Logical Exemption Status

thI’ve run across quite a few people who seem to feel that materialism is the one philosophical position that doesn’t need defending.

This is not to say that such people think that it is such a strong position that there’s little point in repeating the arguments in its favor. Rather, it is to say that there are many who seem to think that, whereas other positions need to give us some reason to believe them, materialism represents some kind of “default” philosophy that can be accepted without a reason.

Of course, it is very hard for me to see why any position should claim this kind of status. Surely, those who seek to persuade others of it should be ready with an argument for it.

At the very least, might we give people some reason why this, and not agnosticism, represents a sort of base view?

And this is most of my difficulty in discussing philosophical issues with materialists. They seem to think I believe all the things they do, then add a few extras to that. Not only is this a warped view of my own position, it leaves many of them without any appreciation for what it takes to present a defense for a view–as most of them have never even attempted to do so.

In fact, I don’t know of any argument in favor of materialism that doesn’t reduce to something like asserting the verification principle (the idea that we should accept only those parts of reality that we can “verify” with our senses).

But this is no argument, it is simply a restatement of materialism. It gives us no reason to believe it. And, if you read on philosophy, you’ll already know that the verification principle utterly failed once it was pointed out that it’s self-defeating (it can’t itself be verified by the senses).

That being the case, I honestly don’t understand the confidence so many have in materialism, except in terms of zeitgeist and other pathos effects. I really don’t see any reason at all to believe it.

So, setting aside (for the moment) the reasons why many reject materialism, is there any reason at all to think it is true?

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11 responses to “Logical Exemption Status

  • Alexander

    “is there any reason at all to think materialism is true?”

    What kind of constraints are you wrapping that question in?

    • Debilis

      It would be a metaphysical question, and would need to be answered as such. And, obviously, I’m looking for rational argumentation (rather than a non-rational motivation for belief).

      But I can’t think of any other constraints I’d put on the question than that.

      • shelterit

        Your question assumes the metaphysical, however materialism has defined that as an emergent property. This is why I ask about those constraints, as the question clearly muddles the border between what can be reasonably asked within that framework and what can be asked about the limits of it.

        In other words, your question begs a whole bunch of questions. Shouldn’t we rather be asking if there are any good reasons to think that there is anything but materialism, and work our way up from there?

    • Debilis

      To say that a question is metaphysical is not to assume that there is such a thing as metaphysical objects.

      However, nothing in my reading has yet shown me how “emergent” differs from both reductivism (which would need to be supported) and a form of dualism (which would be a rejection of materialism).

      But, even if such a thing were emergent, are you saying that it is therefore invalid? And, by extension, are you saying that all metaphysical questions are invalid?

      Surely, there is validity in asking for materialists to support their position? Is it really the case that there is no way to inquire into the credibility of materialism?

      If so, I’m not sure how that is different at all from the fideism of which theists are often accused of holding.

      • shelterit

        “To say that a question is metaphysical is not to assume that there is such a thing as metaphysical objects.”

        I don’t know how that responds to what I said, but I hope you’re not saying that talking about the metaphysical doesn’t mean I’m talking about the metaphysical and lead us into infinite loop? 🙂 (Btw, I could leap into song about how metaphysical objects have no bearing on the falsity of the term “object” as used in our mental models as opposed to the physical vs. metaphysical representations we have of them, but that’s a different book)

        “[I don’t see] how “emergent” differs from both reductivism […] and a form of dualism”

        Ok, so given that I’m probably misunderstanding what you’re writing about here, the word “emergent” means something new arising from something old, and has as such *nothing* to do with philosophical stances like reductivism and dualism.

        “even if such a thing were emergent, are you saying that it is therefore invalid?”

        Well, it’s invalid as a true metaphysical concept, of course. Let’s go back to our example of the mind, which, I think, is at the core of this discussion of ours; if the mind is an emergent property of the brain, then it is by definition not metaphysical in the traditional sense. However, maybe we can agree to an altered version of metaphysics which do not require an abstract to also have truth potential? I must say, though, as a fan of both Hume and Carnap that I reject great swaths of metaphysics on the ground that the mind do not have any means of differentiating the imaginative and the real, and so even if a lot of metaphysical ponderings can be an interesting journey through ones minds, it has little to no bearing on what is actually true, and I suspect *this* will be the main difference between us more than anything?

