In philosophy the theory of materialism holds that the only thing that exists is matter; that all things are composed of material and all phenomena (including consciousness) are the result of material interactions. In other words, matter is the only substance. As a theory, materialism is a form of physicalism and belongs to the class of monist ontology. As such, it is different from ontological theories based on dualism or pluralism. For singular explanations of the phenomenal reality, materialism would be in contrast to idealism and to spiritualism.
- 1 Overview
- 2 History of materialism
- 3 Scientific materialists
- 4 Defining matter
- 5 Criticism and alternatives
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 External links
The view is perhaps best understood in its opposition to the doctrines of immaterial substance applied to the mind historically, famously by René Descartes. However, by itself materialism says nothing about how material substance should be characterized. In practice it is frequently assimilated to one variety of physicalism or another.
Materialism is often associated with reductionism, according to which the objects or phenomena individuated at one level of description, if they are genuine, must be explicable in terms of the objects or phenomena at some other level of description — typically, a more general level than the reduced one. Non-reductive materialism explicitly rejects this notion, however, taking the material constitution of all particulars to be consistent with the existence of real objects, properties, or phenomena not explicable in the terms canonically used for the basic material constituents. Jerry Fodor influentially argues this view, according to which empirical laws and explanations in "special sciences" like psychology or geology are invisible from the perspective of basic physics. A lot of vigorous literature has grown up around the relation between these views.
Modern philosophical materialists extend the definition of other scientifically observable entities such as energy, forces, and the curvature of space. However philosophers such as Mary Midgley suggest that the concept of "matter" is elusive and poorly defined.
Materialism typically contrasts with dualism, phenomenalism, idealism, vitalism and dual-aspect monism. Its materiality can, in some ways, be linked to the concept of Determinism, as espoused by Enlightenment thinkers.
Materialism has been criticised by religious thinkers opposed to it, who regard it as a spiritually empty philosophy. Marxism uses materialism to refer to a "materialist conception of history", which is not concerned with metaphysics but centers on the roughly empirical world of human activity (practice, including labor) and the institutions created, reproduced, or destroyed by that activity.
History of materialism
In Ancient Indian philosophy, materialism developed around 600 BCE with the works of Ajita Kesakambali, Payasi, Kanada, and the proponents of the Cārvāka school of philosophy. Kanada was one of the early proponents of atomism. The Nyaya-Vaisesika school (600 BCE - 100 BCE) developed one of the earliest forms of atomism, though their proofs of God and positing that the consciousness was not material made them not to be materialists. The atomic tradition was carried forward by Buddhist atomism and the Jaina school.
Xun Zi developed a Confucian doctrine oriented on realism and materialism in Ancient China. Other notable Chinese materialists of this time include Yang Xiong and Wang Chong.
Ancient Greek philosophers like Thales, Parmenides, Anaxagoras, Epicurus and Democritus prefigure later materialists. The poem De Rerum Natura by Lucretius recounts the mechanistic philosophy of Democritus and Epicurus. According to this view, all that exists is matter and void, and all phenomena are the result of different motions and conglomerations of base material particles called "atoms." De Rerum Natura provides mechanistic explanations for phenomena such as erosion, evaporation, wind, and sound. Famous principles like "nothing can come from nothing" and "nothing can touch body but body" first appeared in the works of Lucretius.
Later Indian materialist Jayaraashi Bhatta (6th century CE) in his work Tattvopaplavasimha ("the Upsetting of all principles") refuted the Nyaya Sutra epistemology. The materialistic Cārvāka philosophy appears to have died out some time after 1400 CE.
In early 12th-century al-Andalus, the Arabian philosopher, Ibn Tufail (Abubacer), wrote discussions on materialism in his philosophical novel, Hayy ibn Yaqdhan (Philosophus Autodidactus), while vaguely foreshadowing the idea of a historical materialism.
Later on, Thomas Hobbes and Pierre Gassendi represent the materialist tradition, in opposition to René Descartes' attempts to provide the natural sciences with dualist foundations. Later are materialist and atheist Jean Meslier, Julien Offroy de La Mettrie, Paul-Henri Thiry Baron d'Holbach, Denis Diderot and other minor French enlightenment thinkers, as well as Ludwig Feuerbach, and, in England, the pedestrian traveller John "Walking" Stewart, whose insistence that all matter is endowed with a moral dimension had a major impact on the philosophical poetry of William Wordsworth.
