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How Could Anyone be a Dualist?: What Happens When We Die

Dean Zimmerman and Lynne Rudder Baker

A dualist Christian response to the matter of what happens when we die.

Professor of Philosophy, Rutgers University / Director of Rutgers Center for the Philosophy of Religion
April 29, 2017

In theological circles, “dualism” is a dirty word. “Dualist” works sort of like “reactionary.” To be a reactionary isn’t merely to be a political conservative; it is to be a knee-jerk conservative — someone who resists even reasonable, moderate reforms. Likewise, to be a dualist isn’t just to be someone who draws a distinction between two things; it is to be someone who draws a sharp distinction where there isn’t one, someone who divides the world into two very different categories when these categories don’t apply or are not exhaustive. So, when “dualism” is used as a term for a view about the nature of human beings, it nowadays often means: “an extreme Platonistic division between body and soul that is scientifically untenable, alien to Biblical religion, and morally pernicious.” The Platonizing dualists for whom this label is reserved think that the soul is naturally immortal. They hold that it is better off without the body, which only drags it down into sin and clouds its ability to think. They expect that, after death, we live on as souls in heaven, happy forever in a disembodied state (a heresy according to every major strand of the Christian tradition, all of which emphasize the resurrection of our bodies as a crucial part of the life of the world to come).

If “dualism” is freighted with all of this Platonistic meaning, I am not a dualist. I do draw a distinction between soul and body; but I do not think souls are naturally immortal, that they are better off without bodies, or that — in the absence of a miracle — they can think without brains. Like Paul, other New Testament authors, and indeed Jesus as depicted in the Gospels, I expect that a person exists in a disembodied form after death. But, like them, I deny that this is the natural, permanent state for which we were made. Rather, death is only really defeated by the resurrection, the reunion of soul and body. I do not believe that such a view of persons is refuted by the discovery that thinking and personality are radically dependent upon the brain; nor do I believe that those who hold this sort of view will inevitably be led to denigrate our bodily life or to destroy the fragile eco-system of our planet.

Philosophers often use the word “dualism” without all this Platonistic freight. So, when talking with other philosophers, I can call myself a dualist without fear of misunderstanding. But in other contexts defending my view as a kind of dualism is like trying to defend universal healthcare on Fox News under the label “socialized medicine.” Socialized medicine is socialism, which is communism, which is atheism, which is evil. Unfortunately it is hard to come up with a snappy alternative label in the case of dualism. Some who hold views similar to my own have tried to soften the blow with modifiers. The philosopher William Hasker talks of “emergent dualism”; the biblical scholar John Cooper talks of “holistic dualism.” For reasons Hasker has given (described momentarily), someone who regards the soul as the conscious part of a human being really should extend the honor to the other conscious creatures with brains like ours; in other words, there are human souls and animal souls. It is tempting to call this view “animism,” though the expression might suggest souls for trees and springs and rivers as well — and that, I expect, would be going too far. So I shall accept the label “dualism”, but jettison the excess baggage that is often attached to the word when used in theological disputes.

I begin by describing the kind of dualism I find most believable, and saying why I do not think it is just obviously false. Then I explain why traditional Christian views about what happens to us when we die seem to me to require a dualism along these lines.

Emergent Dualism vs. Standard Materialism

Dualism, as I shall be using the term, is the doctrine that no thinking human person is composed of the kinds of physical stuff that make up rocks and trees and the bodies of animals. Persons have thoughts and feelings and sensations, but we have little in common with either the physical objects that surround us or with their fundamental constituents (electrons, quarks, and so on). More familiarly, dualism is the doctrine that human beings have — or, much better, are — souls. Materialism, for my purposes, is the thesis that each human person is an object made entirely out of the kinds of physical stuff that make up rocks, trees, and other non-sentient things.

