Issue Spring 2017

What Happens When We Die: What We Are and What We Will Become

In This Issue

What Happens When We Die?: What We Are and What Will Become of Us

Editor: Evan Rosa
Editorial Assistants: Nicole Garcia and Paul Rheingans

This ebook is an interactive white paper featuring two different views on what happens when we die: a materialist view that denies the existence of the soul and a dualist view that affirms the existence of the soul. The interactive flow is set up accordingly:

1. Opening Statement: Lynn Rudder Baker
2. Opening Statement: Dean Zimmerman
3. Baker’s Critical Response to Zimmerman
4. Zimmerman’s Critical Response to Baker
5. Baker’s Reply to Zimmerman
6. Zimmerman’s Reply to Baker

A special thanks to Lynne Rudder Baker and Dean Zimmerman for their willingness to contribute to this conversation, which is one of many resources related to “Neuroscience and the Soul”—the 2012-2013 research theme of Biola University’s Center for Christian Thought, which was funded by the John Templeton Foundation.

The views, opinions, authors, and contributors represented in this book do not necessarily represent the beliefs of Biola University, the Biola University Center for Christian Thought, or the John Templeton Foundation.

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A Materialist Model of Christian Resurrection

Lynne Rudder Baker

Opening Statement

To the title question, my honest answer is “I don’t know; I don’t believe that anyone does.” Maybe the screen just goes blank—full stop. But I hope and trust that things go otherwise.

Here I shall propose a materialist model of Christian resurrection; it is materialist in that it does not countenance any immaterial entities, like souls. This model does not involve a thoroughgoing materialism, because it regards God as a wholly immaterial and transcendent being. With the presupposition that any event of resurrection requires a miracle by God, the proposed model makes three claims: (i) A resurrected entity is the same person who lived on earth; (ii) Resurrection is bodily, but a resurrection body (a “spiritual” body) is not the same body that was on earth; (iii) No finite person has an immaterial soul. I’ll summarize these three claims like this: “same person, different body, no soul.”

This model is based on applying to persons the comprehensive account of the material world that I call ‘the constitution view’ (Baker 2000, 2007, 2013a). By ‘person,’ I mean ‘finite person’ unless I specify otherwise. The conclusion that I’ll argue for is this: If the constitution view of persons is correct, then the model provides a relatively plausible way to understand how God can resurrect material people.1 I’ll consider the three elements of the model sequentially.

Sameness of Person

I take it to be a central feature of the Christian doctrine of resurrection that, at least for the saved, the very same person who starts out in the natural world ends up in an afterlife as a resurrected person. More precisely, if x is a resurrected person, then there is a y and a time t such that y is an earthly person at t, and x = y. (Since heaven may be an eternal realm with no time, I’ll not attribute temporal location to a resurrected person.) I take ‘sameness of person’ to be part of the Christian doctrine of resurrection. But what is a person?

Two of a person’s essential properties are important, and importantly different: embodiment and a first-person perspective. A person is essentially embodied in that she cannot exist disembodied. Essential embodiment does not imply that a person must always be constituted by the same body that she is born with, or even that she is constituted by a body that is continuous with the body that she was constituted by when she was born. Embodiment implies only that she must always be constituted by some body or other that supports her first-person perspective. So, it is not part of a person’s essence to have the body that she has. Essential embodiment only implies that whenever the person exists, she is constituted by some body or other that can furnish whatever mechanisms needed to underwrite a first-person perspective.

Indeed, we have empirical evidence, in the here and now, that organs in a human body can be modified (and made to function properly) with all manner of artificial parts—cochlear implants, mind-brain interfaces, artificial hearts and other organs (soon an artificial eye), prosthetic limbs, neural implants and on and on. Even now, paralyzed people who have mind-brain interfaces are not simply constituted by a human organism, but by a human organism and nonorganic prosthetic devices. At some point, there could be enough nonorganic devices that support a person’s mental and behavioral functioning that we should say that her body is no longer organic. Yet, she would still exist. I take these considerations to show that the same person can be constituted by different bodies at different times.2 So, according to the constitution view, the persistence condition of persons does not require “same person → same body.”

