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

There is no unchanging, separate self.

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Post Voting Period
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after 2 votes the winner is...
Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 10/16/2014 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 2 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,148 times Debate No: 63354
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (5)
Votes (2)




First round for acceptance only.

The feeling of being an individual separate from ones environment is inevitably found to be illusory. There is no core to being, no "observer" or "soul" that continues from life to life, or even, from moment to moment. All things are subject to change, and there is no unchanging substrate to this change. Indeed, "essence" is an illusory notion.


I accept. I do not see how my oppent can argue for such a claim, but I look foreward to seeing what he comes up with. Best of luck to you.
Debate Round No. 1


Strycora forfeited this round.


I’m not sure if Strycora will continue this debate or not, but as I think both sides have a burden of proof here I will make opening arguments for the existence of a self that is distinct from the body.

A Philosophical Argument.

First, a philosophical argument. We know from the rules of logic that A is equal to B if, and only if, A and B share exactly the same properties. So the self is equal to the body if, and only if, the self and the body share exactly the same properties. So from this we can say that I (the thing I call myself, essence, or soul. Here after I will refer to it as “the soul” for ease) and my body are the same thing if, and only if, my body and my soul share exactly the same properties. But my soul does have a property that my body does not have. It is possible to conceive of my soul as surviving without my body. It is not possible to conceive of my body surviving without my body (that’s just nonsense), but it seems like a perfectly coherent idea that my soul or self can exist without my body. We don’t just see this conception in religion and theology, but we see it in science fiction all the time too. Every story where a person switches bodies with another person or when an individual survives the death of his body by having his mind transferred to a machine is an example of this reality. We can conceive of a soul existing without its original body, but we cannot conceive of a body existing without itself.

  1. My body and my soul are the same thing if and only if they share all the same properties.
  2. My soul has a property my body does not.
  3. Therefore my soul and my body are not identical.
It's a little tricky to follow, but it works.

The philosopher Alvin Plantinga explains this argument here

Evidence from Science

There is an increasing body of evidence that some people seem to survive the death of their body. If the body and soul/self are the same thing this should not be possible. A recently published study suggests this.

You can read the original press release here.

The point of all this is that there are cases where someone dies on the operating table and is medically dead for several minutes. Then upon being revived the person is able to describe events that transpired while they were medically dead. This should not be possible if there is no self/soul, but there are well document accounts of this happening (such as the above example). Sometime the person is even able to describe events that occurred outside of the room their dead body was in. Check out this book for more examples and appropriate documentation.

I appreciate that thoughtful people are skeptical about such claims and evidence (as well they should be), but there are many well documented examples of such things occurring. If such a thing has even happened once, that proves the body and the soul are not the same thing.

For a further example check out what this neurosurgeon who had such an NDE says about it.

To anyone skeptical of this evidence I encourage you to read the appropriate studies, books, and listen to the stories of people who have had these experiences. While there are easy defeaters for some instances of such phenomena (like when someone on drugs has an out of body experience) there are other instances which are not easily explained away (A team of doctors observed someone die, they manage to revive him, and then he describes the actions they took while he was dead).

Another Philosophical Argument

It’s not often in philosophy that you get a knock down drag out argument for the truth or falsity of something, but I think we have on here.

1. If there is no soul or self, then determinism is almost certainly true.

If my own self is an illusion, then everything I do is simply determined by certain brain states. I did not choose to make and drink coffee this morning. Several brain states compelled my body to do so. Those brain states are in turn caused by certain factors within my body and outside of my body (such as the low level of caffeine in my blood, the smell of coffee my wife has already made, etc). So if there is no distinction between myself and my body then I do not choose anything and all choice is simply an illusion. Everything I do is determined by states, factors, and considerations within my body and in the external world. This is the definition of determinism.

2. If determinism is true, no one actually thinks about anything.

Even my own thoughts would simply be an illusion as they are actually the result of those same forces that compelled me to make and drink coffee.

3. Rationality requires thought.

The definition of a rational person is someone that looks at evidence, arguments, and reasons and attempts to weigh and consider them to figure out what is most likely true (hopefully you are doing this while reading my writing).