There have been many different views among dualists about the relations of souls to bodies; are souls completely dependent upon bodies, just along for the ride? Or are they completely independent, much better off when they leave their bodies behind? If souls are not particularly dependent upon bodies for their existence or sentience, do they have to be specially created each time a viable organism appears? And does God do this for animals too, or just for us? Are souls completely “outside of space,” not spatially related to locations in our space? If so, how can they interact with things here — in virtue of what relations between souls and bodies does my soul get hooked up with my body and not with yours?

It would fly in the face of experience to claim that my ability to think is not radically dependent upon the proper functioning of my brain. And it would also seem best to regard human beings as ontologically continuous with the rest of the sentient animal kingdom. All of this can be preserved by Hasker’s emergent dualism, according to which organisms having sufficiently complex nervous systems to generate consciousness automatically also generate a nonphysical substance located somewhere within the nervous system to be the subject of that consciousness — a substance which remains radically, but not completely, dependent upon the brain for most of its operations and for its continued existence (barring a miracle).

Souls, on this view, are “naturally emergent substances”: Given a certain microphysical structure — the kind found in the brains of sentient organisms — there must be a thinker associated with that structure. But the “must” here has only the force of natural law. It’s just part of the way things work. Since laws of nature could have been different, there are possible worlds with soulless zombies that are just like us physically. Assuming that souls do in fact interact with the brains that generate them, these zombies would not behave like us, since their brains wouldn’t be receiving whatever input ours normally receive from souls. Perhaps, cut off from souls, animals with brains like ours wouldn’t be able to do much of anything; perhaps they would be like the zombies of horror movies — still able to move around in search of food…for example, human brains!

Souls, on this account, have no parts in common with our bodies, so they are nonphysical in the sense of “not made out of the things physics now studies.” But, they could be spatially located for all that. They may even, as W. D. Hart suggests in The Engines of the Soul, be the possessors of a kind of “psychic energy,” interacting with the body by the usual method: transfer of energy. Hart’s notion of psychic energy is (among other things) a function of degrees of belief; it takes more energy to sustain a belief with a greater degree of conviction. Of course what Hart gives us is a just-so story, and I wouldn’t want to be committed to the details (and I don’t see why all causation has to be a matter of the transfer of energy continuously through space, as Hart assumes). Still, one can see how to pair a body with the appropriate soul — a brain interacts with the soul it generates inside of itself, a soul affects the brain in which it is located. And, as Hart shows, one can even imagine mechanisms for such interaction.

When assessing the plausibility of this sort of dualism, one must compare it to the best available materialist alternatives. There are forms of materialism that are stranger than the sort of dualism I have described. For instance, Descartes talked about madmen who believed they were made of glass — a materialistic doctrine with nothing to be said for it! Roderick Chisholm, no madman himself, once half-seriously defended the thesis that he was a tiny physical particle lodged somewhere in his brain. More popular, of course, are versions of what I’ll call “Standard Materialism”: a human person is identical with a familiar physical object that everyone already believed in, one that includes at least the parts of the body that are most crucially implicated in thought and personality. This leaves us with just a few candidates: the whole organism, the whole nervous system, the brain, the cerebrum, maybe one hemisphere. Standard materialism, then, will be the thesis that each human person, including myself, is one of these standard candidates. If there are problems with standard materialism, the only versions of materialism left are strange, hard to believe, and a modest dualism like Hasker’s begins to look like a viable alternative.

And standard materialism does have problems. Organisms and brains are vague things, not unlike rivers or clouds when one looks closely. They are buzzing with activity, constantly losing and gaining bits of matter by means of continuous processes — as when proteins pull molecules into cells to put them to work. Before the molecule is captured by the cell, it is not part of the body; once inside the cell it surely is; but exactly when does it become a part? Choosing a precise instant would be as phony as saying that there is a precise instant when a molecule of H2O joins a cloud, or leaves the Mississippi River to enter the Gulf of Mexico. These are matters for stipulation, and many choices are admissible. But if the stipulations are to work, there must already be all sorts of candidate objects, some including borderline molecules and some not, all of them ready to be picked out by our decisions. So long as we don’t care to become more precise, we speak indiscriminately about the whole host; and what we say about their current local properties — their sizes, shapes, weights, colors, and so on — is true so long as it’s true of each of them.

