apsys1 (1)

Alvin Plantinga Saves Your Soul

or De Cautelis et Malis Artibus

Plantinga is a charlatan who treats us to a spectacle where, by using logic alone, he can prove the existence of a non-material soul. Is this intellectual fraud? You bet your life! He thinks he has found a new trick where, by juggling fancy symbols, he can draw the most absurd conclusions, a faggoty flim flam that dishonors both mathematics and the memory of Descartes whose sincerity in these matters could border on the agonizing (at least in comparison with the snickering superiority of a clown like Plantinga). The symbols in fact are just fancy new duds for that old Dark Ages QED that, as Bacon observed, amounted to "juggling feats, which though we know not how they are done, yet we know well it is not as it seemeth to be." (The Advancement of Learning, p. 226)

The chapter in question starts out with an apparently harmless intuition. Plantinga informs us he "is inclined to think" that Socrates could have been an alligator as long as the alligator that was Socrates was smart enough (Plantinga later adds that it must also be possible for alligators to be immaterial at which point the intuition is not so harmless). To support his harmless intuition, or perhaps just to show that he is one hip dude, Plantinga observes that we find the strange events in Kafka’s Metamorphosis intelligible and so they must be possible. (I’m not sure whether they are so intelligible. Imagine a story where Gregor Samsa wakes up as prime number and he enters into all sorts of conflicts with non-primes and square roots. Written correctly, that should be intelligible in a way. Cf. Abbott’s Flatland.) But wait a minute. This harmless observation contains a deadly caveat. The alligator must be a smart alligator. Dumb alligators need not apply. (Probably the caveat needs to be much stronger than that. If the alligator was smart like a son of a gun but knew no Attic Greek or claimed he was Isaac Newton, then I for one would be "inclined to think" that it is highly unlikely that that alligator could possibly be Socrates.) Well, where do we draw the line between non-Socrates alligators and the alligator whose SAT scores put him in the might-just-be-Socrates category? And what do we look for, how do we investigate and (to use an intentionally loaded term) how do we verify that some alligator has the right stuff? Presumably we would run a battery of tests, check his knowledge of Greek and ask him questions about Alcibiades. Would the laws of logic, even modal logic help us in our research? Not a lot. We would have to add all sorts of junk axioms like:

Junk Axiom 1: If there is some alligator, a, such that a speaks Greek, then it is possible that a is Socrates.

Note that we can’t use uninterpreted symbols for the predicates "is an alligator" and "speaks Greek" and the proper name "Socrates." Otherwise Junk Axiom 1 would be useless in our research. Can we think of our Junk Axioms as postulates (p. 317)? Just kidding, Alonzo.

So how do we decide whether there is some possible state of affairs where we will find lurking an alligator that is really Socrates? No easy task particularly given the prejudice against dumb alligators. Perhaps biology would help ("An empirical science" sniffs the phony modal logician. "Dude, it’s what we got.") A mind as smart as Socrates’ and a voice as characteristic as his needs, according to the best science we have available, a brain, a nervous system and a mouth structured to a certain high level of complexity so that he could show Socrates-like behavior, such as engaging in debates with Gorgias and other formidable opponents. The way to find out would be to catch our possible-Socrates-alligator and dissect him or at least run a highly sophisticated CAT scan. If we find not an alligator brain but a human one, we would be inclined to conclude that our possible-Socrates-alligator was not an alligator at all but a human with some really funny skin (Whether an exoskeleton and other alligator-like traits are biologically compatible with a human brain would remain an unanswered question, but our research at this point at least has some direction. It has freed itself from empty logic.)

So the possibility that somewhere out there Socrates is a really smart alligator could be said to obtain under one of two alternative sets of conditions (though there may be others): (1) The structure of the alligator’s brain etc. were in fact what we would recognize as a human structure in our world; or else (2) The possible state of affairs where the smart alligator that was Socrates was such that the smart alligator retained an alligator brain etc. but where alligator biology could produce the sort of complex behavior characteristic of Attic Greek philosophers. If not, the proposition that Socrates could be an alligator is no more intelligible than my utterance that at this time and place there is a horned prime number in the next room. That is, it is no more intelligible than a non-modal proposition that results from stringing together words without any explanation of what they mean.

What would happen if we dropped the caveat that the alligator be smart? In the first place, the result would be possible states of affairs where anything in this world could be anything else: ((x)(y) ¬(x=y) → ◊(x=y)), where "x" and "y" range over particulars in this world, "→" stands for "If…then…," and "◊" stands for "It is possible." Even Plantinga wouldn’t like that since it would admit possible worlds where the laws of logic in this world do not obtain. Drawing back a bit from that apocalyptic scenario, we would not be inclined to identify a dumb alligator with Socrates in some possible state of affairs unless something motivated us to do so. Perhaps there are people in that state of affairs who would assure us, "Oh yeah, that’s Socrates. Just pay me $20 and I’ll let you pet him." In such a case we would need to embark on another empirical quest, perhaps based on some science of behavior or perhaps just based on simple detective work. But the point is we are forced out of the realm of the logical, even the broadly logical, to make sense of the situation. And what if we dropped the requirement that we have some motive for identifying the dumb alligator with Socrates? Well, then we’re back in Apocalypse where for any thing in this world there is some state of affairs where, for every other thing in this world, the first thing is identical with that other thing. Everything is true. Let’s have lunch.

