Paul and Courtney consider another important topic related to human persons. It has to do with the kind of thing we are, materially speaking. Are we just bodies? Are we souls with bodies? Or are we bodily souls?




The Metaphysics of Human Persons

The two main views on the metaphysics of human persons throughout history are physicalism and dualism.

  • According to physicalist, human persons are just physical things and mental events or states reduce to or identify with or supervene on, in some way or another, on physical things and physical events and physical states.
  • According to the dualist, humans are in some sense composed or constituted by two kinds of things or substances: a physical substance or thing and a non-physical or immaterial substance or thing.


Why The Soul Matters According to Moreland

  1. The Bible seems to teach that consciousness and the soul are immaterial and we need to regard this teaching as genuine knowledge and not as faith commitments that we merely hope are true.
  2. The reality of the soul is important to various ethical issues that crucially involve an understanding of human persons.
  3. The loss of belief in life after death is related to a commitment to the authority of science above theology, along with a conviction that belief in the soul is scientifically discredited.
  4. Understanding the immaterial nature of the human spirit is crucial to grasping the essence of spiritual growth.


“What Does It Mean to be a Bodily Soul?”

  • Stephen Evans and Brandon L. Rickabaugh note that the main Christian alternative to dualism is “non-reductive materialism,” the view that (i) there are mental states, and (ii) that not all mental states are definable (or identifiable) using only non-mental material terms.

Why do Christian philosophers and theologians think we need to abandon dualism for some version of non-reductive physicalism?

  1. Philosophical Reasons: the interaction problem and causal closure of the physical.
  2. Biblical Reasons: it has been argued, of late, that the bible doesn’t teach dualism, but rather, it teaches a monism about human persons. Humans are a “holistic” unified physical thing.
  3. Scientific Reasons: it is often claimed (today) that contemporary neuroscience shows that dualism is false. We are told that neuroscience shows us that (1) the human person is a basic unity, and (2) mental activity is “totally dependent” on neural activity.


Versions of Dualism

  • Body-Soul Composites View (Slogan “My soul is a part of me.”) (Thomistic Dualism) = I am a body-soul composite.
  • Souls, with Bodies Views (slogan: “My soul is not a part of me, but me.”) We don’t “have” souls on this view, strictly speaker, we “are” souls.
  • Bodily Soul View = I am a soul with a body. I am a bodily soul. The soul and body are tightly integrated (more so than Cartesian Dualism). And there are two ways to speak about me: qua human person, I am a bodily soul; a soul that has a body. I am identical to my soul (in agreement with Cartesian Dualism), but (in agreement with Thomistic Dualism) I am a substance, a single fundamental unity, a body-soul composite and it is unnatural for me to be without my body.


Implications of the Bodily Soul View (From Rickabaugh and Evans) 

  • First, the body is important (but doesn’t require becoming a materialist).
  • Second, the human body must be thought of in two distinct ways:
    • As an object in the world (allows us to understand why human persons can be the victim of brain injuries and disorders)
    • As the form of being of myself as a conscious agent (keeps us free from any reductionistic views that views humans purely as objects)
  • Third, the soul or self currently exists in a bodily form, but can exist by God’s power without it.
  • Finally, death is to be grieved, as the soul departs from the body… but we should not mourn as those who have no hope. We will be reunited with our bodies in the general resurrection.





  • Stephen Evans and Brandon L. Rickabaugh, “What Does it Mean to be a Bodily Soul?”, Philosophia Christi17.1 (2015): 315–330.
  • P. Moreland, The Soul: How We Know It’s Real and Why it Matters

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