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Monday, January 11, 2010

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Dr. Vallicella makes three important claims:

1) It makes no sense to speak of damage to physical objects as such.
2) Only souls can be damaged or injured.
3) When one speaks of damage to a physical object, what is really damaged is the ability of a person to achieve certain goals.

Here, and below, by person I mean an embodied soul.

1) is clearly true if one presupposes:

Weak Physicalism (WP): All inanimate objects are purely physical.

After all, what does changing the configuration of atoms from configuration A to B signify? One might just as well say that configuration A is a damaged configuration B. Under WP 'chairness' of a chair is only in the eye of the beholder. It is a mere label minds are in habit of applying to some objects. If a chair is burnt to ashes, the only thing that happens is that a mind will probably apply a new label.

But Platonic or Aristotelian metaphysics, among others, imply that 'chairness' is an intrinsic quality of a chair. A pile of ashes certainly does not exhibit the quality of 'chairness', which is fundamental to a chair. We have to conclude that by burning the chair has been damaged, in fact destroyed. Thus, 1) is not true. 2) and 3) depend on 1). WP is not obviously true, neither are Platonic and Aristotelian metaphysics obviously false. Therefore, to establish 1) a further argument is required.

However, 1) is not instrumental for dr. Vallicella in his answer to the question how under soul hypothesis damage to the body results in harm to the soul. There are two ways that he suggests:

i) Damage to the body results in pain to the soul.
ii) Damage to the body results in decreasing the overall ability of a person to act.

I suggest that ii) fails to capture the evil of body mutilation. If I am assaulted and my arm is painlessly cut off, is the evil merely about depriving me of the ability to play two-handed backhand ever again? It does not seem so. For one can imagine an assault where the cut off arm is replaced by an artificial arm. One that can perform all the tasks that the original could, and more. So not only does ii) not apply, but there actually is an increase in the ability to act. Yet we all agree that this would be a very evil act. It would be evil of a different quality than if someone took the walking stick without the owner's consent and replaced the grip with a better one. The former seems an offense against human nature, the latter against the property. The soul hypothesis, as opposed to hylomorphic dualism, has not yet been shown to account for the difference.

Jan,

Thanks for your comments. For now I will respond only to the first half of what you say. That should keep us busy for a while. My claim is that a chair, considered purely as a physical object, cannot be be damaged, injured, or harmed. (And of course I mean that to be true of any physical thing considered as purely physical, including our bodies. And we can let the sense of 'physical' be fixed by current physics.) Why not? Well, it has no life of its own, no interests, no purposes. Nor does it have an Aristotelian proper function that could be violated or thwarted.

You claim that a thing's being a chair is an intrinsic property of it. I deny this. Nothing is a chair intrinsically. The thing in question is a chair only in relation to us for whom it is a tool useful for certain purposes. But this is not to say that its being a chair is in the eye of the beholder. For it is not up to my free decision that the thing in question is a chair.

Let's consider this carefully. Suppose an ordinary chair were shrunk to the size of a thimble. Would it still be a chair? No, for no human being could sit on it. What this shows is that the chairness of the chair is objective in that it is tied to certain objective facts about human beings, facts having to do with their size and shape and weight, etc. So the chairness is not in the eye of the beholder. But it is not intrinsic either. After all, chairs are made by us to serve our purposes.

>>We have to conclude that by burning the chair has been damaged, in fact destroyed.<< That the chair has been damaged, injured, or harmed, when considered as a purely physical thing, and thus in abstraction from us and our purposes and interests, is precisely what I am denying. Again, my reason is that there is nothing intrinsic to the chair that makes it a chair. It is a chair only relative to us and our needs, purposes, and interests. But please notice that these needs, etc. are objective facts about us so that no vicious subjectivism is implied.

Before proceeding further, I need to get you to accept this. Do you accept it now? If not, why not?