4. Therefore the non-existence of the self/soul cannot be rationally affirmed.

If even our very thoughts are determined (and they are if determinism is true) then no one can actually weigh reasons, evidence, and arguments and come to a conclusion. I may think I am doing that, but such a thing is then impossible and I am suffering from a delusion.

What this shows us is that if it is true that there is no self/soul, then no one can truly say, “I’ve looked at the evidence, thought about it, and concluded there is no soul or self.” They can say those words, but the words are not true because it becomes impossible to look at evidence or think about anything. The person who affirms that there is no soul is simply saying what various states and factors have forced him to say. He has no control over his thoughts or beliefs any more than a tree has control over the way it grows. He is a small cog in a giant machine being pushed and pulled by external forces and he cannot push or pull anything himself.

Hence the non-existence of a soul or self cannot be rationally affirmed. Those who make such a claim are in effect arguing that what they say has as much truth value as the etchings on a rock left by the wind. The claim for the non-existence of a self is self-refuting.

Normally I would now respond to objections or address counter arguments, but since Strycora didn’t give us any I’ll just wait to see what he says.

Debate Round No. 2


Sorry that I didn't start this debate. Way too much going on in college.

Some very interesting arguments you put out there. Let's have a look, shall we?

In the first philosophical argument, Con argues that it is concievable for an individual self/soul/consciousness to exist without a body, or for it to transfer from body to body. This argument supposes that because there is the perception of a body, there must be a soul/self/consciousness that somehow inhabits the body. If there such a being that inhabits the body, it is concievable that this being could inhabit a different body, or no body at all.

Notice that we must start from an experience to posit an experiencer, because we cannot externally experience a self/experiencer; we can only internally experience an experience/conscious state.

Consider the scientific fact that the entirety of your present human experience, which is composed of your external senses, your internal body sense (proprioception) or capacity to feel one's own bodily position and sometimes the movements of the innards, and your internal mental sense which can be described as the awareness of thoughts, mental images, and intuitions, must, even if they are percieved by something separate from the body, are certainly generated within the body. In other words, if you, the experiencer/self, were to be disconnected from the body, you would not see, hear, touch, taste, smell, or think anything (yes, you need a brain to think thoughts and concieve of things!). You would be a subject with no object, and your ignorance would be infinite.

This is to say that, independently of experience, there is only ignorance. Ignorance in the sense of complete unconsciousness. But wait! Can you imagine what it'd be like to be completely unconscious? No! It's not "like" anything to be unconscious. If it were like something, it would be consciousness, not ignorance.

As far as I can tell, we can only say one thing about the essence of a subject/self/consciousness: it's like something to be it. Ignorance cannot have any essence as it is completely empty, or lacking in substance.

Therefore, your being depends on your experience. If there is no experience, there is no experiencer/being/self, and vice versa. There is only emptiness, or nonexperientiality.

This is not to say that nonexperientiality is somehow more real or natural than experiencing. On the contrary, it isn't! ;)

It's just a thought experiment that proves that you are not a self that HAS experiences. You are the experiencing itself! Everything happening around and within you is part of you, and not for a single moment of experience does it stay the same.
You are in constant flux!
So, when you die, you won't know a thing about it. Experientiality will simply continue to evolve, never to remain in place, for its very nature is change.

Time to tackle physicalist determinism.

Or maybe just turn your argument on its head....

If you were an unchanging self, separate from your body and surroundings, how would you control your body? You would have to do some kind of physical work to change your brain states responsible for motor control, but you're separate from the brain! So, are you material, then? If you are, then you're a changing part of the changing material world.

Really, the separate, unchanging, monadic self can do nothing but watch. It will merely observe brainstates as they pass by, unable to act or think for itself.

Just because there is no unchanging, separate self does not mean that every desire is compulsory and none are rational. Consider that the brain may be divided into many basic modules that perform simple functions like seeing, smelling, feeling pleasure, etc. which are integrated into more complex modules that perform more complex actions such as identifying phenomena and "things" as me or mine, listening, talking/thinking, visualizing, and more. The brain may, with practice, integrate even more complex networks that do things like be persuaded by an argument or compose a symphony. We have no ground to suppose that an instrument as beautifully complex as the human brain cannot synthesize a (relatively) rational thinker with all of its integrative processing power.