It is supposed to be one of the values of interpretations of axiomatic systems based on theories such as model theories and truth theories that they give us some idea of the disposition of things by sketching out or reflecting their structure. We can take our clue about the structure of things from the structure of our speaking and reasoning. Thus, "If snow is white, then snow is white," mirrors "If ‘Snow is white' is true, then ‘Snow is white' is true" where quotes designate propositions. Or, as Wittgenstein (who is kind the dictator in these matters) says, "The fact that the elements of a picture are related to one another in a determinate way represents that things are related to one another in the same way" (Tractatus, 2.15; Wittgenstein might actually have been talking about diagrams or maps, but - Who knows?). However, truth theory and mathematical models by themselves do not tell us whether, for examle, the proposition (or its formal equivalent), "If snow is white then snow is colored," is true. To reach that conclusion we would need:

Junk Axiom 2: All things are such that if they are white then they are colored.

Or, to quote Wittgenstein again, "The substance of the world can only determine a form, and not any material properties….In a manner of speaking objects are colorless" (Tractatus 2.0231-2.0232)

A Plantingian might offer that the use of possible worlds models is why we don’t have to dirty our hands with empirical facts when entertaining the logical possibility of Socrates’ being an alligator. That possibility merely reflects a kind of logical structure. "Socrates might have been an alligator" does not violate any logical laws so it is true and its truth reflects something about the world. Of course, Plantinga himself is not his own epigone, at least not in this sense. He cuts himself loose from axiomatic systems on the very first page of The Nature of Necessity (pp. 1-2). And on p. 34 he also seems to cut loose from any semantic interpretation of modal statements as well. Possible worlds are not models for Plantinga in the strict mathematical sense. They are, rather, a sort of metaphor, a way of dramatically picturing how things that are not might be.

Indeed, it is not clear that "Socrates might have been an alligator" does not violate a logical law. The state of affairs where Socrates is a smart alligator is not fully or at least adequately described. If it were to be adequately described we might find some aspect of that state of affairs that did violate a logical law (Perhaps, "All alligators are not alligators.") We don’t know, but we cannot exclude that "Socrates might have been an alligator" violates a logical law, for we lack an adequate description of the state of affairs where "Socrates is an alligator" is true.

If we return to this world, "Socrates is an alligator" does not violate a logical law (by which I mean an axiom of a system of the propositional or predicate calculus. It could violate some neo-Aristotelian category system, but that very possibility is part of Plantinga’s Dark Ages problem. He mixes real logic, and I use the term advisedly, with scholastic mumbo jumbo. Actually Aristotle himself clearly or mostly clearly states (Cf. e.g. Anal. Pr. I xli 49b 33 ff. and  Anal. Post. I x 76b 35 ff.) that the validity of syllogistic reasoning is (or can be) independent of the existence (τ τόδε τι εναι) of the objects referred to in examples of syllogism (It should be noted that the exact meaning of the passage from the Prior Analytics turns on how he understands "κτίθεσθαί The passage in the Posterior Analytics extends the non-existence provision to definitions and hypotheses including geometrical hypotheses.)) because it is not in a form that could violate a logical law. Setting aside proper names, it is of the form "For some x and some F, x is F" where "x" ranges over particulars and "F" over properties, or simply "p" where "p" ranges over propositions. One might call this a singular declarative proposition or, to use Russellian terminology, an atomic proposition. Unless the proposition is articulated there is no logical law for it to violate. Consider the proposition "Socrates is a prime number." That proposition does not violate a logical law either. It too is a singular proposition. We need to look outside of the axioms of a logical calculus in order to conclude that the sort of thing that "Socrates" might stand for and the sort of thing that "prime number" might stand for are conceptually incompatible. Axiomatic systems, even those of the quantified modal logic, have nothing to say about whether these things are compatible or not (at least so far; some clever Hintikka inspired modal logician might one day turn "Socrates" and "alligator" into modal operators, but I'm not holding my breath). They are in fact incompatible, but the point is that formal logical axioms and the models that mirror the structures of axiomatic systems do nothing on their own to inform us about the truth or falsehood of singular propositions such as "Socrates could be a prime number."

Axiomatic systems and their models do not get down to the dirty existential details. They are both analogous to an architect’s blueprint. Rather, the model might be said to be equivalent to the blueprint and the formal deductive structure to a verbal description of the blueprint. The blueprint itself probably doesn’t tell us whether the façade is made of marble or granite (If it includes an informative note to that effect the note may be wrong, i.e. false, while the blueprint still accurately mirrors the structure of the building.) As we noted, the equivalence of " ‘Snow is white’ is true" and "Snow is white" does not actually tell us whether snow is white. In the same way, the logical validity of the following proposition (if it is logically valid): " ‘Socrates could be an alligator’ is true if and only if there is a possible world where Socrates is an alligator," does not tell us whether in fact Socrates could be an alligator. Note this proposition is a bi-conditional.