Response to Bill,

I wish to thank Bill for addressing my response to his Faulty-Analogy objection. My own response will be in two parts. In the first part I will respond to his first, minor, objection and in the second part I will respond to his principal objection.

Part I.

1) Bill’s first objection: Bill claims that it is not necessary to maintain that murder is an injury or damage to the soul of the victim in order to hold that murder is a grave moral wrongdoing because an act of murder injures the soul of the perpetrator. Thus, the immortalist can legitimately hold that murder is a grave moral wrongdoing regardless of whether he is entitled to view murder as an injury to the soul of the victim.

2) My Response: But if we decouple the injury caused to the soul of the perpetrator by an act of murder from the injury such a deed causes to the soul of the victim, then Bill needs to provide independent reasons why the soul of the perpetrator is injured. He no longer can maintain that the injury caused to the soul of the perpetrator is due to the grave moral wrongdoing he has done to the victim, since by decoupling the two injuries Bill has abdicated this move. Therefore, Bill’s first objection is cogent only if (i) he can offer reasons why murder injures the soul of the perpetrator; and (ii) these reasons cannot rely upon the fact that murder is a grave moral wrongdoing because it causes injury to the soul of the victim.

Part II.

1) In the present response I shall not address Bill’s observations regarding qualia (toothache) or cases such as injury to one’s reputation, etc. I shall focus instead on cases such as injury or damage to body parts or damage to items such as houses, chairs, tables, deer, trees, nests, etc. Bill’s principal argument is this.

1,1) We are assuming that some entities in this world have souls (at least in the case of some human beings) and that the self of those who do is identical to or grounded in the soul (the ‘in’ here is not to be viewed as a spatial relationship). We are also assuming that the soul, and hence the self, are embodied.

1.1) We can divide all physical objects into two groups:

(a) Teleological physical objects: Teleological physical objects are those which require a purpose or a function for their identity or that are used or converted by someone for a specific purpose or function. Typical examples of teleological physical-objects are hearts, brains, legs, roots, nests, houses, chairs, clocks, sticks, etc.

(b) Non-Teleological physical objects: all physical objects that do not require a purpose or function for their identity and are not used or converted by anyone for a particular purpose or function. Typical examples of Non-Teleological physical objects are stars, rocks, sand, clouds, lava,

A couple of notes: First, a non-teleological object may be converted by someone for a particular purpose or use, either temporarily or permanently. Despite being used for a particular purpose, the object is still non-teleological, since its identity does not include such a purpose or function. Second, while throughout I shall not distinguish function and purpose, it is good to remember they may not be equivalent.

1.2) I shall now formulate a principle which I think is essential for Bill’s argument. I shall use the term ‘functional instrument’ as a collective term for any physical object that its identity requires a function or purpose (i.e., teleological objects of type (a) above). ‘X’ is a physical object; ‘S’ is any state of a physical object; and ‘O’ is a soul/self.

(P1) If X is in a state S, then S can be said to be a *damage* or *injury* to X only if X is a functional instrument for some O and X being in state S prevents X from fulfilling some function or purpose that serves O and as a result O is disadvantaged, damaged, or injured by X being in state S.

1.3) I think that (P1) captures the intuitions Bill adduces in his reply post. Notice that (P1) requires that the soul be disadvantaged, damaged, or injured in some fashion by X being in state S *before* we can classify state S as a state of damage or injury to a physical object X. It is in this sense Bill maintains that the notions of damage or injury apply first to a state of the soul and only thereafter can they be properly applied to a physical object.

2) However, (P1) is inadequate as it stands. There are clear cut cases where the terms ‘damage’ and ‘injury’ apply to physical objects that do not have a soul nor are they functional instruments serving a self or soul nor are they related in any way to something that has a soul or self:

Examples:

(i) We can quite legitimately say that a deer’s leg is injured or damaged;
(ii) We can legitimately say that insects damaged the roots of a tree;
(iii) We can legitimately say that the bird’s nest is impaired.