All that consciousness would have to do is watch thoughts, feelings, and perceptions rise and fall without interacting with them to realize that the self is constructed through a complex chain reaction that results from the identification with any particular volition.

The "self" (and all thoughts/objects within consciousness) could be brain created objects of experience made of integrated information (or complex networks): the substance of experientiality.

Now for NDE's

If you listen to the content of Eben's speech, you'll realize that he had experienced "ego death" and felt as if he were completely one with his surroundings and that there was no separation. The world became more and more interactive and real to the point at which this "nondual, transcendent realm" was such. I imagine that the description of the world as he tells it is beyond inadequate. The report, however, does not even suggest that there is a separate, unchanging self, and even seems to agree with the hypothesis that what is fundamentally "real" and infinite is the experiencing itself.


Pro Arguments.

Well you didn’t give a single argument or reason in favor of your own position. Anyone who makes a claim about what objective reality is, has a burden of proof to give evidence and reasons to back up that claim. So I claim there is a soul, and I now have the responsibility of giving reasons why that claim is true (as I have attempted to do so). You are making the opposite claim that there is no self or soul, so likewise you have burden of proof to show why your claim is warranted.

As of now you have not given any arguments or reasons why we should think there is no self. Even if you do successfully knock down the three arguments I gave (and I don’t think you have), that doesn’t prove your case. At best that would leave us with a kind of agnosticism about the existence of the self. If we have no reasons to think it doesn’t exist, and I am unable to give any convincing arguments that it does, then we would simply have to conclude that we don’t know if there is a self. So I would really like you to provide some arguments, evidence or reasons for the nonexistence of the self or the soul. You need to do so to establish your claim.


I strongly suspect that I’m misunderstanding what you are arguing about experience. I think it would be very helpful if you could lay that argument out in a structured, logical fashion like this;

  1. 1.If A then B.
  2. 2.A.
  3. 3.So B.

This would make your premises and the logic of your argument easier to see and help me to understand what you mean.
I’ve read through that section several times and as I understand it now I don’t see how it responds to or relates to the first philosophical argument I gave. It seems that you are attempting to show that we all experience the world through our cognitive facilities (which is certainly true) and that our experiences are subjective (also true), but I don’t see how that address or relates to the argument I gave.

It also seems that you then go on to say that it doesn’t make sense to posit experiences without someone to experience them (again that is certainly true), but that seems to argue for the position I am taking, not yours.

  1. 1.If there are experiences, there must be an experiencer.
  2. 2.There are experiences.
  3. 3.Therefore there is an experiencer i.e a soul or a self.

So I would really appreciate it if you could present your claims there in a more structured fashion as I’m pretty sure you didn’t intend the things I read. If I did read you correctly you are undermining your own position and asserting things that have no relevance to the issue at hand. So please explain what you mean.

The mind body connection problem . . . well not really

You also throw out the tired old objection that it’s not clear how a self or soul would interact with the body, therefore these is no soul. No one seriously thinks there is no connection or correlation between the self and the body. I do know why you are mentioning that ridiculous idea. But his is simply a God of the gaps style objection that attempts to make a claim by appealing to ignorance. Just because we do not know how something works or could work, it doesn’t follow that that thing isn’t there. I have no idea what mechanisms, if any, the self uses to interact with the body, but it in no way follows from that that there is no self.

At present no one truly understands the mechanism of quantum physics (there are 10 different interpretations of quantum physics and anyone of them could be right), but it certainly doesn’t follow from our ignorance that there are no such mechanisms or that quantum physics is false. Likewise the fact that we don’t know how the self and the body interact it doesn’t show that there is no soul of self. That’s just bad logic.


