Tag Archives: thought

Who You Gonna Believe? Materialism, or Your Lying Thoughts?

thinkerIf introspection is right about the self, then it’s easy to show that it must be immortal and can outlive our body. (Alex Rosenburg, The Atheist’s Guide to Reality, p. 223)

Rosenberg makes no secret of the fact that this is the motivation for his attacks on introspection. He sees clearly that any trust that our basic experience of our inner lives, even so much as belief that our thoughts and consciousness really exist, will show belief in materialism to be false.

I’ve discussed the reasons for this elsewhere, but the thing to note here is that there is no good reason to doubt our introspection. If all that we know about anything is based on experience, then it would take a powerful argument indeed to contradict something so basic as the idea that we actually have thoughts.

Rosenberg thinks he has this, of course, in pointing out that we are sometimes wrong about our inner lives. This, of course, is no more reason to conclude that thought doesn’t exist than the fact that our senses are sometimes wrong is a reason to conclude that the physical universe doesn’t exist. 

But the only alternative, accepting that we do indeed have thoughts about things, leads us inevitably to the conclusion that thought is something more than physical processes in the brain. And this would mean the rejection of a materialist view.

And, for all I disagree with Rosenberg, he’s right about this. If our own thought life is even remotely reliable in telling us what a mind is like, then materialism is false.

Reconciling Our Minds

Kant, for those who don’t already know, is considered to be the original source of the modern separation between fact and value. He envisioned a clean break between that which can be known through the senses, and that which cannot.

This black and white view has been thoroughly absorbed by modern thought. Secular materialists have based their entire position on it, of course, but it seems no less prevalent among the romantics. They argue that the realm of meaning and value are purely matters of emotional and aesthetic experience.

As is probably obvious, I’m increasingly convinced that we need to reject the idea of a simple divide between fact and value. Empiricists have long pointed out that there is a great deal of practical biological consideration which goes into our concept of ethics. Romantics, in turn, have pointed out that a great deal of abstraction and interpretation goes into our science.

To me, it seems obvious that the attempts of one side of the fact/value split at dismissing the other have been failures. Rather than sit with the romantics, denying the importance of science, or with the materialists, denying the reality of moral fact, we need to question the idea of a clean divide altogether.

This would take us back to something like the notion of truth in the middle ages, in which neither the validity of the senses nor of moral and spiritual experience are singularly trusted. In that world, this would be a key part of the doctrine of the incarnation (that the bridge between the physical and the non-physical can be crossed).

This idea, so often contemptuously dismissed by modern people, is far more probable than the alternatives on offer. The longer I’ve examined it, the more inescapable it seems.