Moreland's Substance Dualism Part II: An Argument from the Indexicality of Thoughts
We turn now to survey an argument offered by Moreland to support substance dualism. I have chosen this one from among his extensive arsenal simply because I find it interesting and compelling. Also known as the argument from the experience of first-person subjectivity, this line of reasoning seems true prima facie. It is based largely on a proper understanding of indexicals (expressions of a first-person point of view, e.g., I, here, now), but is helped considerably by first-person introspection. Before delving into the argument itself, a review of these concepts will no doubt prove helpful.
Introspection is nothing new. It is, in fact, the oldest research technique in psychology. There are various types of introspection, but we are interested only in its cognitive form. Introspection comes in two levels: (1) Simple, which refers to a direct report of sensations, feelings, and/or thoughts, and (2) reflective, which refers to one’s reactions (both cognitive and affective) to what one is experiencing and reporting. Hilary Kornblith has observed:
If we wish to know what is going on in someone else’s mind, we must observe their behaviour; on the basis of what we observe, we may sometimes reasonably draw a conclusion about the person’s mental state. Thus, for example, on seeing someone smile, we infer whether they are upset. But this is not, at least typically, the way in which we come to know our own mental states. We do not need to examine our own behaviour in order to know how we feel, what we believe, what we want and so on…. The term used to describe this special mode of access which we seem to have to our own mental states is ‘introspection.1
Thus, “you experience goings-on in the world, and, turning inward (“introspecting”), you experience your experiencing. 2 Though we are considering introspection only insofar as it may provide support for the argument from the indexicality of thoughts, it is worth noting that Moreland does base another argument on it alone.3
As indicated above, indexicals are basically expressions of a first-person point of view. These include such terms as I, here, now, there, then: Here and now refer to where and when I am; there and then are where and when I am not. ’I’ is the most basic indexical and refers to a self that is known by acquaintance with one's own consciousness in acts of self-awareness. ‘I’ am immediately aware of my own self and ‘I’ know who ‘I’ refers to when ‘I’ use it; it refers to an individual as the self-conscious self-reflexive owner of his own body and mental states.4
We take these words to be token-reflexive, that is, they systematically change their referents in a context-dependent way.5 For example, if two individuals simultaneously utter the phrase “I am here,” (which undoubtedly happens daily), are they each saying the exact same thing? Of course not; the statements are context-dependent. When person A says, “I am here,” she is referring to herself, as well as to a certain place. The same goes for person B. Even if they were arriving simultaneously at the same place, they would still not be saying the same thing: each phrase has a unique referent, namely, the speaker.
Subjective states of experience also exist. These experiences are such that I have a unique, first-person perspective of them; they are experiences of my “I” that cannot be reduced to third-person characterizations. This is often described by saying there is “something it is like” to having these experiences (e.g., what it is like to be me, what it is like for me to hear a bird singing), something, the content of which, cannot be captured without indexical language.
A completely physicalist description of the world would be one in which everything would be exhaustively describable from a third-person point of view in terms of objects, properties, processes, and their spatiotemporal locations.6 This points to the falsity of physicalism because “according to physicalism, there are no fundamentally basic or intrinsic (irreducible), privileged first-person perspectives.”7 Moreland approvingly quotes Thomas Nagel (a philosopher devoid of any religious tendencies) concerning this:
If physicalism is to be defended, the phenomenological features [the sounds, colors, smells, tastes of experience that make the experience what it is] must themselves be given a physical account. But when we examine their subjective character it seems that such a result is impossible.8
Thus, a formal argument may be formed:
(1) Statements using the first-person indexical ‘I’ express facts about persons that cannot be expressed in statements without the first-person indexical. (2) If I am a physical object, then all the facts about me can be expressed in statements without the first-person indexical. (3) Therefore, I am not a physical object. (4) I am either a physical object or an immaterial substance. (5) Therefore, I am an immaterial substance.9
1 “Introspection: Epistemology of,” in Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, vol. 4, ed. by Edward Craig (London: Routledge, 1998), emphasis mine.
2 John Heil, “Awareness,” in The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy 2nd ed., ed. Robert Audi (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1999).
3 The argument goes as follows (as in “The Soul and Life Everlasting: Introduction,” 434). (1)I am an unextended centre of consciousness (justified by introspection). (2) No physical object is an unextended centre of consciousness. (3)Therefore, I am not a physical object. (4)Either I am a physical object or an immaterial substance. (5)Therefore, I am an immaterial substance.
4 Moreland, “Body and Soul Part II: Why the Soul is Immaterial,” in Facts for Faith, no. 7, 2001, available online .
5 See Philosophical Foundations, 294.
7 “Physicalism, Naturalism and the Nature of Human Persons,” 233.
8 “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” in his Mortal Questions (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press,1979), 167, quoted in Moreland, Scaling the Secular City, 86.