Materialism and Dualism


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Our physical life is not eternal. That’s the statement on which all philosophers agree. What does the “end of life” mean then? Some people consider the physical death to be the end of life. However, there are many different hypotheses which others agree with.

There are two main theories of human nature that have implications for meaningful survival after death: o Materialism is the theory that our minds are inseparable from our bodies. o Dualism is the theory that there exist both bodies and minds, distinct from one another, but linked in some way.


Materialism does not accept that there is a separate part of the human body called the “soul”. An individual is a living, physical body and nothing more. Most materialists believe that at death the body dies and therefore the whole body ceases to exist.

Materialists also believe that what we assume to be an emotional response, such as lover or fear, is no more than psychochemical reactions in our brain.


A dualist approach to mind and body argues that it is the mind that determines our personality and the body is an outer shell for the real self. The body is contingent and therefore destined for decay, but the mind, associated with the higher realities such as truth, goodness and justice, is immortal. If a man life is spent in contemplation of those higher realities, then his soul can enter eternity after the death of the physical body.

One very popular and important philosopher for the subject pf body, soul distinction was Plato, and Plato was a dualist. He posited a theory of two worlds-the “unreal” world of the senses and physical objects and the “real” world of ideal forms. For everything in existence, Plato accepted that there was the perfect idea (form). For example, for every man, there is an ideal man; for every dog there is an ideal dog, and so on. He regarded the body and soul as separate entities and believed that though the body dies and disintegrates, the soul continues to live forever. Plato had a very low opinion of the body. As the body is part of the world of appearance it is physical and the desire for sense pleasure frequently takes priority in a persons life. Plato believed that after the death of the body, the soul migrates to the realm of the forms. After a time the soul is implanted in another body and returns to our world. However the reincarnated soul retains a dim recollection of the forms and yearns to go back. It could be maintained that this process of recollection is strong evidence for a distinction between body and soul.

Another philosopher who developed a concept of dualism was Descartes held that the body was spatial and in no sense conscious and that the mind (or soul) is non-spatial and conscious. The mind experiences emotions and desires. Descartes believed that these two interacted with each other and that the body could affect the mind and the mind could affect the body. The feelings in the mind could have physical affects for example depression causing weight loss. Descartes postulated that the point of this interaction between body and mind was the pineal gland, which is located in the brain. Descartes explanation could provide us with reasonable evidence for a distinction between body and soul in that we talk as if we are distinct from our bodies for example if my bodily make up changed I would consider myself to be the same person. This may offer comfort to think that we are still the same person whatever our body looks like e. g. with age etc. Also we can think about something without showing it through the behaviour of our bodies. However this may be questioned as we also say “I have a soul”. In this case what is “I” if not the body or the soul alone?

Descartes reasoning may be defended as what he is arguing for is fitting with the coherence theory of truth i. e. it is logically possible for us to survive death without a body. However this still does not mean that this is necessarily going to happen for example it would be logically possible for me to survive after a car crash but this does not mean its going to happen. Even if we could survive after death would we still be the same person? Or even a person at all? We owe much of who we are to our bodies as it is through our body that we interact with others. The body is part of what makes me “me”.

Mary Anne Winslow is a member of Essay Writing Service counselling department team and a dissertation writing consultant. Contact her to get free counselling on custom essay writing.


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