• Hello Human
    145
    Most people would agree that there are objects with a location in space and time and exist independently of conscious beings. This position is commonly called “materialism”. But for some reason, some people commonly called “idealists”, believe that there are no such objects. Instead, they claim that conscious beings and their experiences are the basis on which existence itself lies.

    René Descartes’ famous quote: “ I think therefore I am”, expresses an idea that is often used to support the idealists’ position: we cannot doubt our existence. We can doubt anything else, and one of these things is the existence of an objective material world.

    This idea seems to many as a powerful argument in favor of idealism and against materialism. If the only thing we can be sure of is our own consciousness, would it not make sense to posit that all is nothing but a result of it ?

    It seems to me that although this idea is indeed a powerful argument against materialism, the support it provides to idealism is far lesser than the blow it deals to materialism. The fact that the only thing we can be sure of is our own consciousness does not imply that all is based on consciousness.

    Nor does it imply that there is no material world. Perhaps there is one, but we cannot ever give evidence that would prove its existence with no room for doubt.

    It seems instead to me that materialism is an idea which can never be verified, as for it to be verified, it would require proving that there is something existing independently of conscious beings. But do do so, one must step outside of subjective experience. But obviously, that is not possible. You cannot stop being conscious and still experience the world around you. When you stop being conscious, you’re either asleep, knocked out, or dead.

    But despite that, I believe that materialism still has value. How could have science developed without materialism? It seems instead that materialism is a useful explanation for patterns in conscious experience.

    Imagine that two processes A and B have the same output. Would it not follow, that it is more likely for both of these processes to be identical, or at least very similar? Would it not follow also that their input is most likely identical or at least very similar?

    Now imagine that these two processes are different minds and that the output is some sense data. Here again, would it not follow that those two minds are identical, or at least very similar? Would the same not follow for their input ?

    The best explanation for such a situation, it seems to me, is that those two minds exist in a shared world, as it would imply identical or at the very least similar input. For that shared world to be comprehensible by those minds, I believe it would be necessary for it to be structured by space and time. So materialism seems to be the best explanation for the patterns shared by different experiences.

    What do you think ? Is materialism right ? Is idealism right ? Is it some mix of the two ? Can we even settle the question ? Is materialism a good explanation for patterns in different experiences ?
  • Jackson
    1.6k
    Instead, they claim that conscious beings and their experiences are the basis on which existence itself lies.Hello Human

    That's subjectivism, not idealism.
  • Hello Human
    145
    guess my vocabulary needs some update. What’s the difference between the two ?
  • Jackson
    1.6k
    guess my vocabulary needs some update. What’s the difference between the two ?Hello Human

    Subjectivism is that the thinker determines what is real. Idealism is actually quite a rare philosophy, which is like Berkeley's claim that the physical world is just a thought in the mind of God.
  • igjugarjuk
    178
    This idea seems to many as a powerful argument in favor of idealism and against materialism. If the only thing we can be sure of is our own consciousness, would it not make sense to posit that all is nothing but a result of it ?

    It seems to me that although this idea is indeed a powerful argument against materialism, the support it provides to idealism is far lesser than the blow it deals to materialism. The fact that the only thing we can be sure of is our own consciousness does not imply that all is based on consciousness.

    Nor does it imply that there is no material world. Perhaps there is one, but we cannot ever give evidence that would prove its existence with no room for doubt.
    Hello Human

    You are riffing on some classics here. I mean that in a good way. I've put some time in on these questions, so I'll offer my limited current understanding/attitude.


    If the only thing we can be sure of is our own consciousness,

    Do we know this empirically or just...'grammatically' ? In other words, we tend use the word 'consciousness' in such a way that a gap between it and 'the world' is built in. Probably this is related to our social situation of making, trusting, and doubting claims. 'From my perspective' is a kind of modesty to mitigates responsibility. Claims about sensation or feelings are generally treated as incorrigible, though even here we might find exceptions. A doctor might doubt the back pains of someone seeking opiates.

    Nor does it imply that there is no material world. Perhaps there is one, but we cannot ever give evidence that would prove its existence with no room for doubt.