The other essential property that I am calling attention to is the person’s essence, which furnishes her persistence condition: exemplifying a first-person perspective. The essence of a person—what I call her ‘primary-kind property’—has two stages. The first stage, the rudimentary stage, is an in-hand3 capacity for consciousness and intentionality. The second stage, the robust stage, is acquired as a person learns a natural language. The robust stage is an in-hand capacity to conceive of oneself as oneself in the first person. A person who asserts or thinks to herself, “I wonder how I’ll die” exercises a robust first-person perspective. The second occurrence of ‘I’ in such a complex linguistic or psychological sentence is conclusive evidence that the person has a robust first-person perspective.4 So, a person has a first-person perspective, rudimentary or robust, at every moment that she exists. In that case, she must come into existence with consciousness and intentionality. How can this be?

A person does not come into existence until a human organism (perhaps a fetus near birth), develops the ability to support consciousness and intentionality.5 The person constituted by the organism then has a second-order remote capacity to develop a capacity to be able to conceive of herself as herself in the first person.

Many animals (essentially organisms) also have rudimentary first-person perspectives, but they are not persons.6 Why not? There are at least three reasons, which distinguish human infants with a rudimentary first-person perspective (persons) from animals also with a rudimentary first-person perspective (not persons): (i) An animal has only a rudimentary first-person perspective, and that only contingently, but a person has a first-person perspective, rudimentary or robust, essentially; (ii) An animal never goes on to develop a robust first-person perspective, but a person typically does; and (iii) An animal (including an organism that constitutes a person) has biological persistence conditions, but a person has first-personal persistence conditions determined by her first-person perspective. (An entity’s persistence conditions set boundaries on the circumstances that the entity can survive.)

Metaphysically speaking, the essence of a person is a first-person perspective—a dispositional property in both rudimentary and robust stages. A mark of a dispositional property—having consciousness, having intentionality, having an (in-hand) ability to conceive of oneself as oneself in the first person—is that it is exemplified even when it is not being manifested. A person exemplifies a first-person perspective essentially, and manifests it in different ways on different occasions. The first-person perspective is manifested throughout one’s life in characteristically human activities—from making contracts to celebrating one’s anniversaries to pursuing fame by entering beauty contests to seeking forgiveness.

On the constitution view, the persistence condition for persons over time is sameness of exemplification of first-person perspective. I do not believe that there are any nontrivial sufficient conditions for sameness of exemplification of first-person perspective.7 The conditions for transtemporal personal identity are trivial, because sameness of exemplification of first-person perspective presupposes the sameness of person. This is not surprising, inasmuch as an exemplification of any property requires an object (or objects), a property (or properties), and a time (or times)—schematically, a’s exemplifying F at t. So, sameness of exemplification presupposes sameness of exemplifier—i.e., sameness of exemplification of first-person perspective presupposes sameness of person.

In order to be informative, conditions for transtemporal personal identity would have to formulate persistence in nonpersonal terms, or in terms of distinct shorter-lived objects.8 If we had such informative sufficient conditions, persons would reduce to them and hence would not be basic entities.

However, on my view, persons are basic entities: that is, being a person does not consist in satisfying nonpersonal or subpersonal conditions, such as psychological or physical continuity. (Support for this view comes from the fact that all of the various proposed informative conditions are in one way or another defective, and we have no reason to believe that the future will be different.) If I am right that being a person does not consist in satisfying some nonpersonal or subpersonal conditions, then any correct account of personal identity over time must be uninformative; otherwise it would be reductive.9

We do have persistence conditions for persons, even if they are uninformative. Person x is identical with person y, either on earth or in the resurrection, if and only if x and y are the same exemplifier of a first-person perspective (rudimentary or robust or both) throughout their existence.

