The Instigator
Pro (for)
3 Points
The Contender
Con (against)
0 Points

The Human Soul Likely Doesn't Exist.

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 12/6/2014 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 2 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,169 times Debate No: 66437
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (5)
Votes (1)




I have chosen Peili for this debate.

The Human Soul Likely Doesn't Exist


Human Soul: the spiritual or immaterial part of a human being that enables them to be aware of the world and their experiences, to think, and to feel; the faculty of consciousness and thought. (It's essentially the Cartesian conception of the soul as I feel that is the most well defined notion.)

Likely: Probable as far as one knows or can tell.

Doesn't Exist: Does not have objective reality or being.

Debate format is the typical Lincoln-Douglas format.

R1: Acceptance
R2: My opening arguments followed by Con's opening arguments (No rebuttals by Con)
R3: Rebuttals to opening arguments
R4: Defense of your original arguments.

Rules and Other Debate Information:

BOP is shared. Con most show it is more likely that a soul exists and I must show it is more likely it doesn't.
No forfeits.
No insults.
No semantics.
Follow the format.
72 Hours to Post Argument.
10,000 Characters Max.
1 month voting period.
7 point voting system.
Open Voting


I accept. I look forward to a quality debate.
Debate Round No. 1


Thanks Con for accepting.

My argument consists of arguing for the likelihood of three simple principles. These principles I believe are difficult to deny outright and cannot be denied without taking some unlikely, uncomfortable, and absurd positions. If we are to accept the likelihood of these principles, we must accept that a soul likely doesn’t exist. This argument is my rendition of J.J.C. Smart’s argument.

My Case Against The Soul

Principle 1: Mental events cause physical events.

Principle 2: Physical events have physical causes.

Principle 3: There is no causal overdeterminism.

Defense of P1:

This principle is very hard to deny. It seems blatantly obvious. When I want to debate something, my mental will causes my physical body to control the computer to initiate it. Without my mental event, this debate wouldn't have happened. This principle should be accepted as true, as our introspection tells us it is true, unless we find some powerful argument against it.

This principle is prima facie likely and justified.

Defense of P2:

Part of this principle stems from the philosophical problems of two fundamentally different substances interacting. For two things to interact there must exist a connection between the objects. However, if the two objects are defined as so fundamentally different, then it cannot make any connection between the two intelligible. This can be understood with an analogy of colors. Let the two colors be two different substances. Any connection between the two cannot be explained.

Colour analogy for the problem of interaction.

This implies that substances need to be causally closed.

Another difficulty with denying the second principle is that it would be denying well established science. The conservation of energy is a fundamental concept that states “the amount of energy remains constant and energy is neither created nor destroyed”[1]. If we have a non-physical cause for a physical event, this would be an addition of energy. Something such as a the soul causing our body to move would mean the body would have energy added to it with no conservation.

This principle is likely due to the philosophical problems its negation entails and because it is likely the fundamental concepts in physics are true.

Defense of P3

Causal overdeterminism states there are two causes for one event. An instance of causal overdeterminism would be this. Two snipers are hired and funded by two completely independent men to kill the same target. The two snipers shoot at the same time and both bullets hit the target at the same time. Or wearing a belt and suspenders at the same time when wearing one would be enough.

Overdeterminism would state that there is a physical cause for an event and a mental. This is because of Occam’s Razor. Occam’s Razor states "Entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily”[2]. We can see clearly that this overdeterminism is a huge violation of this principle.

It also seems overdeterminism is unlikely because it seems absurd to state that if I didn’t have the mental event of hunger my body would still cook and eat food while my mind would be wondering what is happening.

Principle 3 is likely due to Occam’s razor and the general absurdity of the idea.

What this entails

If we are to accept these principles we must reject the likelihood of the human soul. If we accept that mental events cause physical events and that physical events have physical causes, we must accept that there is no soul or that the soul is another cause of these events. Since principle 3 holds, we reject the likelihood of overdeterminism and must affirm the resolution.

Thanks and now to Con. Remember, Con in your round you don’t address these arguments. You present your own arguments against the resolution, as rebuttals don’t begin until round 3.






My argument could be summed up like:

1). If people are capable of making a genuine choice then this ability would best be explained by the existence of a soul.
2). People are able to make genuine choices.
3). The human soul most likely exists.

It seems clear that if both premises are true then the conclusion is true. So let us look at each premise.