I find it hard to believe that I am a vague object, for which there are many equally good candidates. Each must be conscious, if each is as good a candidate for being me as the others. Now, if consciousness were just a certain kind of computation, it would be plausible to suppose that the host of objects located in the vicinity of my brain would all be conscious; after all, each has the brain as a part, and if it is essentially a computer they will be running the same program in virtue of sharing the same processor. But if consciousness is something more, a new and fundamental feature of the world that can’t be identified with any extrinsically specifiable physical process, then there is no reason to think that the laws of consciousness-generation will pick out exactly the candidates we are interested in — just those clouds of particles that are the size and shape of an organism or even a brain. So the materialist who admits that consciousness is something special, something that cannot be reduced to a physical process, should not expect any standard sort of materialism to be true.

Is consciousness so special? Almost all philosophers used to think so, and quite a few contemporary philosophers of mind still do. Believers in a God who can know what our experiences are like should agree. To know what colors and smells are like, one must be able to have some kinds of sensory experiences; so God can have experiences like ours and no doubt many others we could never have. In that case, conscious experiences can be shared by us and a mind that is not made of matter or any other kind of stuff. Having these conscious experiences cannot, then, be a matter of having an inner computer running a certain program; it is some further feature of minds.

A materialist who admits that consciousness is not reducible to some computational or chemical or biological process must suppose that, when brains are sufficiently complex, consciousness “emerges,” attaching itself to some object or other that is made entirely of physical stuff. It would be quaint to suppose that the laws of nature governing this new aspect of the world are careful to select objects of sizes and shapes that interest us; but what objects should they pick? Parts of the brain are the best candidates — being closest to the causes of consciousness — but which parts? Since different parts are implicated in different sense modalities and different kinds of conscious thinking, the best bet might be: many different parts at different times. Whatever choice the materialist makes, it should not be one of the standard candidates; and a rival, dualistic hypothesis belongs on the table: the idea that, with new properties there comes a new subject for those properties.

Dualism and Disembodiment

If this were the most that could be said for dualism, one should probably simply settle for what George Graham calls “Strong Ontic Ignorance”: the view that we can’t know exactly what kind of thing we are. But Christians (at least many of us) have special reasons to believe in the possibility of our own disembodied existence; and this should tip the balance, for us, in favor of dualism. In my own case, although I would not claim to know that dualism is true, I do have beliefs about the afterlife that I take to be reasonable; and, if they are true, dualism must be true as well.

Christians differ in their attitudes toward the authority of scripture; they endorse different hermeneutical methods, and adhere to different creeds and theological traditions. Some theologians regard a personal creator God, an empty tomb, and the general resurrection of the dead as primitive elements of the faith that can be discarded without touching the heart of the Christian gospel. They will be unmoved by the considerations I am about to raise.

It matters to me what Jesus and the writers of the New Testament believed about the nature of human persons and their post-mortem destinies. Why? Because it is relevant to the question of what they meant when teaching the earliest Christ-followers about life after death. John Cooper makes a powerful case for the conclusion that the earliest Christians accepted a kind of animistic body-soul dualism — a view that was well-established among the most pious Jewish sects in the intertestamental period. Cooper argues that the New Testament writers make this dualism explicit in the gospels and epistles, and that it shows up when important theological points are being made; so it cannot be easily brushed aside as window dressing. Even some of the biblical scholars most famous for emphasizing the distance between Jewish conceptions of persons and the Platonistic idea of a naturally immortal soul, such as Oscar Cullman and N. T. Wright, admit that Christ himself and the earliest Christians taught that the dead continue to exist. They are disembodied, to be sure, but they remain in some sense conscious of or present to God, awaiting reunion with a resurrected body at the end of the age. And that is enough for my purposes.