    I agree with you, but I think it's noteworthy that the use of 'we' already implies this point. If there's a 'we' around to discuss this issue with, the issue is already settled. One can argue about exactly what 'material' is supposed to refer to, but one is definitely already beyond the private mind here. (I guess one can have the fear that the others we reason with are hallucinations, but how does the concept of hallucination make sense if there's only one mind? And 'only one mind' doesn't make sense if that mind is understood as responsible for its judgments (as a rational mind.))
  • Manuel
    2.6k


    Despite most people's intuition on this topic, I don't think the topic is trivial.

    In fact, far from it. But the fact the it isn't trivial does not mean that it doesn't have an answer.
  • T Clark
    9.3k
    It seems instead to me that materialism is an idea which can never be verified...Hello Human

    This is true. Materialism is a way of looking at things, a point of view. It isn't true or false, it's useful or not useful. The same is true for all the other isms.
  • noAxioms
    987
    Most people would agree that there are objects with a location in space and time and exist independently of conscious beings.Hello Human
    That's a classical intuition, and is loosely a statement of realism, not materialism. I personally don't accept this since I prefer the principle of locality (another classical intuition), and it has been shown that they cannot both be true.
    Neither principle has anything to do with 'conscious' things, which is why I say 'loosely'.

    Consciousness does play a role. A conscious being can only observe a universe with conscious beings in it, or artificially be given a point of view into a universe without such a being.

    René Descartes’ famous quote: “ I think therefore I am”, expresses an idea that is often used to support the idealists’ position: we cannot doubt our existence.Hello Human
    Fallacious conclusion on several points, and he wasn't pushing idealism, and it doesn't seem to refute materialism in any way. Materialists also suggest that they both think and exist.

    As far as I know, materialism suggests that material is objectively fundamental. Everything is made of it in some way or the other. I think quantum field theory has pretty much made a hash of the position because try as them might, they've never found any actual material.
  • 180 Proof
    8.7k
    Materialism is a way of looking at things, a point of view. It isn't true or false, it's useful or not useful. The same is true for all the other isms.Clarky
    :up:

    ... they've never found any actual material.noAxioms
    That depends on what "they" meant by "material".
  • Agent Smith
    5.2k
    we cannot doubt our (mental) existence. — Hello Human

    We can doubt our (physical) existence. — Agent Smith

    Interesting, oui, mon ami?
  • Tom Storm
    4.3k
    What do you think ? Is materialism right ? Is idealism right ? Is it some mix of the two ? Can we even settle the question ? Is materialism a good explanation for patterns in different experiences ?Hello Human

    It makes little practical difference to my life which one is true. Idealism is a big subject with variations and a long history in Western thought, Plato being the most famous of the early exponents - the history of the Christian tradition is famously steeped in Neo-Platonism. Then there's the German idealists. Today there is new support for idealism mainly because versions of materialism or physicalism have been understood to be vulnerable or false. Idealism is where people sometimes end up following speculative interpretations of QM - some have concluded that matter only comes into existence when it is observed (Kastrup).

    If idealism is true, it does not mean there are god/s. It might be argued, as per Schopenhauer, that the world or representation is what Will (mind) looks like when seen from a certain point of view. We are all dissociated instantiations of that Will or cosmic consciousness - which is not a metacognitive entity and largely instinctive. It's all pretty fun stuff.
  • Agent Smith
    5.2k
    It makes little practical difference to my life which one is true. — Tom Storm

    :snicker:
  • igjugarjuk
    178
    That depends on what "they" meant by "material".180 Proof

    Indeed.

    A man gets lost in the mountains and carves his name on some peak before he dies. A thousand years later his inscription is discovered for the first time. The world has a kind of memory it seems, some kind of 'wax' that holds a pattern in the absence of us and, presumably, all lifeforms. It doesn't matter so much to me whether the scientific image is equated with this metaphorical wax. I just think 'anti-materialists' have to explain the possibility of this lonely inscription.
  • Wayfarer
    16.1k
    I believe that materialism still has value. How could have science developed without materialism? It seems instead that materialism is a useful explanation for patterns in conscious experience.Hello Human

