Move Beyond Duality – Or Else!

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Book Review

I can’t remember who or what it was that led me to pick up the book Moving Beyond Duality: Enough For Us All, Volume Three by Dorothy I. Riddle. I’ve been reading it today, at any rate, and what I’m learning from Ms. Riddle is that it’s time for us all to move beyond duality; hence the name. I’m also learning the value of thinking through the logical consequences of one’s position.

This is a book of moral advice. I’m not sure it would be saying too much to describe it as a self-righteous book of moral advice. The advice it offers, of course, is that we expand our thinking beyond the necessity of black-and-white terminology that leads us to categorize persons, situations, and things in simplistic ways, leading to depersonalization, dismissiveness, and other faults.

For example:

We continually frame our experience to realistically, even though our daily life bears witness to a much more nuanced and complex existence. And even though quantum physicists and molecular biologists and social psychologists have been trying to tell us otherwise.

And,

Dichotomies, by their nature, are constructs or ideas that we create. They are not absolutes of nature.

Or as she wrote at the beginning,

Actually, duality is not a given. It is a construct, a low-effort conceptual framework we use to make sense of our experience and of our complex universe. It is an assumption that we make, the habit of thinking or perceiving that we have collectively accepted as reality. It feels true because we create two-category distinctions (either/or) so frequently. We forget that we are the ones who create the categories. We are the ones who choose to limit those categories to two.

We shall see how true that turns out to be.

I’m just as much in favor of eliminating moral errors from our world as the next liberal. Maybe even more so. I’m just not convinced that the road this book is leading us on will get us there. If your moral principle is to eliminate dualities, then you will find yourself quickly in a quandary. To wit:

Historically we have viewed nonhumans – such as plants and animals – as “things,” resources for our own use. Our position has been one of ownership and exploitation. We may have been benevolently protective, but we have not necessarily thought of them as having moral standing in their own right – or being “beyond use” bias.
Where is the boundary of care that we should maintain intact? What entities may we exclude morally? The answer may surprise you. Research is showing that depersonalization available range of plants and animals, and even of the Earth itself, is not morally justifiable.

Well it’s either morally justifiable, or it’s not morally justifiable, or something in between. She doesn’t seem too open to either the first or last of those options. It’s not morally justifiable. That’s pretty black-and-white, wouldn’t you say?

Here’s another example, where (unlike the previous) I agree with her moral conclusions, yet I find her to be oddly blind to the duality that she is expressing in them.

In present times, we can identify a range of blatantly patriarchal societies around the world, each with the theme of male domination and institutionalize, socially acceptable violence. At the extremes we see rape used as a weapon of war and the Deck Democratic Republic of the Congo with songs forced to publicly rape their mothers and fathers her daughters, I sell/Isis abducting and reading women in order to enlarge their nation, young girls being murdered by the Telegram for going to school, and over 300,000 American girls being sex trafficked in the US each world year and a rapidly growing industry (an illustration that this is not just a problem in developing economies).

If you’re willing to say with complete confidence that this is wrong, then you are speaking in blatantly dualistic terms. If you can’t or won’t say this is wrong, then you are a moral idiot. Pardon me for speaking dualistically, but I think Ms. Riddle would state it in equally strong either-or language. She says, “Dichotomies… are not absolutes of nature.” “We are the ones who choose to limit [our] categories to two.” In this case I don’t think she believes that at all.

She presents the requisite continuum of gender, describing “complete” male and female as lying on “extreme” ends of the spectrum; and yet she certainly spends a lot of time at those extremes. You’ve just seen one example, where she speaks of patriarchal cultures and men’s mistreatment of women. Men. Women. “Extremes,” she calls that language; but she uses it all the way through the book. She also says, “While there are many factors that influence the rate of violence, close to 90% of perpetrators of violence outside of armed conflict are males in the vast majority of victims are girls and women.” Again, she speaking in moral terms that I cannot disagree with, but they sure are gender-dualistic.

I’m not sure how she protects herself against the danger she speaks of soon after:

Research has shown that, in order to be intentionally violent, the perpetrator needs to view the target as it depersonalized “other,” a target available for what ever atrocities the perpetrator desires to inflict.