For the possibility of an intermediate, disembodied state requires a dualism — right now — of person and body; at least, it requires this, given some plausible assumptions about what kinds of changes things can undergo. If, right now, materialism were true of me, then my suddenly becoming disembodied — suddenly losing all my material parts, and becoming entirely nonphysical — would require that something could lose all of its parts at once and continue to exist made of other stuff. As Richard Swinburne points out in his defense of dualism, this hardly seems possible. Imagine an entirely physical thing that loses all its parts at once; the subatomic particles constituting it all suddenly wink out of existence, say. Now suppose that the instant these parts disappear, there comes to exist a thing that is in many respects very similar to it but made of some completely different substance. What one has just imagined is the replacement of one thing by another, not the persistence of the original thing. Adding consciousness to the two things will not make it any easier to suppose there is just one thing that persists through the change, even if they are mentally very similar.

The conclusion is straightforward: in order for me to continue to exist in a disembodied state, something that exists after my disembodiment must already be around, and it must at least be a part of me. Furthermore, since, when I am disembodied, that thing is going to be all of me, it is then going to have to be identical with me. And the following is a philosophical truism, something that is pretty obvious when you think about it: once you’re identical with a thing, you’re always identical to it. That’s just the way identity works. If Pastor “Jack” Gibson of San Francisco is identical to Jack the Ripper, then whatever’s true of Gibson must be true of the Ripper. If Jack the Ripper dies, so does Jack Gibson, and vice versa. So if I will be identical with a nonphysical thing that survives my body’s destruction, I am already identical with it. Strictly speaking, then, this gross physical body is not even a part of me, though it may be essential to my origin, and physically necessary for my ability to think and feel, at least as things are now.

Of course some Christian scholars, sometimes precisely to avoid this sort of result, are skeptical about whether human beings exist during a period intermediate between death and resurrection. But when I find the doctrine clearly affirmed in places where the New Testament writers are trying to convey deep theological truths, I am reluctant to give it up — barring powerful scientific or philosophical arguments against it. And, so far, I haven’t found such arguments overwhelming. Most are aimed at highly Platonistic views, according to which souls are outside of space, naturally immortal, or able to think better without brains than with them. None of those doctrines seem at all relevant to the things that make dualism attractive to me. Other arguments proceed in this fashion: There is no obstacle to attributing consciousness to physical objects we are already familiar with, such as organisms or brains; therefore there is no reason to suppose that some peculiar new entity is the locus of consciousness. But organisms and brains are vague, and our interest in them is parochial; we should not suppose that the phenomenon of consciousness is bestowed upon them, for reasons I mentioned. Human persons are either peculiar physical objects, or something entirely new in the world — something that appears whenever consciousness does. The latter hypothesis has this going for it: it is required by a doctrine that seems to me to be central to Christianity. So I remain strongly inclined towards dualism.

Part 2: Lynne Rudder Baker’s Critical Response to Dean Zimmerman

The theological difference between Zimmerman and me is that he believes that there is disembodied existence, and that that doctrine is central to Christianity; whereas I believe that there are no finite immaterial souls that could exist disembodied, and that Christianity requires no disembodied existence. This theological difference rests in part on two deep philosophical differences, which I want to explore first.1

The first philosophical difference is a fundamental disagreement about how to understand the material world. Zimmerman takes the identity of material objects to reside in their parts and what they are made of. With this presupposition, he infers, quite reasonably, that material parts of a person and what they are made of are inadequate to account for persons. So, he thinks he must add a part, an immaterial part or soul.

Allow me to show by way of example that Zimmerman’s conception of a material object, although widespread, is anemic and that material objects cannot be understood in terms of their parts and what they are made of.

Consider an old-fashioned carburetor. A carburetor is defined as “a device that vaporizes a liquid fuel such as gasoline and mixes it with air in the proper ration for combustion in an internal-combustion engine, such as the gasoline engine.”2 Suppose that people had invented devices that mixed water and air in the process of making soft drinks. Call these soft-drink-making machines ‘drinkalators’.