The first premise is that human choice is best explain by the soul, a non-physical entity. If the soul does not exist then actions of the brain are entirely electrochemical reactions.*

Electrochemical reactions can do many things. They can increase the production of certain chemicals. They can send messages to the muscles and nerves. They can react to various stimuli. What they cannot do is make a choice.

Chemical reactions will be consistent based on the available chemicals and stimuli. Chemicals cannot choose to react a different way. If a choice is made then it must be made by something non-chemical and non-physical. That something is what we are calling a soul.

The second premise is that is that people are able to make choices. I will say that we cannot prove this absolutely. It is possible choice is an illusion. However, based on the evidence it is most likely true that people can make choices.

The evidence for this is straightforward and simple. You, the reader, are making a choice right now. You are choosing to read this. You can continue to make choices by reading the rest of the debate or by ceasing to read after this sentence. We each have the experience of making choices. Without strong evidence to the contrary we should assume that our experiences are accurate.

Again, this is not absolute proof. We know that we have the appearance of choice. What is it that they say about appearances? Sometimes they can be deceiving, but most of the time what you see is what you get.

What we see is people making choices, and their ability to make choices is best explained by the existence of a soul. Therefore, the human soul most likely exists.
Debate Round No. 2



Argument from Free Will

Con’s argument is arguing that we have freedom of choice and because we have this choice there probably exists a soul.

Hidden Premise

The argument contains the hidden premise that compatibilism is likely false. His defense of the first premise is arguing my thesis implies determinism then in his second premise arguing that determinism is false. Yet this is ignoring a philosophy which the majority of philosophers accept [1], compatibilism. This states that “causal determinism is true, but we still act as free, morally responsible agents when, in the absence of external constraints, our actions are caused by our desires” [2]. Or to use Frankfurt’s theory of compatibilism, one is free with their actions align with their second order desires (desires about desires) [3]. Under this theory, the causes of the desires are completely irrelevant to freedom of will.

One good reason for negating an incompatibilist conception of free will is Frankfurt’s counterexample. Frankfurt attempts to show the incompatibilist conceptions of free will are flawed. A standard incompatibilism definition is this

A person’s act is free if and only if that person could have done otherwise. [ibid]


the power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate [4]

Frankfurt points out it is entirely possible for someone to choose something even though the end outcome is determined.

Let’s say Jack is going to murder Jill. Jack got the will to murder on his own without any external causes. Now let’s say James wants Jill dead too, but he doesn’t want to get his hands dirty with an actual murder. James notices Jack is going to murder Jill, yet he is unsure if he will truly go through with it. Taking no chances, James drugs Jack and implants a device that will detect if Jack has a change of heart. The device if activated will cause Jack to regain the will to murder Jill. When Jack regains consciousness he follows through on the murder with no change of heart. Jack acted freely, but couldn’t have done otherwise.

This thought experiment shows a clear flaw in an incompatibilist view of free will.

Thus Con’s premise one is false as the idea that determined electrochemical actions cannot choose is false.

On Premise 2

Even assuming compatibilism is false, I find it is better secunda facie to reject both the defense of premise 2 and premise 2 outright.

Con gives us a prima facie case for free will, that it is intuitive to think we have free will. Yet this argument assumes we have direct knowledge of our decision making processes.

This assumption is highly problematic. Psychologists Nisbett and Wilson in 1977 attempted to demonstrate we are ignorant of the causal processes of our decisions [5]. In short, they demonstrated the placebo effect and that the patients had no idea that their beliefs were the cause of their behavior. Furthermore John Bargh showed the unconscious mind affects our actions. For example, being showed words about the elderly made people more likely to walk slower and being showed words about being rude made it more likely for the subject to interpret the experimenter [6]. This shows we lack the necessary introspection of the causal processes of decision making to accept the argument from common sense.

The rebuttal above is not an attempt to demonstrate we don’t have free will, but to show we cannot trust our intuition when it comes to our apparent free decision making. I will now present some reasons to deny premise 2 outright, or at the very least show it needs a more comprehensive defense.

One of the biggest problem with Libertarian free will is that it doesn’t seem it’s coherent. It looks like our actions are either caused or uncaused. What is the cause of a certain will? If it has a prior cause then it is not free. Yet if it’s uncaused, then it not even the agent caused it. It would be totally random. Libertarian free will needs something in between being caused and being uncaused, but it doesn’t seem we can coherently come up with something that isn’t caused but isn’t uncaused. It looks like by the law of excluded middle the Libertarian is stuck.

