Moreland’s Substance Dualism Part II: An Argument from the Indexicality of Thoughts

We turn now to survey an argument offered by Moreland to support substance dualism. I have chosen this one from among his extensive arsenal simply because I find it interesting and compelling. Also known as the argument from the experience of first-person subjectivity, this line of reasoning seems true prima facie. It is based largely on a proper understanding of indexicals (expressions of a first-person point of view, e.g., I, here, now), but is helped considerably by first-person introspection. Before delving into the argument itself, a review of these concepts will no doubt prove helpful.

Introspection is nothing new. It is, in fact, the oldest research technique in psychology. There are various types of introspection, but we are interested only in its cognitive form. Introspection comes in two levels: (1) Simple, which refers to a direct report of sensations, feelings, and/or thoughts, and (2) reflective, which refers to one’s reactions (both cognitive and affective) to what one is experiencing and reporting. Hilary Kornblith has observed:

If we wish to know what is going on in someone else’s mind, we must observe their behaviour; on the basis of what we observe, we may sometimes reasonably draw a conclusion about the person’s mental state. Thus, for example, on seeing someone smile, we infer whether they are upset. But this is not, at least typically, the way in which we come to know our own mental states. We do not need to examine our own behaviour in order to know how we feel, what we believe, what we want and so on…. The term used to describe this special mode of access which we seem to have to our own mental states is ‘introspection.1

Thus, “you experience goings-on in the world, and, turning inward (“introspecting”), you experience your experiencing. 2 Though we are considering introspection only insofar as it may provide support for the argument from the indexicality of thoughts, it is worth noting that Moreland does base another argument on it alone.3

As indicated above, indexicals are basically expressions of a first-person point of view. These include such terms as I, here, now, there, then: Here and now refer to where and when I am; there and then are where and when I am not. ’I’ is the most basic indexical and refers to a self that is known by acquaintance with one’s own consciousness in acts of self-awareness. ‘I’ am immediately aware of my own self and ‘I’ know who ‘I’ refers to when ‘I’ use it; it refers to an individual as the self-conscious self-reflexive owner of his own body and mental states.4

We take these words to be token-reflexive, that is, they systematically change their referents in a context-dependent way.5 For example, if two individuals simultaneously utter the phrase “I am here,” (which undoubtedly happens daily), are they each saying the exact same thing? Of course not; the statements are context-dependent. When person A says, “I am here,” she is referring to herself, as well as to a certain place. The same goes for person B. Even if they were arriving simultaneously at the same place, they would still not be saying the same thing: each phrase has a unique referent, namely, the speaker.

Subjective states of experience also exist. These experiences are such that I have a unique, first-person perspective of them; they are experiences of my “I” that cannot be reduced to third-person characterizations. This is often described by saying there is “something it is like” to having these experiences (e.g., what it is like to be me, what it is like for me to hear a bird singing), something, the content of which, cannot be captured without indexical language.

A completely physicalist description of the world would be one in which everything would be exhaustively describable from a third-person point of view in terms of objects, properties, processes, and their spatiotemporal locations.6 This points to the falsity of physicalism because “according to physicalism, there are no fundamentally basic or intrinsic (irreducible), privileged first-person perspectives.”7 Moreland approvingly quotes Thomas Nagel (a philosopher devoid of any religious tendencies) concerning this:

If physicalism is to be defended, the phenomenological features [the
sounds, colors, smells, tastes of experience that make the experience what it is] must themselves be given a physical account. But when we examine their subjective character it seems that such a result is impossible.8

Thus, a formal argument may be formed:

(1) Statements using the first-person indexical ‘I’ express facts about persons that cannot be expressed in statements without the first-person indexical.

(2) If I am a physical object, then all the facts about me can be expressed in statements without the first-person indexical.

(3) Therefore, I am not a physical object.

(4) I am either a physical object or an immaterial substance.

(5) Therefore, I am an immaterial substance.9

1 “Introspection: Epistemology of,” in Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, vol. 4, ed. by Edward Craig (London: Routledge, 1998), emphasis mine.

2 John Heil, “Awareness,” in The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy 2nd ed., ed. Robert Audi (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1999).

3 The argument goes as follows (as in “The Soul and Life Everlasting: Introduction,” 434).
(1)I am an unextended centre of consciousness (justified by introspection).
(2) No physical object is an unextended centre of consciousness.
(3)Therefore, I am not a physical object.
(4)Either I am a physical object or an immaterial substance.
(5)Therefore, I am an immaterial substance.