Exactly the same set of structures (parts, what they are made up of, and how they are related to each other) could make drinkalators and carburetors: The difference between being a carburetor and being a drinkalator is a difference in their intended function: if something of the right structure were in front of you, and you had all the instruments for discriminating its parts, you could not detect whether it was a carburetor or a drinkalator without information about what it is intended to do.

For all that, a carburetor is not a drinkalator: A world could contain either without the other. This is not just a linguistic point, that we have two names for the same kind of thing. The point is ontological; it concerns inventions and their places in our collective lives. In short, x and y can be things of different kinds without any difference in parts or what they are made up of.3

This example should warn us off the assumption that the identity of material things is a matter of their parts and what they are made of.4 So, I agree with Zimmerman that what he calls ‘Standard Materialism’ fails to account for persons; but the problem lies with the narrowness of ‘Standard Materialism,’ not with a material conception of persons per se. Rejection of the notion that the identity of an object is determined by its parts and what it is made of does not lead to any sort of dualism.

A more satisfactory way to understand material objects is in terms of “constitution.” A chair—essentially intended for sitting—is not identical to the sum of its parts, but is constituted by a sum at a time. That way, the chair can undergo a change of parts without loss of identity. Similarly, a person—essentially the bearer of first-person perspective—is not identical to a body (or to the sum of a body’s parts), but is constituted by a body at a time, perhaps by different bodies at different times.5

The second philosophical difference between Zimmerman and me concerns consciousness. I agree with Zimmerman that consciousness is not reducible to “some computational or chemical or biological process.” But I do not think that this is any reason to be a dualist, as opposed to a nonreductive materialist. There is probably not a precise place in the course of evolution where consciousness got its start. The Sphex wasp is not conscious, but by the time there are mammals with flexible behavior, consciousness and intentionality have been selected for. As species become more complex, consciousness and intentionality become richer and richer. This process has culminated so far in human organisms that come to constitute human persons, who can learn complex languages and develop the robust stage of first-person perspectives.

We have no physical account of consciousness, and probably never will have. So what? We can take consciousness to be a dispositional property and see how consciousness and then, with language, self-consciousness conferred an advantage in fitness. And we have no physical account of many things that do not smack of anything immaterial: governments, operas, changes in stock prices, and so on.

What makes a person the very person she is—what makes you you—is that you are thisexemplifier of a first-person perspective. A person survives any change, even a change of body, if she remains the same exemplifier of a first-person perspective. (The circularity here is unavoidable since persons cannot be understood in nonpersonal or subpersonal terms; persons are basic entities.)

Nevertheless, persons are essentially embodied: they are constituted by bodies; constitution is a contingent, time-indexed relation. So, logically, a person can have different bodies at different times, and advances in biotechnology give us empirical reason to believe that a person can survive with a different (nonorganic, or even “spiritual”) body.

A human person comes into existence over time: there is no sharp instant when an organism (human or not) comes into existence, and there is no sharp instant when a human organism comes to constitute a person. When a fertilized egg is implanted in a uterus, an organism comes into existence; when the fetal organism develops to the point of having consciousness and intentionality (near birth), it comes to constitute a person. Consciousness and intentionality are dispositional properties that I call a “rudimentary first-person perspective.” Persons and higher animals both have rudimentary first-person perspectives (the first stage of a first-person perspective); a person has a first-person perspective essentially, and an organism has a first-person perspective only contingently.

What is distinctive about persons is that only persons go on to acquire the second stage of a first-person perspective, what I call a “robust first-person perspective.” As a toddler—already a person—learns a language, she acquires the ability to conceive of herself as herself in the first person. With a language, the first-person perspective, now robust, can be manifested in uncountably many ways.

