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Humans: Physical or Spiritual Beings? Essay

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Updated: Aug 23rd, 2020

‘What are human persons?’ translates into a personal question that asks each individual who they are. The question has attracted heated debates in the past, creating a sense of loyalty between physicalists and dualists (Churchland 12). Physicalism encompasses everything about human persons such as their mental states, which the human body determines and is dependent on physically. The physicalist’s philosophical thought explains reality using the view that the human person is an assembly of space atoms. On the other hand, dualism denies physicalism, or that the physical facts of human bodies do not determine the composition of human beings (Cumplodo n.d.).

Plato’s Phaedo is among the earliest endorsers of dualism. The text argues for an immaterial mind or soul that makes up the identity of a human person. The immaterialism also makes up the mental abilities of humans, for instance, logical thinking. The majority of global religions hold that the immaterial mind and soul constitute the human person (Cumplodo n.d.). In this text, I hold the position of a substance dualist by arguing that the constitution of the human person goes past pure material entities. It is important to think of human persons as distinctive beings and not physical objects. Essentially, the human person is a product of immaterial minds or souls. I will conclude that only dualism can solve the view of insuperable physicalism.

Using the picture of the first person that human persons are substances, and the argument for my existence without a body creates neutrality between dualist and physicalism debates (Moreland 111). This will be valuable to prevent bias in this argument. This discussion examines the difference between the discourses on Leibniz’s law. Combing dualism and materialism with Leibniz’s law creates an argument for human persons. For instance, the distinction between parts and locations allows dualists to argue that bodies and minds have properties that make the mind and the physical body distinctive. Another argument for Leibniz’s law on dualism states that the minds and not bodies are known to exist (Moreland 111).

One may be certain that the mind exists but doubt the physical body’s existence. While one may know their existence, they cannot be certain. This means that the mind is aware of its existence while the body does not possess this characteristic. Leibniz’s law, therefore, argues for a distinct mind and body. On the other hand, Christians hold a contradictory dualist view of the human person as a unity between the body and the soul (Moreland 111). Christians hold that the soul enters an intermediate disembodied state after death. The Christian view holds that eventually, the soul will reunite with a resurrected body. This view holds that the self is a unified reality that interacts with the body. This self also includes mental states and acts freely and willingly. This Christian view of dualism contrasts with Lebniz’s law.

Although many contemporary thinkers reject dualism, it continues to resonate across philosophical thoughts in everyday discourse. The three basic claims of dualism include a distinctive mental and philosophical realm, fundamentality in mental and physical realms, and an ontological distinction in mental and physical realms (Churchland 12). Dualists hold that mental and physical realms make up important parts of the human person. The human person has various mental and physical features that make them real. Dualists contend that that their common-sense view has arguments that support this view.

Evidence suggests that physicalists would also agree with this stance (Churchland 12). Dualists agree with the fundamentality of physical and mental realms arguing that one cannot reduce them to mere basics. Since these aspects are not dependent on the other, the ontological distinction of both mental and physical realms creates a conceivable separation that facilitates their existence. These three claims allow physical substances to relate to one another. According to Churchland (12), souls relate causally with the body creating direct actions on the body. Thus, dualism presents a more holistic view of human persons since the functions affirm a functional interdependence of the whole individual. This interdependence occurs despite the conceivably separable nature of distinctive substances. Therefore, dualism relates to a non-physical substance that is not empirically observable.

Weak physicalists have five basic notions that affirm the physicalist concept (Pojman & Vaughn 78). First, physicalists argue that mental is best understood in its own terms. This view holds that the high-level realities such as mental states of the human person are not explainable based on concepts and theories only. Weak physicalism also holds that human persons are fundamental material beings (Pojman & Vaughn 78). Therefore, this physicalist view remains committed to ontological monism that rejects non-physical substances. This view holds that physical entities make up human persons, that characteristics of human beings are physical properties, and that all cause-effect processes are physical processes (Pojman & Vaughn 78).

