• frank
    14.5k
    This is a survey thread. Whether you're a physicalist or not, what do you think the best arguments for it are? If you are a physicalist, what convinced you? Or is it just the grounding of your thinking?

    Quick definition of physicalism:

    Physicalism is the thesis that everything is physical, or as contemporary philosophers sometimes put it, that everything supervenes on, or is necessitated by, the physical. The thesis is usually intended as a metaphysical thesis, parallel to the thesis attributed to the ancient Greek philosopher Thales, that everything is water, or the idealism of the 18th Century philosopher Berkeley, that everything is mental. The general idea is that the nature of the actual world (i.e. the universe and everything in it) conforms to a certain condition, the condition of being physical. Of course, physicalists don't deny that the world might contain many items that at first glance don't seem physical — items of a biological, or psychological, or moral, or social nature. But they insist nevertheless that at the end of the day such items are either physical or supervene on the physical.SEP
  • 180 Proof
    13.8k
    I'm a methological physicalist – I exclude 'non-physical' (i.e. stop-gap / fudge factor) concepts and entities from models, or explanations, of aspects of nature – who thinks 'metaphysical physicalism ' (re: SEP article) is superfluously reductive.
  • Mww
    4.5k


    Consider me as one of those physicalists that won’t deny that the world might contain, as you say, many items that at first glance don’t seem physical.

    Can I be a metaphysical physicalist? At least until convinced I can’t be?
  • frank
    14.5k
    I'm a methological physicalist – excluding 'non-physical' (i.e. stop-gap / fudge factor) concepts and entities from models, or explanations, of aspects of nature – who thinks 'metaphysical physicalism ' (re: SEP article) is superfluously reductive.180 Proof

    :up:
  • frank
    14.5k
    Can I be a metaphysical physicalist? At least until convinced I can’t be?Mww

    So it's just the grounding for your worldview, right? You don't need an argument for it.
  • Apustimelogist
    309
    Just a random thought. But seems to me that things like materialism, physicalism, naturalism are all kind of difficult to define in a way that doesn't come with some triviality, e.g. Hempel's dilemma, also the thought that if something like the "supernatural" ever became confirmed, it would just trivially become natural. Methodology also to me seems to just appeal to whatever scientists happen to do which is complicated, not easily summarized, perhaps doesn't even have any hard rules (which might seem trivial if anything that gets results is included). Metaphysical views like structuralism that seem to have been created as improvements on physicalism seem to be just as difficult to define - notion of structure seems extremely vague and general, to me at least.

    Seems to me these kinds of views seem most useful when you have something to contrast them against like dualism.

    I wonder if these views, rather than a metaphysical view, maybe could be seen as closer to like a loose grouping of scientific hypotheses about the absence of certain type of things like extra mental substance and against things like parapsychology, cryptozoology, pseudoscience (pseudoscience maybe just being more like a label applied to certain ideas that are considered false but are still discussed as true in some fringe communities). Arguably the same denouncements could be said applied to methods too.
  • frank
    14.5k
    Seems to me these kinds of views seem most usrful when you have something to contrast them against like dualism.Apustimelogist

    I think it would follow from this that physicalism is essentially monism, since there's no clear distinction between it and idealism, or Thales' theory that it's all water. So you agree with that?

    I wonder if these views, rather than a metaphysical view, maybe could be seen as closer to like an loose grouping of scientific hypitheses about the absence of certain type of things like extra-mental things and against things like parapsychology, cryptozoology, pseudoscience (pseudoscience maybe just being more like a label applied to certain ideas that are considered false but are still discussed as true in some fringe communities). Arguably the same denouncement could be said applied to methods too.Apustimelogist

    I think the distinction comes out of the history of ideas: thesis, antithesis, synthesis. Physicalism is specifically the antithesis of idealism, which once dominated the western world. Would you agree with that?
  • Manuel
    3.9k
    My usual spiel, physicalism (a version of materialism) doesn't really have a good definition anymore, because there's nothing which can sensible be made that physicalism can be opposed to.

    Even idealism, where it differs, is at bottom, an issue of semantics. For one can say, all that exists are minds and ideas, but very few would deny that ideas come from brains in human beings.

    That, or your a substance dualist - and then you have the traditional problems of interaction and unification.

    Nevertheless, one should be careful, because physicalism does not (or should not) entail phyciSalism, the idea that everything can ultimately be explained in terms of the stuff physics says. That seriously distorts the purview of physics.