The theological disagreements between Zimmerman and me are connected to each other: I deny that persons have souls and endorse essential embodiment of persons. The death of an organism is the permanent cessation of biological functioning; the death of a person occurs when a person’s body can no longer support a first-person perspective. However, the dead, as Zimmerman says, “continue to exist.” How? Disembodied? I don’t see how. Indeed, I do not understand what a finite immaterial particular would be. I have no idea of how a disembodied immaterial soul could operate or even what function such an entity would serve.6 If there is an intermediate state,7 God creates an intermediate body; if people go straight to heaven, God creates a resurrection body.

Whether there is an intermediate state or not, finite persons are always embodied, but the postmortem body (or bodies, if there is an intermediate state) is not the same body that the person had on earth. The earthly body is corruptible; the resurrection body is incorruptible. (A replacement of a corruptible body by an incorruptible one is a change in substance, which no single body can undergo.)

What about Biblical teaching? A cursory glance at the Bible reveals stories, poems, fables, admonitions, and more. If a person is identical to a soul, as Zimmerman suggests, why should Christianity be committed to bodily resurrection? Since I do not believe that Christianity, or the Bible, requires disembodied existence, I continue to deny that there are souls.

Part 3: Dean Zimmerman’s Reply to Lynne Rudder Baker’s Critical Response

Before talking about our differences, which have mostly to do with the metaphysics of material objects, I should like to underscore how much we agree about. This should be no surprise. Christians can be in full agreement concerning substantive matters of doctrine while disagreeing deeply about the metaphysics in terms of which such doctrines should be fleshed out. The right metaphysics of physical objects and of persons is a matter of great contention within philosophy, and always has been. I have argued elsewhere that, on all of the main philosophical accounts of the nature of persons, an afterlife remains possible.8 This includes not only Baker’s version of materialism, which seems especially hospitable to postmortem survival, allowing as it does for physical objects that jump from place to place without so much as the motion of a molecule or the transfer of a byte of information. Even more conservative forms of materialism, which require some kind of biological or psychological continuity, can make space for life after death. Miracles would be required in every case; but on most of the particular materialist theories on offer, one can at least see roughly how it could be done. (Even according to my own favored dualist picture, souls do not naturally persist “under their own steam,” not without the brains that generate them; so miracles are required all around.) I do not pretend to know that dualism is true, and that all of these versions of materialism about human persons are false. So I would never pretend to know that God secures our survival in one way rather than another. But I take heart in seeing that, on most of the plausible metaphysical stories about human nature, there is no impossibility in my continuing to exist after shuffling off this mortal coil.

Baker and I do not just agree about the possibility of an afterlife, we agree about the importance of bodily resurrection. The natural state of a human person is an embodied one. Both Baker and I expect that our “corruptible bodies” are like seeds that will be sown in the ground, to use St. Paul’s metaphor; and that what is sown dies, and is not “that body that shall be” (1 Corinthians 15: 36-7), but something that is succeeded by an “incorruptible body.” We disagree only about whether persons are essentially embodied — whether a person could ever possibly exist without a body. On my favored view, a person is an immaterial thinking thing that, in its natural state, needs a brain in order to think or even to continue to exist; and that when we exist disembodied between death and resurrection, we are in an unnatural or maimed state, sustained only by God’s gracious miracle.

We do disagree about the centrality to Christian doctrine of an intermediate state between death and resurrection; but even here, the disagreement is not deep. As Baker points out, it is perfectly consistent with her view about persons that “God creates an intermediate body,” one that is presumably not made of ordinary matter and yet not made of the incorruptible stuff of which Paul speaks. (In 1 Corinthians 15: 39-44, Paul draws suggestive contrasts between kinds of flesh and kinds of bodies; and contrasts the stuff of our current bodies with that of the incorruptible.)