Another problem with it is given by the philosopher Galen Strawson called the “Basic argument” [7]. In a nutshell he says a decision is the result of one’s self. I created this debate because my nature is one that likes to debate these subjects. Had my nature been to not like to debate, my decisions would be based on that. However, this implies in order to be free, I must cause myself. I would have to cause my nature, ect. Causing one’s self is a contradiction because to cause yourself, you must have causal power and a will, therefore already have a nature. Nietzsche called this causa sui “the best self-contradiction that has been conceived so far.”


Con’s argument isn’t a bad prima facie case for the soul, yet when we dig deeper we see it is based on flawed assumptions and justifications. Premise one is false, as compatibilism seems to be a sound and better alternative to Con’s conception of free will. The justification for premise 2 is in error as there exist causal processes for decision making we are introspectively ignorant of. Premise 2 itself is flawed because it seems it’s hard to salvage Libertarian freedom.

Thank you, now back to Con for his response to my R2.




[4] I did not include “the ability to act at one’s own discretion.” as this isn’t neccecarly incompatibile with determinism because it makes no statement about the origin of such discretion.






Thank you for your well thought out response.

First let me look at Pro"s opening argument.

P1 seems sound, but unimportant. Yes, the physical brain sends signals to the body which cause the body to move. That is not in question. The question is if the actions originated in the brain (or where caused by some other physical circumstance), or if the act of the brain sending those signals was itself caused by the work of the soul.

P2 seems less sound. Fundamentally different substances do often interact. For instance, gasses can be shown to be soluble in water.[1] I am not as good with graphics as Pro is, but I think that we can use his analogy to see the flaw in his thinking. Pro drew a line of solid blue and a line of solid red. However, we can all imagine a line that starts out blue and then has a little bit of red added slowly to it until the line becomes entirely blue. There is no spot in that line where we can say that blue changes to red or that red changes to blue. The change is gradual as the fundamentally different colors intermix.

I suppose P3 is the heart of our debate. Is the physical cause sufficient to account for human choices? If it is not the Pro has not shown that the soul does not exist, but he has taken away some of the strongest evidence in favor of the soul. If the physical cause is not sufficient to account for human choice then we have strong evidence in favor of the soul.

Now to turn to Pro"s response to my initial argument.

There is an interesting argument to be had about compatibilism. However, it is not this argument. My argument has no hidden premise about compatibilism. Compatibilists argue that we have free will in a deterministic universe. [2] This may or may not be true, but the question at hand is if we have free will at all.

My first premise is that if we have any form of free will then the soul is the best explanation for that free will. If the human soul does not exist then our choices are nothing but electrochemical reactions. An electrochemical reaction cannot make a choice. If compatibilism is true " and Pro claims that the "majority of philosophers accept" it as true " then free will does exist and the human soul most likely exists as well.

Pro"s thought experiment about Jack, Jill, and James is an interesting one about free will, but it does not establish what he hopes to establish. It provides an example of someone with free will being coerced to do what he would have done anyway. It does not establish where the power to make a choice comes from or how electrochemical reactions could produce a free choice.

The strongest part of Pro"s argument comes in his rejection of free will.

Pro is right to point out that we do not have entirely free will. Our will can be effected by outside stimuli, such as people acting rudely when showed rude words. However, this limitation of free will does not mean that free will does not exist at any level. Even when our will is affected by outside stimuli we still have a degree of free will. Though it may be difficult we can choose not to act rudely no matter how many rude words we are shown. Evidence for the soul does not require complete and unaffected free will. Any degree of free will provides us with evidence that cannot be explained by purely physical attributes.

Pro"s suggestion that free will is neither caused nor uncaused is a false dichotomy. He has suggested that everything which is not caused is entirely random, but this is not true. We have knowledge of something which is neither entirely caused nor entirely random: choice. Choice does not fit well into a deterministic worldview because choice by nature is not deterministic. It is the human"s soul"s ability to make a choice " such as choosing to read this or not " that is neither caused nor random. If the soul did not exist then I would have to agree with an entirely deterministic view of reality. However our experiences tell us that we do make choices, so the universe cannot be entirely deterministic. Something outside the deterministic physical universe which allows for choices to be made must exist, and that something is what we are calling a soul.

Pro"s final "basic argument" brings this debate into an entirely new realm. Pro is right that I cannot cause myself. If the soul exists then there must be some greater uncaused Cause which has created the soul and empowered it with free will. There is a reason that belief in the soul and belief in some kind of God have historically been tied together, and a reason that historically speaking most atheistic philosophies have been deterministic. However, for the sake of time we should probably hold off discussion of a Creator in regards to the human soul.