    So yeah, not a bad term, but these metaphysical views often boil down to semantical problems.
  • Apustimelogist
    309


    Yes, this is a good point which always gets me thinking.

    I guess this is an open question depending on how someone conceives phenomenal experiences.

    I am not familiar with this Thales thing but I would argue maybe things like this add extra things (extra scientific hypotheses) to the world beyond what is in current science. I suspect many idealists and panpsychists would also add extra things or at least extra explanations which are beyond what is in current science.

    Maybe some idealists or panpsychists wouldn't be so ornate. But then again, isn't the idea that the world itself is just consciousness also an extra scientific hypothesis? If this notion of physicalism I brought forward is just about the rejection of certain hypotheses then having physicalist beliefs doesn't add any scientific hypotheses in the same way. I guess this view of physicalism would be kind of minimalist metaphysically.

    I think maybe I would also say that without some additional distinctive structure beyond current scientific hypotheses then the metaphysical idea that everything is mental is just as vague and empty as the idea everything is physical.
  • mentos987
    161
    I don't understand how "physical" is defined here; does it not stand in opposition of "mental" anymore? Because it is true that even our thoughts are based on physical operations done in our brain, but then I feel like the meaning is shifted.

    the best arguments for it arefrank
    Very few things can be proven to exist with 100% certainty, only existence itself and a few other concepts. However, physical objects and laws are high up there in the 99%. If you want some meat on your worldviews, you can't go wrong with physicalism!
  • J
    165
    I’m not a physicalist, but you’re asking what I think the strongest arguments for physicalism are. Currently, there are two: The very successful use of scientific method in the West, and reductionist arguments as possible explanations of seemingly non-physical phenomena.

    How strong are they, in fact? By now, my reply may be familiar: They’re only as strong as the accuracy of our understanding of the terms “physical,” “mental,” and “emergence,” and probably a few other key terms as well. I believe we’re like children, playing with conceptual building blocks that look increasingly unlikely to correspond to anything foundational in reality. I would bet $1,000 (not that I’ll be around to collect!) that in, say, 500 years, our “arguments for physicalism” will be quaint artifacts of an era before science and philosophy and religion made up their differences and presented a unified world-view. And then there’s the next 500 years – oh boy!
  • Michael
    13.9k
    Related is Hempel's dilemma:

    On the one hand, we may define the physical as whatever is currently explained by our best physical theories, e.g., quantum mechanics, general relativity. Though many would find this definition unsatisfactory, some would accept that we have at least a general understanding of the physical based on these theories, and can use them to assess what is physical and what is not. And therein lies the rub, as a worked-out explanation of mentality currently lies outside the scope of such theories.

    On the other hand, if we say that some future, "ideal" physics is what is meant, then the claim is rather empty, for we have no idea of what this means. The "ideal" physics may even come to define what we think of as mental as part of the physical world. In effect, physicalism by this second account becomes the circular claim that all phenomena are explicable in terms of physics because physics properly defined is whatever explains all phenomena.

    If Hempel's dichotomy is accurate and if no physicalist believes that our current theories amount to a Theory of Everything then it must be that physicalism is true by definition. But of course that makes physicalism trivially true and not a substantive theory.
  • frank
    14.5k
    :up:

    But out of curiosity, if you had to give an argument for physicalism, what would you say? I guess you'd have to bypass the semantic issue.
  • frank
    14.5k
    I think maybe I would also say that without some additional distinctive structure beyons current scientific hypotheses then the metaphysical idea that everything is mental is just as vague and empty as the idea everything is physical.Apustimelogist

    :up:

    If you want some meat on your worldviews, you can't go wrong with physicalism!mentos987

    It this coincides with this:

    The very successful use of scientific method in the West, and reductionist arguments as possible explanations of seemingly non-physical phenomena.J

    Wouldn't you have to argue that physicalism itself is successful? Is that possible?
  • Lionino
    849
    The very successful use of scientific method in the WestJ

    In the whole world.
  • mentos987
    161
    Wouldn't you have to argue that physicalism itself is successful? Is that possible?frank

    Who are you asking? And what is the question? If you are asking me then you need to rephrase, because I understand nothing ^^
  • wonderer1
    1.5k
    Wouldn't you have to argue that physicalism itself is successful? Is that possible?frank

    I'm not well suited for presenting such an argument. For me it seems like it would requiring writing a book that I would never get finished with. Fortunately, I don't have to make the argument.

    But, I'll add what has been sitting unposted in the reply box overnight...

