I mentioned that Mike Spenard has written a book about dualism: Duelling with Dualism. He gives a nice account of the history and arguments: if you’re wondering how things turn out for dualism, the subtitle – “the forlorn quest for the immaterial mind” – offers a hint.
One point in Mike’s account that struck me was a comparison he makes in passing between the discussion of dualism and ancient discussions of what the fundamental substance of the world might be – water, fire, earth or what. We don’t talk about that any more, and if there is an equivalent discussion it’s going on in physics, not philosophy. So why do we still seem concerned about dualism versus monism?
I think in many cases it is really a particular dualism we are concerned with rejecting: ‘dualism’ is often just a more neutral way of referring to religious belief in souls and spirits. So long as that is clearly ruled out, we perhaps don’t feel so worried about the apparent dualism of mental and physical or abstract and concrete. We all accept that the world can profitably be addressed on not just two, but several levels of interpretation (though why that is the case, and whether it’s a feature of the world or of the way we see the world are questions to which I personally have no clear answer).
The best reason for doing without traditional souls may actually not be the dualism involved, but the fact that there doesn’t seem to be any soul theory. If there was an account of the spiritual world which explained how our conscious life works, it would certainly be worth a look, but the traditional view seems to take it that once we’ve attributed the self or volition or moral responsibility to the spiritual realm, the need for explanation somehow lapses.
The book is a solid, convincing account of the issue, well worth a look.