The SEP states that "dualism has come upon hard times lately, and is widely regarded as being discredited."

It seems to me that most theists (I'm thinking mostly of Christians here) accept dualism to be true. If they do not, there seems to be many issues regarding how exactly one is "moved" into heaven, or how one's consciousness can persist after the death of a material body.

However, many prominent philosophers still accept theism in one way or another. How, then, can these philosophers accept a "discredited" view? Do they instead accept a materialist account of the afterlife with all of its difficulties?

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    Can you provide detail about how it's discredited? Jul 10, 2019 at 1:40
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    Aquinas did struggle with this. He ended up defending the idea of soul as "substantial form" that is still tied to its matter (body), but yet has independent causal powers of its own that allow it to "subsist" past disembodiment, albeit no longer as a fully human soul. This is a step in the direction of dualism, but it stops just short of it, see What would happen to the soul as the form of the body under massive changes to the body?
    – Conifold
    Jul 10, 2019 at 2:18
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    Thomism is the official theology of Catholicism. Something like re-embodiment is only supposed to happen after the final days, not immediately, as the bodies are recreated in the Kingdom Come. The issue is controversial, the sense of preservation of personal identity under such recreation is a big problem, see various materialist and immaterialist accounts under IEP Resurrection , and Teilhard de Chardin's version, for example.
    – Conifold
    Jul 10, 2019 at 3:15
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    @Dcleve I think you're using dualism with respect to the existence of something other than matter, but I had taken the question to be using dualism with respect to believing mind and brain are distinct (there's lots of different uses of the term dualism).
    – virmaior
    Jul 10, 2019 at 4:50
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    Shouldn't theists themselves decide what is the issue for them? Thomists do not consider their hylomorphism to be either substance dualism or idealism, but then the terms are often used pretty loosely in popular talk. There are even materialist interpretations, as you can see in IEP.
    – Conifold
    Jul 10, 2019 at 8:04

2 Answers 2


I think the actual beliefs of philosophers are more open to dualism than the "discredited" quote implies. The philosophical survey shows a majority of philosophers to be physicalists (56.5%), but with 27.1% non-physicalist, and 16.4% other -- there is certainly a lot of room for dualism and idealism among contemporary philosophy. http://consc.net/papers/survey.pdf As the question notes, theism generally presupposes dualism, and with 14.6% theists among philosophers (and another 12.6% other, which pretty much also requires dualism or idealism) the dualists among philosophers are plausibly between 15-25%.

Note the SEP entry on dualism itself is not nearly as dismissive as that sentence fragment -- here is a key quote:

although dualism has been out of fashion in psychology since the advent of behaviourism (Watson 1913) and in philosophy since Ryle (1949), the argument is by no means over. Some distinguished neurologists, such as Sherrington (1940) and Eccles (Popper and Eccles 1977) have continued to defend dualism as the only theory that can preserve the data of consciousness. Amongst mainstream philosophers, discontent with physicalism led to a modest revival of property dualism in the last decade of the twentieth century.

Note "out of fashion" is a far cry from "discredited". https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/dualism/

A good discussion about that fashion is in Papineau's The Rise of Physicalism: https://www.academia.edu/819823/The_Rise_of_Physicalism Papineau traces the decline of dualism to the success of biochemistry, and the simultaneous failures of vitalism in biology, plus the successful reduction of much of chemistry and physics to fundamental physics forces and particles. Physicalism would therefore be a "progressive" Lakatian Research Programme: http://people.loyno.edu/~folse/Lakatos.html

However, the failure of reductionism in general, and in particular the failure of reductionist philosophy of mind, has begun to reverse that fashion. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/scientific-reduction/ Physicalism is becoming a "regressive" program, and dualism is under increasing reconsideration.

Since the end of the 20th century, the credibility of dualism has continued to grow.

Even Jaegwon Kim is now a dualist: https://www.amazon.com/Physicalism-Something-Princeton-Monographs-Philosophy-ebook/dp/B005646D3I

Here are four more references that show the increasing vigor of dualist thought:





  • Thank you for the answer, I accepted it. I'm wondering: are the questions regarding dualism/materialism questions of logical coherence, or questions of what is best supported by the evidence? Are both materialism and dualism considered logically coherent explanations of the world?
    – Josh
    Jul 11, 2019 at 0:36
  • Are you including under "dualism" views which say consciousness is purely epiphenomenal, so that the physical world is causally closed and all human behavior has a purely physical explanation? I know Chalmers (who co-authored that first survey you linked) has a view like this, not sure about Jaegwon Kim...in any case it seems to me this would pose many of the same problems for theistic ideas like a God who holds us morally responsible for our actions, or even the broad idea that there can be such a thing as an intelligence that does not have the same relation to physical computations.
    – Hypnosifl
    Jul 11, 2019 at 3:52
  • @Hypnosifl Kim is an only partial dualist relative to consciousness -- he considers SOME of consciousness to be reducible to matter, but some aspects of qualia are immaterial. The immaterial experience of qualia he considers to be epiphenomenal -- but as we can talk about and describe these qualia -- this is a nonsense position. That a thinker of Kim's stature was forced to concede it -- is an indication of the severity of the problems with materialism. Chalmers is also an epiphenomenalist relative to mind. Chalmers holds by epiphenomenal pan-psychism, which can't support a God.
    – Dcleve
    Jul 11, 2019 at 4:53
  • So they are not theists, they are non-theist dualists.
    – Dcleve
    Jul 11, 2019 at 4:56
  • A worldview which can support a God, and the specific God of the Abrahamic religions, is a smaller subset of dualism. I treat philosophy and metaphysics as a form of scientific exploration. IS dualism true? Or materialism, or Idealism? and if so, which version? Look for the test cases, and build up an evidenced case. I think this is how philosophy SHOULD be done -- rather than assuming "Abrahamic God exists, and the universe is such that it agrees with Scripture". My belief is that a dualism close to Abrahamic concepts is the case -- although without the Abrahamic God in it.
    – Dcleve
    Jul 11, 2019 at 5:03

Just so it's said, the phrase 'most theists' is reductionistic, and a bit anti-intellectual. I mean, back in the year zero 'most people' believed that the earth was flat, but we don't take that as the standard for modern physics. We allow that physics can grow and change over time to become something more intellectually sophisticated, and we give precedence to more intellectually sophisticated expressions of it. Flat-earthers, for all their exuberance, are treated more or less a joke in the modern world...

Simple dualisms in theology and religious philosophy are unsophisticated constructs. Yes, lots of people cling to them (because lots of people are driven by fear rather than reason), but asserting this as the epitome of religious thought (not an unfortunate decompensation of it) is prejudicial at best.

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    "back in the year zero 'most people' believed that the earth was flat," Do you have supporting docs for this claim? Jul 13, 2019 at 3:05
  • Please don't insult the intelligence of everyone here. The pertinent claim in my post is that physics has advanced over the last few millennia. If you do not believe that to be the case, say so and we'll discuss the matter. Otherwise questions like this are pure rhetoric that do not advance the discussion in any way. Jul 13, 2019 at 3:21

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