Farris on Edwards on the Imago Dei
March 27, 2017 — 4:22

Author: Kenny Pearce  Category: Christian Theology  Tags: , , , , , ,   Comments: 0

Chapter 5 of Idealism and Christian Theology is “Edwardsian Idealism, Imago Dei, and Contemporary Theology” by Joshua Farris. This is an interesting article that directly and constructively addresses one of the central theological issues raised by metaphysical idealism of the Berkeley/Edwards variety. However, I was left with some confusion about what the paper’s overall lesson was meant to be.

Farris frames the central question here as how, given Edwards’ idealism, he can understand the imago dei doctrine in a way that does not devalue the body. Edwards is said to be drawing on but ‘reconceiving’ the prior tradition of Reformed theological anthropology. This prior tradition is said to rely on substance dualism. However, at one point substance dualism is defined as “the belief that humans are soul-body units” and ‘hylomorphic dualism’ is said to be another name for this same view (85). In the present context, the difference between substance dualism, which holds that the human soul and body are separate substances somehow connected to one another, and hylomorphic dualism, which denies that the soul and body are separate substances and holds instead that a complete substance is made only by their union, is quite important. Substance dualism has often been criticized for making the body a kind of optional appendage to the human person: we would still be what we are if we were disembodied. The hylomorphic view, on the other hand, takes the union of soul and body as primary. Accordingly, even if (as on the view Farris attributes to the prior Reformed tradition) the imago dei is primarily a matter of the possession of certain mental attributes, nevertheless what possesses these attributes is a substance whose nature is to be embodied. The embodiment is not accidental, nor is it bad. The hylomorphic view provides a better explanation than the substance dualist view of the sense in which the human person may be the breath of God dwelling in the dust of the earth. For this reason, it matters whether Edwards is compared with substance dualism or hylomorphic dualism. Farris calls the view he is comparing Edwards against ‘substance dualism’, but recognizes no distinction between this and hylomorphic dualism.

In any event, on Farris’s interpretation of Edwards, everything is just divine ideas, and the distinctive feature of human beings which makes them the image of God is that they have ideas that represent God. This provides a straightforward sense of ‘image’—humans are in fact representations of or about God. Similarly, it provides a straightforward sense in which humans can be said to reflect God’s glory. It also provides a straightforward sense in which we can talk about the image of God being defaced but not destroyed by the Fall, and ultimately restored in the eschaton.

But I see two problems here. First, I’m again worried that this is just Spinoza. Farris recognizes this problem in note 52 (p. 103), where he writes, “One might still argue that Edwards’ unusual brand of idealism-constant creation-panentheism collapses into Spinoza’s pantheism, but the manner in which Edwards defines the substances would not reduce to pantheism because created minds retain individual properties distinguishing them from the Creator-God.” But this does not distinguish Edwards from Spinoza, for Spinoza holds that modes of God may possess modes of their own, at least in some sense. After all, even though the ball is round and the ball is a mode of God, it’s not really correct to say God is round. So Farris is getting Spinoza wrong here. Now, one could simply respond, on Edwards’ behalf, that a Christian can actually take on board large parts of Spinoza’s metaphysics of the relationship of God to finite beings, and the differences with Spinoza will be found elsewhere (perhaps in the affirmation of divine freedom in creation and divine goodness in a moral sense). It would be interesting to see that case made, but it is not made here.

The second problem is that this seems to attribute hardly any importance to the body. Despite setting this issue up as one of his key concerns, in the end all Farris says about it is that those who charge Edwardsian idealism with denigrating the body have not made a case for why this should be so (97-98). But this is a strange thing for Farris to say, since he has just given an account of the imago dei that says so little about the body, or how the mind/soul is joined to it. Perhaps the problem is supposed to be solved by giving some role to the physical in communicating the image of God to human beings, or helping us to gain deeper union with God (as suggested on p. 93), but this is not spelled out.

(Cross-posted at blog.kennypearce.net.)

Virtual Colloquium: Perry Hendricks, “An Empirical Argument for Substance Dualism”
October 21, 2016 — 6:00

Author: Kenny Pearce  Category: Afterlife  Tags: , , , , , ,   Comments: 15

Today’s colloquium paper is “An Empirical Argument for Substance Dualism” by Perry Hendricks. Hendricks is a graduate student in philosophy at Trinity Western University in British Columbia, where he also received his BA. His interests include philosophy of mind, philosophy of religion, and epistemology.


An Empirical Argument for Substance Dualism

Perry Hendricks

A common problem with arguments for dualism is that they rely on modal premises that are only supported by dubious intuitions. This results in the arguments having a narrow scope—only those who already hold the needed intuitions will find them to be convincing. In this paper, I try to remedy this situation by constructing a new modal argument whose key premise is empirically supported. I begin by formulating the physicalist thesis and make clear its commitments. Next I explicate the notions of reduction and substance. After this, I argue that Twin Earth—a physical duplicate of Earth (including its history and its inhabitants) is possible and that this possibility is empirically supported. I finish by showing that the possibility of Twin Earth entails that selves cannot be reduced and are not supervenient, and this entails that they are non-physical. Further, since selves are substances, it follows that substance dualism is true.

It is not uncommon to hear the argument that if there is an afterlife, then dualism must be true. However, dualism is false, and hence there is not an afterlife. It is also not uncommon to hear the argument that if dualism is true, then the probability of theism rises. I find neither of these theses compelling—I think that physicalism is compatible with an afterlife and that dualism does not raise the probability of theism—but if my argument is correct, it will provide a way to circumvent the first argument while providing support for the crucial premise of the second (i.e. that dualism is true). However, my argument will bring out a new challenge for theism: if the argument that I defend here is successful, then it follows that God acted arbitrarily in actualizing me over another self (or person). This is because multiple selves could have served the causal role that I do. But then why pick me over someone else? What could possibly ground this choice?

In its barest form, my argument is that physicalism entails that everything that exists is at least minimally supervenient, but selves are not minimally supervenient. Hence physicalism is false. Further, since selves are not minimally supervenient, it follows that they are non-physical. To show that selves are not minimally supervenient, I argue that they cannot be functionally reduced because it is possible for multiple selves to play the same causal role in the world.

One objection that I have pondering recently is that Twin Perry and I do not have identical causal roles because of our differing spatial locations. That is, Twin Perry’s causal role is (slightly) different than mine because he is causally related to Earth in a way that I am not, and I am causally related to Twin Earth in a way that he is not. While I’m not convinced that this difficulty is insurmountable (it is not clear to me that these differences are relevant given my definition of the self), we could tweak the argument to get around this objection as follows. First, note that Twin Earth and Twin Perry are possible. Second, note that this entails that Twin Perry can cause the same actions as I do—Twin Perry and I have overlapping causal powers. Lastly, note that this entails that my causal role does not point only to me, for Twin Perry could cause the same actions—play the same causal role—as I do. Hence Twin Perry and I may be inverted, and the objection mentioned above is rendered irrelevant.


The complete paper is here. Discussion welcome below!