Let me put things this way: We structure our language and logic the way we do partly because of our prior or concurrent understanding of how the world is constituted and the way it works - not the other way around. This should be obvious. No world, no language. Logic did not come from outer space and just happen to fit the workings of our earth. Language and logic function as a filter for understanding the world only when we - latecomers in the phylogenetic tree of communicating entities - are faced with an already constituted language (almost always) or an already constituted logic (only sometimes). The important lesson to draw from this is that, when our logic appears to conflict with our intuitions about the world, there may be something wrong with our logic (i.e. a specific system on the table, our factical logic, as the phenomenologists would put it, not all and any deductive validity). Russell warned that a healthy sense of reality should always accompany logical system building. On the other hand, the culprit may be a poor understanding of the world and logic may help us correct that poor understanding. In fact rips and tears in the veil of language occur all the time. Examples of where the filter of our language/logic may mislead include category mistakes, the paradoxes of material implication, confusion of the grammatical copula with the concept of existence, Fregean realism and even the Platonic Theory of Forms. More à propos to this discussion is that Plantinga's sophism to the effect that god must exist in this world because that piece of garbage exists in some possible world is based on the same elementary error. These errors are not necessarily corrected by further examination of language, which may only compound the deception, but largely by recourse to a direct examination of the world without depending on the filter of language or logic. Quine's "regimentation" of natural language relied considerably on his supra linguistic views about ontology. Does this mean that the linguistic was a wrong turn? Could be. Sartre observed that the ego was not transcendental but transcendent. There's no reason why the same arguments can't apply to the "institution" of language.

Moving on. Having established Socrates’ could-be-alligatorhood to his satisfaction, Plantinga gets down to the real action of liberating the ghost from the machine. He writes that, while he considers Descartes’ argument to be true, he doesn’t care to defend it at that point – a smart move since not a single one of Descartes’ objectors, including a couple of doctes théologiens, bought a word of it.

At most, Plantinga opines, Descartes’ argument establishes that (where "□" stands for "Necessarily:" and where "Socrates" is a proper name):

       (1) □(Socrates has a body.)

is not true. So, (where "◊" stands for "Possibly:")

      (1a) ◊"(Socrates has a body.)

is true.

Descartes can fend for himself (or cannot as the case may be). Let’s look at Plantinga’s reasons. His argument comes down to interpreting "Socrates could be a ghost" (where "be a ghost" means the same thing as "does not have a body") as "There is some possible world where Socrates is a ghost." Here are a couple of objections:

Objection 1: Without further explanation, the idea of Socrates not having a body doesn’t mean anything. Does it mean that Socrates would be a voice in thin air? Would he be a cloud-like substance sitting on a throne next to the Big Fella? Would he be a sort of flash of light as in a Disney animation?  If a disembodied Socrates is without meaning, a world inhabited by a disembodied Socrates is also without meaning. It is empty word play that Hobbes would have snarled at. I might as well say, "Socrates is a JubJub." In any event Plantinga has some ‘splainin’ to do.

Objection 2: Plantinga’s use of  "necessary/possible," and accordingly his use of "essential/contingent" ("Essential" is the de re version of  "necessary," a de dicto property of propositions – "Ah, Fadder O’Boyle is usin’ the lingo latino again and when he speaks in tongues, you know it’s de Holy Fadder hisself that’s talkin’to us!"), is circular. Now when these operators are used for the purposes for which truth theory and models were devised, the circularity accusation is invalid. Extensional definitions of truth place propositions and states of affairs in correspondence to each other, by convention if you will, because the mathematician is interested in whether, for a given axiomatic system, the theorems of that system mirror true propositions in the language of the system. Unarticulated propositions like a "Snow is white" are not decidable by the models for logical systems, nor should they be. Likewise, "Socrates is essentially a material object" is not decidable by a model for a modal logic, nor should it be. In Plantinga’s case, however, the definition of "Socrates is essentially (necessarily) a material object" meaning "There is no possible world where Socrates is not a material object" is viciously circular. It defines "necessary" in terms of its complement "possible." It says nothing. It is an empty definition. Plantinga simply underlines the circularity of his definition by divorcing himself from possible worlds semantics. Separated from their purpose as a logical tool, possible worlds are just a highly colorful metaphor in this case saying nothing.

As long as we stay on a logical plane there is no circularity in interpreting a system that uses symbols we choose to understand as possibility and necessity by means of models that themselves appear to incorporate the concept of possibility. Models for modal logics are just structures not unlike the axiomatic structures of the logical systems themselves. Our metaproofs of standard first order logic and modal logic are no more than comparisons of the two structures. To say that what a model expresses actually corresponds to some intuitive notion we may have of necessity or possibility is to make a claim that cannot be sustained by any theorem of the modal logic or any metatheorem that compares the logic to its model. If it could, then we would have no need for all these learned philosophical tomes proving that it did. The models of standard first order logic offer no assurance that the world is constituted such as to be faithfully expressed by a given logical system (My personal opinion is that even phrasing the question this way involves a huge category mistake. Formal logic, or any logic for that matter, says nothing about the world. It says a good deal about the language for which it is a logic and perhaps also something about how that language may fit the world). The validity and faithfulness to the "real" world of notions such as individual or particular, set, property and relation or even truth conditions and states of affairs have to be demonstrated by arguments that are not theorems of an axiomatic system of first order logic or theorems of some other effectively axiomatic system that models it. You cannot just lay down the law Tractatus style. Correspondingly if you make a factual claim about the real world to the effect that some state of affairs necessarily obtains in it (so called de re necessity) , and if you base your claim on some property of a model for a modality (whose classes comprising the relevant domains of interpretation are better termed "manifolds" instead of "possible worlds") understood as stipulatively defining the very possibility by which it is initially specified, then your reasoning is circular. If it weren’t, then a weighty tome like Wiggins’ Sameness and Substance would be unnecessary. The axioms of the theory of the model would prove themselves.  An analogous sort of circular reasoning would be exemplified by the claim that it is proved that there is some discoverable fact in the world because a theorem of the propositional calculus is interpreted by a first order model such that the theorem is true for all truth value assignments to its component propositions.

