0

Is it metaphysically possible for a disembodied Cartesian soul to so much as form any purportedly empirical beliefs, even if only ones that are false?

  • With 'soul' we are on thin ice. If the question had said 'mind' then it would go right to the heart of the challenges of modern AI. – wolandscat Jun 20 '15 at 22:31
  • Can you make clearer what would qualify as a "purportedly empirical belief"? I can think of at least three definitions that hinge on (1) whether purportedly modifies "empirical" or "empirical belief" (2) what we mean by "belief" and whether by "empirical" we mean having its origins in the senses or a belief about something sensible (meaning able to be sensed). – virmaior Jun 21 '15 at 6:29
  • I think (2) is what the question is going for. Basically can the soul form empirical beliefs without the body accompanying it. – btrballin Jun 21 '15 at 6:59
  • The question, now that we have a notion of how neurons work is "Where would it put the memories?" – jobermark Jun 21 '15 at 15:40
  • This soul/mind thing you mention would need to be immaterial in order to be "disembodied," as any material object may be considered "embodied." Leaving aside the problem of how something that is immaterial can even be said to exist, I don't see how such an entity could interact with physical objects in any way that would allow it to have experiences. If there were such a thing as a disembodied soul, and such a thing was capable of having beliefs, I see no reason it couldn't also have a belief that some of those beliefs are empirical. – Elijah Jun 27 '15 at 0:51
2

Yes it can. That is the idea behind Empirical Idealism, the philosophy of Bishop Berkeley.

The scenario you mentioned is already described by DesCartes in his famous demon example.

Berkeley takes this reasoning a step further: Not only is it possible, but it is true of the world. Because we can only be certain of our own sensations (empirical evidence) and nothing else, the only thing we have real knowledge of is our mind, and non mental objects (i.e.the material world) is but an illusion. Other people are disembodied minds as well, and the world outside of human observation is just images in the mind of God.

On the other hand, a materialist, by definition, argues that a mind cannot exist without a body, since mental states are nothing but a collection of brain states and nerve stimulation.

  • Good answer. And for better or worse, Berkeley's solipsism can not be disproved (or proved). If not for God one could even argue that it is the result of the ultimate application of the Occam's razor. – Conifold Jun 21 '15 at 20:28
1

The question, now that we have a notion of how neurons work is "Where would it put the memories?" I think our understanding of the brain, incongruously pushes us toward Kant, and the idea that any non-physical being would have to be 'eternal'.

Memory is an exothermic chemical process, so anything non-physical should not use it. It would instead have fixed beliefs independent of time. So Kant's God and his angels make sense, but a learning by ghosts does not.

1

I don't think so:

Consider a soul (or mind) that has always been disembodied. Suppose he has empirical beliefs. Then how can he with any justification call them empirical? Empirical by its very sense means to have reached some conclusion/understanding by reference to the real world, and this through sense perception; do to call them empirical beliefs is incoherent - the most he can justifiably say, is he has beliefs.

But there is a subtlety; say we have a soul that is disembodied now, but for some extended period in the past he was embodied; then he could have conceived some empirical belief - the physical fact of gravity, for instance - and this has remained with him when he 'slipped this mortal coil'.

  • "Suppose he has empirical beliefs. Then how can he with any justification call them empirical? Empirical by its very sense means to have reached some conclusion/understanding by reference to the real world, and this through sense perception; " But that is exactly how Berkeley concluded that reality was just mind stuff. – Alexander S King Jun 26 '15 at 14:09

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.