Monday, January 26, 2009

Huh, Weird

A few days ago, I had a long conversation about, well, sex. I was talking to a friend who takes a materialist view of the world (as opposed to dualist, I mean).

Christians and many other religious folk take the unpopular view that physical involvement outside of marriage should be severely constrained. Depending on who you ask, the rationale varies:"sex is only for procreation", "sex is inherently sinful/shameful", "the Bible says so, and that's final!", etc. Most of these responses typically don't make sense to the non-believer, who usually feels that what people do with their own bodies is purely their own business: It's not a moral issue because it isn't hurting anyone. (The validity of this definition of morality, and the accuracy of the statement that sex between consensual adults doesn't hurt anyone, are contestable, to my mind.)

The conversation was so long because we just weren't getting through to each other. But finally, I figured out that we have fundamentally different views of how powerfully a human's body affects that person's emotions. My rationale for abstinence is, effectively, that the physical skews the emotional far more than the will can control. (Perhaps I should say, really, that that is my rationale for why the Bible commands abstinence.) My friend, on the other hand, has a much greater faith in the power of conscious choice to determine emotions and govern the body.

Here, one person believes the body (its nerves and hormones and organs and fluids) is all that exists. But that same person believes that the body has only a limited effect on its human's emotions and thoughts, even though those are purely the result of physical changes (on a molecular level). Meanwhile, the person who believes a soul governs the body, fears the power of the physical level to determine emotions, even though those are not merely the product of physical changes. The materialist is implicitly recognizing the power of a non-physical spirit; the dualist is recognizing the potency of the material realm.

Now I need to figure out if this thinking is just ironic, or also inconsistent.

1 comment:

legodesi said...

This is a good fleshing-out of the two opposing perspectives.

I think a dualist can freely concede that his choice may sometimes be influenced by physical stuff. Dualists are perfectly fine accepting that a blow to the head may impair one's choice. He doesn't need to believe that every choice is always free, he only needs to say that some, or most, of our choices are free from being determined by physical states. But I don't think the materialist can believe in any bit of free-will in a person to determine his actions. The Christian can believe in any number of natural explanations for things. But once the naturalist appeals to a supernatural explanation for anything, he loses his faith.

Good thought!