        “Is it really the case that there is no way to inquire into the credibility of materialism?”

        Again, I have no idea where you’re going with this. What is it about the credibility of materialism that is so wrong for you? I don’t think it’s controversial to say that materialism is the working hypothesis of science, and it is being extremely successful while doing it, and by virtue of this success it’s fairly well grounded that it looks true. However, just like in our discussion about naturalism, feel free to put stuff on top, that’s fine and well, but in order for others to take that other stuff on top seriously, well, we require evidence that that stuff either makes sense or is grounded in something real. that is the problem, though, isn’t it? You think there’s some metaphysical layer on top, but when asked about why that is, the answer is very close to “it feels true” or “it’s true in my mind” or “I know it is.” Well, that’s fine for your personal belief, but if you want to elevate that personal belief into a realm of agreed-upon truths we can share, a little work is needed.

        Are we getting closer to an agreement, if nothing else at least on our two positions?

    • Debilis

      I don’t have any idea how my question assumes anything you would deny, would you mind explaining?

      Ok, so given that I’m probably misunderstanding what you’re writing about here, the word “emergent” means something new arising from something old, and has as such *nothing* to do with philosophical stances like reductivism and dualism.
      I know that this is what it means, and this is precisely why it has to do with reductivism and dualism.

      If you are claiming that arises merely in the sense that the mind is nothing more than the interaction of neurons in a complex pattern, then this needs to be supported.

      If, however, you are saying that the mind is legitimately something more than the interaction of neurons, that appears after a certain amount and type of complexity has been achieved, then you are simply agreeing to a form of dualism.

      But, if you are genuinely not taking a position here, then you aren’t addressing the issue I raised.

      if the mind is an emergent property of the brain, then it is by definition not metaphysical in the traditional sense.
      This seems like a reductive stance (that the mind is “reducible” to brain states).

      Given that, I completely agree with this statement. But I would need a reason to think that consciousness, qualia, and reason are reducible to brain states. They are, manifestly, outside of anything neurology studies.

      even if a lot of metaphysical ponderings can be an interesting journey through ones minds, it has little to no bearing on what is actually true, and I suspect *this* will be the main difference between us more than anything?
      Yes, I expect so as well.
      While I think there are many metaphysical arguments which are poor, I don’t see any reason to reject large swaths of it outright. Difficulty in determining what is true is a reason to study, not a reason to reject a field of study.

      What is it about the credibility of materialism that is so wrong for you?
      That I’ve never been given any reason at all to believe it. If it seems like my argument is terribly complex, I apologize. It really isn’t any more difficult than that.

      I don’t think it’s controversial to say that materialism is the working hypothesis of science
      I do, mostly in that materialism is not methodological naturalism, but also because methodological naturalism is not a working hypothesis of science.

      feel free to put stuff on top, that’s fine and well, but in order for others to take that other stuff on top seriously, well, we require evidence
      I’m not trying to “put stuff on top”. I fundamentally reject the materialist view of the world. Nor do I accept the standard of evidence that materialists tend to insist upon (one that assumes materialism).

      You think there’s some metaphysical layer on top, but when asked about why that is, the answer is very close to “it feels true” or “it’s true in my mind” or “I know it is.”
      I’m a bit disappointed to hear this. I really hadn’t meant this at all. My answers had been “materialism involves logical contradictions”, “you’d have to deny science to accept materialism”, and “there’s no reason at all to think it is true”.

      I hope that makes more sense. I really didn’t realize that I’d come across this way (that makes it easy to see why you were not interested in the concept). I’ll keep working on clarity.

      • shelterit

        “If you are claiming that arises merely in the sense that the mind is nothing more than the interaction of neurons in a complex pattern, then this needs to be supported”

        By something more than neuroscience I assume you’re saying here?