Van Inwagen wonders how God “can cause the future person and me to have the same first-person perspective without there being any physical continuity between us.”10 That worry has a straightforward answer. God does not “cause the future person and me to have the same first-person perspective” at all. The connection between any person at any time and her first-person perspective is necessary; so if there is a person, there is already an exemplification of the first-person perspective, and some body or other.

In the resurrection, God makes two contributions: He freely decrees a particular person to exist (and hence that her first-person perspective be exemplified), and he freely decrees a certain body to constitute that person. I conclude that, by a miracle, the same person who died can be resurrected.11

Distinctness of Bodies

Not only does biotechnology provide empirical data to believe that the same person can be constituted by different bodies, but there are also Biblical reasons to think that, in fact, resurrection bodies are not identical to earthly bodies.12 So, let’s turn to Scripture.

Much of what Scripture says about resurrection bodies is metaphorical, but the metaphors support the idea that a resurrection body is distinct from an earthly body. Consider the following passages. First, I Cor. 15: What you sow is a seed or a bare kernel, but the seed is not the body that is to be; “I tell you this, brethren, flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.”

These metaphors suggest that resurrection bodies are distinct from earthly bodies. A house made by hands logically cannot be identical to a house not made by hands. Nor can (a body of) flesh and blood that is corruptible inherit the kingdom of God. And perishability/imperishability (or corruptibility/incorruptibility) are persistence conditions, essential to the bodies that have them. So, if earthly bodies are perishable, but resurrection bodies are not, the two bodies cannot be identical.

Someone may object that the same body could be perishable until time t, say at death, and then, by a miracle, become imperishable for eternity. No doubt, by a miracle, this could happen, but it does not follow that there is just one body—a body that changes from perishable to imperishable. Such a change would be a substantial change, rather like the change of Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt. Neither Lot’s wife nor her body could have been identical to a pillar of salt: a pillar of salt is essentially different from a human person and a human body. So, if the earthly body is perishable, and the resurrection body is not, these are two, fundamentally different kinds of bodies.

Many Christians take it that Jesus’s resurrection on the third day after he died is the model for all resurrection. What about the empty tomb, they ask? God could have raised Jesus and at the same time made a substantial change in his body, so that his resurrection body was distinct from his earthly body. In that case, the tomb would have been empty, and his resurrection body would have been a different body from his earthly body. In the stories of his resurrection appearances, Jesus still had his wounds, and he ate meals. But he also walked through walls and was initially unrecognized by his close associates. These latter events could not have occurred if he still was constituted by his mortal body. And as we have seen, biotechnology gives us reason to think that a person may come to be constituted by an inorganic body, which would be a substantially different body from our ordinary organic bodies. If the stories of the empty tomb and the resurrection appearances are evidence, they are evidence that, after death, Jesus had a body, not that he had the same body that constituted him at birth, or even that he had a body that was spatially and temporally continuous with his infant body.

Consideration of the Biblical descriptions of the differences between earthly bodies and “glorified” or “spiritual” bodies, with their incompatible persistence conditions, leads to denial of the identity of earthly and resurrection bodies.

No Souls

Finally, no person has a substantial immaterial soul. I have argued both for sameness of person on earth and in the resurrection, and, for difference of body on earth and in the resurrection. And this without any appeal to, or presupposition of, a substantial immaterial soul.16 With the idea of the rudimentary and robust first-person perspectives on hand, we have an entity with consciousness, self-consciousness, and language. The idea of an immaterial soul is just gratuitous—and, to me, incomprehensible. The constitution view has in its account all that is needed for persons—the first-person perspective (rudimentary and robust) as primary-kind property, and, essential embodiment for whatever mechanisms (or analogues of mechanisms) are required for the first-person perspective. These properties account for personal identity both at a time and across time. There is no work left for a soul to do.

In conclusion, I offer my constitution view of persons as backing for a Christian view of resurrection as sameness of person, difference of body, no soul.


