1st Edition

Do We Have a Soul? A Debate

By Eric T. Olson, Aaron Segal Copyright 2023
    264 Pages
    by Routledge

    264 Pages
    by Routledge

    Are we made entirely of matter, like sticks and stones? Or do we have a soul—a nonphysical entity—where our mental lives take place?

    The authors Eric T. Olson and Aaron Segal begin this accessible and wide-ranging debate by looking at the often-overlooked question of whether we appear in ordinary experience to be material things. Olson then argues that the dependence of our mental lives on the condition of our brains—the fact that general anesthesia causes complete unconsciousness, for instance—is best explained by saying that our mental lives are physical activities in our brains rather than nonphysical activities in the soul. Segal objects that this view is incompatible with two obvious and important facts about ourselves: that there is only one of you rather than trillions of almost identical beings now thinking your thoughts, and that we exist and remain conscious for more than an instant. These facts, he claims, are presupposed in our practical and moral judgments—but they require us to be immaterial things. Olson is forced to concede that there is no easy and uncontroversial answer to these objections but doubts whether taking us to be immaterial would be any help. The debate takes in large philosophical questions extending well beyond dualism and materialism.

    The book features clear statements of each argument, responses to counter-arguments, in-text definitions, a glossary of key terms, and section summaries. Scholars and students alike will find it easy to follow the debate and learn the key concepts from metaphysics, philosophy of mind, and other areas necessary to understand each position.

    Key Features

    • Is the only introductory book devoted to the debate between substance dualism and materialism

    • Discusses both traditional and novel arguments for each position

    • Debates important but infrequently discussed questions, including:
      • do we appear, in ordinary experience, to be material?
      • should materialism be the default view?
      • is there a good probabilistic argument for materialism?

    • Written in a lively and accessible style
    • Uses only a limited number of technical terms and defines all of them in the glossary

    Foreword: Dualism and Materialism
    Dean Zimmerman

    Opening Statements

    1. Why I don’t believe in souls
    Eric T. Olson

    2. Why I Believe I am a Soul
    Aaron Segal

    First Round of Replies

    3. Fuzzy Edges and Amputations: Reply to Aaron Segal
    Eric T. Olson

    4. A Sane Soul-Hypothesis and the Sane Materialist Alternative: Reply to Eric Olson
    Aaron Segal 

    Second Round of Replies

    5. The Appearances and the Evidence: Reply to Aaron Segal’s reply
    Eric T. Olson

    6. Materialism is Metaphysically Messy or Morally Absurd: Reply to Eric Olson’s Reply
    Aaron Segal


    Eric T. Olson has a special interest in the metaphysical nature of human beings. He is the author of two other books: The Human Animal: Personal Identity Without Psychology (1997) and What Are We? A Study in Personal Ontology (2007).

    Aaron Segal is the Michael and Bella Guggenheim Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and he has published widely in metaphysics, philosophy of religion, and analytic Jewish philosophy.