2.1) The deer, the tree, the bird are all entities that presumably do not have a soul or a self intimately tied to a soul. Yet in all of the above examples, there is some physical entity X (leg, roots, nest) which is in a state S such that we can quite properly assert that S is a state of damage, injury, or impairment to X even though X being in state S does not damage or injure a soul, since deer, trees, and birds have no souls. Hence, (P1) is false. Why is (P1) false?

2.2) Well, in each of the above examples we have a functional relationship between a physical object and an entity lacking a soul: i.e., the leg of a deer is a functional instrument with respect to the deer; the roots of the tree are similarly serve the tree in a functional capacity; and the same goes regarding the nest and the bird. And while Bill’s intuitions are partially correct insofar as he notes that the proper application of the terms ‘damage’ and ‘injury’ require a prior application of these notions to *something*, that something need not involve a soul or even a self. So it is certainly true that the reason we are saying that the leg is injured, the roots are damaged, and the nest is impaired is because these states prevent the legs, roots, and nest function properly for the benefit of the deer, tree, and bird. However, there is no need here to look for a disadvantaged soul in order to be able to say these things. All we need is the following principle:

(P2) If there is a functional relationship between two objects X and Y and X is in state S, then we are entitled to classify S as a state of damage or injury or impairment to X only if X being in state S prevents it from fulfilling its function with respect to Y, regardless of whether Y has a soul/self or not.

2.3) We can now view the case where Y has a soul/self as a special case of the principle (P2). Hence, contrary to Bill’s claims, attributions of terms such as ‘damage’ and ‘injury’ to the soul are special cases of their primary use regarding functional relationships in general. Since my analogy between the burning house/neighbor and neighbor’s body/his soul in the original post “Souls & Murder” are both special cases of this general functional relationship, the analogy I have used is legitimate.


I have nothing to contribute to this topic, Bill, other than you and Peter continue to give my mind a work-out. (A welcome thing in my decrepitude.) I comment to take advantage of the open combox to wish you a happy New Year and to give you my compliments on an edifying blog of remarkable vigor.

Regards,
Bill

Hey Bill T,

Happy New Year to you.

peter

Hi Bill T,

Good to hear from you again. You know, I went to your site a while back and it looked as if it was closed to the public. Is that right? And why?

I've thought about you a few times since Obama's election in connection with conservatives whose opposition to the wishy-washy McCain may have helped Obama and his crew into office. You will agree with me that Obama is a disaster for the country. One of your points as I recall from a little debate we had was that Obama would trigger a massive conservative reaction and revitalization. That could happen -- but if he rams this health care crap through we are in real trouble as a country.

But this is not the place to discuss this. Just wanted to let you know that I was thinking about some of your ideas.

All the best for the New Year.

Peter,

I'm busy right now with some 'home improvement' stuff that the angelic half wants done, but I am not ignoring your characteristically excellent and challenging comments. I hope to address them soon

Bill,

No problem! Take your time. Hope the home improvements will expand the library...lol! What else matters? (except of course the kitchen, lasagna)

peter

Dr. Vallicella,

Thank you very much for further clarifications. You are right, the quality of being a chair seems neither intrinsic nor subjective. You claim:

An object O, considered purely as a physical object, cannot be be damaged, injured, or harmed.

This statement seems to me trivially true. Indeed, neither 'damage', nor 'injury' or 'harm' are notions that lie within the scope of physics. It does not however further the proposition that objects like deers, trees or slabs of marble cannot be damaged without being somehow related to a soul.

It is at least logically possible that there are non-physical aspects that necessarily emerge from physical states. I will analyze the following examples:

1) For a painting, the quality of beauty.
2) For a deer or a tree, the property of flourishing.