        “If, however, you are saying that the mind is legitimately something more than the interaction of neurons, that appears after a certain amount and type of complexity has been achieved, then you are simply agreeing to a form of dualism”

        You need to define “something more”. What are you referring to? What is this “something” that neuroscience doesn’t explain?

        “This seems like a reductive stance”

        Not to the point you’re wanting me to go.

        “They are, manifestly, outside of anything neurology studies”

        Manifestly? How?

        “Difficulty in determining what is true is a reason to study, not a reason to reject a field of study.”

        I’m fairly sure no one would disagree with this.

        ” ‘What is it about the credibility of materialism that is so wrong for you?’ That I’ve never been given any reason at all to believe it.”

        What, you mean growing up, all you heard was that the super-natural was real, and no one gave you the counter arguments? That kinda thing?

        “I fundamentally reject the materialist view of the world”

        Well, good luck to you, but in truth, you can’t in the light of what science is and how it’s used in this world. No one is going to use non-empirical “evidence” (however loosely you define that term) as the basis for technology, for policy, and for societal guidance. Sure, it has happened in the past, but we’re learned from our mistakes; empiricism removes corruption of reality from our common knowledge. You might still be ultimately right, however we need to work with what we can, at least, agree on. And that is that stuff materialism has in it.

        • kohshadya

          This has been a very interesting discussion to read. I hope the two of you continue as far as you find productive, I know I’m certainly finding a lot of good material to ponder just from reading.

          I don’t currently have anything new to offer to your arguments, but I believe I see a point of miscommunication that seems to be holding this discussion back slightly. I’d like to share my observation in the hopes that the two of you continue.

          The main point that I think has caused confusion is that I believe Shelterit has misunderstood what Deb means by his rejection of Materialsim. Please correct me if I am in error, but I think Shelterit thinks rejecting Materialsim means rejecting natural science, observation, experimental progress, etc. I do believe that Deb’s rejection only refers to the assumption of Materialsim that ONLY the material world exists. Deb isn’t in this debate questioning the scientific method or the existence of the physical. Deb seems to be questioning the rational basis for assuming the non-existence of anything without evidence to support that.

          I hope I’ve provided something of value to this debate. I hope you both continue.

    • Debilis

      By something more than neuroscience I assume you’re saying here?
      I’ve claimed elsewhere that it can’t be supported by neuroscience. But, if you feel you have an argument from neuroscience that explains it, please feel free to refer to that.

      You need to define “something more”. What are you referring to? What is this “something” that neuroscience doesn’t explain?
      You mean, what do I personally think is the case? I tend to lean toward hylomorphic dualism.

      As to what neuroscience doesn’t explain: consciousness, rationality, and qualia. These are well known problems with a materialist view.

      “This seems like a reductive stance”
      Not to the point you’re wanting me to go.
      I don’t understand this comment. What is your view on how consciousness can exist? Is it purely a complex interaction of neurons–and nothing more?

      “They are, manifestly, outside of anything neurology studies”
      Manifestly? How?
      Because the things I mentioned, manifestly, cannot be described purely in terms of neuron interactions. The subjective, first person experience, for instance, is specifically set aside when doing science.

      What, you mean growing up, all you heard was that the super-natural was real, and no one gave you the counter arguments? That kinda thing?
      Not just growing up. No one has given me a counter-argument to this day.
      But I’ve heard many times (including in childhood) that the physical is all that exists. But no one has supported that claim.

      What I’ve heard instead is that science works. But all this shows (amazing as it is) is that the physical follows regular patterns. That is perfectly compatible with Christianity.

      Well, good luck to you, but in truth, you can’t [reject materialism] in the light of what science is and how it’s used in this world.
      Science does not support the idea that there is nothing more to reality than the physical. In fact, I’ve made multiple arguments that materialism is less compatible with science than my view.