Schopenhauer wrote that "...materialism is the philosophy of the subject who forgets to take account of himself." He claimed that an observing subject can only know material objects through the mediation of the brain and its particular organization. The way that the brain knows determines the way that material objects are experienced. "Everything objective, extended, active, and hence everything material, is regarded by materialism as so solid a basis for its explanations that a reduction to this (especially if it should ultimately result in thrust and counter-thrust) can leave nothing to be desired. But all this is something that is given only very indirectly and conditionally, and is therefore only relatively present, for it has passed through the machinery and fabrication of the brain, and hence has entered the forms of time, space, and causality, by virtue of which it is first of all presented as extended in space and operating in time."
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, turning the idealist dialectics of Georg Hegel upside down, came up with dialectical materialism and a materialist account of the course of history known as the materialist conception of history, later labeled historical materialism. For Marx, the base material of the world is social relations (and mainly class relations, e.g., between serfs and lord, or today, between employees and employer). As an expression of these basic social relations, all other ideologies form, including those of science, economics, law, morality, etc.
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels used the term to refer to a theoretical perspective that holds the satisfaction of everyday economic needs is the primary reality in every epoch of history. Opposed to German idealist philosophy, materialism takes the position that society and reality originate from a set of simple economic acts which human beings carry out in order to provide the material necessities of food, shelter, and clothing. Materialism takes as its starting point that before anything else, human beings must produce their everyday economic needs through their physical labor and practical productive activity. This single economic act, Marx believed, gives rise to a system of social relations which include political, legal and religious models.
Many current and recent philosophers—e.g., Daniel Dennett, Willard Van Orman Quine, Donald Davidson, John Rogers Searle, Jerry Fodor, and Richard Dawkins—operate within a broadly physicalist or materialist framework, producing rival accounts of how best to accommodate mind—functionalism, anomalous monism, identity theory and so on.
In recent years, Paul and Patricia Churchland have advocated a more extreme position, eliminativist materialism, which holds that mental phenomena simply do not exist at all—that talk of the mental reflects a totally spurious "folk psychology" that simply has no basis in fact, something like the way that folk science speaks of demon-caused illness.
The nature and definition of matter have been subject to much debate, as have other key concepts in science and philosophy. Is there a single kind of matter which everything is made of (hyle), or multiple kinds? Is matter a continuous substance capable of expressing multiple forms (hylomorphism), or a number of discrete, unchanging constituents (atomism)?    Does it have intrinsic properties (substance theory), or is it lacking them (prima materia)?
Without question science has made unexpected discoveries about matter. Some paraphrase departures from traditional or common-sense concepts of matter as "disproving the existence of matter". However, most physical scientists take the view that the concept of matter has merely changed, rather than being eliminated.
One challenge to the traditional concept of matter as tangible "stuff" is the rise of field physics in the 19th century. However the conclusion that materialism is false may be premature. Relativity shows that matter and energy (including the spatially distributed energy of fields) are interchangeable. This enables the ontological view that energy is prima materia and matter is one of its forms. On the other hand, quantum field theory models fields as exchanges of particles — photons for electromagnetic fields and so on. On this view it could be said that fields are "really matter".
All known solid, liquid, and gaseous substances are composed of protons, neutrons and electrons. All three are fermions or spin-half particles, whereas the particles that mediate fields in quantum field theory are bosons. Thus matter can be said to divide into a more tangible fermionic kind and a less tangible bosonic kind. However it is now generally believed that less than 5% of the physical composition of the universe is made up of such "matter", and the majority of the universe is composed of Dark Matter and Dark Energy - with no agreement amongst scientists about what these are made of. This obviously refutes the traditional materialism that held that the only things that exist are things composed of the kind of matter with which we are broadly familiar ("traditional matter") - which was anyway under great strain as noted above from Relativity and quantum field theory. However, if the definition of "matter" is extended to "anything whose existence can be inferred from the observed behaviour of traditional matter" then there is no reason in principle why entities whose existence materialists normally deny should not be considered as "matter"
Some philosophers feel that these dichotomies necessitate a switch from materialism to physicalism. Others use materialism and physicalism interchangeably.
Criticism and alternatives
The professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame Alvin Plantinga criticises it, and the Emiritus Regius Professor of Divinity Keith Ward suggests that materialism is rare amongst contemporary British philosophers: "Looking around my philosopher colleagues in Britain, virtually all of whom I know at least from their published work, I would say that very few of them are materialists.".
