Zeyl, Donald, J.
mind; soul; brain; knowledge; identity; bioethics
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What is a Human Person? An Exploration and Critique of Physicalist Perspectives
Faculty Sponsor: Donald Zeyl, Philosophy
Answers to the question “What is a human person?” that have garnered the allegiance of people throughout millennia fall under two broad categories: “physicalism” and “dualism”. One of the earliest renditions of physicalism was the philosophy of the ancient Greek atomists. In their view, all of reality could be explained through two principles: atoms and empty space. As a consequence, people were thought to be nothing but assemblages of atoms in space. Plato’s Phaedo presents one of the earliest philosophical endorsements of dualism by arguing for the existence of an immaterial mind, or soul, that is the grounds for a human person's identity. The idea that a human person is, fundamentally, an immaterial mind or soul that can survive bodily death has also been a long-standing position for many of the world’s major religions in both Western and Eastern traditions. With a recent revival of academic interest in studying consciousness, the debate on human nature has been receiving some special treatment in academia. In my project I aim to critique the dominant physicalist perspective by drawing out its implications for several other areas of human life. Specifically, the troubling consequences physicalism has in relation to epistemology, personal identity, and ethics. Along the way, I will give a brief apologia for dualism as a serious intellectual position that resolves the problems which physicalism presents