Pro has brought us some of the strongest arguments against free will and the existence of a soul, but ultimately the fall flat. At the end of the day we each have our own experiences of making choices. If our own experiences are not a trustworthy manner of gaining knowledge then we have no trustworthy means of gaining knowledge on any topic. It is our own individual experiences that demonstrate that we have the ability to make choices, and the ability to make choices is evidence that the human soul most likely exists.



I intended to include these sources concerning electrochemistry in the brain in my first post. The provide evidence and a more complete explanation of electrochemistry in the brain. My apologies for the technical error.
Debate Round No. 3


My Case Against the Soul

It seems Con misunderstands all three principles. Some is a trivial misunderstanding, others are a critical misunderstanding.

P1: Con agrees this principle is sound, yet says it’s unimportant. I wouldn’t call it unimportant, because if this principle is unsound then the entire argument falls apart. Furthermore, Con is overcomplicating what I was saying in this principle. This principle makes no claim about what a mental state is, it isn’t about the brain sending signals to the body at all. This principle is saying the mind whatever it may be causes physical events.

P2: Con’s first refutation is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of “fundamental”(no pun intended). Fundamental as defined by Oxford is:

Forming a necessary base or core; of central importance: [1]

We instantly see how Con’s rebuttal falls apart, because liquid and gas are both fundamentally the same substance [2]

Con then presents a really interesting argument for interaction. He is saying the mind essentially fades into matter and visa versa. If you are having trouble understanding or visualizing what he is saying with the colors, it’s like this

Except with the mind and body instead of evolution.

I have to applaud Con for the originality in this response, but it’s nonetheless flawed. Every analogy falls apart somewhere, with colors it falls apart when it comes to shades. We can have various shades of red, but how can we have a shade of matter? Matter is only one thing, there is nothing in nature that we see that is sorta matter but we cannot really tell. Matter is one shade. It looks like the same is true for the mind. We don’t find proto-matter in nature and we don’t detect proto-mind within ourselves. Thus Con’s mind-body interaction proposition fails to be a sound description. Furthermore, even if I were to grant the possibility of this being a cogent description of interaction, it’s still unlikely. Con has posited mind transforms into proto-mind and then becomes proto-matter, to matter. Instead of having two substances in reality, Con has posited (at least) 4. By Occam’s razor, this account is still unlikely.

This principle still holds due to the fact Con has completely dropped my conservation of energy argument.

P3: Con hasn’t really attacked this principle. Like the last principles, Con has misunderstood this one. The principle is about the likelihood of having two causes for 1 event. In and of itself, it’s not about matter being sufficient for human choices.

Con then goes onto defend his argument. Unfortunately this violates the debate format and thus violates a rule of the debate. Unfortunately, Con loses a conduct point for this. Con wasn’t suppose to defend his main arguments until this round.


Con has left my conservation of energy argument unaddressed. My argument about interaction remains standing, as fading matter is unlikely and he misunderstands what fundamental means. He has also violated a rule of the debate by violating the agreed upon format in round 1.

Nonetheless, thanks for the debate.





While I think that Pro is being overly strict with the guidelines for debate, I will honor his approach. This round is for defense of my original argument, which I did (apparently incorrectly) in round three. There is no need to restate that defense in detail. I will close with a simple and plain summation:

Chemical reactions in the brain are not a sufficient explanation for the existence of free will. Whether we are compatibilists or incompatibilists, our own experiences are sufficient evidence of our ability to make a choice. Even if we do not fully understand our own choices or thought processes, we know enough to understand that we do make choices. This evidence contradicts a purely materialistic worldview and strongly suggests that the human soul most likely does exist.

Thanks for the debate.
Debate Round No. 4
5 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 5 records.
Posted by n7 2 years ago
Sorry if my next round seems rushed. A bad storm is coming my way tomorrow and I don't know if I will have internet.
Posted by n7 2 years ago
You seem to be a good candidate Peili. It also looks like you've been having problems with people forfeiting debates.
Posted by ThadeusSmith 2 years ago
Willing to accept
Posted by Peili 2 years ago
I"m interested in this one. I would be willing to accept.
Posted by Envisage 2 years ago
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by TheNamesFizzy 2 years ago
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Total points awarded:30 
Reasons for voting decision: I enjoyed the debate. Pro presented a more realistic constructive.