In philosophy, dualism refers to the idea that there are two types of stuff in the universe. One type is the matter and energy that traditional physics deals with. The other is mind, or soul, or spirit. There has been much debate as to whether dualism actually makes logical sense, and if it does, if it has more explanatory power than monism.

Dualism comes in three basic types:

Dualistic interactionism; The mind (or soul or spirit) and the body (atoms and molecules and meat) interact with each other. This version is most popular, and is the default assumption for much of the human race.

Parallelism; The mind and body exist alongside one another, but do not effect or interact with the other.

Epiphenomenalism; The mind is just a by-product of the material world. (Like the sound of a babbling brook--the sound is caused by the water, but does not effect the water, and the sound of one moment does not affect the sound of the next)

Dualism & the Philosophy of Logic

Dualism is one of the four major problems for the philosophy of logic, the other three being abstraction, incommensurability and the problem of boundaries. Dualism is a way that we create divisions (dichotomy) in the world. However, dualism is not really a division at all, but a relationship in which the terms are bound together and the distinction between the two is dependent upon the relationship. In a dualism, terms are defined by what they are not (e.g., male is defined as not-female and female as not-male). The philosopher Val Plumwood has the following to say about dualism: "[it] can be seen as an alienated form of differentiation, in which power construes and constructs difference in terms of an inferior and alien realm."

Examples of dualisms include: male/female, white/non-white (race), reason/nature, culture/nature, master/slave, rationality/animality, reason/emotion, production/reproduction, self/other, subject/object, public/private and civilized/primitive.

Dualism lies at the heart of a number of social problems, most notably racism and sexism. However, it is not the act of negative definitions that causes these problems, according to Plumwood, but rather the way that negation is treated that leads to these problems.

Val Plumwood illustrates this potential for domination by describing five features of dualism: backgrounding, radical exclusion, relational definition, instrumentalism, and homogenization.

Backgrounding is the process of making one side of the dualism inessential background for the other. This can be seen in the male/female dualism in which women become merely background for what is seen as the important side of the relation, men. They are now apart from the activities of men, which are valued.

Radical exclusion is the belief that a particular dualistic relationship is an absolute difference. That is to say that the two terms of the relationship have absolutely nothing in common. If one side of the dualism has a characteristic, it is impossible for the other side to also have that characteristic. This feature of dualism is a major part of racism. Races that are divided in this way, white and non-white for example, are believed to be fundamentally different, lacking any common features. This denies the possibility of a common humanity and drives the belief that "there is no reason to apply principles relevant to one side of the dualism to the other" (Scott L. Pratt, 2006).

Relational definition is the belief that one side of the dualistic relationship defines the other. Thus, whatever qualities define one term are necessary to define the other. Scott Pratt provides the example of the reason/emotion dualism. "If reason is a process that is objective and formal" then emotion must be "subjective and informal (unstructured)" (Scott L. Pratt 2006).

Plumwood's fourth feature is instrumentalism. This is the defining of one side of the dualism based on its role in service to the other side. The relationship between humans and nature is often viewed as an instrumentalist dualism in which nature is viewed as being fundamentally different and separate from man, existing only as a resource to mankind.

The last feature Plumwood describes is homogenization. Homogenization is the belief that all parts of one side must be the same. In order for the division's integrity to hold strong all members of the terms in question must be similar to each other and different from all things on the other side of the dualism. For example, the male/female dualism presents social pressure to conform to the standards set for men and women. A more extreme example of homogenization occurs when individuals who cannot be accounted for by a dualism (e.g., transsexuals or people of mixed-race) are forced into one group (usually the weaker of the two) and assigned the traits that are expected of members of that category.

Dualism is really a cultural phenomenon caused by man's tendency to classify things relative to his own position and interests in the situation. It is very interesting the way that these dualisms seem to revolve around power relations. However, that is another discussion entirely. Dualism poses a number of problems for logic and is deeply tied to both the problems of abstraction and incommensurability.

The problems dualism poses
A main goal of logic from a realist perspective is to form a system for grouping things together based solely on the way that the world presents itself to us. When we make a division between things we should hope that the division is real and present in the things themselves. However, dualisms in our world today seem to point out that many of our divisions are relative to our interests. Is it possible to reject dualism and accept division as the basis for a logical system, and, if so, can this provide a new and better logic for us, or will we only be left with some form of radical relativism?

Dualism is the doctrine that there exist two fundamentally different sorts of thing in this universe, which we might call 'mind' and 'matter'. It is usually discussed in the context of the mind/body problem - the puzzling fact that experiences, thoughts and feelings appear to us quite different from the physical things that by and large seem to make up everything else in the universe, even though there is clearly some kind of intimate connection between the mind and the brain.