    Reductionism is the natural method of scientists and engineers. But becomes a problem when it's applied to the problems of philosophy, because in that context it is essentially de-humanising, treating humans as objects.
  • Wayfarer
    16.1k
    The best explanation for such a situation, it seems to me, is that those two minds exist in a shared world, as it would imply identical or at the very least similar input. For that shared world to be comprehensible by those minds, I believe it would be necessary for it to be structured by space and time. So materialism seems to be the best explanation for the patterns shared by different experiences.Hello Human

    Not in the least. Humans are highly sociable, they live in a shared world of concepts, language, culture, and so on. Don't mistake idealism for solipsism, the belief that only MY mind is real. In actuality, your or my mind is just one instance of 'the human mind'. So that doesn't mitigate against idealism in the least.
  • Ciceronianus
    2.4k
    Let's just say that there is no external world and continue to live our lives as if there is one. Then this silly debate would finally come to an end, and we'll do what we do in any case.
  • T Clark
    9.3k
    continue to live our lives as if there is one.Ciceronianus

    I'm with you. "Acting as if" is metaphysics. It let's us keep going instead of spending all our time arguing.
  • TheArchitectOfTheGods
    62
    It seems instead to me that materialism is an idea which can never be verified, as for it to be verified, it would require proving that there is something existing independently of conscious beings. But do do so, one must step outside of subjective experience. But obviously, that is not possible. You cannot stop being conscious and still experience the world around you. When you stop being conscious, you’re either asleep, knocked out, or dead.Hello Human
    The dinosaurs were conscious, but they were not philosophers. By their fossils we can know that they existed, independent of us. Independent of human consciousness ever coming into existence on earth. Because we are not imagining the fossils, they are remnants of a former time in the universe. That of course doesn't mean that the universe cannot be a simulation, or another manifestation of a higher consciousness. But we can clearly rule out that any form of human consciousness is a prerequisite for an external world existing, if that is what we mean with anti-materialism (I do not know whether this would correctly be called solipsism, idealism or subjectivism)?
  • RogueAI
    1.1k
    It seems instead to me that materialism is an idea which can never be verified, as for it to be verified, it would require proving that there is something existing independently of conscious beings. But do do so, one must step outside of subjective experience. But obviously, that is not possible.Hello Human

    :100:

    Materialism, as you say, is impossible to verify. And it also leads to a very big unanswered question: how can minds arise from mindless matter?
  • Jackson
    1.6k
    And it also leads to a very big unanswered question: how can minds arise from mindless matter?RogueAI

    Or, that proposition is false.
  • Angelo Cannata
    195
    I think there is a basic mistake when philosophy argues about this.
    We get our concepts of "external", "material", "I", etc. from a kind of instinctive, primitive, not reflective experience: think of the primitive humans, or of a child, to get my idea.
    Then we became philosophers and now we pretend to get ultimate ideas about the whole. Non ultimate ideas are managed by science, art, spontaneity. But this is not enough for philosophy: philosophy wants to get the roots, the total, the ultimate, the general, the universal. The problem is that philosophy gets the ultimate by using the primitive instruments I said before. In other words, it is like wanting to describe the ultimate nature of the world by having at our disposal just some specific concepts, let’s say, for example, “banana”, “guitar”, “chair”, “shouting”. The result is that we would define the universe by saying, for example, that it must be necessarily “a shouting banana on a chair”, or a “guitar shouting to a banana”. Why are these example ridiculous? It is because they try to define something extremely wide, great, extended, general, which is the universe, by extremely specific words like the ones I used. We don’t realize how ridiculous is to talk about “material”, “external”, “exists”, and so on, because we think that those concepts are wide, great, general, so that they are appropriate to talk about the universe. Once we realize that those great concepts are actually extremely rough, unclear, local, limited, then we can understand how ridiculous is to talk about “external material world”.
    I want to clarify that I am not referring to Hello Human specifically: as I said at the beginning, it is not a mistake made by Hello Human, it is a mistake that I see in philosophy in general, most philosophy, most great and famous philosophers.
    As a consequence, I think that trying to understand the “being” in terms of “external material wold”, or “I think, therefore I am”, or “idealism”, is just nonsense, not less than the ridiculous definitions I said before.
    Kant tried to be more universal by recognizing that, when we talk about such big things, like “space”, “time” and so on, we are actually moving inside the cage of our mental categories.
    After Kant we can realize that even the idea of “categories” falls into the same problem: it is not really a great and wide category, not much more than “banana” or “chair”.
    This means that even the very ideas of “ultimate”, “universe”, “universal”, “being”, are ridiculous as well, in their pretence to embrace “the whole”, “all”, “everything”.
    As I said, those who don’t have this pretence are science and art. Science doesn’t need to be ridiculously imitated by philosophy.
    I think that philosophy can, instead, try to be, modestly, an art of playing ideas. Not “playing with ideas”, as ideas were toys, but “playing ideas”, as they were musical instruments, or musical notes. Philosophy can do this e nothing would be able to do it better than philosophy, while keeping a dialogue with all other fields of human culture.
  • Cuthbert
    785
    @Angelo Cannata A lot of truth in that. But.