God can bring about resurrection on this materialist model simply by willing it. On a traditional view, God knows all contingent truths by willing them. Whether or not a particular person exists is contingent, as is what body constitutes her. So, there are no metaphysical constraints on God’s willing a person to be resurrected. What is not contingent is that the person have a first-person perspective. God knows by his natural knowledge that anyone He resurrects has a first-person perspective. So if God wills Smith, say, to be resurrected, He thereby wills that the first-person perspective continue to be exemplified by Smith. Finally, the negative element of the model—no souls—requires nothing from God, because souls are just otiose. In the resurrection, as on earth, what we care about are whole embodied persons.


1. The qualification ‘relatively’ means ‘relative to other views of resurrection’.

2. For details, see Baker 2011.

3. Robert Pasnau draws a useful distinction between an in-hand capacity (a capacity that is ready to be exercised) and a remote capacity (a second-order capacity to acquire a capacity) in Pasnau 2002, p. 115. A normal baby has a remote capacity to ride a bicycle; when she learns how to ride, she has an in-hand capacity to ride a bicycle. When she actually rides, she exercises her in-hand capacity.

4. See Baker 2013a.

5. The fetus hands off, as it were, consciousness and intentionality to the person whom the fetus comes to constitute. The constituting fetus then has the properties of being conscious and having intentionality derivatively—in virtue of constituting a person, who has these properties nonderivatively. A constituting entity, in this case the fetus, is subsumed by the constituted entity, in this case the person.

6. Since there is no person being constituted, the mammal has the properties of being conscious and intentional nonderivatively.

7. Baker 2012, 2013b.

8. See Della Rocca 2011, 596. Appeal to souls would not help here. The identity of a soul depends on whose it is (pace Aquinas). See Baker 2005.

9. See Baker 2013a. In short, the property of being a person is the property of being an exemplifier of a first-person perspective essentially, where the first-person perspective either is or is almost certain to become robust. The property of being me (Lynne Baker) is the property of being this exemplifier of a first-person perspective. It is being this exemplifier of a first-person perspective that makes me me.

Peter van Inwagen has complained that I have given no noncircular informative meaning to the words ‘x and y have the same first-person perspective’ (Van Inwagen 2006). To this I reply: Of course. Having the same first-person perspective is too closely tied to being the same person to be characterized noncircularly.

10. Van Inwagen 2006.

11. And if there is an intermediate state, there can be a temporal gap in the person’s existence (they can be “asleep in Christ”) or God can freely decree an intermediate-state body in the same way that He decrees resurrection bodies.

12. I use the terms ‘resurrection bodies’ and ‘resurrected persons’, because it is persons whom God resurrects, and in the resurrection, persons have different (imperishable) bodies.

13. I Cor. 15: 42-50.

14. 1 Cor. 15:52. Overall, this passage in I Cor. also seems to imply that there must be some kind of “intermediate state” in which the person exists between death and the last trumpet. If there is such an intermediate state, God could just as easily furnish an intermediate-state body of the person as He could furnish the imperishable resurrection body. (So I think that John W. Cooper (Cooper 1989) was mistaken to argue that the intermediate state supports soul/body dualism.)

15. I Cor. 15: 35-54.

16. I believe that denying that persons have immaterial souls also provides an elegant way to understand the two-natures doctrine of Christ. Christ is wholly material in his human nature, and totally immaterial in his divine nature.


Baker, Lynne Rudder. 2000. Persons and Bodies: A Constitution View. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

———. 2005. “Death and the Afterlife.” In The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Mind, edited by William J. Wainwright, 366–91. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

———. 2007. The Metaphysics of Everyday Life: An Essay in Practical Realism. Cambridge University Press.

———. 2011. “Christian Materialism in an Age of Science.” In International Journal for the Philosophy of Religion 70: 47–59.

———. 2012. “Personal Identity: A Not-So-Simple Simple View.” In Personal Identity: Complex or Simple?, edited by Matthias Stephan and Georg Gasser. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

———. 2013a. Naturalism and the First-Person Perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

———. 2013b. “Three-Dimensionalism Rescued: A Brief Reply to Michael Della Rocca.” In Journal of Philosophy 110 (3): 166–70.