Let me put it this way. It is almost a cliché that a first order axiomatic system can be regarded as a vast hypothetical. It tells us what the consequences are if its axioms and rules of inference are accepted and a proposition has been proved on the basis of those axioms and rules. It is not equipped to prove a given atomic proposition. The metatheory of first order logic can tell us what the consequences are if a proposition is true. It cannot tell us whether or not a given atomic proposition is indeed true.  The modal logic of necessity and possibility is also a vast hypothetical. It tells us, or purports to tell us, what the consequences are if a proposition has been proved in the system, i.e. follows from the appropriate axioms by appropriate rules of inference. It is not equipped to prove a given atomic proposition even if that proposition involves a modality. What is not often recognized is that the theory of the models that interpret first order modal logic is yet another overarching hypothetical. Those famous possible worlds constitute the domain of interpretation of quantified first order modal logic. They are a heuristic device for understanding the manifolds ranged over by the metatheory of modal logic. The metatheory of modal logic can tell us what the consequences are if a proposition is necessarily true (There are other problems with modal logic, but I am assuming for the sake of argument that the basic claims made about it are valid) and how we are to understand the necessity of a proposition that is necessarily true. It is not equipped to tell us which atomic propositions are indeed necessarily true, if any. It tells us that if the proposition that Socrates is a ghost is necessarily true, then the individual ghost-Socrates will be a member of every manifold of which the individual Socrates is a member in the interpretation of the logic in which that proposition is expressed. It does not tell us whether or not that proposition is necessarily true or whether in fact there is any such individual in those manifolds. Plantinga’s folly lies in misinterpreting a way of expressing the necessity of the proposition that Socrates is necessarily a ghost as an actual proof that Socrates is necessarily a ghost (and that therefore he is a ghost). (Plantinga’s other misstep is to confuse de dicto and de re necessity, but that’s just an obfuscation and does not really involve a logical mistake.) It is no different from my erroneous belief that, if it is the case that,  if Jenna is necessarily hopelessly in love with me then she is hopelessly in love with me in every possible world, then she is necessarily hopelessly in love with me, then she is in love with me. Possible worlds semantics simply says that if a proposition p is possibly true, then this is the formal structure by which we can understand its possible truth. On the other hand, if you stipulate that some q fits the formal structure of possible world semantics and then consider your stipulation a proof that q is possibly true, you are reasoning in a circle. Plantinga did just that in his proof that Socrates is necessarily a ghost. It is not unlike a hypothetical philosopher stipulating that an individual a the specification of whose properties appears to entail a contradiction is consistently a member of a set subject to Zermelo-Fraenkel restrictions, and then using his stipulation as a "proof" that the specifications of a’s properties does not entail a contradiction.

But Plantinga is not satisfied with his limited version of Descartes’ proof. He wants to prove that there is no material body to which he or Socrates is identical. In other words he wants to prove:

      (2) Socrates is a ghost.

Which he phrases as:

      (2a) I am a ghost.

Plantinga’s argument is that if you replace his body, even gradually piece by piece, at some point he would have a completely different body but he would still be himself. Therefore it is possible that he is not identical to his body at a timet. So by the Indiscernibility of Identicals Plantinga is not identical to his body at any time. Man, that logic! You can prove just about anything! But now we have a whole new set of problems:

Objection 3: The term "I" is not defined. Index terms are messy. And since I’m pretty certain that I’m not a ghost and I haven’t the foggiest what it would mean for me to be a ghost, let’s substitute a proper name for "I." "Plantinga" will do. Now does "Plantinga" mean all the atoms composing Plantinga’s body? Clearly Plantinga doesn’t think so. Does "Plantinga" mean a set of memories, conscious and subconscious, dispositions to behave in a certain way and a life history? Does it mean some internal Selbstbewusstsein crying out, "Here I am, world!" Maybe there are other alternatives. The point is that, as long as we don’t have an adequate definition of what "Plantinga" means, we don’t know what it means for there to be the same Plantinga after he has changed bodies. If the new body isn’t Plantinga, then Plantinga may very well be identical to his body (viz. the old body) in such a way that law of the Indiscernibility of Identicals is undisturbed.