      No one is going to use non-empirical “evidence” (however loosely you define that term) as the basis for technology, for policy, and for societal guidance.
      I’d never suggest that we refer to non-emprical evidence in developing technology, as that is an empirical subject.
      As to public policy and social guidance, both empirical and non-emprical matters are considered for any issue. Empirical data tells us, for instance, that vaccines can stop the spread of disease. But it doesn’t support the idea that people shouldn’t be diseased–that is a non-emprical judgment call.

      You might still be ultimately right, however we need to work with what we can, at least, agree on.
      I’m not arguing with the idea that, when it comes to working together, we should stick to points of agreement. But when we are specifically discussing what is true, this makes no sense.

      Nor is it possible for any one person to take this approach to life. There is no action one can take that some people won’t disagree with. I, like vast numbers of people, passionately disagree with the idea of ignoring the non-empirical. The approach you suggest, therefore, is not sticking to points of agreement.

      And that is that stuff materialism has in it.
      Quickly, materialism isn’t simply the acceptance of the physical (supernaturalists of nearly every stripe do this). It is the rejection of the non-physical. This is not a point of agreement.

      Okay, slowly getting through these. On to the next!

      • Alexander

        “I’ve claimed elsewhere that it can’t be supported by neuroscience”

        So, yes, then. So what of the mind can’t neuroscience explain? Anything specifics you can give? We’ve gone over qualia and how there’s still much debate as to qualia even exists, but even given that, why can’t qualia be an emergent property of the brain? What makes qualia so non-physical for you? Any actual arguments, or more of a feeling?

        “I tend to lean toward hylomorphic dualism”

        Ok, that explains a lot. 🙂 Well, if we go by this definition; “the soul is what gives a functional body life”, ie. the body needs a soul to be alive? Forgetting for a moment the problem of giving souls to every living creature out there, why do think neuroscience can’t investigate “what makes the body alive”?

        “As to what neuroscience doesn’t explain: consciousness, rationality, and qualia”

        Ok, now I know you say that these things are unexplainable in a materialistic world, however I’m not convinced. Convince me! Tell me how an idea, or a feeling, or a concept of my mind aren’t linked to the physical brain? I’m coming back to my “eating the brain out with a spoon” example; if I spoon out my brain little by little, I lose certain functions of the brain little by little. Dig here to remove empathy, dig here to remove eyesight, dig there to make a person identify things based on memory rather than visual input, and so forth. There are so many cases of physical abnormalities that gives the most peculiar mental models, and they are *clearly* physical. (Try http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Man_Who_Mistook_His_Wife_for_a_Hat for a start) The brain is complicated beyond our current understanding, but that’s not the same as saying we don’t understand the brain, nor that we will never be able to fully understand it. Too many things we thought were of the mind only has proven to be directly linked to physical parts of the brain. How come? (Also; when my brain is fully scooped out, do I still have a soul?)

        “The subjective, first person experience, for instance, is specifically set aside when doing science”

        What? Who’s experience? Of the scientists, or the patient? Because it certainly is interested in the patients subjective experience; it’s what’s being studied.

        “Science does not support the idea that there is nothing more to reality than the physical”

        Science does not support anything for which there is no evidence. Reality, physical or not, has very little to do with it.
        However, there’s good and bad evidence which you need to sort out, too, where “good” is defined in the empirical, while “bad” is all the rest, often related to bias, opinions, feelings and the like. You may have evidence for the meta-physical, but it’s just bad evidence.

        “the physical is all that exists. But no one has supported that claim”

        But surely there are good reasons to think reality exists, yes? That we all agree that at least reality is, uh, real? Don’t you think the reason why people haven’t argued that the physical world is all that exists is because we don’t need good arguments for believing in the physical world, and that if you want to add something to what seems evident for all, then *you* need to provide the argument for why there is more?

        “But all this shows (amazing as it is) is that the physical follows regular patterns. That is perfectly compatible with Christianity”

        Surely you’re jumping ahead a bit; I seem to read in your bible quite a number of things that are in direct violation of the physical following regular patterns, like miracles and other happenings?

