Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Book study part three

Each Tuesday, we will be cross-posting Gerard Nadal's discussion of Embryo: A Defense of Human Life. Today is the third installment.

As the relative quiescence of the blog in recent weeks will attest, there has been a great deal going on that has kept me from posting, and I am truly sorry for the interruption of our ongoing discussion of EMBRYO. To Chapter 3, Dualism.

We need a little primer with some of the language that undergirds this chapter, specifically a discussion of essence and accidents. Before proceeding, I must confess that while I studied philosophy as a second major in college, that’s sand lot baseball and this is the major leagues. I invite Dr. Tollefsen to correct me if I fail in any way to present the philosophy accurately. This is his baby (no pun intended) from here.

Accidents- This is not the colloquial understanding of a mishap, but rather a description of an objects discernable characteristics: height, weight, shape, color, texture, material composition etc.

Essence- Perhaps a spice combination used by celebrity chef Emeril, but in philosophy a statement encompassing the very idea of what an object is, the very concept of the thing.

For example, we all know a chair when we see one, yet there are untold numbers of different types/models/styles of chair; everything from a simple wooden kitchen set chair, to a formal dining room chair, to an upholstered recliner. All are very different in material composition, texture, color, style, etc. Yet, they all share one essence: chairness.

This is an important exercise in metaphysics as we turn our attention from chairs to humans and human development: The essential “Gerard” relative to the accidental “Gerard” (who has added a few ‘accidental’ pounds since he got married 17 1/2 years ago).

Now, the authors take us into some rather challenging thought regarding the essential ‘me’ vs. the accidental ‘me’, which leads to a discussion of the philosophical error that is dualism. As regarding human beings, a common perception is that the essential ‘me’ is the mind/soul while the accidental ‘me’ is the body in which the soul resides and from which it is liberated at death. The authors quite correctly refute this understanding in asserting that “we are also essentially bodily, organic beings, part of the physical world, with biological lives essential, not accidental, to our existence.

The error of dualism plays itself in the area of embryo ethics. The organism need not exhibit all of its potentialities all the time to be the essential organism, the kind of thing that it is. To suggest that the kind of thing something is depends on some function yet to be performed, some accidental feature yet to be developed, is a grave error.

The authors go on to describe several types of dualism: mind-body, soul-body, Lockean, brain-body, and Constitutionalism. Under constitutionalism, the organic body/animal precedes the person’s existence, and in many cases, outlives the person. So here the human person is constituted by, but not identical to the human animal. Moral dualism will be further explored in chapter 5. In brief, it suggests that humans may come into existence at fertilization, but do not become worthy of moral respect (become persons) until some later stage of development.

The authors then go on to present some compelling argumentation against dualism, which we will pick up this Thursday in a second post on this chapter. I’m uncertain as to how people have understood the material in chapter 3, so I’ll draw the line here and see where the discussion takes us.

It’s good to be back.

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