Let’s turn away from Leibniz (or pseudo-Leibniz) and apply Domingo’s Law of Obfuscation Through the Unconsidered Use of Logical Symbols. In other words, put down your Fitch and think about our (admittedly somewhat fantastical) world. Plantinga says we could completely replace his body and he would still be Plantinga. In other words, it is possible that we replace every atom of Plantinga’s current body with a complete set of substitute atoms from Mary Tudor’s body and he would still be Plantinga. (We would have to resurrect Mary Tudor but resurrection shouldn’t be problem for Plantinga; on the other hand, the resulting man/woman combination would certainly stir up trouble from Donald Wildmon.) "Possible" sounds so forgiving here that Plantinga’s claim appears to be uncontroversial ("Anything is possible in this great country of ours!"). The objection at this stage, however, is not about "possible"; it is about what it means to be Plantinga. So what would it mean for this Mary Tudor-like individual to be Plantinga? Our guess was that he/she would respond to the name "Plantinga" and would answer satisfactorily a battery of questions about the good old days at UCLA. In other words, he/she would satisfy some set of criteria based on external behavior. Or else, he/she could assure us that he/she was really Plantinga. This would satisfy some sort of personal testimony criterion. The Selbstbewusstsein criterion could only be satisfied to Plantinga’s own satisfaction. The point is we really don’t know (Virgnia Woolf probably knew. Cf. Orlando). Even if the female Plantinga passed all the behavioral criteria we still would not be entirely inclined to say he/she was identical to the old Plantinga and not just a Plantinga Doppelgänger. His/her wife, of course, would be in fits. Things get messier if this new individual were occasionally and unexpectedly to cry out, "Off with their heads!" or "I think I’m pregnant." Or what if he/she started to wonder in the middle of the night whether he/she was really Plantinga or just maybe Mary Tudor. Or else he/she might begin to entertain vivid memories of Henry VIII alongside his/her memories of UCLA.

Let’s think of another situation. Let’s say Bill Gates managed to capture Plantinga and copy everything about his memories, dispositions, self-awareness etc. to a new ambulatory computer. The computer passes the same battery of tests that Mary Tudor did and in addition writes some really thoughtful books about Selbstbewusstsein that could very well have been penned by Descartes or Husserl. Which one is Plantinga? The biological residue or the shiny new computer? His wife would probably be filing for divorce at this stage.

This constitutes a rather one-sided view of the Plantinga-is-really-also-Mary-Tudor problem. You might call it the external view or the behavioral perspective. In my opinion what makes Lockean (to a degree) and Crébillonian views about personal identity really interesting is when there is a conflict or even a simple décalage between a person’s introspective feelings and certainties and external physical and behavioral evidence. The situation Crébillon describes is one where the narrator is for all intents and purposes a sofa but a sofa who has all the mental faculties we ordinarily ascribe to anthropomorphs including perception and memory, specifically memories of having had an anthropomorphic body at some time in the distant past. Voisenon amplifies the theme by presenting a narrator whose consciousness dwells in a bathtub. So what would be really interesting is if Plantinga woke up one day and discovered he was a thinking bathtub. He sees through the handles, smells through the spout and nourishes himself through the drain. I’m not sure how he would defecate. But he can’t talk or communicate in any way with those he considers he peers, either anthropomorphs or other bathtubs. His only evidence that he is Plantinga lies in his consciousness of being Plantinga. His knowledge that he is Plantinga is introspective and reflective. We should note that this is not a pleasant situation for reasons other than the obvious. Logicians and a large number of metaphysicians hate talking about consciousness, contents of consciousness, self-reflection, internal certainties, self-consciousness or any of the other concepts associated with empiricism, Kantianism, phenomenology or introspective psychology. Those notions are just yucky. They don’t have the clearness and smoothness and porcelain-like definiteness of, well let’s say, a bathtub. However that may be, the fact that conflicts about personal identity can best (or perhaps only) be stated in terms of a conflict between internal consciousness and external data (even in the judicial context that interests Lockeans; after all on what basis does the defendant say he was a different person when he committed the murder?) should give us pause. Even more intriguing is the case where the thinking bathtub has access to all the same external data as the aged professor brushing his teeth only steps away from the bathtub’s edge.

One might indeed argue that the Lockean version of the problem could come about in an actual case largely (or only) because of verbal testimony available to the outside observer (perhaps a cry of anguish when the aged professor farts into the bathtub drain, or more mundanely a verbal natural language assertion on a psychiatrist’s couch). And that verbal testimony presupposes (only makes sense because of) the presence of introspective consciousness in the testifying individual. And furthermore, that we would do well to have a theory of such consciousness if we are to address issues of personal identity from a Lockean perspective at all. I won’t argue that here and I’m not at all sure that it can be successfully demonstrated. But it’s worth thinking about.

If you once admit the idea of introspective evidence for personal identity, then you might agree that Sartre (a philosopher Plantinga would have done well to read instead of wasting his time communing with his lord and savior) provided something of a framework we can use to understand the dilemma of the divided self (Plantinga/Mary Tudor), although that wasn’t his purpose. This is his distinction between the reflective self and the observed self (Cf. La Transcendance de l’Ego, pp.37 ff. and passim). The reflective Plantinga apprehends the noematic object Mary Tudor who just happens to strangely overlap the noematic object Alvin Plantinga. These selves are just as opaque to Plantinga’s reflective self as any material object. Once Plantinga’s Mary Tudor side begins to have pregnancy fantasies, then his reflective side looks at those fantasies and wonders whether or not he, or at least one of his noemata, might not actually be Mary Tudor.