        “But it doesn’t support the idea that people shouldn’t be diseased–that is a non-emprical judgment call”

        That sounds most puzzling; surely an understanding of herd-immunity and a generic understanding of human well-being is well enough founded in empiric evidence, or are you of the opinion that every single person needs to fully define their state of well-being in and out of a situation in which they have a given disease? And that their opinion frees us from the empiric evidence for herd-immunity? Or something like it?

        “I, like vast numbers of people, passionately disagree with the idea of ignoring the non-empirical”

        But then we’re back to square one; how are we to agree to this non-empirical stuff? How are we to judge it? How can we tell the truth from insanity?

        “It is the rejection of the non-physical. This is not a point of agreement.”

        No, I think we actually both agree and understand this, I’m just saying that materialism defines something we can agree on *except* the rejection of something that seems to evade both definitions and evidence. Materialism seems true, even if you don’t like it, because at least we can agree on the natural world being there. The materialistic world we agree on. The stuff in addition we don’t. And you don’t accept the rejection of “something more.”

    • Debilis

      So what of the mind can’t neuroscience explain?
      The first person perspective. Neuroscience doesn’t describe qualia (that is simply not its job).

      We’ve gone over qualia and how there’s still much debate as to qualia even exists
      Yes, some people deny qualia. And there is simply no reason to do this other than to support materialism. But, if you disagree, I would welcome an argument against the existence of qualia.

      As it stands, however, we each have direct experience with it. To simply say that my direct experience is false is asking “who are you going to trust, me or your lying eyes?”. I really need more of an argument than the claim that some dispute this point.

      why can’t qualia be an emergent property of the brain?
      Whether it can or not, neuroscience cannot describe qualia, meaning that there is more to reality than what science studies.

      More than that, this question isn’t an argument. To refute my position, it needs to be shown that it is most reasonable to think that qualia are an emergent part of the brain (and in what sense). Throwing this out as a possibility for me to disprove is not an argument.

      why do think neuroscience can’t investigate “what makes the body alive”
      *As an aside, be careful about the definition of ‘soul’ here, it is not being used in the casual sense*
      Neuroscience can’t investigate first person experiences.
      And, as above, is there any reason to think that it can. I’ve given reasons, but haven’t received any reasons why I’m wrong on this point.

      Are you aware of a neuroscientific test which investigated first person perspectives (as opposed to physical states of the brain)?
      What peer-reviewed paper investigates what echolocation feels like to a bat, for instance?

      I’ve given reasons why this test cannot possibly be done, but, if you wish to establish that neuroscience has ruled out dualism, you need to show not only that it can be done, but that such things have been done.

      Ok, now I know you say that these things are unexplainable in a materialistic world, however I’m not convinced. Convince me!
      May I also echo that? I’ve not yet seen any reason, at all, to think that these things can be explained within materialism. Please present support for that as well as request support.

      Tell me how an idea, or a feeling, or a concept of my mind aren’t linked to the physical brain?
      I completely agree that they are linked to the brain. I’m only disagreeing with the notion that they are nothing more than the brain.

      if I spoon out my brain little by little, I lose certain functions of the brain little by little
      Again, I don’t disagree with this.
      I completely agree that the brain is highly involved in thought. According to hylomorphic dualism, it is required for thought. But the brain, as understood by science, is not enough.

      From my perspective, then, this is like saying that one side of an arch is the whole arch because, when we take that away, the arch collapses.

      There are so many cases of physical abnormalities that gives the most peculiar mental models, and they are *clearly* physical.
      This is much closer to a reason, thank you.
      I agree that these cases are physical, but I’m not convinced that even these cases are ONLY physical.

      Again, the science involved only looked at physical causes and effects. The non-physical was not disproved, it was ignored.

      The brain is complicated beyond our current understanding, but that’s not the same as saying we don’t understand the brain, nor that we will never be able to fully understand it.
      I’m not saying that we never will be able to (I have no idea about the truth of that statement).
      Rather, I’m saying that, based on what we do already understand, the brain isn’t enough for consciousness.