Religious and spiritual objections
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, materialism denies the existence of both God and the soul. It is therefore incompatible with most world religions including Islam, Christianity and Judaism. As Buddhism is not a theistic religion it does not hold the same objection to materialism,but, it does hold that the all-out pursuit of wealth and other external commodities encouraged by materialism [possible confusion of definition - does Buddhism hold that philosophical materialism directly implies consumerism?] is dangerous and self-destructive since such a system encourages attachment to the material realm which is ultimately transitory in nature and thus increases the amount of pain and suffering in the world.
In most of Hinduism and Transcendentalism, all matter is believed to be an illusion called Maya, blinding us from knowing the truth. Maya is the limited, purely physical and mental reality in which our everyday consciousness has become entangled. Maya gets destroyed for a person when they perceive Brahman with transcendental knowledge.
Kant argued against all three forms of materialism, subjective idealism (which he contrasts with his "transcendental idealism") and dualism. However, Kant also argues that change and time require an enduring substrate., and does so in connection with his Refutation of Idealism
Postmodern/poststructuralist thinkers also express a skepticism about any all-encompassing metaphysical scheme.
Bundle Theory. It can be argued that it is the properties of material bodies, such as size and shape, which are perceived, and not the material substrate itself. Locke said we "know not what" the basic substance is. As Berkeley wrote "I acknowledge it is possible we might perceive all things just as we do now, though there was no Matter in the world; neither can I conceive, if there be Matter, how it should produce any idea in our minds". If mind-independent properties (properly speaking property-instances or tropes) are held to exist in association with each other but without a material substrate, bundle theory results. If bundle theory is shown to be illogical or inconceivable, the existence of a substrate is thereby demonstrated conceptually, despite the unpercievability of matter per se.
Idealism. An argument for idealism, such as those of Hegel and Berkeley is ipso facto an argument against materialism. Matter can be argued to be redundant, as in bundle theory, and mind-independent properties can in turn be reduced to subjective percepts.
Dualism. If matter is seen as necessary to explain the physical world, but incapable of explaining mind, dualism results.
Emergence, Holism and Process philosophy are some of the approaches that seek to ameliorate the perceived shortcomings of traditional (especially mechanistic) materialism without abandoning materialism entirely.
Materialism as methodology
Some critics object to materialism as part of an overly skeptical, narrow or reductivist approach to theorizing, rather than to the ontological claim that matter is the only substance. Particle physicist and theologian John Polkinghorne objects to what he calls promissory materialism — claims that materialistic science will eventually be able to explain phenomena it has not so far been able to explain. He prefers dual-aspect monism to materialism.
The psychologist Imants Barušs suggests that "materialists tend to indiscriminately apply a 'pebbles in a box' schema to explanations of reality even though such a schema is known to be incorrect in general for physical phenomena. Thus, materialism cannot explain matter, let alone anomalous phenomena or subjective experience, but remains entrenched in academia largely for political reasons." (Compare with Charles Fort)
The flow of time
Four-dimensionalism is the most commonly accepted theory of time among members of the scientific community. Critics of materialism could argue that it's impossible for our subjective sense of time to arise from a static, four-dimensional universe. It must be noted that the flow of time isn't the same as the arrow of time.
- Dialectical materialism
- Madhyamaka - a philosophy of middle way
- Metaphysical naturalism
- Naturalism (philosophy)
- Philosophy of mind
- Reality in Buddhism
- Transcendence (religion)
- Mary Midgley The Myths We Live By.
- Dominique Urvoy, "The Rationality of Everyday Life: The Andalusian Tradition? (Aropos of Hayy's First Experiences)", in Lawrence I. Conrad (1996), The World of Ibn Tufayl: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Ḥayy Ibn Yaqẓān, pp. 38-46, Brill Publishers, ISBN 9004093001.
- The World as Will and Representation, II, Ch. 1)
- The World as Will and Representation, I, §7
- Jonathan Wolff, Ph.D., ed. "Karl Marx". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/marx/. Retrieved 2009-09-17.
- "Matter". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913. http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Catholic_Encyclopedia_(1913)/Matter.
- Concise Britannica on hylomorphism
- Dictionary of the History of Ideas: Atomism: Antiquity to the Seventeenth Century
- Dictionary of the History of Ideas:Atomism in the Seventeenth Century
- Article by a philosopher who opposes atomism
- Information on Buddhist atomism
- Article on traditional Greek atomism
- Atomism from the 17th to the 20th Century at Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on substance theory
- The Friesian School on Substance and Essence
- Bernard Sadoulet Particle Dark Matter in the Universe: At the Brink of Discovery? Science 5 January 2007: Vol. 315. no. 5808, pp. 61 - 63
- eg C. S. Lewis in The Great Divorce suggested that Heaven was composed of super-massive matter that was more substantial than normal matter
- Dictionary of the Philosophy of mind -- "Many philosophers and scientists now use the terms `material' and `physical' interchangeably"
- Is Religion Dangerous? p 91
- "Materialism". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913. http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Catholic_Encyclopedia_(1913)/Materialism.
