Moreland’s Substance Dualism: Part 1

This is the first of a two part post on J. P. Moreland’s version of Substance Dualism. As such, you won’t see too much original thinking; my purpose is merely to introduce Moreland’s position. In Part 2 I will present one of Moreland’s supporting arguments: the argument from indexicals.

Among responses to the perennial (and often nebulous) debate surrounding the Mind/Body problem, J. P. Moreland has defended a position of Substance Dualism. This he defines as “the view that the soul- I, the self, mind- is an immaterial substance different from the body to which it is related.” So, “I am my soul and I have a body.” By way of distinction, property dualism claims “a person is a living physical body having mind, the mind consisting, however, of nothing but a more or less continuous series of conscious or unconscious states and events…which are the effects but never the causes of bodiliy activity.”

We may futher distinguish Moreland as a Thomistic substance dualist, as opposed to a Cartesian dualist (this at his behest). The dissimilarities are, in my opinion, subtle and impertenent (I’m sure one of you Thomist or Cartesian scholars will make me pay for that claim), so we won’t linger on them. Suffice it to say that Moreland understands Descartes to (1) have incorrectly reduced the soul to the mind, and (2) have mistakenly distinguished between two seperable substances- mind and body (whereas Moreland recognizes only one substance- the soul, with the body being an ensouled biological and physical structure that depends on the soul for its existence). Concerning (1), Moreland holds that the soul contains, among other things, the faculty of mind (which, incidentally, identifies him as a dichotomist). Hence, the soul is much more than the mind, and the two ought are not be conflated. As for (2), Cartesian dualists argue that the body is a physical, ordered aggregate fully describable in physical terms: the mind is related to the mind only via an external, causal relationship. Moreland, on the other hand, though agreeing the body is a physical structure, argues that it is not an aggregate: the body needs the soul. The body, it is claimed, is made human by the presence of the soul diffused equally throughout.

This, obviously, is meant to be an overview- it is merely a catalyst for discussion. If you are familiar with Moreland’s work, much of the above phraseology probably rang a bell: that’s because a good deal of it came straight from several of his works. For more on this, see Moreland’s Scaling the Secular City(esp. ch. 3), Love Your God with all Your Mind, Body and Soul: Human Nature & the Crisis in Ethics (with Scott Rae). This is a select list.

4 Responses to Moreland’s Substance Dualism: Part 1

  1. Simon says:

    This is one of my favorite topics.

    When you say, “the mind is related to the mind only via an external, causal relationship,” do you mean to say, “the BODY is related to the mind only via an external, causal relationship,”?

    Looking forward to more posts on this topic,


  2. Keith says:


    Thanks for pointing that out: that is a typo, and should read “the mind is related to the body only via…”

    The philosophy of mind is really interesting, I think. I’ve not spent too much time with it, though I really enjoy reading Moreland (which is tough to do without reading on the mind/body problem).


  3. Roger Marshall says:

    I have lately been informed on a secular website forum that substance dualism has become completely obsolete as a philosophical school of thought. I am sure that this is not the case. Apart from Moreland what other substance dualists, Christian and non-Christian, can I refer thes people to?

  4. Keith says:


    Thanks for stopping by. Frankly, if I were you, I wouldn’t waste my time in a forum that’s so misinformed as to think substance dualism has become obsolete. Nevertheless, here are a few other substance dualists: Plato, Descartes…Alvin Plantinga, Stewart Goetz, William Lyons, Angus Menuge, William Vallicella, Richard Swinburne, Keith Yandell, William Lane Craig, C.S. Lewis…This hardly even scratches the surface. In short, it’s ridiculous to think that substance dualism is obsolete.

    If you’re willing to count Thomistic dualism, then of course Aquinas and probably Brian Leftow, and many others enter the picture as well.

    Hope this helps!

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