Cooper, John W. 1989. Body, Soul, and Life Everlasting. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Della Rocca, Michael. 2011. “Primitive Persistence and the Impasse Between Three-Dimensionalism and Four-Dimensionalism.” In Journal of Philosophy 108 (11): 591–616.

Van Inwagen, Peter. 2006. “I Look for the Resurrection of the Dead and the Life of the World to Come.” unpublished–Online pdf.

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How Could Anyone Be a Dualist?

Dean Zimmerman

Opening Statement

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.

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Jumping from Body to Body When We Die?

Dean Zimmerman

Critical Response to Lynne Rudder Baker

Lynne’s theory of personal identity allows for a person’s surviving death by leaving this body behind and acquiring a new one, without the need for an immaterial soul that inhabits both bodies. The details of her theory are a bit complicated, turning upon some technical philosophical notions: (1) a “first-person perspective”; and, (2) the “exemplification” of a property.

A “first-person perspective” is, Lynne says, a “dispositional property” — an ability to think of oneself in a “first-personal” way; and it is, she thinks, essential to persons. A dispositional property is what philosopher’s call a universal, something that can be exemplified by many different persons. If Lynne is right, the mental ability of being able to think of oneself in this first-personal way is common to all persons, exemplified by all of them, and so “universal” within the group of persons. But, metaphysician that she is, Lynne is prepared to posit more things than just the individual persons and the common property they exemplify; there is also each person’s exemplification of that one property. Exemplifications of a property by a number of persons are rather like events; each exemplification is like an event happening to just one of the persons. For example, all the members of a dance troupe might kick the same type of kick, one after the other. Kicking in that way is a common property, a universal, something that each of them exemplifies. But it is natural to say that, in addition to each dancer and the universal property of kicking in that way, there are the individual kicks that happen one after another — a series of events consisting of each individual’s exemplification of the property. Lynne is supposing that something similar is true even for dispositional properties; when many persons exemplify the same dispositional property, there is a different exemplification of that property for each person — and it is to these exemplifications that she appeals in her theory about personal identity.

So I have a dispositional property, an ability, which she calls a “first-person perspective.” And in addition to me and the property, there is a further event-like thing: my particular exemplification of this property — which is different from your exemplification of it, even if we are exactly similar in our psychological abilities. What is the point of introducing this further thing, this exemplification of the first-personal disposition? Lynne makes use of exemplifications in stating persistence conditions for persons: “the persistence condition for persons over time is sameness of exemplification of first-person perspective.” In other words, for some future creature to be the same person as me is for its exemplification of this disposition to be the same as the one associated with me now. On her view, the matter in my body could cease to exemplify a first-person perspective (say, when this body dies), so that I cease to be constituted by it; and then, elsewhere in time and space, some future creature could be made of entirely different stuff, exemplifying the ability to think of itself in a “first-personal” way; and, so long as that creature’s exemplification of this power or ability is the same as my current exemplification of it, that creature would be me.

What does it mean to say that “sameness of exemplification of first-person perspective” is the criterion of personal identity, and that it is compatible with all-at-once changes of constituting matter? It is comparable to taking some essential power or disposition of a planet — say, the attractive powers it has in virtue of being an essentially massive body — and then saying that the identity of a planet’s exemplification of this power provides its conditions of persistence, and that identity of exemplification is consistent with being made out of completely different matter. The minerals constituting a planet could be blown apart, and somewhere else similar matter could come together to form a planet, and that planet would be the very same planet so long as its exemplification of gravitational attractive power is the very same exemplification as the one associated with the earlier planet. Lynne does not think that exemplification of this particular disposition — gravitational attraction — can be used to give persistence conditions for anything that could jump from one batch of minerals to another in this way. But the proposed theory of planetary identity has the same structure as her theory of personal identity.