    If we dismiss questions that seem to be grasping at universal truths with inadequate tools then we leave the way open for any old answer to be chosen inside or outside of philosophy. Are there universal human rights? What is it for something to be a person and not a thing? What can we say that may not be doubted? What does it take for a statement to make sense and not nonsense? These questions swirl nebulously around practical debates and they rouse confusion and fury. I think you are right that they are often too big to make sense of. But they are not going to go away easily. Some ways are needed to draw out the points of issue, however ridiculous they sound. Perhaps that's what you mean by 'playing ideas'?
  • igjugarjuk
    178
    These questions swirl nebulously around practical debates and they rouse confusion and fury. I think you are right that they are often too big to make sense of. But they are not going to go away easily.Cuthbert

    Very well put !
  • igjugarjuk
    178
    But this is not enough for philosophy: philosophy wants to get the roots, the total, the ultimate, the general, the universal. The problem is that philosophy gets the ultimate by using the primitive instruments I said before.Angelo Cannata

    You make a good point, but it's hard to see how a sketching of the limits of philosophical knowledge isn't one more project that tries to get at the roots with finite concepts and violates those same limitations. It's as if early anti-metaphysical thought was Kantian and then later anti-metaphysical thought was (had to be) anti-Kantian. So you are making a Kantian point, and I am making the point that your Kantian point is self-threatening...that theories of knowledge are just as metaphysical in their way as those systems they would forbid or constrain.
  • Joshs
    3.5k
    What do you think ? Is materialism right ? Is idealism right ? Is it some mix of the two ? Can we even settle the question ? Is materialism a good explanation for patterns in different experiences ?Hello Human

    I think the position you’d be comfortable with is neo-Kantianism, It asserts that the facts of the world only come to us mediated by our interpretations , but nonetheless a world outside of consciousness does indeed exist.
  • Alkis Piskas
    1k

    This position is commonly called “materialism”. But for some reason, some people commonly called “idealists”, ...Hello Human
    This is an interesting subject. But why do you have to bring in "-isms", schools of philosophy, etc.?
    Wouldn't it be more interesting to present your own position/view on the subject, based on your personal reality, knowledge, reasoning and experience?

    So, I would like to "hear" your own position on your own subject "Is there an external material world?"
  • Joshs
    3.5k


    A man gets lost in the mountains and carves his name on some peak before he dies. A thousand years later his inscription is discovered for the first time. The world has a kind of memory it seems, some kind of 'wax' that holds a pattern in the absence of us and, presumably, all lifeforms. It doesn't matter so much to me whether the scientific image is equated with this metaphorical wax. I just think 'anti-materialists' have to explain the possibility of this lonely inscription.igjugarjuk

    Isn’t this where Derrida comes in? That is, the concept of writing as the way that a mark that I produce survives me and my intent? It can be read after my death, but not without an alteration of my originally intended meaning.
    And even in writing to myself , the same alteration takes place:

    “Iterability makes possible idealization-and thus, a certain identity in repetition that is independent of the multiplicity of factual events- while at the same time limiting the idealization it makes possible:broaching and breaching it at once...the possibility of its being repeated another time-breaches, divides, expropriates the "ideal" plenitude or self-presence of intention,...of all adequation between meaning and saying. Iterability alters...leaves us no room but to mean (to say) something that is (already, always, also) other than what we mean (to say) (Limited, Inc,p.61)... It is not necessary to imagine the death of the sender or of the receiver, to put the shopping list in one's pocket, or even to raise the pen above the paper in order to interrupt oneself for a moment. The break intervenes from the moment that there is a mark, at once. It is iterability itself, ..passing between the re- of the repeated and the re- of the repeating, traversing and transforming repetition(p.53)”