4 Moreland, “Body and Soul Part II: Why the Soul is Immaterial,” in Facts for Faith, no. 7, 2001, available online .

5 See Philosophical Foundations, 294.

6 “Body and Soul Part II: Why the Soul is Immaterial.”

7 “Physicalism, Naturalism and the Nature of Human Persons,” 233.

8 “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” in his Mortal Questions (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press,1979), 167, quoted in Moreland, Scaling the Secular City, 86.

9 “The Soul and Life Everlasting: Introduction,” 436.

9 Responses to Moreland’s Substance Dualism Part II: An Argument from the Indexicality of Thoughts

  1. Clayton says:

    [I tried to post this earlier but my laptop is having difficulty with the comments function. If there is a double posting, I apologize.]

    I’m really sceptical of Moreland’s argument. Consider the parallel arguments about times and places:
    (1) Statements using ‘now’ express facts about times that cannot be expressed in statements without temporal indexicals.
    (2) If times are purely physical aspects of the world, then all the facts about time can be expressed in statements without the indexicals.
    (3) Therefore, times are not purely physical aspects of the world.

    (1) Statements using the ‘here’ express facts about places that cannot be expressed in statements without spatial indexicals.
    (2) If physical locations were physical, then all the facts about them can be expressed in statements without indexicals.
    (3) Therefore, physical locations are not physical.

    I think that the least controversial reply to this style of argument is just to deny the first premise and say that as a general rule, the relation between facts and ways of representing these facts are one-many as shown by Frege’s examples of informative identity. Once we appreciate that the semantic values of indexical expressions are just the same values as those that are free of indexicals, we deny that there is any ontological significance to the fact that we cannot know all of the facts about the world without using indexicals. Does Moreland consider this line of response?

  2. Xavier says:

    Clayton, thanks for stopping by bro. I do not know whether Moreland considers this objection so I can’t speak for him. I wonder whether your two arguments are really parallel though. It seems to me that first person idexicals like ‘I’ (referring to the one doing the speaking) just is a different sort of thing than temporal or spatial. For first person idexicals always refer to a subject while temporal and spatial only tells us the time and the place where the subjects saying was uttered. Further, I myself wonder whether terms like “here” and “now” are just demonstratives and not really indexicals.

  3. Clayton says:

    Hey Xavier,

    I’m not sure how to distinguish indexicals from demonstratives apart from the fact that typically demonstratives require a kind of demonstration to determine the semantic value of the particular use whereas the same is not the case for indexicals. So, if I use ‘here’ as a demonstrative we consider cases like this: Looking at a map and pointing ‘Arrrr, the treasure is buried here’. If I use it as an indexical, we have a case like this: I know I’m here but have no bloody idea where that is.

    Alright, there is a difference between these indexicals: they refer to places, times, and persons respectively. Apart from that, however, it seems that ‘now’ and ‘I’ are otherwise similar. When used as indexicals, you cannot use the expression and fail to refer to something; your use enjoys immunity to error through misidentification (i.e., if you believe that you are Hume, the proposition you express by ‘I am Hume’ is false; if you believe that it is now 3:00 but it isn’t, the proposition you express by ‘Now it is 3:00′ is false.

    As some reconstruct Descartes’ argument from Med 2, the features that ‘now’ and ‘I’ I’ve just mentioned were the ones that convinced Descartes that the reference of ‘I’ could not be an ordinary material thing but if it worked in that case, it should show that the time I refer to when I use ‘now’ is a special time. But it isn’t. The response that has been popular since Frege has offered is just to deny the first premise of Moreland’s argument. There are not ‘special facts’ or ‘special things’ but special ways of thinking about those things in terms of indexical thoughts.

  4. Anonymous says:

    If you wish to know how Craig would respond, then I know the answer. In the argument from the temporal indexical, he would deny the second premise but affirm the first. This comes from his commitment to presentism. In the argument from the spatial indexical, he would deny the first premise. He would report that “here” is capable of being meaningfully replaced by some combination of now and I. So “I am now here” is a necessary truth, but “I was here” and “I will be here” are not. If you are pointing to a map, then you could say “My-finger-now-there, treasure there”. The challenge for someone attempting to deny the first premise in a temporal or personal indexical is attempting to show a similar replacement is possible for “now” and “I”. However, I doubt that it is even possible to demonstrate that any two indexicals are replacable.