She sure is reinforcing the idea that males are “others.” She’d better be on the lookout. She’s about to inflict atrocities on men! Actually, in a moral sense she already has. It’s impossible to find any place in the book where males are singled out as anything but evil. That’s atrocious.

It’s also dualistic thinking in action. And I really doubt she even sees it. I doubt she sees her either-or moralism for what it is: a direct contradiction of her main thesis. Page after page, moral illustration after moral illustration, she undercuts her main point — and she’s blind to it.

Now I want to emphasize that I agree with many of her moral recommendations. I do not agree with all of them. I disagree emphatically with some of them. Overall, however, my comments here are not about her moral choices but about her moral method. As far as I can see in this book, she has taken up the intellectual virtue of thinking carefully about the limitations of dualistic thinking, and made it into a moral precept, which she nevertheless sees fit to break at every opportunity. There is no moral method here, in other words. There is only moral opinion pasted over with an intellectual veneer.

That may seem harsh. “Research,” after all, “is showing that depersonalization … is not morally justifiable…. The right of humans to deny moral standing to nonhuman entities is being challenged both scientifically and legally.” Is there a method there in science, then? No. As a source of information on moral values and duties, science makes a good source of illustrations. That’s it. That is, if you already know some values and duties, science can afford you lots of new ways to illustrate them. That’s good. It’s valuable. But it is what it is, and it is not more than it is. You cannot uncover moral values and duties through science. They’re just not in its field of study.

Lacking any coherent moral method, Ms. Riddle nevertheless gets many moral precepts right. Do not do violence. Do not depersonalize fellow humans. Do not abuse power. Do not act unjustly. Do not treat others dismissively. Do not wrongly categorize other persons, especially in support of depersonalizing them or diminishing their moral worth. And so on. These are things humans know are wrong, just by virtue of being humans. I’m learning from her, especially in her repeated cautions to think more carefully about how I categorize others. The book is very good in some ways, including especially that. As a Christian I see her expressing the moral nature God imprinted upon her and upon us all when he created us in his image.

Yet I also see her flailing in her attempts to make sense of it all without God. That’s what happens when one has moral sensibilities with no coherent way to explain them — with no foundation in transcendent moral values and duties, from a transcendent source.

She needs to move beyond the illusion that she’s moved beyond duality.

Image Credit(s): From the book cover.

12 Responses

  1. BillT says:

    Isn’t this always the problem with critiques of moral systems. You have to have a moral system of your own to have a place from which to criticize the other. The secular perspective has been guilty of thinking that any opposition to traditional moral understandings is valid ipso facto by said opposition. They fail to realize they have to establish the validity of their own moral orientation first. And given what we’ve seen from the secularists, they’re a long way from doing that without appropriating the very systems they’re critiquing.

  2. Travis Wakeman says:

    The question should be at the bottom: What, if anything, is intrinsically wrong with dualistic categorization? Is it an arbitrary prejudice against the number two?

    I know that it could be argued that dualities are over simplistic and looking beyond them helps us diversity our thoughts. But what if some things really are just binary categories? Does it really do us any good to try to avoid that if it is true?

    In America the idea seems to be, more options=better and thus we are all about endless customization. We are invited to have it “our way”. Personalization becomes a way to exalt the self, to celebrate the “me”.

  3. chapman55k says:

    Michael Egnor just wrote a very interesting blog post that suggest that Decartes’ substance dualism causes more problems that it solves.

  4. Travis Wakeman says:

    A thomistic approach to the mind-body question yields hylemorphic dualism. Tom, what flavor of dualism do you subscribe to?

  5. Tom Gilson says:

    I’m (ironically) of two minds about it. I haven’t landed. I think there’s a lot to be said both for substance and for hylemorphic dualism.

  6. Travis Wakeman says:

    @ Tom

    Could you perhaps suggest some books? I’m familiar with Feser and Oderburg who are both hylemorphists, but I haven’t had much reading in the realm of substance dualism.

    I also just learned that you’re a Virginian yourself. Are you by any chance close to the Petersburg/Richmond area?

