutor for metaphysics and philosophical anthropology at the Department of Philosophy. His special areas of interest are Aristotle’s philosophy and modern debates in philosophy of mind, especially modern versions of dualism.


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