Blog article under: Metaphysics

What’s particular about humans?

I want you to imagine yourself freely taking part in a questionnaire regarding particular worldviews. The first question on the survey asks, “where do humans come from?” For some, the answer comes immediately. For others, it may take some thinking. However, you write down your answer next to question one. You go down the list of questions until you see the final one comprised of two parts. Part A asks, “Are humans composed of a duality of mind and body of which each are strictly physical existing thing? Or are they composed of a duality of body and mind that interacts with one another? Part B then asks, “Is the human person a strictly physical entity or does a human person possess a non-physical mind or soul?” How you respond will affect how one see’s person hood and other social, ethical, and religious commitments.

I presented the following scenario to bring up a number of important points:

  1. First off, you are the only one qualified to answer such a questionnaire. For Humans only possess such capacities to “self-reflect,” “understand” and either “maintain or change” a number of past committed worldviews as one brings the memory into the forefront of the mind as they recall such information to adequately answer the above series of questions. What is it about the ‘mental experience’ that is easily accessible to you and I at any given moment of Time T1 Now to Time T2 twenty years from now, assuming your faculties are not defective, that you can even rely on your past cognitive memories and experiences? How is it even possible that you could asses such questions regarding particular worldviews and make any correction to your reservoir of knowledge? All this is being done, because you, as a human, are particularly suited to interact with your environment and with your conscience awareness of your inner self (you have an identity, personality and psycho-social history).

I want to start with a brief primer in Metaphysics regarding particulars. Metaphysics is the study of the reality of categories, that is of the category of existing things.  One such discipline in Metaphysics is called ontology, or study of being. Humans belong to the category of Human beings, and with that have substance. Substances are what the subject that properties are had by, for example, as a human being, I am a substance, and therefore a particular existing thing, a human being. As a human being, I have characteristics that are not themselves in the category of substances, but are had or found in substances. For example, I have black hair, blackness is never found by itself but is always in or had by particulars. Objects in the world of existing things have characteristics or what are called properties.

It is consistent with a metaphysical ontology and the reality of what we know of consciousness, that humans indeed have the capacity to be aware that they are self-aware. That they can have mental thoughts of the “aboutness” of something, and not be constricted by deterministic physicality means.  That I am a free moral being capable of making decision in which I am ultimately responsible for. All of these ‘inner states’ are part of the consciousness of the owner of experiences, which is the self, Soul or the mind.

Geoffrey Maddell, professor of philosophy at the University of Edinburgh, regarding the problem of consciousness, remarked:

“The emergence of consciousness, then is a mystery, and one to which materialism signally fails to provide an answer.”1

According to Christian Theology, man is made in the image and likeness of God. Having a rational, emotional and spiritual component, with beliefs, desires and free will. Thus, man is comprised of a duality of body and soul.
Also, persons have a continuity of identity over time. That is, our personality ‘endures’ through time and space even though we may suffer the death of our bodies. As an immaterial substance, we will spend immortality somewhere.
Although we may have changes to our properties added on to us, say, the property of brownness to our hairs may change to greyness as we reach older age, our substance as a person remains the same. Although, I may have mental events such as the having of a thought that may change a present decision from a past one, I still remain as a substance, Jason, with all the essential and non-essential properties applied to my existence. That is because to remain the same is to be permanent. What has permanence? Is it physical things that have such permanence? We see in nature cause and effect relations, such as the rusting of objects over time, things decay and are destroyed, so what then remains? My soul, or consciousness, will remain despite what may happen to my body in this life.  The New Testament gospel of Matthew tells us not to fear those who can kill the body but fear the one who can kill both soul and body in hell. We are going to spend eternity somewhere, since we are souls, we are going to be conscious of our experience in the afterlife, it is up to us, to decide whether we are willing to accept the reality of God, his word that he’s communicated to us as found in the Old and New Testaments, and what our response is to the grace offered to us by the sacrificial death of Jesus upon the cross made possible by God rising him from the dead. How we see ourselves, as persons created in the image of God, in need of a savior, and willing to spend eternity with that savior, or as a physical being that came from nothing and will die for nothing and into nothing. That question is always open, and it is my hope that you will allow the possibility of a Christian worldview be your guide in answering those questions.

1)Madell, Geoffrey.  Mind and Materialism. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1988, 141.

References   [ + ]

1. Madell, Geoffrey.  Mind and Materialism. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1988, 141.

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