A Narrative Account of the Soul

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Forti, Kenneth Nicholas
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School of Theology thesis 2014 , School of Theology, University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee , University of the South , Soul , Physicalism and dualism , Daniel Dennett , Christian metaphysical claims , Accounts of the soul , Lynne Rudder Baker , Nancey Murphy , Nonreductive physicalism
The question of the soul in modern debates about anthropology betrays the determinative narrative of the age and its correlative metaphysics. The metaphysical commitments of much of modern science and philosophy have not only provided the foundation for the debates between physicalism and dualism, but they have set the discussion within the bounds of that debate. Theology, for its part, has largely allowed the resulting narrative to shape its own reflections on anthropology but with the addition of “God” as a character or “the spiritual” as a kind of plot device that the secular versions of the story have overlooked. For this reason, talk about the soul has become problematic for some Christian philosophers and theologians who think they recognize the-writing-on-the-wall as dualism seems to lose more and more ground to physicalism by way of advances in neuroscience. This thesis reveals the metaphysical commitments of modern science and reductionist philosophy by exploring the work of one its most prolific and well-known spokesmen, Daniel Dennett. After that, the thesis turns to the past, to see how theology has out-narrated past philosophical rivals by incorporating their best insights without abandoning Christian metaphysical claims. Accounts of the soul in Tertullian, the Cappadocians, Augustine and Thomas Aquinas provide the case study from Christian history that reveals this process. In light of this history, the thesis then turns a critical eye toward the modern Christian philosophical anthropologies of Lynne Rudder Baker and Nancey Murphy, which have intentionally rejected the soul as a result of the dialogue with science and modern philosophy of mind. This thesis argues that a truly nonreductive physicalism demands metaphysical commitments that become intelligible in a narrative such as that of the Christian tradition, a tradition that is not essentially dualistic in its anthropology but gives an account of creation that provides for the reality of such things as bodies, persons, words, and stories as gifts whose being is contingent on God given through the Incarnation, the narrative of which provides not only being but meaning. And such a realist account of these things is, therefore, necessary for any meaningful discussion of consciousness as an aspect of human physicality and the formative narrative of that physicality, its soul.