    So what is left of the sense of ‘materiality’ here?
  • 180 Proof
    8.7k
    Materialism, as you say, is impossible to verify.RogueAI
    "Materialism" is not a truth-claim – does not consist of truth-claims. It's a speculative criterion or methodological commitment which works better than many alternatives in many cases and doesn't work as well in other cases. "Verification" does not obtain with regard to philosophical suppositions.

    And it also leads to a very big unanswered question: how can minds arise from mindless matter?
    Insofar as "minds" are enactive metacognitive relations (i.e. tangled hierarchies) within their environments, such questions are incoherent. "Minds" (minding) no more "arises from mindless matter" than walking "arises from" legs or digesting "arises from" guts.
  • igjugarjuk
    178
    Isn’t this where Derrida comes in? That is, the concept of writing as the way that a mark that I produce survives me and my intent?Joshs

    It's related. The man relies upon a code to 'escape' his own annihilation in a certain sense. Even as a corpse he can talk. 'Some are born posthumously.'

    But in this context what I'm emphasizing is that the message persists when not being perceived (or so common sense might say). Some thinkers talk as if the world only exists through human perception. It's not really 'out there' in some sense. How can they make sense of the state of this inscription between its writing and its initial rediscovery? Is it nonexistent in the interim? Is that plausible? Do coffee tables only exist when we are looking to see if they are still there?

    My own take is that we can grant that the world as humanly experience is naturally dependent upon the experiencing human. But I don't see how we can leap from this truism to a denial of the world's independent existence, even if I admit that it's difficult indeed to articulate exact 'how' it is supposed to exist in this sense. There's no practical constraint on such talk to keep it honest. But I do think my mother was here before I was. And that others will be taking their first steps when I am forgotten ashes.
  • Joshs
    3.5k
    My own take is that we can grant that the world as humanly experience is naturally dependent upon the experiencing human. But I don't see how we can leap from this truism to a denial of the world's independent existence, even if I admit that it's difficult indeed to articulate exact 'how' it is supposed to exist in this sense.igjugarjuk

    The question is what it is we are doing when we produce science, philosophy and other forms of understanding. For Rouse , enactivist cognitive science , the phenomenologists and postmodern philosophers, discursive practices of science are not about securing epistemological knowledge but of producing forms of interaction with the world. We ‘know’ the world by changing it, reconstructing it not only with our theories but materially. And this changed world speaks back to us, allowing further transformations of our practices, that then reciprocally reshapes our world. This leaves behind the idea of ‘independence’ in favor of constraints and affordances that feedback from the interventions that our empirical inquiries enact in our world. This is why Rouse likens scientific inquiry to niche construction. Just as organisms enact their own niche via their normative functioning , the niche they produce speaks back and shapes the organism’s goals and patterns of functioning.

    As inquirers , we have no use for what is ‘independent’ of our schemes. Extremely slow and simple processes of interacting elements in an ancient universe show a great deal of independence from each other, but such is the stuff of useless , meaningless arbitrariness until it is reconfigured by human construction as a pattern of meaning of relevantly interrelated parts. One could think of this progressive sloughing off of material independence and arbitrariness in terms of Hegel’s dialectical world coming to know itself through its own becoming. Or one could ditch the dialectical idealism and just keep the becoming, as Nietzsche did. In that case this is the fate of independent material reality:

    “Assuming that our world of desires and passions is the only thing “given” as real, that we cannot get down or up to any “reality” except the reality of our drives (since thinking is only a relation between these drives) – aren't we allowed to make the attempt and pose the question as to whether something like this “given” isn't enough to render the so-called mechanistic (and thus material) world comprehensible as well?

    We would be able to understand the mechanistic world as a kind of life of the drives, where all the organic functions (self-regulation, assimilation, nutrition, excretion, and metabolism) are still synthetically bound together – as a pre-form of life?”
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