Another view holds that the mind produces physical events by rejecting the reality of causally unrelated mental properties. Additionally, this view argues that weak dualism influences low-level realities. Last, the mental depends on the physical asymmetrically, a concept that creates interdependence in the levels of reality, according to the physical primacy. Most notable are criticisms leveled at weak physicalism, including the affirmation that dualism requires common sense in understanding human persons (Pojman & Vaughn 78). Since our common sense notions may be wrong, physicalism faces the burden of proof. Another argument against weak physicalism is that the system cannot explain the mental properties of physicalism. The argument mainly states that phenomenal consciousness makes up human mentality. Thus, accounting for phenomenal experiences is a problem associated with physicalism, given the feelings linked to mental experiences.

Physicalists decide the compositions of human persons based on three self-imposed constraints (Cumplodo n.d.). First, this decision depends on scientific things that are verifiable using senses. It should also relate to physical facts and be explainable using the evolutionary theory. Therefore, concluding that souls and materials are immaterial complicates the view of the human person (Cumplodo n.d.). It also complicates the composition of the human person. Physicalism holds that the mind constitutes the brain, while the brain constitutes a human person. According to Moreland (16), physical objects change when they gain new parts after losing old ones.

For instance, replacing the parts of an old car with new ones makes a different car. However, human beings remain the same, even if they replace parts such as memories or personality traits entirely. Even if God gives a person new memories or traits, he or she remains the same. It is also possible that a human person can continue living without memories or traits, such as the few seconds following Adam’s creation. Additionally, human persons can exist, without the presence of physical objects (Moreland 16). All these aid in concluding the view that more than behaviors or memories make up the human person. Therefore, dualist’s view that the human person unifies the body, memory, and behaviors makes sense of this fact.

A criticism of physicalism is the view of a continuous personal identity, particularly explaining the continuity following death and resurrection (Pojman & Vaughn 92). Given the physicalist view that humans are identical to the body, humans cannot exist away from the body. Therefore, the death of a body means that the human person will no longer exist. If God were to bring up a body years later, this would only be my replica. Physicalism tries to understand the continuation of the human person as time goes by (Pojman & Vaughn 92). The body is a collection of physical parts that ground personal identity. Therefore, the body remains an identity that is hard to establish, asserting continuity in appreciating human persons as self-sustaining organisms. In this view, the gappy nature creates an identical identity that represents different stages of the human person. However, most philosophical thoughts reject the gappy existence in physicalism. Suggesting that God can intervene at a person’s death to miraculously extend their biological life past death is a conceivable alternative explanation. These philosophers argue that the power rest with God, to facilitate a biological identity.

Duplication is thus, the key objection to the continuity criteria (Pojman & Vaughn 96). God cannot make copies of mental states because it would create an imbalance in the order of the world. Having many versions of a single individual claiming to be that individual would create an imbalance. This is what makes it hard for physicalist philosophers to discern the true nature of human persons. Making many versions of a single human person with equal claim to being that person makes it hard to discern who the person really is. Physicalists argue for psychological continuity, stating that transferring another mind to a body brings a human person’s identity close to their mental states. Thus, the absence of material continuity will prohibit a continued identity. Thus, latter and early stages are identical with the appropriate connection between mental continuity. Dualists have rejected physicalist thought, based on the continuity criteria associated with duplication.

What are human persons? Are we physical beings, spiritual beings, the two combined, or something very different will generate heated debates among philosophers that are not resolvable any time soon. Based on the presented evidence, the dualism view allows us to think through the issue of human persons. Physicalism on the other hand approaches the understanding of the human person using physical bases. They view the human as a complete physical being with no added spiritual substance, arguing that a person has similar identities to physical objects, especially the body. They hold that physical dimensions require an understanding that is based on inner dimensions such as beliefs. Even Christian physicalists rejecting the view of mental reality in physicalism are maintaining a view that is significant to inner lives of humans. This essay notes that the ability of souls to relate causally with the body creates a more holistic view of human persons. This is because these functions affirm a functional interdependence of the whole individual. This interdependence occurs despite the conceivably separable nature of distinctive substances.


Churchland. Paul. On Functionalism and Materialism. Class reading, n.d. Print.

Cumplodo, Emmanuel 2011, What is a Human Person? An exploration & Critique of Contemporary perspectives. PDF file. Web.

Moreland, James. Contemporary Defense of Dualism, Class Reading, n.d. Print.

Pojman, Louis and L. Vaughn. Philosophy: The Quest for Truth (9th Eds.), UK: Oxford University Press, 2014. Print.

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