Objection 4: We cannot tell whether two things are really indiscernible without a complete description of all the properties of both things. This is why none of the examples above appear to violate the Indiscernibility of Identicals no matter what our opinion of the situation may be, for we simply don't have enough information. No object is different, i.e. discernible, from itself (if indeed Indiscernibility of Identicals is a valid logical law), but for any two proposed objects, a and a1, probably the only case where we can tell beyond any doubt that a = a1 is where the properties of both are exhaustively specified by definition. (This is not to make a logical issue into an empirical issue. Rather, the axioms of modal logic do not sufficiently specify the meaning of non-modal terms such that conclusions of this sort can be drawn from modal systems and their models alone). Otherwise the following obtains: If Plantinga and Mary Tudor/Plantinga are really indiscernible, then there is a good chance they are identical. If, on the other hand, they are not identical, then in some respect which we may not be aware of they are not indiscernible. When we come right down to it, Plantinga's material body argument could apply to any property possessed by an individual in the actual world. It is possible, for example, that Plantinga might change memories or a sense of self or souls but keep the same body. That is, there is a world where Plantinga has a different soul. Therefore Plantinga is not identical to his soul, etc. Ultimately the only "essential "property" that Plantinga could produce is self-identity. So he is really arguing for the following principle:

Principle 1: An object, a, has a soul if and only if a=a.

Now aside from the fact that Plantinga's buddies down by the river won't be none too happy with that definition of a soul (They want the flash of light and that cloudy feeling while tippling the corn likker with St. Peter), this principle attributes souls to all objects including bits of moon rock, a consequence that could only please an extreme Goethean.

Moving on. Having once again proved to his satisfaction that the person is not identical to the body, Plantinga unveils his proof that persons are necessarily not material. I don’t know what possible world he got these proofs from but it is definitely not the world of rational argument. His argument runs as follows:

        (3) Plantinga is not identical to his body.

If (3) is true, then it is a necessary truth since, if Plantinga and his body are not identical, then there is no possible world where "Plantinga" and "Plantinga’s body" name the same thing. So,

      (3a) It is necessarily the case that Plantinga is not identical to his body,

which (according to Plantinga) is equivalent to,

      (3b) Plantinga is necessarily (essentially) not (his) body.

Since, for any body in the actual world it is possible that Plantinga is not identical to that body,

      (3c) Plantinga is necessarily (essentially) not any body.

      (4) Therefore Plantinga is not a material object.

(4) doesn’t actually follow from (3). For even though for some object, a, and for all objects, b, that have a certain property, F (such as being material), it is necessarily the case that a is not identical to b, it does not follow that it is not the case that necessarily a is F ("a is always F" might be a more cautious if non modal formulation, or else "a is unavoidably F" or "a is F to the extent that we can understand what you're talking about"). The material object that is identical to a in some possible world may not, for example, "exist" in the actual world. Think of Gates’ computer or the idea of a structured nervous system. "Plantinga is not identical to material body, b" does not imply that it is not the case that for some world, W, there is some material body, b1, such that Plantinga is identical to b1 in W. It may be the case that  b1 is instantiated in W but not in the real world, i.e. it is not an actual but a "possible" object (if you don't like possible objects, think of the elementary particles of the real world as rearranged in W such that in W a is identical to a set of those particles although there is no object in the real world that can be identified with that particular set of particles arranged in just that way in W). For any world, W1, a would be identical to b1 in W1, and so "a is identical to b1 in W1" would be necessarily true. What if there are no possible material objects to which a is identical? I don't know whether that's the case. Formal semantics for modal logics won't help us here, and neither will "applied semantics" (or "bullshit semantics" as we like to call it down on the farm), at least not without a lot of midnight tinkering. It is strong enough that it be possible that in any world where a is instantiated there be some material object in that world that is identical to a. If you want to restrict possible material objects such that it is not possible that, in any world where a is instantiated, a is identical to a material object in that world, you would have to justify placing such a restriction on "broadly logical possibility." But couldn't it be the case that there are worlds where a is instantiated but there are no material objects, not even possible material objects, that are identical to a? Again I don't know. The point is, this cannot even be called a "broadly logical" possibility unless we know what it means for something to exist and not to be a material object (or a number, assuming there are such things as numbers or some other meaningful alternative to being a material object). Otherwise, all you're saying is, "Things could be different." 

Let’s move on. Plantinga seems to try to disprove what I just said by quoting G.H. Von Wright. He concludes,

       (5) Therefore it is necessarily the case that Plantinga is a not material object.

In other words,

       (6) Plantinga could not possibly be a material object.