It is not obvious that the aforementioned properties are not intrinsic to their objects. The property that I want to assign to an object is in fact what 'good' means in a given category of objects. It may very well be that there exists a canonical partial ordering of the set of objects with respect to this property. By partial order I mean a relation '<' that is not defined for all pairs of objects, but only for some. By 'canonical' I mean not subjective or dependent on any convention, but given by the very nature of things.

For example, it is not need needed for all pairs of paintings that one of the two is more beautiful than the other. It suffices that the relation holds for a pair Mark Rothko - Sistine Chapel. Similarly, it suffices that a deer with a broken leg and dying from thirst is 'less flourishing' than one that is healthy and replete.

Now it is obvious what damage to an object means. It is changing its state A to a state B such that B < A in the sense described above. Please note that the property of being a painting need not be intrinsic. It suffices that the property of being beautiful is intrinsic to the objects we call paintings. I do not claim that every class of objects has its 'good' and the corresponding ordering. To defend the proposition

Object O can be damaged iff it is in a (functional or otherwise) relation to a soul

dr. Vallicella needs to show that no class of objects has the characteristic described above. Of the two examples I provided, it is much more difficult to object to 2). Perhaps because trees and deers have souls in the Aristotelian sense.

I will now consider Peter's reply to my main objection. Peter rightly ascribes to me

>>(P1) If X is in a state S, then S can be said to be a *damage* or *injury* to X only if X is a functional instrument for some O and X being in state S prevents X from fulfilling some function or purpose that serves O and as a result O is disadvantaged, damaged, or injured by X being in state S.>(i) We can quite legitimately say that a deer’s leg is injured or damaged;
(ii) We can legitimately say that insects damaged the roots of a tree;
(iii) We can legitimately say that the bird’s nest is impaired.

2.1) The deer, the tree, the bird are all entities that presumably do not have a soul or a self intimately tied to a soul. Yet in all of the above examples, there is some physical entity X (leg, roots, nest) which is in a state S such that we can quite properly assert that S is a state of damage, injury, or impairment to X even though X being in state S does not damage or injure a soul, since deer, trees, and birds have no souls. Hence, (P1) is false.<<

But note that in each of these cases there either is a soul in the sense of a life-principle, or a soul is involved. The nest of a bird is (typically) inanimate, but the bird is alive, animate, and so possesses a soul in the Aristotelian sense of a life-principle. There is damage to the nest but only because the nest is an artifact of the bird whose interests and life-chances are damaged (in the strict sense) by destruction of the nest. Suppose in the middle of nowhere a nest came together by chance due to wind currents that wove together bits of vine, etc. Suppose no animal ever made use of this nest. And now suppose that another wind came up and blew the nest apart. Could we say that the nest had been damaged or harmed or injured? I say No. For there is no animate being that has an interest in the nest.

What is true of the bird is true of the deer and of the tree root. The tree root has an Aristotelian proper function (ergon) which is to conduct water and nutrients from the soil to the tree. And so we can speak of insects damaging the root system of a tree inasmuch as the tree has an interest in growing and flourishing and unfolding its potentialities.

So I answer Peter by saying that souls are involved in these cases. He will tell me that these souls are not immortal or capable of existence independently of matter. This is not perfectly obvious, but I will concede it. The concession does not seem to adversely affect my main point. My point is that no thing, considered as merely physical, can be harmed or damaged, and that talk of harm or damage presupposes a soul. Whether the soul is mortal or immortal makes no difference as long as the soul is embodied.

Recall how the discussion started. Peter claimed that the soul-theorist cannot account of our ordinary moral judgment that killing a man (without good reason) is morally worse than destroying his house. For if a man in his true identity is just his soul, and this soul can survive in a disembodied state, then killing a man and destroying his house are morally on a par. My rebuttal, essentially, is that this ignores the fact that the soul is embodied, and is indeed harmed in various ways by the attack on the body, this harm being sufficient to make murder morally worse than house-destruction. One way the soul is harmed is by having its tenure in the vale of soul-making cut short. But we can leave this aside for now. It is enough to point out that it is the soul that experiences the harm that is done to the body, harm that cannot be ascribed to the body as a merely physical thing, but only to the body as ensouled.