Can anything positive be said about the conditions in which an exemplification of a first-person perspective by something at one time is the same as the exemplification of a first-person perspective by something at some other time? Lynne says that “being a person does not consist in satisfying nonpersonal or subpersonal conditions, such as psychological or physical continuity.” In particular, a future person, created by God out of whole cloth, could exemplify my first-person perspective — and so be identical with me — without displaying any psychological or physical continuity with me. The only thing that can be said about sameness of exemplification of first-person perspective is that it is the same if and only if it belongs to the same person. The notion of an exemplification of a property is introduced to provide persistence conditions, but the conditions turn out to be trivial ones. At bottom, sameness of person is a brute fact on her view, one that can float free from facts about what happens to the bodies that constitute persons and the mental states that are associated with these bodies.

For my part, I cannot make much out of such brute facts for complex material objects. If one group of things, like organisms, consists entirely of atoms in various configurations, then the whole history of the universe told in terms of what the atoms do will tell the whole history of what the organisms do. Given that they are made entirely out of atoms, the organisms cannot jump around independently. Fix the locations in space and time of all the atoms, and one has determined all the facts about where the organisms are, and which are identical with which.

Lynne finds the idea of a soul — an immaterial thinking substance — “incomprehensible” (but presumably only in the finite case; she believes in at least one immaterial thinking substance, namely, God). I find incomprehensible the idea that an entirely material object, with the size and shape and constitution of an organism, could be unconstrained in its trajectory by the histories of all the bits of matter in the universe. Her persons are able to pass like shadows over the physical stuff of our world, jumping from one place to another without constraint — without the transfer of any physical stuff, or even the transfer of energy or information. I am prepared to grant that there may be highly derivative entities capable of such feats — things like restaurants, which can “move” from one side of town to the other in virtue of the signing of a contract, without any movement of bricks or wood. But highly derivative things do not have a significant causal impact on the rest of the world — at least, not in their own right. It’s not the restaurant as such that takes up space, reflects light, and so on. A particular assemblage of brick and wood does these things — whichever one happens to constitute the restaurant at a given time. All the mundane powers of the restaurant are, in the first instance, powers exercised by more fundamental physical substances.

So, though I certainly want to allow that there exist things like restaurants, which can jump from one place to another without the transfer of matter or information, changing all their parts at once, I take them to be highly derivative entities: they may coincide with real physical objects, with real physical powers and propensities, but they do not themselves have causal powers in any full-blooded sense.

When some physical stuff comes together to compose an object, the arrangement and nature of the bits of stuff confers upon the object certain powers and propensities, including tendencies to continue to exist under some circumstances and cease to exist under others. Some of the properties of the whole will be predictable in boring ways from those of the parts — for example, the mass of the whole from the mass of the parts, the location of the whole from the location of the parts. Others might be more surprising, perhaps even deserving of the label “emergent” properties. However, I do not see room for two physical objects made out of the same stuff arranged in the same way but differing in their causal powers and propensities, including differences in their ability to continue to exist. So I have problems with Lynne’s coincident physical objects — objects that are exactly similar in their constitution, but they differ markedly in some of their powers. The organism that coincides with me is exactly like me, but it cannot survive squashing, while I can — by “jumping into” some other organism elsewhere.

There is an example of something like complete coincidence at a time that I can make sense of, but it involves entities of very different kinds. In formal logic, mathematics, and allied subjects, it is important to have a clear notion of a set, class, or collection of things. A set of things is not a whole with those things as its parts; it is those things “taken as many,” and it will exist even if they do not compose a whole (assuming not every group of things automatically composes something larger). The notion of a set of things implies the existence of a special kind of set: namely, the singleton, a set containing just one thing as a member.