  7. scbrownlhrm says:

    Dualism:

    Too many books. Way too many really. Here’s one of many:

    Contemporary Dualism: A Defense (Routledge Studies in Contemporary Philosophy), by Andrea Lavazza (Editor), Howard Robinson (Editor)

    Contents:

    1 Introduction— Dualism: What, How, and Why ANDREA LAVAZZA, HOWARD ROBINSON

    PART 1 The Limits of Materialism

    2 Against Physicalism UWE MEIXNER

    3 Problems of Physicalism Regarding the Mind ANDREA LAVAZZA

    4 Materialism, Dualism, and the Conscious Self DAVID LUND

    PART 2 Dualism and Empirical Research

    5 Neuroscience: Dualism in Disguise RICCARDO MANZOTTI, PAOLO MODERATO

    6 Quantum Theory of Mind HENRY P. STAPP

    7 A Dualist Account of Phenomenal Concepts MARTINA FÜRST

    PART 3 Cartesian (Substance) Dualism

    8 What Makes Me Me? A Defense of Substance Dualism RICHARD SWINBURNE

    9 Naturalism and the Unavoidability of the Cartesian Perspective HOWARD ROBINSON

    10 On What We Must Think RALPH C. S. WALKER

    PART 4 Non-Cartesian Dualism

    11 The Promise and Sensibility of Integrative Dualism CHARLES TALIAFERRO

    12 The Dialectic of Soul and Body WILLIAM HASKER

    13 Dualism, Dual-Aspectism, and the Mind DAVID SKRBINA

    14 Why My Body Is Not Me: The Unity Argument for Emergentist Self– Body Dualism E. J. LOWE

  8. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Travis Wakeman:

    Could you perhaps suggest some books? I’m familiar with Feser and Oderburg who are both hylemorphists, but I haven’t had much reading in the realm of substance dualism.

    There are some vexing metaphysical questions that, although abstract and seemingly far-removed from any ordinary concerns, are inevitably tied to the problem of the mind — to call it that. The difference between the Hylemorphist and the Cartesian (to pick your two examples) is not merely a matter of deciding between two competing non-materialist alternatives, there is much more at stake at a fundamental metaphysical level.

    Anyway, and as an Hylemorphist myself, I would recommend John Foster’s (a true philosophical maverick) “The Immaterial Self”. Not for the faint of heart though.

    note(s):
    – a typo I am sure but it is “Oderberg” not “Oderburg”.

  9. Travis Wakeman says:

    Excellent recommendations on both accounts, thank you both. I’m looking forward to digging into them later.

    Are there any experts/great defenses of hylemorphic dualism you would recommend specifically? I’m always looking to expand my library.

  10. G. Rodrigues says:

    @Travis Wakeman:

    Are there any experts/great defenses of hylemorphic dualism you would recommend specifically? I’m always looking to expand my library.

    Well, you already know Feser and Oderberg, so you are well covered; at least I do not know of any better *contemporary* *defenses* of hylemorphic dualism. If you are willing to bend your criteria a little, then you may find the following useful:

    (1) Eleonore Stump’s book on Aquinas has a whole part dedicated to human beings and their nature, with substantial discussions on psychology, free will, etc.

    (2) William Jaworski’s “Philosophy of the Mind” is, per the book’s blurb, a comprehensive introduction to the philosophy of the mind. Although Jaworski styles himself a hylemorphic dualist, he is not exactly that, at least not in the neo-Scholastic vein of Feser, but he makes a pretty decent makeshift one (grin). I like the book, although many find it dry. YMMV and all that.

    (3) Then there are all the scholastic manuals (Coffey, Mercier, Rickaby, etc.) from which you can still learn a good deal. But you have to hunt for them (many are available online) and off the top of my head, I do not have any concrete links.

    By the way, I fear we may be going off topic here, as the dualism that Tom Gilson is talking about is not body-mind dualism.

  11. scbrownlhrm says:

    *Duality* as *distinction* is an offense as all is *One*, per the author. All is One Cosmic Sea of Energy.

    Well, the singularity of the lion and the lamb living in peace isn’t alien to Christian truth claims. However, the party true can’t on its own account for the entirely true.

    The path the author takes towards singularity is worded by the following quotes:

    We are all—human and nonhuman alike—part of the cosmic sea of energy that is the One Life, cherished in our diversity.