What you are claiming about Determinism also seems to miss the point. You seem to be positing that it could be that various parts of the brain account for various different things people can and do. Sure. But that in no way counters Determinism. It simply pushes the problem back a step or two. The brain states in those individual parts of the brain that enable me to see and think would still be cause by factors and conditions that are independent of myself, because there is no self.

It doesn’t even make sense to describe anyone or anything as being compelled under Determinism. To be compelled to do something means you had no choice. Under Determinism there is no such thing as a choice. There is only a lot of cause and effect.

You also seem to be falling into the God of the gaps error again here as you are essentially claiming that I cannot prove to you that consciousness could not arise from brain states, therefore it does. Even if I granted you the first part the second doesn’t follow.

I think you are missing the point here as I am simply claiming that without a self, there is nothing going on with me, you, and everyone else other than a bunch of chemical and electrical reactions. That is Determinism. Because there is no choice, thought or free action under determinism no one can rationally affirm determinism and hence no one can rationally affirm the non-existence of the self.

Scientific Evidence

You missed the point of my appeal to scientific evidence. It’s irrelevant to the issue at hand what worldview those people take or what they claim the afterlife was like. It’s incredibly relevant that a patient was dead, and upon being revived describes events that transpired while he was dead. If that actually has happened it proves there is a self that is distinct from the body. The body was unable to observe anything (it was dead) but the person did still observe things. That shows there is something about the person that is distinct from the body. That’s what’s important here.

It’s actually inappropriate to refer to these claims as near death experiences. These people didn’t nearly die, they did die. They were only revived thanks to the expertise of the medical personal there.

It makes no difference to the issue at hand (is there a self or soul?) if the people who have had such experiences report things that are more consistent with Eastern religions like Hinduism and Buddhism or if their experiences are more consistent with Western religions like Christianity. The point is that if anyone has actually had such an experience, that proves the existence of self that is separate from the body.


So to conclude you did not give us arguments in favor of your position and your response to my own arguments do not address them or missed their point. I would very much like you to clarify what you mean about in your section about experience as I’m quite sure I’m misunderstanding you there.

Debate Round No. 3


Strycora forfeited this round.


Since Strycora forfeited his last round I don’t feel it would be fair to add more arguments or argue the points any further. Instead I’ll just sum up.

Strycora claimed that there is no self or soul and I claimed the opposite.

Strycora provided no evidence or reasons in favor of his position, but he did attempt to argue against the three arguments I gave.

I gave a philosophical argument;

  1. 1. My body and my soul are the same thing if and only if they share all the same properties.

  2. 2. My soul has a property my body does not.

  3. 3. Therefore my soul and my body are not identical.

I also pointed to good body of scientific evidence that shows something survives the death of the body, and I also gave an argument that the non-existence of the self cannot be rationally affirmed.

  1. 1. If there is no soul or self, then determinism is almost certainly true.

  2. 2. If determinism is true, no one actually thinks about anything.

  3. 3. Rationality requires thought.

  4. 4. Therefore the non-existence of the self/soul cannot be rationally affirmed.

My conclusions.

I don’t think that Strycora adequately responded to my arguments. I really wish he would have explained his positions and objections and given some arguments in favor of his position as that would have made for a much more productive debate. None the less, I don’t think he knocked down any of my three arguments and he didn’t give any arguments in favor of his own position so it seems to me my arguments carry the day here. It’s unfortunate that Strycora forfeited two rounds as I’d rather claim my arguments stand in light of good objections than in light of silence. Hopefully next time we will be able to have a more engaging debate.

Debate Round No. 4
5 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 5 records.
Posted by AgnosticPanda 2 years ago
hehehe should be interesting. I'm looking forward to reading Con's argument.
Posted by kebomystic 2 years ago
To Strycora.
Well then how do thou get sentient matter arising from dead matter
and how does the dead matter communicate with the sentient matter??
Posted by Emilrose 2 years ago
The soul, technically, is made up of "the self". It doesn't take on a separate form.
Posted by Strycora 2 years ago
That is indeed the implication. I'm making an anti Platonic claim in general, actually, by saying that there is no essence to any form.
Posted by leoghakj 2 years ago
So basically you don't believe there isn't any souls?
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