Hi Jan,

That is an interesting line of objection. You are arguing that, because the property of being beautiful is an intrinsic supervenient property of some paintings, one that can exist whether or not any minds exist, it is possible that such a painting be damaged in a sense that does not presuppose the existence of any mind.

But since paintings are artifacts, they presuppose minds. Hence the instantiation of the property of being beautiful does presuppose the existence of minds even if I grant you that the property of being beuatiful is intrinsic.

So consider the beauty of a sunset. A sunset is not an artifact, but it is still mind-dependent. Physics does not speak of sunsets. Furthermore, beauty supervenes upon secondary qualities (color-properties for example) both in sunsets and in paintings, and secondary qualities are notoriously mind-dependent.

Happy New Year, Peter. Keep Bill on his toes in 2010.

Regards,
Bill T

Reply to Bill,

In his response above, Bill distinguishes between two different senses of 'soul'. In the first sense, a soul is an immortal entity that is identified with the self of human beings and accounts for certain unique characteristics such as moral consciousness, rationality, and the privilege to participate in the divine life, among others. In the second sense, a soul is a "life principle" common to all living things, including trees, deer, and birds. A soul in the sense of "life principle" is not immortal, need not involve moral consciousness or rationality, and it confers no privilege to participate in divine life.

Bill then argues that a physical object can be meaningfully said to be 'damaged', injured' or 'harmed' only if it serves as a functional instrument for an entity that features a soul in either the first sense or the second sense; i.e., the sense of possessing a life-principle. Suppose we grant this. If we do, then we must beware of not confusing the first sense of soul, the immortal soul, with the second which confers a life principle, for otherwise we would be forced to grant to all living things including trees, birds, and deer an immortal soul with everything that goes along with it. I think Bill is willing to concede these points.

So the current state of our debate is this. I concede to Bill that the attribution of 'damage, 'injury', etc., to a physical object is constrained by a principle such as (P3). This concession entails that a physical object said to be damaged must serve as a functional instrument with respect to something else, the later being in the possession of either a life principle or an immortal soul. However, I still insist that the pivotal principle governing the use of the contested terms is that the object to which they apply serve as a *functional instrument*; an immortal soul is not required.

Bill apparently also concedes that an immortal soul is not required in order to properly attribute the contested terms to an object: a life principle suffices. Therefore, I think we can both agree that the pivotal principle governing the application of the contested terms to a physical object is that the later serve as a functional instrument with respect to some other object. One class of special cases of this relationship would be ones that involves immortal souls, whereas another class of special cases would involve only a life principle. All other cases are reducible to one or another of these two (e.g., the engine of a car malfunctions).

So our views converge upon the above. The question now is whether my original analogy between the house/neighbor and neighbor's-body/soul is legitimate, given our agreement above. I maintain that it is because both are special cases of the same relationship: i.e., in both cases we have a physical object that serves a functional relationship to some other entity, where the beneficiary of this relationship possesses a life principle or an immortal soul. The house is a physical object that serves as a functional instrument with respect to my neighbor who possesses both a life principle and a soul, and the body of my neighbor also serves as a functional instrument with respect to my neighbor's self; namely, his immortal soul. In both cases a damage occurs to the functional instrument that prevents it from fulfilling its function. Thus far the analogy holds.

The pivotal question is whether the analogy continues to hold when we consider the consequences of the damage done to the functional instrument (house; body) upon the respective beneficiaries of the instrument's services (neighbor; soul). To maintain that there is a principled difference is to find a way of breaking the analogy. But that is precisely what my argument in "Souls & Murder" invites the immortalist-theist to do. So one cannot object that since the analogy does not persist beyond this point, my argument employs a false analogy. Breaking the analogy *at this juncture* is tantamount to answering the very challenge I posed to the immortalist-theist. The two are one and the same. The analogy I used would have been faulty only if it failed before the point at which it poses the challenge in question. But, as I have argued above, at no point prior to the challenge it poses does the analogy fail.

My original post challenged the immortalist theist to provide a principled way of breaking the persistence of this analogy. Thus far, the only proposal made was the soul-making theodicy. But, as I have argued in the previous thread, the soul-making theodicy faces considerable difficulties. So the immortalist theist needs to repair the soul-making theodicy in order to overcome these difficulties: hence, the principle task facing the immortalist-theist is the construction of a suitable metaphysics of souls. The purpose of Bill's faulty-analogy objection was to disarm my murder-argument at the start without having to do the labor of developing a metaphysics of souls which answers in a systematic way the challenge my murder-argument poses. If Bill's faulty-analogy objection does not succeed to disarm my murder-argument at the start, then it cannot be an objection to my challenge. I have argued above that the faulty-analogy objection fails to block my murder-argument at the point it must in order for it to be a pertinent objection, for the analogy at that point does not fail. Therefore, I do not see how Bill's faulty-analogy argument succeeds to bypass the challenge I posed to the immortalist-theist.


Hello, Bill.

"You know, I went to your site a while back and it looked as if it was closed to the public. Is that right? And why?"

The official answer is business kept me from making regular entries and I did not want a stale blog left open to the public. The real answer you may find more interesting. I'll send you a short e-mail.

"I've thought about you a few times since Obama's election in connection with conservatives whose opposition to the wishy-washy McCain may have helped Obama and his crew into office. You will agree with me that Obama is a disaster for the country."

Indeed, and it was my concern over Obama's fitness for office that led to pull the lever for McCain as opposed to sitting out the election. The one saving grace is the political ineptitude of Obama, Pelosi, and Reid has made the Leftist agenda loathsome for even the most indifferent of voters.

"One of your points as I recall from a little debate we had was that Obama would trigger a massive conservative reaction and revitalization. That could happen -- but if he rams this health care crap through we are in real trouble as a country."

It's heartening to see that among my generation, at least, that those Reaganite lessons have not been forgotten. However, you are dead right about the health care boondoggle. Mark Steyn puts it best when he writes about how of all things intrusions of the welfare state, government-run health care entrenches the state as paramount in a person's life.

"But this is not the place to discuss this."

Correct. I do not want to be a party to hijacking a thread even if it is in league with the host. ;)

"All the best for the New Year."

Thanks, Bill. Also for you.

Regards,
Bill T

Addendum to my last Pst:

forgot to enter (P3):

(P3) If there is a functional relationship between two objects X and Y and X is in state S, then we are entitled to classify S as a state of damage or injury or impairment to X only if X being in state S prevents it from fulfilling its function with respect to Y,where Y possesses either a life principle or an immortal soul.

Peter says: "But, as I have argued in the previous thread, the soul-making theodicy faces considerable difficulties."

Not the least of which is that your arsonist tendencies, and almost other criminal act short of murder, would benefit souls, since it provides them the opportunity to develop the virtues of courage in the face of adversity, fortitude, and forgiveness. ;-)

I hope people are just busy and haven't abandoned this excellent discussion.

T. H.,

I let Peter know you responded to him. We'll be coming back to this at some point.

T. Hanson,

It just came to my attention that you posted this reply. Hopefully we will come back to it. I shall respond to your note hopefully by tomorrow. Just as a short comment, I find Hicks soul-making theodicy very enlightening and a valuable contribution to many issues. However, I do have some reservation some of a general nature and others regarding specifically the current discussion prompted by my arsonist and other sinful tendencies. Bill hopefully will return to this and other related topics. I am particularly interested to pursue some issues regarding "Soul Hypothesis" or the Metaphysics of Souls.

Thanks for your comment

peter

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