    If you are a physicalist, what convinced you? Or is it just the grounding of your thinking?frank

    As grandiose as it may sound*... The weirdly prophetic perspective that has resulted from being willing to seriously consider physicalism.

    *It's fucking weird to consider saying this out loud here. Not sure if I'll hit Post Comment on this one.
  • frank
    14.5k

    :blush: Thank you.
  • frank
    14.5k
    The weirdly prophetic perspective that has resulted from being willing to seriously consider physicalism.wonderer1

    What is it? What is that perspective like?
  • Philosophim
    2k


    I would just modify one thing. I would state that everything that we've discovered so far is physical in origin. It does not mean that everything is physical, as we have not looked at everything yet. I also wouldn't even say this is a philosophy, this is just the fact of the known universe at this time. Finally, this does not preclude the use of terms such as metaphysics, ideas, or words that are not necessarily associated with 'the physical'. The point is to understand that the origin of everything so far known is physical, and shouldn't imply more than that.
  • RogueAI
    2.3k


    All the advances in science are consistent with idealism. Science doesn't do metaphysics. It doesn't tell us that an electron is fundamentally a mental or physical object. It just describes its behavior, no? Why would we expect an idealistic electron to behave any differently than a physical one?
  • RogueAI
    2.3k
    If you want some meat on your worldviews, you can't go wrong with physicalism!mentos987

    Except,
    https://iep.utm.edu/hard-problem-of-conciousness/
  • RogueAI
    2.3k
    I think maybe I would also say that without some additional distinctive structure beyond current scientific hypotheses then the metaphysical idea that everything is mental is just as vague and empty as the idea everything is physical.Apustimelogist

    If everything is mental, and all minds disappeared, the universe would disappear. But if everything is physical and all minds (brains) disappeared, the universe would continue to exist, jus without any brains in it. That doesn't seem "vague and empty". The two theories are making very definite claims.
  • Manuel
    3.9k


    It would be very general, and the semantic issue can't be completely taken away. But it would be something like there is at bottom, one kind of stuff in the universe. Why is it one kind as opposed to two or many?

    Because if they don't share the same nature, our intuitions tell us that they cannot interact even in principle. Dualism as a metaphysical view is problematic, pluralism would be a nightmare: many different kinds of stuff making up everything there is, doesn't make sense.

    So, choosing monism as a necessity, all that's left is to call whatever remains something, and here we just choose, I think "physical", rightly understood, is less problematic than mental or ideal.

    If not, then "natural" might even be better. But the issue of the scope of science cannot be under-emphasized, by "natural" or "physical", reductionism should not be entailed such that if we say either of these words, we are merely pointing out to metaphysical "substance", not to view that physics or nature explains everything. It doesn't.
  • frank
    14.5k
    I would state that everything that we've discovered so far is physical in origin.Philosophim

    Does this follow from an argument? Or is it an assumption?
  • frank
    14.5k
    So, choosing monism as a necessity, all that's left is to call whatever remains something, and here we just choose, I think "physical", right understood, is less problematic than mental or ideal.Manuel

    :up: Nice.
  • RogueAI
    2.3k
    So, choosing monism as a necessity, all that's left is to call whatever remains something, and here we just choose, I think "physical", rightly understood, is less problematic than mental or ideal.Manuel

    How long does that hold true? Suppose a thousand years from now, there are still raging debates about the Hard Problem and no consensus. Is physicalism still "less problematic" than idealism or dualism?
  • Manuel
    3.9k


    I wouldn't like - at this moment anyway - to repeat what I've said too many times before. I don't believe that the "hard problem", should be considered uniquely so.

    I think there are good historical reasons to be suspect of believing that there is such a thing as "the" hard problem, I think there are many (hard problems), and highlighting one at the expense of others shows how little awareness there is on the history of this topic, which was debated by Descartes, Gassendi, Locke, Leibniz, Hume, Priestley and others.

    I was going to share my Chomsky thread, but just saw you participated in in.

    So, if people are still debating the "hard problem" a thousand years from now, that would just be the utter death of the field.
  • RogueAI
    2.3k
    What other mystery besides consciousness cuts across so many diverse fields? Psychology, neuroscience, computer science, philosophy, quantum mechanics, biology. As Ai continues to improve, there will be more and more emphasis on figuring out consciousness.
  • RogueAI
    2.3k
    So, if people are still debating the "hard problem" a thousand years from now, that would just be the utter death of the field.Manuel

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