- see Critique of Pure Reason where he gives a "refutation of idealism" in pp345-52 (1st Ed) and pp 244-7 (2nd Ed) in the Norman Kemp Smith edition
- Critique of Pure Reason (A379, p352 NKS translation). "If, however, as commonly happens, we seek to extend the concept of dualism, and take it in the transcendental sense, neither it nor the two counter-alternatives — pneumatism [idealism] on the one hand, materialism on the other — would have any sort of basis [...] Neither the transcendental object which underlies outer appearances nor that which underlies inner intuition, is in itself either matter or a thinking being, but a ground (to us unknown)..."
- "Kant argues that we can determine that there has been a change in the objects of our perception, not merely a change in our perceptions themselves, only by conceiving of what we perceive as successive states of enduring substances (see Substance)".Routledge Encyclopedia of philosophy
- "All determination of time presupposes something permanent in perception. This permanent cannot, however, be something in me [...]" Critique of Pure Reason, B274, P245 (NKS translation)
- see Mary Midgley The Myths we Live by
- Baker, L. (1987). Saving Belief Princeton, Princeton University Press
- Reppert, V. (1992). Eliminative Materialism, Cognitive Suicide, and Begging the Question. Metaphilosophy 23: 378-92.
- Seidner, Stanley S. (June 10, 2009) "A Trojan Horse: Logotherapeutic Transcendence and its Secular Implications for Theology". Mater Dei Institute. p 5.
- Boghossian, P. (1990). The Status of Content Philosophical Review 99: 157-84. and (1991)The Status of Content Revisited. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 71: 264-78.
- Locke, J. Essan Understay Concerning Humanding/
- However, critics of materialism are equally guilty of prognosticating that it will never be able to explain certain phenomena " Over a hundred years ago William James saw clearly that science would never resolve the mind-body problem".Dembski, W. Are We Spiritual Machines
- Interview with John Polkinghorne
- Baruss, I. (1993). Can we consider matter as ultimate reality? Some fundamental problems with a materialist interpretation of reality. Ultimate Reality and Meaning: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Philosophy of Understanding, 16(3-4), 245-254
- Baruss, I. (2001). The art of science: Science of the future in light of alterations of consciousness. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 15(1), 57-68
- Buchner, L. (1920). Force and Matter. New York, Peter Eckler Publishing Co.
- Churchland, Paul (1981). Eliminative Materialism and the Propositional Attitudes. The Philosophy of Science. Boyd, Richard; P. Gasper; J. D. Trout. Cambridge, Massachusetts, MIT Press.
- Flanagan, Owen (1991). The Science of the Mind. 2nd edition Cambridge Massachusetts, MIT Press.
- Fodor, J.A. (1974). Special Sciences, Synthese, Vol.28.
- Gunasekara, Victor A. (2001). "Buddhism and the Modern World". Basic Buddhism: A Modern Introduction to the Buddha's Teaching". 18 January 2008 <http://www.buddhismtoday.com/english/buddha/Teachings/basicteaching11.htm>.
- Kim, J. (1994) Multiple Realization and the Metaphysics of Reduction, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. 52.
- La Mettrie, La Mettrie, Julien Offray de (1748). L'Homme Machine (Man a Machine)
- Lange, Friedrich A.,(1925) The History of Materialism. New York, Harcourt, Brace, & Co.
- Moser, P. K.; J. D. Trout, Ed. (1995) Contemporary Materialism: A Reader. New York, Routledge.
- Schopenhauer, Arthur (1969). The World as Will and Representation. New York, Dover Publications, Inc.
- Seidner, Stanley S. (June 10, 2009). "A Trojan Horse: Logotherapeutic Transcendence and its Secular Implications for Theology". Mater Dei Institute
- Turner, M. S. (2007). Quarks and the cosmos. Science 315, 59–61.
- Vitzthum, Richard C. (1995) Materialism: An Affirmative History and Definition. Amhert, New York, Prometheus Books.
- Stanford Encyclopedia:
- Philosophical Materialism (by Richard C. Vitzthum) from infidels.org
- Dictionary of the Philosophy of Mind on Materialism from the University of Waterloo
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