Blogging Through Augustine/Martin’s Anthology “The Myth Of An Afterlife” Part 5

 Anthology co-editor Keith Augustine has kindly provided a response to the Hasker review I mentioned previously.  He writes:

 Incidentally, Hasker is interestingly wrong about some 
things. For example, he writes: “However, they [my coauthor of chapter 10 
& I] go well beyond the dependence thesis, arguing that brain function is 
not merely a necessary condition but in fact is a sufficient cause for 
experience, thus rendering an immaterial soul otiose.”In fact, all my coauthor and I argue is that brain functioning is 
necessary for human mental life, although we indicate that we suspect that 
the right kind of brain functioning is probably sufficient, too. (That 
brain function is “sufficient” for human mental life is rendered false by 
the fact that there’s still some brain functioning going on in unconscious 
patients–it’s got to be the right kind of brain functioning.)

First, by simply saying that “having a functioning brain is a necessary 
condition for having conscious experiences,” as Hasker quotes us saying, 
we avoid having to speculate exactly what kind of brain functioning is 
necessary, which is an issue for neuroscientists to resolve. The point is 
that you’re not going to have mental life in the absence of brain 
functioning altogether–which is all that’s needed to rule out a 
(dualistic) afterlife.

Second, even if interactionist substance dualism were true, it could still 
be the case that “having a functioning brain is a necessary condition for 
having conscious experiences,” in which case there’s no conscious 
existence and thus no afterlife. We’re quite explicit about this in the 
final section of chapter 10 before the Conclusion, titled “The Dualist’s 
Dilemma: Reject Science, or Reject Personal Survival” (pp. 271-276), where 
the whole section is specifically about the fact that the neuroscientific 
evidence would rule out dualistic survival if even dualism were true. So 
it’s odd for Hasker to say what he does, given the existence of a whole 
section specifically on this.

  • Hasker’s criticism relies on Alvin Plantinga’s evolutionary argument against naturalism (EAAN), which in turn presumes what Plantinga calls  “content epiphenomenalism,” the idea that the mental content of a belief can play no role in causing behavior, and therefore cannot enhance evolutionary fitness. But the thing is: why accept content epiphenomenalism? I’ve seen no good argument that the idea that  supernatural forces do not intervene into nature (i.e., metaphysical naturalism) requires content epiphenomenalism. If a naturalist can reject content epiphenomenalism without contradicting himself, then the whole house of cards of Plantinga’s EAAN falls.

My Thoughts:

What I’m going to try and show here is the physiological base for our approach to Being as what something is and how it is, and how this is to be expected under the naturalism and evolutionary paradigm

Clearly, Plantinga’s model follows a certain reading of Descartes, but ignores Plato on the idea of the Beautiful in the Phaedrus.  What something is intimately connected to physiological delight and schematizing rather than just knowing, just as how something is refers to our physiology and manner of perceiving.

For the ancient Greeks, there was a distinction between parestios, the one in the warmth and sphere of the hearth fire, and deinon/apolis, the restlessness of the human being.  So, a person may be satiated in a rainy cottage reading a book, but in an irritable state of cabin fever if there is nothing to do.  Aristotle said isolation is delighted in only by lower animals and gods (Politics, Book I, 1253a.27), and the philosophical life is a kind of athanatizein or deathlessness/godliness.

It is out of this basic distinction we can interpret the Greek inquiry into Being, which is the basic problem of Philosophy.  Since ancient times, Being has been divided into what something is, its essentia, and how or the manner in which something is, its existentia. 

Essence (whatness, broadly understood), such as being a car, is normally a matter of indifference to us.  However, for the Greeks, it was obviously dependent on us physiologically, since it was connected to the presencing of the Beautiful.  So, the brain delights in the presencing of the idea “House” through the mansion (now that’s a house! “House” incarnate), to less of a degree with the average dwelling, and hardly at all with the run down shack.  This is subjective, since what you see as shack may be presencing quite quaintly to the next person.  Homer expressed this by saying the gods don’t appear to everyone in their fulness (enargeis) to characterize the goddess appearing as beauty incarnate through a woman to Odysseus, though the man beside her didn’t see her in this way.  We can see this schematizing (what Nietzsche called will to power) as how the mind built up our understanding of the world in evolution.  For instance, picture hearing a living thing at your feet in the woods, just to look down to see you mis-took rustling dead leaves to be the category living thing presencing.  The mind is actively trying to impose order, and self corrects when it fails to do this in a useful manner.  Nietzsche writes: “Not ‘to know‘ but to schematize—to impose upon chaos as much regularity and as many forms as our practical needs require.” (WP #516)

As for the other distinction, existentia or “how” something appears, we may say the white board is poorly positioned.  This doesn’t refer to what the white board is, but rather how it is.  So, the white board may seem poorly positioned in the corner of the lecture hall during a talk, but well positioned in the corner of the stadium during the game.  Existentia doesn’t refer to what something is, but is somehow in the middle between perceiver and perceived.  For instance, boringness may seem to me to be a real trait of the book, though the next person may not experience the boringness at all.  Analogously, the radio broadcast may be “what” I am listening to, but the broadcast may be appearing in an annoying manner if I have a stomach or headache: so my physiology is implicated in a being’s existentia.  Likewise, the equipmentality of the hammer doesn’t refer to what the hammer is, since a large rock can serve the same purpose as a hammer but is not regarded as essentially equipment, but rather indicates the hammer to be something playing a role in the context of hammering the nail, and that in turn pointing to the place of this procedure in the carpenter’s making of a table, and that in turn in the context of a workshop, and that as the carpenter takes a stance on his Being.