Let’s dig further into the relationship between a thing and its singleton. If I can make sense of the notion of a set with just one member, I can make sense of this distinction; and it is an example of something like coincidence of two objects at a time. For example, since I am the only member of my singleton — the set that contains just me — it is not crazy to say that my singleton is located where I am (where else would it be?). It sounds slightly stranger to assign it the same weight as me. It sounds odder still to say that, when I kick something, the set that contains only me kicks it too; but it is hard to say exactly what’s wrong with saying this. Still, the way in which a set can have a location, a mass, and physical effects is entirely derivative — it is the member, in the first instance, that has these properties; the set does nothing by itself.

Sets — and the more elaborate sets known as “functions”, which can be thought of as sets of ordered pairs — can be used to generate all kinds of derivative entities to play the roles of restaurants and other things that borrow their causal powers from more fundamental physical objects. The function that pairs each time with the hunk of wood and brick that makes up a certain restaurant at that time can be simply identified with the restaurant. Then there’s little mystery about how it can be in the same place at the same time as a hunk of wood and brick. After all, the sense in which the function is located in space at a time is rather different, more indirect; it is entirely in virtue of the fact that the hunks of matter paired with the times have location in a more fundamental fashion. There is also no mystery about how the restaurant can jump across town without the movement of any physical stuff. A function “jumps” only in the sense that the function pairs neighboring times with non-overlapping physical objects. Since functions are not physical objects subject to physical laws, no laws are violated by such behavior.

All the best ways to make room for coincident objects — at least all the ones I know of and can understand — are similar to this one; they allow for things that can jump around without transfer of matter or information, but they do so by treating them as derivative entities — more abstract than the hunks of matter that are doing the real pushing and pulling in the physical world. Since I take myself to be a genuine cause, something that does some real pushing and pulling, I can’t bring myself to believe that I am a function or anything like a function. So, I cannot believe that I am a derivative entity, as the only promising form of coincidence would require.

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Is Disembodied Existence Central to Christianity?

Lynne Rudder Baker

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 this exemplifier 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.


1. There is a third philosophical disagreement that I will not discuss. Zimmerman appears to think that if there is no “precise instant” at which something (an organism or a brain) comes into existence, then it is either a “vague object” like a cloud, or that its beginning is settled by stipulation, or that we “speak indiscriminately about the whole host” of candidate objects “ready to be picked out by our [semantic] decisions.” I think that this is simply false. It presupposes a semantic account of vagueness, but there is no reason to rule out a priori an ontological account of vagueness. Everything in the natural world comes into existence gradually, and hence has no precise beginning, but we do not think that everything is like a cloud, or that our words pick out whole hosts of things. We simply think that things have ontologically indeterminate beginnings and that they come into existence gradually—quite independently of our language.

2. “Carburetor” 1989.

3. For details, see Baker 1995, 195–199.

4. For a different example about a bronze statue and a piece of bronze marble in a plumbing system, see Baker 1997.

5. For details of my view of constitution, see Baker 2000; Baker 2007; Baker 2008; Baker 2013.

6. The existence of God doesn’t present the same difficulty because nobody thinks that we fully understand Him.

7. Cooper 1989. 


Baker, Lynne Rudder. 1995. Explaining Attitudes: A Practical Approach to the Mind. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

———. 1997. “Why Constitution Is Not Identity.” Journal of Philosophy 94: 599–621.

———. 2000. Persons and Bodies: A Constitution View. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

———. 2007. The Metaphysics of Everyday Life: An Essay in Practical Realism. Cambridge University Press.

———. 2008. “Response to Eric Olson.” Abstracta: Revista de Filosofia 1: 43–45.

———. 2013. Naturalism and the First-Person Perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

“Carburetor.” 1989. Academic American Encyclopedia. Danbury , CT: Grolier.

Cooper, John W. 1989. Body, Soul, and Life Everlasting. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.


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Deep Metaphysical Differences

Lynne Rudder Baker

Reply to Dean Zimmerman's Critical Response

First, I’d like to thank Dean Zimmerman for his thoughtful and thought-provoking essays.

