Contra Accusations of Physicalism
February 4, 2008 § 64 Comments
Believing that we must as a moral matter live with the choices we have made is not physicalist. Mindless physical objects don’t make choices, and mindless physical laws cannot tell the difference between things we’ve brought about on purpose and things that have happened on accident or against our will.
I’m just sayin’.
It is really a very odd accusation, the more I think about it. Those who think that sex after an intentional contraceptive vasectomy is definitely morally licit because it is physically identical to an act by a man who was sterilized against his will seem to be making exactly the kind of error I am told that I am making: that is, reducing the deontology of the act to nothing but third-party observable physical facts. It isn’t strictly physicalist, because my interlocutors believe that the morality of the act depends on interior intentions. Rather it is a kind of dualism, reducing the act to its strictly physical dimension on the one hand and strictly interior dispositions on the other.
But as JPII says in Veritatis Splendour, “In order to be able to grasp the object of an act which specifies that act morally, it is therefore necessary to place oneself in the perspective of the acting person”, and “[a] doctrine which dissociates the moral act from the bodily dimensions of its exercise is contrary to the teaching of Scripture and Tradition”. Dualism won’t work here: correct moral theology will encompass both of these truths, neither giving a pass to wicked behavior based on interior dispositions nor reducing the act to a set of facts about atoms and physical forces.