A Chalcedonian Argument Against Cartesian Dualism -- By: R. Lucas Stamps

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 19:1 (Spring 2015)
Article: A Chalcedonian Argument Against Cartesian Dualism
Author: R. Lucas Stamps

A Chalcedonian Argument Against Cartesian Dualism

R. Lucas Stamps

R. Lucas Stamps is assistant professor of Christian Studies in the Online and Professional Studies division at California Baptist University in Riverside, California. He earned his Ph.D. in systematic theology from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Stamps is the author of several forthcoming articles and essays, including a contribution to the forthcoming volume emerging from the 2015 Los Angeles Theology Conference to be published by Zondervan.


Determinations about the constitution of human persons are notoriously difficult. Christian theologians and philosophers who investigate this issue are faced with a host of complicated biblical, theological, philosophical, historical, scientific, and practical questions. One of the most pressing of these questions concerns the precise relation between the body and the mind. Are human persons essentially spiritual beings, material beings, or some combination of the two? Contemporary opinions on this question typically fall into one of two broad categories: dualism and physicalism in their various manifestations.1 Among dualisms, Caretesian dualism seems to enjoy a certain pride of place. Cartesians sometimes consider their view not only the most common position in Christian history but also the most intuitive position across human cultures.2 According to Cartesian dualism, a human person “just is” a human soul. The person is identifiable with the immaterial, substantially simple soul. While the soul and body may interact with one another in important and reciprocal ways, the body is not the person, nor even a constitutive part of the person, but merely a contingently possessed tool or instrument of the person.3 As some have put it, “You do

not have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.”4

Whatever merits or demerits Cartesian dualism possesses as a coherent model of human personhood, this article will suggest that it stands in some tension with the understanding of human personhood implied in the Chalcedonian Definition and the Christological reflections that flowed from it. The statement produced by the Council of Chalcedon (451) famously defined the “hypostatic union” of two natures in the person of Christ. According to the Chalcedonian Definition, the incarnate Son of God is “at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reas...

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