Duel over dualism continued.

Author:Bloom, Paul
Position:Correspondence - Letter to the Editor
 
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In "Dualistic Delusions" (February 2005), Patrick Lee and Robert P. George present a thoughtful discussion of my New York Times op-ed piece. They agree that body-soul dualism is both widespread and mistaken, but they disagree with me about much else. They suggest, for instance, that it is abortion advocates who assume a mistaken body-soul dualism, even though they "smugly conclude that science is on their side."

This would be ironic, but actually, as I discuss in my book Descartes' Baby, just about everyone believes in body-soul dualism. Devout Christians, who are more likely to oppose abortion, tend to be particularly explicit about this view. Most believe, for instance, that when they die, their souls will leave their bodies and rise to Heaven. Profs. Lee and George's own pro-life position does not rest on body-soul dualism, but they are mistaken when they assume that this is true for others.

Profs. Lee and George also worry that if science showed that conceptual thought and free choice are brain processes, it would mean there is only a superficial difference between humans and other animals, and this in turn would undermine the norms against eating, killing, and enslaving humans.

I don't see how any of this follows. If the scientific consensus is correct, it would mean that humans are not unique by dint of possessing a soul. But we may well be unique in some other way, such as possessing the capacity for language or abstract reasoning or emotional suffering.

Put this way, human uniqueness is an empirical issue, not an a priori one. Some other creature might turn out to share such properties with humans. But this discovery would not give us license to do terrible things to people. On the contrary, I would hope that Lee and George would agree with me that if a chimpanzee turned out to possess the intelligence and emotions of a human child, it would be wrong to eat, kill, or enslave it.

Paul Bloom

New Haven, Connecticut

Lee and George reply:

We are grateful to Prof. Bloom for his letter, and we are happy to engage the important issues he raises.

One argument of ours that he does not address is our defense of the proposition that the life of an individual human person begins at conception. But in reporting our claim he uses an inaccurate and prejudicial expression, one that we are, in fact, careful to avoid. We did not speak of a "fertilized egg." That is a misnomer. After fertilization the egg ceases to be (just as the sperm penetrating the...

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