    Principles That Underlie Our Reality:

    Interconnectivity: We are all interconnected energy waves.

    Participation: We create our own reality.

    Nonlinearity: Our experience is fundamentally nonlinear.

    Nonduality: Our reality is complex and non-dualistic.

    Elsewhere (not the author) such ringtones of such a Spinoza-esc pantheism are touched on as follows:

    Quote:

    What is “human nature,” but to be a variant, and therefore sui generis, primate diced into the evolutionary game with the superpower of overriding the previous moment given by nature?

    You can see a river–the given–and divert it.

    Isn’t human nature the power of choice? That moment of existence and choice before acquiescence to essence and what came before? We have clever, imaginative brains for mapping possibilities and choosing among the range of logically possible alternatives in situation.” (by Santi)

    End quote.

    A reply:

    Quote:

    Santi,

    “If you think you can divert said river of said photons inside said skulls — you’re merely projecting The Big Con which evolution has played on you (us). Else — God.

    See… that’s that failure to reality-test your premises against physics shining through again. Physics *outside* our skulls does not magically undergo a “rule change” when transitioning into neurons.”

    End quote.

    The claim that “ALL” reduces to interconnected energy waves rides on the author’s appeal to quantum physics and the “resulting cosmic sea of energy”.

    I don’t want to belabor the ends which Spinoza-esc pantheism forces upon all conclusions, but a hard “metaphysical armistice” painfully ensues among what reduces to a system constituted entirely of converging ontological equals.

    To borrow from David Hart:

    “Distinction is achieved only by violence among converging equals. Being is in some real sense a plain upon which forces of meaning and meaninglessness converge in endless war; according to either, being is known in its oppositions, and oppositions must be overcome or affirmed, but in either case as violence…”

    That will have to do for now.

    The lion and the lamb may in fact, will in fact, on Christianity, be found within a new creation, living in peace, and the author rightly intuits such vectors laced throughout Natural Theology. The overlap of Natural Theology (which has the necessary heavy-meta wherewithal) with her Spinoza-esc pantheistic paradigm (which lacks the necessary heavy-meta wherewithal) is unavoidable.

    That will also have to do for now.

  12. scbrownlhrm says:

    Heck… why not……

    As stated earlier, the author rightly intuits the key role of reciprocity within the fundamental shape of reality, itself streaming from love’s timeless reciprocity within those same irreducible processions housed within “Trinity”. There is no such thing as a one sided coin. There can’t be. So too with the Triune, with love’s irreducible reciprocity amid Self/Other, amid the singularity of those two in what just does sum to Unicity.

    The author is on to something fundamentally true about reality. An unavoidable *overlaps* between Natural Theology and our own moral intuition vis-à-vis reciprocity emerges:

    The fundamental shape of reality is, on Christianity, that which sums to the Imago Dei, and such is (on Christianity) patterned after the fundamental shape of God, and therefore of love, for God is love (on Christianity). Hence, love (and reality) is necessarily multi-sided. Think about that. All of our syntax, semantics, and perception which sums to Self/Other (that’s two) is inescapable. And, just the same, all of our syntax, semantics, and perception which sums to [1] love’s contours and which sums to [2] our singular reality on the whole – in short – all which sums to the duo of Self/Other (that’s two) found within Unicity (that’s three) is inescapable.

    This is *not* replacing Father, Son, Spirit. No. Rather, this is simply describing the unavoidably triune contours within those timeless processions amid love’s irreducible reciprocity within the Trinity. The fact that *both* God *and* love just happen to be “triune” is, well, welcome to Christianity. Describing *God* (on Christianity) lands us within the Triune God (Father, Son, Spirit), and, describing *love* (on all counts) also lands us within that which inescapably sums to Self/Other and the singularity of Unicity – that is to say – within something inescapably triune. And let us add: ad infinitum.

    Else: Spinoza-esc pantheisms emerge and with them all the pains of metaphysical armistice, of the endless war of converging and colliding ontological equals – and let us add: ad infinitum.

    Pressing the author’s warm and fuzzy X’s to their bitter ends, that’s the ticket.