  5. Xavier says:

    But it seems to me that there are “special facts” conveyed when one uses the first person indexical like “I.” When I say “I am angry”, there is more to what I mean than just “the tall, black guy is angry.” Namely, there is the subjective experience of my being angry (the hunger is mine) that just cannot be expressed by “the tall, black guy is hungry.” I may be mistaken for instance, when I think “I am Hume”, but I am not mistaken in thinking that I am the one that thinks that ‘I am Hume.’

  6. Clayton says:

    Anon,

    That helped clear up some confusion about Craig, but there is still this residual worry that he is conflating two things: claims about the epistemology of indexical thoughts; claims about what kinds of facts there are. Even if you are a presentist, I doubt anyone has argued for presentism on the grounds that there are temporal indexicals that function as devices of direct reference.

    Xavier,

    In this passage:
    But it seems to me that there are “special facts” conveyed when one uses the first person indexical like “I.” When I say “I am angry”, there is more to what I mean than just “the tall, black guy is angry.” Namely, there is the subjective experience of my being angry (the hunger is mine) that just cannot be expressed by “the tall, black guy is hungry.”
    You seem to be focusing on ineffability of thought and not ways of picking out the subject of predication using ‘I’ or by means of an attributive use of description. But isn’t that just switching arguments?

  7. Xavier says:

    Well, I don’t think I am switching arguments, but then, I might be wrong.
    I say that there is more to what I mean when I utter “I am angry”, than just “the ridiculously attractive, tall, black [fill in the long third-person description here] guy is angry” not to convey the “ineffability of thought” as you say. I don’t mean that it is just really, really hard to understand what “I” means. Rather, my point is that this “I” cannot be adequatelty described just in 3rd person language for this “I” includes subjective states of experience. States of experience such that I have a unique first-person view of them and they cannot be reduced to 3rd person characterisations as would be the case if I were a purely material substance.

  8. Clayton says:

    If the argument really were independent of the ineffability of the mental, it seems you should be able to use ‘I’ in attributive judgments that did not describe mental conditions since ‘I’ in such judgments has all the logical and epistemic properties that figure in Moreland’s argument. That’s why I think that what is doing the work for you is not the indexicality of ‘I’ but reflection on states of experience.

    It might be that the facts you express when you use ‘I’ cannot be described in 3rd person language; it might be that mental facts cannot be described in purely 3rd personal terms. These are just different points. The second has little to do with indexicality.

    At any rate, there is a perfectly general worry about talk of ‘I’ facts and the rest that we have not touched upon, but doesn’t it seem that the fact you convey when you say ‘I am angry’ just is the fact that I convey if I say ‘The ridiculously attractive, tall, black guy is angry’. I really think there is a case to be made for thinking there is a serious conflation of the epistemic and the ontic going on here.

  9. Keith says:

    Clayton,

    but doesn’t it seem that the fact you convey when you say ‘I am angry’ just is the fact that I convey if I say ‘The…black guy is angry’?

    I don’t think so. Surely your utterance is headed in the same direction as Xavier’s, in this example, but it certainly does not express as much as his does. The point is not whether you can both express the same (very) basic fact, namely that Xavier is angry. The point, rather, is that when you each express something of that fact, the very content of what you are expressing is not fully the same.

    Perhaps a similar statement will help: Consider, ‘I taste pie.’ When I say this, the content of the statement includes what I think of the pie, awareness of how my tastebuds are reacting, whether I like it or not; in short, there is a ton of information about my tasting the pie that you (or anyone else) simply cannot know just as I know it. Consequently, try as they may, no one is capable of expressing just what I am expressing. Sure, they may say whether I like it or not, but it seems to me that (and I am not here trying to introduce another example, nor am I trying to beg the question) when they say that I like the pie, they aren’t expressing the very same thing that I do when I say I like the pie.

    I realize what I’m saying relies upon some reflection on my state of experience of pie-eating, for that is how I come to know the content of what I express by saying ‘I taste pie.’ So, yea, that is doing some work for us (hopefully I made clear such use in the original post). But, once I have that information in hand, I express it uniquely via an indexical statement, thus having it, too, work for us.

    I hope this helps. By the way, thanks for visiting our blog, I appreciate the discussion you’ve brought.

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