My basic difference with Dean, I believe, is a deep metaphysical difference: I do not think that what a particular thing is made up of—organic matter, silicone, spiritual “stuff” or something else—determines what the thing is. Not even structure is a reliable guide (think of sculptures). What a thing is is determined by its primary kind.1

Dean is right that my view depends on the idea of constitution, but unlike Dean, I believe that constitution is more than spatial coincidence. Moreover, I do not believe that the constituting thing is more fundamental than the constituted thing: on my view, a person is more fundamental—has greater ontological significance—than the body that constitutes her. (I would like to turn mainstream metaphysics on its head.)

Dean’s remarks on functions and how their values are derivative entities that can “jump” are quite interesting, but there is no reason to think that I am stuck with any such view. I don’t think that “all the best ways to make room for coincident objects” treat ordinary things as derivative entities. Mine doesn’t. On my view, (1) constituted objects, though spatially coincident, do not “jump,” and (2) they are not derivative entities.

(1) Consider my driver’s license, constituted now by a particular piece of plastic. Suppose that it melts in a fire and is replaced. What gets replaced? The piece of plastic. I would have the same license, with the same driving record. Was there any “jumping”? I don’t think so. There would be “jumping” only if you thought that the license just was identical to the piece of plastic that constituted it. But what makes something a license is not the same as what makes it a piece of plastic. So, the license is not identical to the piece of plastic, and my particular license, issued on 12/31/2013, can continue to exist constituted by an entirely different piece of plastic.

In the natural world, human persons are subject to the same natural laws as every other kind of concrete object; we do not “jump from one place to another without constraint.” And my view of constitution does not imply otherwise.

(2) A driver’s license is not a derivative entity. A driver’s license has different and greater causal powers than its constituting piece of plastic would have had if it had constituted nothing. Again, what is constituted (e.g. a driver’s license, a person) has greater ontological significance than what constitutes it (e.g., a piece of plastic, a human body).

In The Metaphysics of Everyday Life and elsewhere, you can see that my view of constitution does not imply that persons are derivative entities.2 Like Dean, I take myself to be a genuine cause that “does some real pushing and pulling.” I exercise these powers by moving my constituting body.

Let’s turn back from constitution in general to persons. Each person, unlike other objects in the material world, is unique; persons, unlike atoms, are not interchangeable. Hence, I need to appeal to something more fine-grained than the property of being a person, or of having a first-person perspective essentially—something more fine-grained than a property that all persons share. That’s why I turned to the idea of exemplification of a first-person perspective essentially. It is my exemplification of the property of having a first-person perspective essentially that makes me me, and your exemplification of the property of having a first-person perspective essentially that makes you you.

If you find the idea of exemplification of a property too obscure, you can suppose instead that there is a different property for each person, such that one person, and only one person, can have it essentially. You can say: LB has the property of having a first-person perspective(LB) essentially, and Dean has the property of having a first-person perspective(DZ) essentially, and so on. In that way, you can avoid reference to exemplifications and still retain the constitution view. For my part, I prefer to appeal to different exemplifications of the same property, rather than to different individualized properties.

By the way, I do not think that there are any logically sufficient criteria for personal identity over time. So, I take the identity of persons over time to be primitive—a “brute fact,” as Dean calls it—and hence I must deny that having a first-person perspective is a criterion of personal identity, on pain of circularity.

In every case, resurrection is a miracle performed by God. On my model—same person, different body, no soul—there is not a new person in the resurrection; there is only a new body, a spiritual body. Admittedly, I don’t know what a spiritual body would be like, but I am confident that no immaterial soul is required.


1. cf. Lynne Rudder Baker, Naturalism and the First-Person Perspective (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 224-225.

2. Lynne Rudder Baker, The Metaphysics of Everyday Life: An Essay in Practical Realism (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 32-39.

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What Is Our Relationship to Our Bodies?

Dean Zimmerman

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.1 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.


1. Zimmerman, Dean. 2012. “Personal Identity and the Survival of Death”, in The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Death, ed. by Ben Bradley, Fred Feldman, and Jens Johansson (Oxford: Oxford University Press), pp. 97-153