Do we have a soul?

Course at IAP-PUC, First Semester 2010, Tuesdays and Wednesdays 13.30-14.50 h, by Daniel von Wachter

Contact: - replace "ABCD" by "von-wachter". Tel. 354-1509. I am there to help you. Usually I am in the office at the IAP at least Monday till Thursday from 7.30 h. Usually it is best to send me questions by email. I will then answer by email or ask you to come.

Content of this page

Descripción del curso

Is everything material? Are mental phenomena based on material phenomena? Do we have a soul? This course addresses the questions of the mind-body problem. The core text is John Foster's book The Immaterial Self (1991). Although also some other texts will be studied, the aim of this course is not primarily to interpret texts but to develop and defend answers to the philosophical questions.



Study this page and the following thoroughly:

If you want to participate, send me an email now, so that I have your email address. Between the meetings we will communicate by email, so read it regularly (once a day). I recommend that you use an email program like Thunderbird, which is much more efficient than reading email online ('webmail').

In general, participants have to attend every session. (If you want an exception, for example if you would like to do distance learning, talk to me.) You may miss maximally 2 sessions. If you miss more than 2 sessions, the course is failed. You are welcome to try the course until 12th of March and decide then whether you want to continue to participate.

The course starts at 13.30 h. Be on time.

In general we will have only one common session per week, probably on Wednesday. On Tuesdays there will be tutorials, i.e. meetings of just one or two of you with me, to discuss an essay which you have written for the tutorial. We will arrange details when we meet. Send me the essay by email at the latest on the day before until 22 h. Bring a printed copy of the essay to the tutorial. Within one week after the tutorial you have to submit the final version of the essay, which will be marked. For practice, in some tutorials we might also work on homework which will not be marked.

For tutorials, come well prepared and alert. Work hard to write the essay for the tutorial well. You can ask me questions before the tutorial. Normally it is best if you send questions to me by email. I then answer you by email or ask you to come. Do the readings. I shall ask you questions, answer your questions, correct you, and give you advice. Take notes during the tutorial. Concentrate. Knock at the door.

For the sessions as well as for the tutorials, be dressed decently. Take it as a token of appreciation of each other's company and as respect for the occasion. For the intermediate exam, gentlemen wear a tie, ladies equivalently.

In different countries there are different customs how to address each other at university. We use surnames.


For each session there are a few pages obligatory reading. You must study them. If for some reason you could not read them, tell me before the session. Always bring this as well as the core text (Foster) with you.

Besides that, there will be for each session further readings of which you should do at least some.

Sometimes there will be a short written homework. It will not be marked, but no participant may fail to do it more than twice in the semester.

Send me written homework the day before the session (22 h) by email. If it is short (up to 1.000 words), write or paste the text in an email. If it is longer (which it usually is not) or if it contains formatting which would be lost, send it to me as a file in format ODT (OpenOffice) or PDF or RTF (if you use MS Word, save as RTF) and follow THESE instructions.


70 % essays, to be written during the semester. 30 % half-term exam.

The number and length of the essays will be announced.

There will be no exam and no essay to be written after the end of term. The last meeting of this course is on Wednesday 16 June.

Half-term exam

The half-term exam will be on 21st of April, 2010, at 13.30 h.


The number and topics of the essays will be announced.

Follow THESE instructions carefully. There you also find the criteria for marking.

Get the texts from the library or the internet as described HERE . Search for further literature in the databases, the library, and the internet.

Further notes

Discuss questions from this course (and other questions) on the Internetforum of the IAP:!

If you need to improve your English, take this course as an occasion to do so. Make an effort, find the method for learning English which works best for you. One good method is to study texts of which you have an English and a Spanish version, and ideally also a good recording in British English. (Perhaps you find some at Albalearning.) Study also the grammar. I can give you advice.

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First essay

Essay task: Is David Armstrong's theory of the mind true? (Present the theory and give or refute objections. Consider the objections given by Foster.)
OR: Are types of mental events identical with types physical events?
(OR: Are mental events identical with physical events? (But note that here you have to discuss also token identity; see Foster ch. 5.))

Length: 2.000 to 3.000 words.

Read and use for this:
Armstrong, chs. 6-7.
Foster, ch. 4.

Further helpful texts:


Armstrong identifies all mental states with brain states. He does this by two steps:
1. giving a causal analysis of all mental concepts. 'The concept of the mental is that which plays a certain causal role.' (Lewis)
2. What in fact plays this role are brain processes. So mental states are identified with brain processes.

Two interesting quotations from David Armstrong, A Materialist Theory of the Mind (1993):

'[There is the possibility] that the causal role of tokens of the same mental type should be filled by tokens of significantly different physical types. Instead of a type-type identity one might have no more than a mental type correlated with an indefinite disjunction of physical types.' (14)
'I put forward the Causal theory as a theory about concepts, as a set of logical analyses. This was probably the result of the Oxford part of my time as a philosophy students (1952-1954). I would be much less dogmatic now. Perhaps it is just a theory about the mental instead of an analysis of our concepts of the mental.' (15)

Second essay

Choose one of the topics given below. Read the literature listed. Let me know if you cannot find a text. Pursue references to other texts in these texts. Look also at Length: 2.500 to 3.500 words. Follow the instructions. Not doing so lowers the mark. Submit the essay until 3rd of July, 2010, 22h. Submit it by email.

Topic A: Is psycho-physical causation possible?

Topic B: Are there successful modal arguments for the existence of the soul?

Notes for the sessions

Go to the next session.

The bibliographical data of all texts which are referred to here only in the form 'Foster 1991' you find below in the bibliography.

Tuesday, 9th of March, 2010: Introduction

Wednesday, 10th of March, 2010

For this session, read Foster, until page 8.

Tuesday, 16th of March, 2010

For this session, read Foster, until page 13.

Wed. 17/3/2010

Working techniques:

Tuesday, 30th of March, 2010

The task for this class: State the different views that can be expressed by saying 'The mental is not fundamental'. Use Foster's text. Minimum 500 words. Send it to me by Monday night, as described on the web page

Further, read Foster 'The Immaterial Self' (IS), pp. 16-26. In general, read the whole book now within the next three weeks or so, so that you have a survey.

Tuesday, 6/4/2010: Analytic Functionalism

Obligatory reading: pp. 47-62

Further reading:
Heil, ch. 4
Lowe, 44-50

Wed 21/4/2010: Half-term exam, 13.30 h!

Study these texts:

Further, the other texts I have referred you to.

In particular: Be prepared to give definitions, e.g. of the positions described by Armstrong, 3ff.

Tuesday 27/4/2010

Mandatory reading: Foster, ch. 5.

Tuesday 18/5/2010: Agent causation

Wednesday 19/5: The principle of causal closure

Wednesday, 16th of June, 2010: Last session


Core text: Foster, John, 1991, The Immaterial Self: A Defence of the Cartesian Dualist Conception of the Mind, London: Routledge.

Further texts:


Further books available in the library (search in SIBUC):

Additional internet resources

Internet Articles: