My Material Contribution to Materialism

Having met three and four and five avowed members of that subspecies, no doubt closely related to mankind, called Reductionist Materialists, Homo Sapiens Reductio Automata, I am exasperated beyond measure that none of them can frame a proper argument to defend, or even explain his views.

My patience, albeit legendary, has finally burst all bounds of reason. Fortunately, this time, patience bursts these bounds inward into the very interior of reason.

In a spirit then of noblest military courtesy to fallen foes, and, in this case, foe unable to mount steed and couch lance, allow me to instruct the Materialist how to frame his argument.

First and foremost, one should define one’s terms.

Materialism, or, to call it by a more precise but less well-recognized name, Panphysicalism, is the position that there no substance exists aside from matter. Anything that seems at first to be made of some other substance, such as spiritual or mental entities or qualities or qualia, can be ultimately resolved to a material substrate.

The word ‘exist’ has several shades of meaning. While, it is a true statement to say that ‘Hamlet exists in Shakespeare’s imagination’ or to say ‘Hamlet exists as a great play’ or even to say ‘Hamlet exists as a word of six letters’, none of those statements would be true if Earth had never brought forth human life. For the purpose of this discussion, we are only speaking of literal, unqualified, or objective existence, that is, existence that does not depend on human imagination or convention.

The word ‘matter’ here does not mean matter as opposed to energy. Here, we mean matter as opposed to spirit. We are not using the definition from the physical sciences of matter, but the philosophical definition.

If the term confuses the undereducated or overeducated dunderhead, we may use the term ‘physical substance.’

More precisely, matter means an entity or the properties of an entity which is extensional and sensible. Extensional means occupying specific points in the three dimensions of space and occupying specific moments of time. Sensible made of something that can be apprehended by the five physical senses either directly or indirectly. For the purpose of this conversation, we can take these two definitions as interchangeable. If there are extensional entities not theoretically sensible, or sensible entities lacking extension and duration, we do not call those ‘matter’.

The term ‘substance’ is a technical term of philosophy that refers to the persistent foundational or fundamental being of reality, that is, some being that cannot be resolved into a more foundational being, some being that is not a manifestation or a side effect of any deeper being.

Second, one should state one’s position precisely.

No Materialist of my acquaintance has ever bothered to do so. Stated precisely, then, the Panphysicalist position is that ‘Nothing save physical substance exists’ or, in other words, ‘All is Matter.’

Third, one should know what manner of statement one is making and defending.

The statement ‘All is Matter’ is an a priori statement, that is, a statement used to interpret sense impression experiences but being logically prior to any particular experience. Ergo it is not an a posteriori statement, that is, a statement deduced from sense impression experiences and logically posterior to and dependent on sense impression experiences.

The idea held by most, if not all, the Materialists of my acquaintance that Panphysicalism is a deduction of the natural sciences, or a conclusion of physics, or can be proved by experience or disproved by experience, is a sad confession of their utter paucity of understanding their own position.

The results of physical experiments cannot be used to attack or defend metaphysical conjectures or deductions, any more than music theory can be used to attack or defend a theory of astronomy.

It should be too obvious to mention that empirical experiments are always conditional in their findings, that is, under such-and-such conditions, so-and-so is seen to be the result. The statement that ‘All is Matter’ is a universal, applying to everything in existence, microscopic and macroscopic, near and far, past and present and otherwise.

No possible experiment can examine each and every object in reality past and present and hold it before our eyes, and neither our eyes nor any other sense would tell us if the foundational or fundamental being creating the sense impression is physical matter as opposed to something else — the deceptions of Maya, for example, the illusions of the Matrix, or the delirium induced by a the deceptive demon invented by Descartes or the Demiurge by the Gnostics.

Therefore the statement ‘All is Matter’ cannot possibly be a conclusion of an experiment in physics. Therefore appeals to empirical evidence to confirm or deny Panphysicalism are vain.

Fourth and finally, one should actually make an argument, that is, a set of statements resting upon a shared starting assumption, logically related to each other as antecedent and consequent leading to the conclusion one is defending.

To defend the statement ‘All is Matter’ it must be shown that the idea of a non-material something is incoherent; it must be shown that an insubstantial substance is a contradiction in terms; it must be shown to be something that cannot exist.

There are three sound arguments, requiring some subtlety to defeat, supporting the Panphysicalist position.

The first is the Metaphysical Argument, which argues that the nature of reality cannot admit of two  substances, nor can mind be logically prior to matter; the second, more subtle, is the Epistemological Argument, which argues that the nature of knowledge forbids our discovering any noumenal or non-empirical reality, such as mental substance, even if it did exist; and third is the Ontological Argument, which argues that the nature of being forbids mental substance from producing material substance, but not the reverse.

The Metaphysical Argument is based on the axiom that all real entities are able to affect and be affected by each other, either through formal causation (the grounds and consequences) or efficient causation (mechanical cause and effect); the idea being based on the intuition that two entities which could not in any way, directly or indirectly, even in theory affect or be affected by each other, or by a third entity common to both, would be invisible and impalpable to each other, and in effect would not exist in the same reality. This is sometimes called the Principle of Unity.

Another way of stating the Principle of Unity is to say that there must be one substance, that is, one foundational and persistent being as the floor of the universe, or else there is no universe.

To this axiom we add the observation that matter and mind affect and are affected by each other. When a man wishes to raise a glass in toast, his wish (a entity of the mind) causes his hand to move and his lips to drink. Mind moves matter. If the drink befuddles his judgment and memory, matter moves mind. But if they can affect and be affected by each other, by the Principle of Unity, both mind and matter must be made of one substance.

There are only two possibilities: everything is made of mind and matter is a side effect of a mental entity in action, or everything is made of matter and mind is a side effect of a material entity in action. It is clear that mental actions cannot bring matter into existence by mental acts alone: imagining a wineglass will not make you drink, nor, indeed, produce any visible effects whatever outside of the physical actions of the body, moving limbs, speaking, and so on. It is not clear that material actions cannot bring a mind into existence, as when a baby is born, grown from a single celled organism that has no mind. Further, when men die, their body persists without the mind, but there is no visible evidence that the mind persists without the body. Surely if mind were the fundamental substance and body the side-effect, upon death the disembodied mind would continue, and the body vanish. Instead it is the other way around.

And, again, a mind never having known any physical body to house it, to feed it sense impressions, to present physical objects to pick up and manipulate, tasks to perform, problems to solve, or obstacles to overcome, it is difficult to imagine such a mind in operation. It would have nothing to operate on. Blind, deaf, dumb since before birth, how could the disembodied mind, for example, invent a language for itself, discovering concepts, or be intelligent? A mind with no physical connection to the world would not be a mind.

Hence, from the Principle of Unity, and the observation that mind and matter influence each other, ew see only two possibilities: either everything is mind or everything is matter. If everything is mind, then mind is primary and body a side effect produced by the mind. If everything is matter, then body is primary and mind is a side effect produce by the body. The first possibility results in a universe where thoughts persist after death and bodies do not; whereas the second results in a universe were bodies persist after death and thoughts do not. This second fits with the general experience of mankind, therefore the first possibility is ruled out. By process of elimination, everything is matter. Therefore QED.

The Epistemological Argument takes as its axiom that no knowledge whatsoever enters the human mind except through the portals of the senses. Hence, the only knowledge worthy of the name is empirical knowledge. Everything else is either a deduction based firmly on empirical evidence or a guess based loosely on empirical evidence, or is nothing more than the description of the mental processes by which empirical evidence is gathered, sifted, and used. And these processes are formless and void without empirical data on which to work, so they themselves are not any independent source of knowledge. Hence, speaking of the logical and mathematical processes used to form generalizations, abstractions, deductions from empirical knowledge are themselves empirical knowledge, merely in an abstract and highly formalized way.

To this axiom we add the self-evident deduction that the sense impressions through whose gates all knowledge comes can only provide evidence about physical things and events in the physical universe. Hence all phenomena by definition are physical. If a noumenon exists, that is to say, an entity forever beyond the human senses, then we can have no knowledge of it, not even in theory. This is because all knowledge is empirical, which means, all knowledge concerns things in principle within the reach of the senses or able to affect the senses directly or indirectly; whereas a noumenon is by definition an entity forever beyond the reach of the senses, unable to affect anything that affects the senses, even indirectly. So by definition, we can never have any knowledge of any noumenon, not even whether it exists or not.

But if a non physical substance, that is, a foundational entity that cannot be resolved into (or caused by) a physical entity exists, we human beings can never even in theory have knowledge of it. Therefore, even if such a thing did exist or could exist, it is forever outside human knowledge, and meaningless to us. For all practical purposes, then, it does not exist, and it is nonsense to speak as if they do. Since non-physical substances do not exist, ergo only physical substances exist. Therefore QED.

The Ontological Argument takes as its axiom that whatever the persistent aspect, element, or nature of the thing is where its ‘being’ is, as the cupness of a cup is in its cup shape, whereas the glassiness of the glass is in the amphiotic fluid material called glass. And substance is defined as the most elemental or ultimate floor of being.

The idea of a floor of being requires a word of explanation: all motion or change in the universe can be defined as consisting of a part that does not change, or its internal nature or essential properties, and a part that does change, called its accidents or external properties. For example, when a churchbell is melted to cast a cannon, the mass of metal changes shape and, while molten, changes state, but its metallic properties do not change.

Everything that seems to be an essential property may turn out to be the external properties of a more substantial and persistent underlying substance, such as the molecules where persist through mechanical changes, the atoms that persist through chemical changes, and the particular properties of mass and momentum which persist through atomic changes.

Logically, there cannot be an infinite or indefinite chain of essentials and accidents for the same reason there cannot be a tower with no base, or train of railcars in motion with no engine to pull them. Suppose you imagine a train of railcars each linked to the previous circling the globe at the equator: if there is no engine, what defines how fast they are traveling? It makes no sense to say that each one is being pulled by the one before but that there is no first.

For the same reason, whenever we find something that seems permanent, like the atomic elements, which in truth turn out to be the external properties of more fundamental subatomic particles, we know by logic that the process cannot continue indefinitely: there much be a floor, a first essential. The first essential, whatever it is, defines the properties of the accidents which rest on it, and so if there were no first, there would be no definition. The first essential that cannot be resolved into anything more fundamental is called ‘substance.’

To this axiom we add the observation that matter is older, by several billions of years if our modern science is correct, than any animal or human mind we know. However it happened (and it is not pertinent to this universe how it happened) the universe at one time in the past held no minds at all, nothing but matter, but now holds both minds and matter. This means that mind arose out of matter.

If mind arises out of matter, therefore mind is an external while matter an essential, because the matter stays the same while the mind changes. So by definition, the fundamental essence of man, his substance, cannot be mind.

Also, nothing comes from nothing, ergo every cause must share an essential property in common with the effects it produces. This means that whatever the fundamental substance is, it must be of the same substance as all things it affects, and must be the substance of which it is made.

Hence, however it happens, if mind arises from matter, then mind is ultimately made of matter. But clearly matter can and does exist without mind, ergo matter is not ultimately made of mind. Therefore both mental and material entities are ultimately made of the fundamental substance, which since it causes physical changes, must be physical. Therefore QED.

That, gentlemen and ladies, is how to construct an argument.

I do not pretend these arguments are exhaustive, airtight, self-evident or invulnerable. I do not even pretend they are as clear as they should be: for I wrote them in a fury of gallant chivalry, not unmixed with exasperation, at the comically clumsy and buffoonish incompetence of my alleged adversaries.

But, airtight or not, clear or not, they have the advantage of being arguments rather than vaporings, that is, regroups deductions from identified assumptions using words defined in the argument.

I leave the refutation of each of them as an exercise for the reader, and I give them freely to any man willing to arm himself against me.

There is no victory without gallantry. Vince Lombardi was an idiot.

Gallant Knight


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