Nowadays most scientists take a materialist* attitude to the problem, in the sense of holding that everything is matter. That is, the stuff of the universe consistently obeys the laws of physics, and anything we ever experience must ultimately arise from those laws, however many layers of explanation might be required in between. This is a form of monism, the idea that everything consists of variations on kind of stuff; the other main form of monism is idealism, which holds that there is nothing but mind, and all seeming physical manifestations arise from that.

Descartes thought he had some knock-down arguments for why thoughts and feelings must be fundamentally independent from the physical world, and he speculated that maybe our spirits interact with our bodies through the medium of the pineal gland. Descartes was surely a genius of world-shaking proportions, but all the same he thought a lot of silly things. In retrospect his arguments for some of them were kind of deranged.

Daniel Dennett is also plainly a genius, and I'm very much enjoying reading Consciousness Explained at last, but it happens that what he thinks is a knock-down argument against dualism is also pretty weak. His argument rests on the idea that if something interacts with physical matter, it is by definition a form of physical matter itself. Hence there is no way something could interact with our world without being subject to its laws of physics. The whole thing falls down if you consider the form of our interaction with computer games - we control avatars which may or may not obey the same laws as the rest of the game, and we ourselves are totally unaffected by in-game physics. Higher-dimensional or pure-thought beings interacting with our four-dimensional universe might well be in a rather similar position.

Could the world be something like a giant computer game, then? Our minds might exist in some other universe - perhaps they even lead other existences outside of the game, temporarily forgotten while we play through this life. Can we rule out this possibility? No - but I think we can come pretty close.

The biggest problem with any conception of the universe including a mind or self which doesn't arise chiefly from the actions of the brain is that our thinking is quite clearly modified on a basic level by things happening to our brains. If something else is doing the thinking, that other thing is clearly transformed somehow by things like brain injuries and drugs. Our 'players' - or 'spirits' to use the more traditional term - lose or gain certain faculties as a result of the bodies they're controlling. It's not inconceivable, but if the mind is neither the brain, nor something produced by the brain, then why would it be changed so profoundly by what happens to the brain?

It's a lot for a dualist conception of the cosmos to accommodate. It starts to look as though things have been specially set up so that it looks as much as possible like minds are actually offshoots of brains. It's quite conceivable that they could have been set up that way, of course - maybe our players have drugs injected into their brains when we take drugs, or maybe it happens to be a magical feature of the body-spirit link that our spirits lose the ability to handle language when certain parts of the brain get damaged (in which case what should we expect to happen when the whole brain is damaged beyond repair?). It seems highly likely that a more straightforward explanation could be found which supposes that the profound link between minds and brains is there because it has to be - because one is the result of the other.

All of this leaves us, of course, with the very interesting question of how our subjective experiences can possibly arise out of physics, chemistry and biology. It also leaves untouched the related question of how much of cognition is specifically down to the brain; it may be that our sense of self is an emergent feature of our embodiment, and it may be that cognition takes place on a significantly larger scale, or that thought-like processes occur in other types of physical system, as animism and pandeism always maintained. Serious exploration of these sorts of questions is only possible with some understanding of how consciousness arises in the first place.

Maybe some will still think that explaining conscious experience in terms of physical processes is such a tall order that there must be some other explanation entirely. However, the difficulty of imagining something is not always a strong argument for its impossibility, and it is not clear that the arguments against materialist explanations for the mind amount to anything more than that. This natural incredulity may well be dispelled by further study - and either way, explaining the known facts about interactions between mind and brain any other way is a pretty tall order too.

* It's probably worth flagging up, in case it's not obvious, that the philosophical meanings of 'materialism' and 'idealism' have almost nothing to do with what they mean in popular use.

Du"al*ism (?), n. [Cf. F. dualisme.]

State of being dual or twofold; a twofold division; any system which is founded on a double principle, or a twofold distinction

; as: (a) Philos.

A view of man as constituted of two original and independent elements, as matter and spirit

. Theol. (b)

A system which accepts two gods, or two original principles, one good and the other evil

. (c)

The doctrine that all mankind are divided by the arbitrary decree of God, and in his eternal foreknowledge, into two classes, the elect and the reprobate

. (d) Physiol.

The theory that each cerebral hemisphere acts independently of the other.

An inevitable dualism bisects nature, so that each thing is a half, and suggests another thing to make it whole. Emerson.


© Webster 1913.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.