Are We Bodies or Souls?
ARE WE BODIES OR SOULS?
Richard SwinburneA New Account of What it is to be Human
The author is a retired professor of philosophy and while he claims that the book is written for the general reader he is also concerned that academic philosophers will find it useful. I rather feel he has fallen betwixt and between in the way the book is constructed. In essence he affirms that we are ‘beings of a very different kind from inanimate physical substances.’ He ascertains a form of ‘substance dualism’ (body and soul) in which the soul is that which makes us who we are. He discusses the role of souls and animals towards the end of the book advocating that some animals do have souls. He asks, for example, are our physical bodies the same at 70 as they were at 20 and does someone who has a transplant or traumatic disease retain the same body? Clearly not, so there is no set of coordinates that really defines our body as it is a constant state of change. After an introduction outlining the structure of the book we are then treated a whole chapter of almost 30 pages of definitions which seems like a minefield that has to be traversed before getting to the substance of the book. While this may be easy for the professional, it serves the generalist ill and this section would have been much better as a glossary or appendix since it is necessary to refer back (without any page references) to keep abreast of later arguments. Subsequent chapters review various theories of personal identity, a critique of Descartes’ argument for the soul with an adaption of his own to show that bodies are necessary, and souls cannot exist in vacuo. Then follows a discussion on how souls and bodies interact and the relationship between brain and mental events, ending with a chapter on whether science can explain souls, which is tortuous and unconvincing. There will be readers who might enjoy this, but I fear this book smacks of ‘angels on pin heads’ rather than being a substantial foundation to aid Readers in their mission to the world.
Reviewed by John Wood