09 January 2020, The Tablet

The sum of our parts?


The sum of our parts?

Swinburne basically agrees with René Descartes
PA/Topham picturepoint

 

Are We Bodies or Souls?
RICHARD SWINBURNE
(OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS, 208 PP, £14.99)
Tablet bookshop price £13.49 • tel 020 7799 4064

What are you? Something totally physical or material? Something partly material and partly non-material? Could you even be something wholly immaterial? Richard Swinburne’s answer as given in this book is that you are completely immaterial. You are essentially a soul, albeit one connected in some way to a particular chunk of matter.

Swinburne begins with what he takes to be a puzzle that arises from the possibility that one of your cerebral hemispheres might be surgically removed and attached to one belonging to someone else, while one of theirs might be removed and attached to one of yours. The idea here is that each of these hemispheres would carry memories and beliefs with them while also being bits of brains had by different human beings before the operation now envisaged. But, says Swinburne, it cannot be that you are what you are just because you have the same memories and beliefs as some other person or because you have a bit of someone else’s brain in your skull.

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