That is, there is no world where Plantinga is a material object. (Nota bene: This line of reasoning also proves that Theseus' ship was necessarily not a ship.) To arrive at (5) and (6) Plantinga invokes a principle that if an object, a, is necessarily F, then there is no world where a is not necessarily F. In other words, there is no world where a is possibly not F (in this case, possibly material). This principle is shaky on the face of things since it doesn’t hold for certain disjunctive properties. But Plantinga says it’s OK for "natural" properties. (What the hell is a "natural" property?) In fact, this principle, if it holds at all, appears to hold only for identity (and so for transworld identity, assuming there is such a thing as transworld identity and assuming that identity is really a property, i.e. a two-place symmetrical predicate). The property of being a material object (whatever that means) and its complement do not appear without further elaboration to involve transworld identity. They do not, that is, unless you think that "being a material object" means the same thing as "being identical to some particular body," which is not the same as "being identical to itself." But if that’s the case then all properties (or their complements) would be "essential" because any property, F, could be construed as "identical to something that is F." Therefore, if it is possible that some object, a , is not F, then, by Plantinga's argument, a is necessarily not F. Suppose, for example, Plantinga in some world different from the actual world one day fell and hit his head on the way to his first philosophy class. Suddenly what could have been the smart Plantinga suddenly becomes the stupid Plantinga. Now by (3),

       (7) Plantinga is not identical to the smart Plantinga,

is true.

However, if (4) follows from (3), then by application of the above principle,

       (8) Plantinga is not smart,


       (9) Plantinga could not possibly be smart,

would both be true. This is so because you can construe any property duly instantiated as being identical to an object that has that property. But, by the same token, the complement of any negative property would also necessarily obtain for any object by double negation. Plantinga would necessarily be not-smart, not-bearded, not-spiritual, not-God-fearing etc. In addition Plantinga would necessarily be not not-bearded, not not-spiritual, non not-God-fearing an so on. In fact Plantinga would necessarily not be anything and any two contradictory propositions would both be true and both false. Identity is the only "property" saved from this dire fate. In fact the only thing what Plantinga is really saying  is: "Things are what they are. But the world could be different." But since everything is true and everything is false in Plantinga's universe, he is not really saying anything.

I think it is interesting and worth further discussion that many of my examples are not couched in terms of possible worlds but in terms of different moments in time in this world. There is a complex relation between the logic of necessity and the logical structure of time.

Do Plantinga’s comments in a later chapter (Ch VI, pp. 88 ff.) about transworld identity have any bearing on all this? He says, namely, that possible worlds are not things you look at through a telescope like other planets. Rather, they are just a convenient way of phrasing things when we say "It is possible that…" So we really don’t need to single out and interrogate the alligator Socrates in another world (He doesn’t have to be "empirically manifest"). It’s just that, if it were possible that Socrates were an alligator, then there is a possible world where Socrates exists and Socrates is an alligator. ("Exists" here seems to mean, "talked about by Plantinga.") So things exist in possible worlds even though practically anything we can say about them is wrong. Looked at this way the immortality of the soul argument runs:

a) Socrates could be an alligator.

b) We don’t need to find or describe a Socrates alligator on any possible world.

c) Therefore Socrates is a ghost.

Now dassa spicy Meat Ball!

The answer is: No, Plantinga’s views on transworld identity don’t really help. In the first place they contradict his other view that the alligator Socrates must be a smart alligator. But remember, if we drop all qualifications on the alligator Socrates, then we end up with everything being everything else in some world, and any one of those worlds might just be impossible. Secondly, exactly the same reasoning can prove that Socrates is not a soul, since I for one find a world where, for example, Socrates keeps his own body but has someone else’s soul – say the soul of Casper the friendly ghost – and remains Socrates, completely possible. Finally, we can throw out a sentence that appears to embody a comprehensible possibility and so appear to be making sense. But does our sentence really make sense? What about the possibility that Socrates could not have a single one of his properties except his "essential" properties (which comes down to no more than self-identity)? Does this really make sense? Are we entitled to be understood when we say we are still denoting something in that case with our proper name, or are we just playing with words? The non-modal sentence, "The unguent chair in Zambia is Socrates," makes just as much sense. Plantinga pretends to be talking plain common sense when he refers to possible worlds telescopes. But a possible world where there is a Socrates only because Plantinga says so is not the product of common sense. It’s just that old time religion, that Dark Ages gobbledygook come back to haunt us.

So Plantinga’s revision of Descartes’ proof that people are not bodies fails.

Part of the problem is that Plantinga uses words with all the precision of a real estate agent closing in on a sale. For him the entire issue is whether a soul is or is not a material object. Now your average boring philosopher would at this point feel some small need to define what he means by "material object" (He should also define "soul" for that matter. Let us pass over in silence what Plantinga means by "exist," variations of which he throws around like a drunken sailor. Let’s save that for his "proof" of the existence of Godot). But Plantinga is above such tedious peasant work. Try as you can there is not the slightest hint in his discussion as to what a material object might be. Don’t look to Descartes for help since he doesn’t even use the term. Descartes uses "body (corps)" which, given the state of science at his time (which he was partly responsible for establishing), he defines with a great deal of precision.  So even a passing glance at Plantinga’s redargutions raises problems. Are light waves material objects? Is gravity a material object? Is the structure of Socrates’ nervous system a material object? (Some would say "the structure of Socrates’ nervous system" is a convenient shorthand for certain highly complex molecules arranged in such a way that certain information-bearing energy transfers take place between them.) So with truly breathtaking carelessness Plantinga trots out the term "material object" and a few cool logical symbols he learned as a graduate student and wields these tools like a rusty Capetian battle axe to hack our poor defenseless universe into so many undefined Albigensian body parts.