So, as our whole physiology (Nietzsche distinguishes between the brain and our body as a whole) delights in the presencing of ideas incarnate (Now that’s a painting!), and less so on down the line, as Nietzsche said what is principally going on in our world is not primarily knowing but schematizing.  The Greeks had an intimate connection between the essence and existence encountered in life, and how this was in unison with the eros of the individual. 

As I mentioned above,  A human is parestios, the one in the sphere of the warmth of the hearth fire in eros – but thought in relation to deinon/apolis – restlessness/homelessness (Sophocles’ Antigone).  Plato compared the constancy of the stars with man’s own erratic, restless and disorderly thoughts, and believed that people should aspire to the regularity of the heavenly bodies (Healy, 1984). This is why in the Nicomachean Ethics theoria is the highest form of human life for Aristotle.  Heidegger cites Aristotle that the life of theoria [contemplation] which exceeds phronesis [practical wisdom], is a kind of godly life, an athanatizein, to be immortal- [whereby athanatizein is formed like hellenizein, to be Greek], that implies that in theoria we comport ourselves like immortals. In theoria mortals reach up to the life of the gods (see Heidegger, HS, 111).  Both humans and gods were immortal for the Greeks, just that the gods were eternally in the fire and absorption of youth.

A concept is felt as what did not originate in time, and what will not pass away in time, has no future or past, but simply is, as though the concept is in a kind of extended now that never began and will never end.  Aristotle compares wisdom to a healthy individual: For instance, Circumspection (insight) is that which can restore a person to health. But what is even better is an individual that is already healthy, for he “is healthy without further ado, ie., he simply is what he is (Heidegger, PS, 1 17).” Wisdom is to be thought of in this way, it is the proper state of our well being. Wisdom, peace and satiety as tarrying along with that which is felt as everlasting is considered by Aristotle to be the highest possibility of human life, and yet since man has all kinds of other needs and desires, he cannot perpetually exercise his highest possibility. Nonetheless, as wisdom is the pure onlooking upon that which never changes, then the looking itself bears no alteration, “the possibility of a pure tarrying, which has nothing of the unrest of seeking (Heidegger, Plato’s Sophist, 120).” For the Greek thinkers, according to the nature of their existence, it was the general unrest of life that was misery and so the opposite of it, the absence of unrest, was therefore the highest good.

So, with the Greeks there was a connection between the satiety of the soul and ideas, and so ideas were valorized the more constancy and order they could bring to the flux of life.  And,  man must always have Being in view by the mind’s eye. Hence, we could not have the experience of beings that we do unless we had in view such things as variation/equality by the mind’s eye in order to encounter various things; a view of sameness/contrariety to encounter ourselves as self-same in each case;  a view of symmetry and harmoniousness allow us to arrange and construct things; etc.  

Similarly, an idea of “grapes” allows me to go to the grocery store and return successfully – even if I can’t “define” grapes.  There is a movement (phusis) of seeing that sees past the particular thing to its Being that then returns to give the particular thing its sense and constancy.  Similarly, the ideas are what are what are felt as “re-collected,” so to speak,  since, for instance, learning about Justice doesn’t mean inventing the idea of Justice out of whole cloth, but dis-closing (a-letheia) to oneself what Justice always was and is, just that we didn’t see it as such before learning (un-hiding Justice, “a-letheia”). 

Aristotle said that there are determinations that do not pertain to any being in its peculiarity, but none the less to all beings in general, such as unity, otherness, difference and opposition. This, for the scholastics, meant the non-sensuous, since the sensuous gives only what is individuated and dispersed and hence not completely determined. The determinations reached by the intellect are non-sensuous and universal, are not given by the senses, but are understood as belonging to beings as beings {on he on for Aristotle, ens qua ens for Thomas), “the determinations that are always already and necessarily co-present in them, such as, for example, unum, multa, potentia, actus and suchlike,” (Heidegger, FCM, 48) in other words, the categories.   

Exploring this, for Aristotle, the judgement is not so much an agreement of the judgement with the thing, but a letting be seen (“a-letheia”) and a counter-phenomenon of deceptive seeing, distortion.  Antisthenes, Aristotle says (cf Metaphysics, V, chapter 28, 1024b32f ), believed only in addressing a being in the logos proper to it because he did not distinguish between addressing the thing in itself and addressing the thing ‘as’ something. For Antisthenes, a definition was not possible because it did not, following what was said above, address the thing, and hence a tautology, positing one and the same thing in relation to itself, was the only proper logos. Hence, the addressing of something as something (else) is excluded in Antisthenes doctrine.  Plato, in the Sophist, called Antisthenes doctrine “the most laughable, katagelastotata (252b8),” because it denied that something was to be understood by appealing to something beyond the thing itself, while Antisthenes himself tacitly adopted a whole slew of ontological structures even in mere naming that go beyond the mere entity at hand, such as einai Being, choris, separate from, ton allown, the others, and kath auto, in itself.  

All these things clearly represent evolutionary naturalism as, through trial and error, the mind developed useful strategies for operating in the world, which is why we can still see the connection between what-being, how-being, and delight.


For the reader who is following along and thinking about dualism and epiphenomenalism, I found this short explanatory video that may be helpful: . I think part of the difficulty here is dualists seem to draw an exaggerated distinction between mental events and the world. For instance, I could find the characteristics of the tv show I enjoy to be those of the plot, character development, setting, and that it appears as being funnily presented and enacted. Funniness is experienced as a characteristic of the show, like plot and characters, but at the same time it is not because the next person may not find the tv show funny at all. The funniness of the tv show is a way my mind projects itself onto what is not me, the tv show (the other), that then affects me “as though” it was a property of the show I was encountering, analogous to the boringness of the book. Continental Philosophy moved beyond Cartesian dualism to analyze these predicate that are between person and world, especially in Nietzsche and Heidegger with analysis of this “Being-in-the-World.”