      “The subjective, first person experience, for instance, is specifically set aside when doing science”
      What? Who’s experience? Of the scientists, or the patient? Because it certainly is interested in the patients subjective experience; it’s what’s being studied.
      No, it isn’t.
      The physical effects in the brain are being studied, and correlated with the patient’s reports (verbal behavior) of her first person experience.

      Science never describes first person perspectives, those are simply named by the patient and recorded. What is being studied is the physical processes in the brain (and a very amazing thing that is!)

      “Science does not support the idea that there is nothing more to reality than the physical”
      Science does not support anything for which there is no evidence.
      Exactly, and there is no evidence at all for the idea that there is nothing more to reality than the physical.

      However, there’s good and bad evidence which you need to sort out, too, where “good” is defined in the empirical, while “bad” is all the rest
      I simply don’t accept these lines of demarkation. I see no reason at all to describe evidence this way except for the expressed purpose of defending materialism.

      Good evidence is evidence which is both trustworthy and pertinent to the subject, whether or not it happens to be empirical.

      Don’t you think the reason why people haven’t argued that the physical world is all that exists is because we don’t need good arguments for believing in the physical world, and that if you want to add something to what seems evident for all, then *you* need to provide the argument for why there is more?
      No, actually I wouldn’t agree with this. Here is why:

      I have reasons for thinking the physical universe is real (most obviously, that I experience it), but materialists expressly reject those reasons (i.e. rejecting experience as a valid source of knowledge).

      To me, materialists are saying, your reasons for thinking anything is true are wrong, except in this one case, its okay then. And, when I ask for a defense of that, they ask me why on earth they need to defend that position.

      But perhaps the problem is that you think I’m asking for a defense of the physical. I am not. I’m asking for a defense of the claim that there is nothing other than the physical. That is what is unwarranted.

      Surely you’re jumping ahead a bit; I seem to read in your bible quite a number of things that are in direct violation of the physical following regular patterns, like miracles and other happenings?
      Miracles don’t contradict the idea that the physical follows regular patterns. They only contradict the idea that there is nothing more than natural causes in a particular situation.

      Christianity has never been opposed to the idea that nature has regular patterns. This is one of the reasons why it was Christian theists who invented science.

      “But it doesn’t support the idea that people shouldn’t be diseased–that is a non-emprical judgment call”
      That sounds most puzzling; surely an understanding of herd-immunity and a generic understanding of human well-being is well enough founded in empiric evidence
      Indeed, but it is not the position that people shouldn’t be diseased. It is the position that most people display signs of negative emotional reactions upon hearing that people are diseased.

      Yes, the latter is empirically evidenced, but the position that people shouldn’t be diseased is not.

      But then we’re back to square one; how are we to agree to this non-empirical stuff? How are we to judge it? How can we tell the truth from insanity?
      These are all excellent questions!
      But, what they are not is reasons to think that there is no such thing as the non-physical. They are simply not opposed to anything I’ve argued yet.

      I completely agree, however, that when I move on to the “now that we agree there is a non-physical, what is it?” topics, these will be very important.

      I think we actually both agree and understand this, I’m just saying that materialism defines something we can agree on *except* the rejection of something that seems to evade both definitions and evidence.
      I agree that the physical is real, if that is your key point. But so do almost all non-materialists. It is the rejection of the non-physical that is the point of dispute.

      Even the statement that these things “evade both definitions and evidence” is not a point I’d agree on. Materialists need to establish these things, not simply claim them.

      Materialism seems true, even if you don’t like it, because at least we can agree on the natural world being there.
      That doesn’t remotely support materialism, however. Any philosophy that believes that the natural world is real is equally compatible with that fact.

      This is like saying that the minkowskian interpretation of relativity seems more correct than Einstein’s original interpretation because we can agree that the mathematics of relativity are accurate. It is precisely because both interpretations agree on this point that it is not relevant in choosing between them.

      Likewise, the key to understanding whether materialism is correct is not points where it claims the exact same thing as other views (“there is a physical”), but where claims differ.

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