You can probably count the number of educated people who believe in the existence of the soul on the fingers of one hand. The Plantinga situation, however, points to a more widespread tendency for logically oriented philosophers to throw a few symbols in a pot, take care of a couple of counter-examples and, Voilà!, they’ve proved all sorts of sexy things that in the bad old days you actually had to think about. For it is as true now as it was in Descartes’ and Bacon’s day that the laws of logic tell us little if anything about the internal content of singular propositions. Logic does tell us how to string these propositions together to reach conclusions and it may give thereby some clue about the structure of the world. Otherwise religion and philosophy receive an "extreme prejudice" "by being commixed together; as that which undoubtedly will make an heretical religion, and an imaginary and fabulous philosophy." (The Advancement of Learning, p. 192).

Meanwhile, if you want a logical law, here’s one for you:

Domingo’s Lemma: If it smells, cook it first.

Scholium 1: In Chapter VI The Nature of Necessity Plantinga argues that what he calls the Theory of Worldbound Individuals entails that

(N1) Socrates is foolish

is necessarily false. It is somewhat ironic that Plantinga's argument for Socrates' soul entails that

(N2) Socrates is smart

is necessarily false.

Scholium 2: In Chapter VII of The Nature of Necessity Plantinga chidingly observes that various semantics, pure and applied, of modal logic do not provide a means of deciding the metaphysical issue of whether there are possible instantiations of simple predicates such as "...has two cunts." No kidding. In the same way the semantics of first order logic does not provide a means of deciding whether, "Anais has two cunts" is true or not. Hobbes had a term for those Dark Ages Scholastics who tried to use logical structures alone to draw substantive conclusions about the world, but decency prevents us from repeating it here.

Scholium 3: Plantinga probably never read Locke, but he would have done well to consult the chapter in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding about personal identity where Locke exposes the concepts that would have to be explained by anyone who wants to prove that an immaterial soul exists (much less understand what an immaterial soul may be). Certainly modal deductive systems, least of all the kind of "logic" that Plantinga fabricates, do not contain contain the conceptual apparatus to provide such an explanation. And they never will until someone provides an initial intuitive explanation that can become part of an axiomatic deductive system.

Scholium 4: Plantinga's book predated the discovery of species specific genomes and DNA fingerprints. Nevertheless, now that we have those concepts it is easy to see that what Plantinga misinterpreted as Socrates' ghost may very well be his DNA fingerprint. This latter would constitute in fact the essence of Socrates in both the Aristotelian and transworld senses (assuming you subscribe to the viability of either Aristotelian or transworld essence, which, by way of aside, I emphatically do not; I suspect that some of what I say about Plantinga impacts Kripke's views on transworld identity, but showing that is a different and far more daunting task). Now we can more coherently conceptualize the real world incompatibility of being Socrates and being an alligator. Socrates' personal DNA is not just a placeholder for his personal identity. It is responsible for his morphological and behavioral characteristics. So, if Socrates had the DNA configuration that transcribed into being a smartass Athenian philosopher, then he could not have had the morphological characteristics of an Everglades reptile. How about the fact that the vision of an entity that looks and feels like an alligator but talks endlessly about the good and makes goo goo eyes at Alcibiades does not involve a logical contradiction? That is also explained by the concept of a DNA fingerprint in one of three ways. It could be that the entity is not Socrates. Or else it may not really be an alligator. Of course it may be neither. So the third possibility is that it is a representative of a hitherto undiscovered species with a unique genome that transcribes into both an exoskeleton among other things and a capacity for language including the appropriate vocal apparatus and a behavioral disposition of being attracted to human males. Since presumably we now have an objective criterion for identity, however, under none of these possibilities including the second is the creature Socrates since none of them shares his particular DNA fingerprint. The fact that the hybrid has Socrates' memories and sense of self is accounted for by the fact that it has enough of his genes and stored experiences to produce those characteristics. But this implies that Socrates could not have had the physical features of an alligator from birth. Indeed if he did, then he might not have been admitted into better Athenian society and the store of his experiences would have been different. He would have had to have had human physical features at one point and then changed to have reptilian physical features. But that is the course of events that Plantinga hypostasizes anyway. He explains it by the tall tale of Socrates' ghost migrating from a mammalian into a reptile body. We now have a better explanation in terms of DNA copying with retention of some neuronal information. Notably the genetic explanation does not involve a transfer of personal identity. For the relevant genes and neuronal data could simply be copied from Socrates into the new creature. The result would be that we end up with two numerically distinct entities both of which have Socrates' memories and self-awareness. Note, Crébillon's sofa poses greater difficulties since many sofas don't have DNA. But these difficulties are not insurmountable. Discussion Question: Are Lockean problems of self-identity solved by the discovery of genomes and DNA fingerprints? Defend your answer.

Scholium 5: Not irrelevant in this case is Wiggins’ Principle D and his arguments to the effect that any meaningful identity assertion must be qualified by a sortal concept specifying "the same what". If there is no sortal concept at all by which we can identify Socrates across his possible metamorphoses, then to assert he remains Socrates throughout is simply meaningless. Cf. also pp. 65 ff. where he argues that narratives of radical substance change are based on literary devices and do not stand up to close historical interrogation. "It is perfectly notorious that not every story corresponds to a possible world." (p. 66) I’m sure Plantinga would insist that the concept ghost qualifies as Wiggins style sortal required for transworld identification of Socrates.