Our deepest differences are, then, all on the metaphysical side of things. Let me try to sum them up in a rather impressionistic way. I find physics telling me that all of the complex physical objects that interest us human beings — planets, pipes, carburetors, crows, you-name-it — consist fundamentally of particles and fields, and that their causal powers ultimately derive from these particles and fields. I’m prepared to revise this picture of things as physics makes further progress, but I don’t expect that we’ll ever stop talking about atoms and molecules and the way they constitute crystalline lattices, DNA, RNA, cell walls, and so on. Baker and I agree that collections of these smaller physical things together constitute larger solid objects, some of which are mere hunks of metal, say; others of which are artifacts, such as carburetors and her “drinkalators.” What we disagree about is what metaphysicians like to call “the ontological status” of these constituted objects. Are they mere constructions out of the swirling hunks of matter that physics describes in more fundamental terms? Or are they bona fide entities with new causal powers of their own, and ways of lasting through time that are quite independent of the goings-on at the level described by physics?

Everything turns here upon what one means by “mere constructions,” “bona fide entities,” and “new causal powers” — and there are many things metaphysicians could mean and have meant when drawing contrasts using such terminology. This is not the time or place to try to achieve greater clarity. It is, however, clear that my own views put me on the “mere construction” side, and Baker’s put her on the “bona fide entities” side of this sort of contrast.

Consider a factory built to make carburetors. One day it is purchased by a manufacturer of soft drinks who realizes the very same bit of machinery can be used to carbonate soda in her bottling plant. With the stroke of a pen, the output of the factory’s machines at, say, noon suddenly becomes an entirely new kind of object, one that hadn’t existed before. That, I take it, is a consequence of Baker’s metaphysics. I should rather say: the factory takes hunks of metal, shapes them into objects with various causal powers that are grounded in that constitution and shape, and we can call these hunks of metal whatever we please — but we won’t thereby cause the factory to be making different objects. It is the hunk of metal that does the work of forcing gas or liquid to move. If we do want to recognize the existence of an “extra object,” something that is constituted by the metal but that only exists because of a signature on a piece of paper, this should be a shadowy, second rate sort of thing — one that only has an impact on its environment in virtue of the powers of the hunk of metal.

One way in which Baker sees her constituted entities as showing their bona fides is by their ability to change parts with more freedom than their constituting masses of particles or hunks of matter. A chair can survive the replacement of a leg, while the hunk of wood from which it is hewn cannot. I do not see this as a reason to deny that the chair deserves a “lower ontological status”; quite the reverse. I take it to suggest that the chair is a “mere construction” — i.e., a function from times to hunks of matter (the kind of constructed entity I discussed in my first reply to Baker). And when one comes to entities that are able to undergo massive and instantaneous changes of all their parts, I feel even more confident that we have moved from the realm of the real into that of the ideal or merely constructed. I do not deny that we sometimes seem to refer to such things. For example, one might talk of that train, The Empire Builder, which runs between Chicago and Seattle (or Portland), a train constituted by different engines and cars at different times. Supposing there is engine trouble in St. Paul, it is conceivable that The Empire Builder switches from Track 1 to track 4 without a single piece of the train moving from the one track to the other (though the passengers would have to move if they want to continue their trip). This sort of entity is certainly second-class, having all of its powers derivatively. Its ability to accelerate, its size and shape and mass, these are all due to the engine and cars that happen to make it up at any given time. The world contains hunks of metal and rubber and wood, and we draw circles around different bits at different times to suit our interests, and with great freedom; and one way of drawing circles is called “The Empire Builder.”

On Baker’s conception of persons, we seem rather like The Empire Builder, except that it is God who gets to draw the circles. The resurrected bodies that will be ours could, by her lights, all be exactly the same intrinsically, appearing all at once with no differences in their origins — except for God’s declaring that one be you, the other be me, and so on. When one has this kind of complete freedom to draw circles as one pleases, that is a sign that one is picking out a second-rate entity with no real powers of its own — an epiphenomenon, as the philosophers say. I should like to think that I am something more; and that, within my very limited sphere, I exercise powers in my own right — for example, that I can cause my fingers to type, and that there is not someone else causing this for me; that I can work out an intellectual puzzle, and that no one else is working it out for me. So I don’t believe I’m the sort of thing that could have its history determined with this much freedom by someone else — even if that someone were God.

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