Yet another Question about Materialism

A reader with the coniferous name of Firtree asks:

Mr. Wright, I would like to ask you this:

A man speaks. This means his lips move. His lips are made of cells which are made of molecules which are made of atoms and so on. The movement and positioning of atoms is determined by the laws of physics. So either…

(a) The man’s experience that he chooses what to say is an illusion, because the motion of his lips is ultimately determined by the laws of physics, and only the laws of physics;
(b) something which has no physical existence at all (the man’s mind or will) has somehow interacted with the physical atoms to change what their motion and position would otherwise be according to the laws of physics;
(c) physics itself has, at some level that is yet to be discovered, a mechanism for the non-physical to affect the physical, for a man’s will to affect the motion of his lips;
(d) God set all of physics up so that the laws of physics determine that the atoms in a man’s lips will move according to the way that God omnisciently knows that the man chooses to speak;
(e) other?

Which do you believe?

Thank you. I’d be delighted to answer.

(e) The man’s choice determines the final cause, that is to say, the purpose or the meaning of the words qua word communicated by his speech. The mechanics of the motion of lips and vocal apparatus, lungs, air pressure making soundwaves, et cetera, can be accurately and completely described by the mechanics, that is, by the laws of physics.

Your other options are not even close.

The laws of physics have nothing whatsoever to do with the meaning of the word or of the man’s intention. Meanings are described by a separate study entirely, called logic or rhetoric, and intentions by a science called morality or philosophy or (in the case of defective thinking) by psychology.

None of your other answers approaches my answer because they are based on the unspoken assumption that one description of one dimension of a two dimensional thing can accurately describe it. You encounter a paradox as you attempt to describe intentional and behavioral realities in terms of mechanical categories rather than in terms of intentional categories. Hence your choice: (a) assumes that there is only a mechanical explanation, therefore the intentional explanation is illusion (b) assumes the intentional explanation is actually a non-physical yet mechanical form of the mechanical explanation, as if thoughts and logic were a type of nonphysical molecule that push the molecules of brain and body around (c) assumes the intentional explanation is the mechanical explanation (d) assumes the intentional explanation is mechanical in nature and therefore must be coordinated with the mechanical one by divine pre-established harmony.

All these assumptions are different aspects of one assumption: that everyone has one explanation. I deny this. Human beings have no choice but to treat human actions as if it has a moral character, that is, by their intention. Likewise, we have no choice but to treat mechanical reactions as if they have no moral character, that is, no intention.


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