Tag Archives: materialism

David Chalmers

When I was in graduate school, I recall hearing “One starts as a materialist, then one becomes a dualist, then a panpsychist, and one ends up as an idealist”. I don’t know where this comes from, but I think the idea was something like this. First, one is impressed by the successes of science, endorsing materialism about everything and so about the mind. Second, one is moved by problem of consciousness to see a gap between physics and consciousness, thereby endorsing dualism, where both matter and consciousness are fundamental. Third, one is moved by the inscrutability of matter to realize that science reveals at most the structure of matter and not its underlying nature, and to speculate that this nature may involve consciousness, thereby endorsing panpsychism. Fourth, one comes to think that there is little reason to believe in anything beyond consciousness and that the physical world is wholly constituted by consciousness, thereby endorsing idealism.

David Chalmers, ‘Idealism and the Mind-Body Problem’, in William Seager (ed.), The Routledge Handbook of Panpsychism, New York, 2018

Richard Wiseman

Researchers have spent a great deal of time looking at the link between people’s scores on these types of questionnaires and happiness. The findings are as consistent as they are worrying –high scores tend to be associated with feeling unhappy and unsatisfied with life. Of course, this is not the case with every single materialist and so, if you did get a high score, you might be one of the happy-go-lucky people who buck the trend. (However, before assuming this, do bear in mind that research also suggests that whenever we are confronted with negative results from tests, we are exceptionally good at convincing ourselves that we are an exception to the rule.)

Richard Wiseman, 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot, London, 2009, pp. 25-26

David Chalmers

Temperamentally, I am strongly inclined toward materialist reductive explanation, and I have no strong spiritual or religious inclinations. For a number of years, I hoped for a materialist theory; when I gave up on this hope, it was quite reluctantly. It eventually seemed plain to me that these conclusions were forced on anyone who wants to take consciousness seriously. Materialism is a beautiful and compelling view of the world, but to account for consciousness, we have to go beyond the resources it provides.

By now, I have grown almost happy with these conclusions. They do not seem to have any fearsome consequences, and they allow a way of thinking and theorizing about consciousness that seems more satisfactory in almost every way. And the expansion in the scientific worldview has had a positive effect, at least for me: it has made the universe seem a more interesting place.

David Chalmers, The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory, Oxford, 1996, p. xiv

Michael Lockwood

“[N]o-nonsense” materialism […] is characterized not so much by what it asserts, namely the identity of conscious states and processes with certain physiological states and processes, but by an accompanying failure to appreciate that there is anything philosophically problematic about such an identification.

Michael Lockwood, Mind, Brain, and the Quantum: The Compound ‘I’, Oxford, 1989, p. 2

C. D. Broad

Let us now sum up the theoretical differences which the alternatives of Mechanism and Emergence would make to our view of the external world and of the relations between the various sciences. The advantage of Mechanism would be that it introduces a unity and tidiness into the world which appeals very strongly to our aesthetic interests. On that view, when pushed to its extreme limits, there is one and only one kind of material. Each particle of this obeys one elementary law of behaviour, and continues to do so no matter how complex may be the collection of particles of which it is a constituent. There is one uniform law of composition, connecting the behaviour of groups of these particles as wholes with the behaviour which each would show in isolation and with the structure of the group. All the apparently different kinds of stuff are just differently arranged groups of different numbers of the one kind of elementary particle; and all the apparently peculiar laws of behaviour are simply special cases which could be deduced in theory from the structure of the whole under consideration, the one elementary law of behaviour for isolated particles, and the one universal law of composition. On such a view the external world has the greatest amount of unity which is conceivable. There is really only one science, and the various “special sciences” are just particular cases of it. This is a magnificent ideal; it is certainly much more nearly true than anyone could possibly have suspected at first sight; and investigations pursued under its guidance have certainly enabled us to discover many connexions within the external world which would otherwise have escaped our notice. But it has no trace of self-evidence; it cannot be the whole truth about the external world, since it cannot deal with the existence or the appearance of “secondary qualities” until it is supplemented by laws of the emergent type which assert that under such and such conditions such and such groups of elementary particles moving in certain ways have, or seem to human beings to have, such and such secondary qualities; and it is certain that considerable scientific progress can be made without assuming it to be true. As a practical postulate it has its good and its bad side. On the one hand, it makes us try our hardest to explain the characteristic behaviour of the more complex in terms of the laws which we have already recognised in the less complex. If our efforts succeed, this is sheer gain. And, even if they fail, we shall probably have learned a great deal about the minute details of the facts under investigation which we might not have troubled to look for otherwise. On the other hand, it tends to over-simplification. If in fact there are new types of law at certain levels, it is very desirable that we should honestly recognise the fact. And, if we take the mechanistic ideal too seriously, we shall be in danger of ignoring or perverting awkward facts of this kind. This sort of over-simplification has certainly happened in the past in biology and physiology under the guidance of the mechanistic ideal; and it of course reaches its wildest absurdities in the attempts which have been made from time to time to treat mental phenomena mechanistically.

C. D. Broad, The Mind and Its Place in Nature, London, 1937, pp. 76-77

Henry Sidgwick

It is in their purely physical aspect, as complex processes of corporeal change, that [physical processes] are means to the maintenance of life: but so long as we confine our attention to their corporeal aspect,—regarding them merely as complex movements of certain particles of organised matter—it seems impossible to attribute to these movements, considered in themselves, either goodness or badness. I cannot conceive it to be an ultimate end of rational action to secure that these complex movements should be of one kind rather than another, or that they should be continued for a longer rather than a shorter period. In short, if a certain quality of human Life is that which is ultimately desirable, it must belong to human Life regarded on its psychical side, or, briefly, Consciousness.

Henry Sidgwick, The Methods of Ethics, 7th ed., London, 1907, bk. 3, chap. 14, sect. 3