• Janus
    4k
    Many people seem to be very concerned about the ontological status of things which we ordinarily think of as 'mental'. I sometimes wonder whether that is because it is (perhaps even unconsciously?) felt that their ontological status has some implications for religious belief, and most especially belief in an afterlife.

    Perhaps we say that things are immaterial or intangible simply because we cannot see, hear, touch, smell or taste them. The idea that something is non-physical might mean something quite different; for example that it cannot be understood in terms of physics, even in principle. Is the notion that something is not materials the same as the idea that it is not physical?

    So, it may be that we often say things are not physical ( when we really mean 'material') simply because they are not immediate objects of the senses. On the other hand there might be a dualistic metaphysics implicit in such statements.If one wants to say that there are non-physical things; would this necessarily imply dualism? I have heard people say that non-physical things do not exist but they are nonetheless real. Is this a valid or coherent distinction? Why or why not would you say it is, or is not, valid or coherent? If we want to say (some) non-physical things (meaning things which can be completely independent of the physical) are real, do we really know what we are saying?

    There is more I could say, but that'll do for now. I'd like to hear what others think about this subject, which is a puzzling one, because it seems to skate on the thin ice of incoherence, and yet notwithstanding that it is apparently most compelling (you only need to look at the number of posts such topics attract) . I'm actually most interested in why people choose to believe one or the other, and also whether religious faith of whatever stripe is necessarily (not historically) more aligned with one position than with the other.
  • Wayfarer
    4.8k
    Physical = defined in terms of physics.

    There have been times when that was thought to be straightforward. Not so much now, though.
  • Wayfarer
    4.8k
    I mean, ‘what is physical’ are the objects, forces, and related phenomena, that are the subject of analysis and investigation by physics.
  • Wayfarer
    4.8k
    you mean, defining physicalism in terms of physics is circular? You have a better idea?
  • Wayfarer
    4.8k
    Physics being ‘the science of the physical’.
  • Πετροκότσυφας
    445


    You have two statements:

    Physics being the science of the physical.
    Physical is what physics studies.

    You find this informative in any way?
  • Wayfarer
    4.8k
    I’m answering the question the OP title poses :-}

    What it means to say ‘something is physical’ is to say that it is what is defined or studied by physics.

    Sorry if I’m unable to accommodate all reading ages.
  • Janus
    4k
    If things which cannot be understood in terms of physics are non-physical, then animals must be non-physical, since biology cannot be reduced to physics. Also what do you think is meant when it is said that things are immaterial?
  • Noble Dust
    1.5k
    If one wants to say that there are non-physical things; would this necessarily imply dualism?Janus

    I don't think so. The problem for me is that the dualism/monism distinction is unessisary; it's an illusion. This actually relates somewhat to the thread I just started; the idea that there are non-physical things doesn't automatically assume hard dualism; there's no reason to assume that physical reality and a non-physical reality can never interact. A two dimensional drawing is apprehended in three dimensional space, within time. There's no reason to assume that the chain of apprehension stops there. As to whether a higher dimension would be physical and scientifically observable, my knowledge stops there, but I can imagine the strict lines of dualism/monism becoming blurred if science ever reaches out further than that. I also don't discount the possibility of something higher reaching down instead. It seems totally plausible to me.
  • Janus
    4k
    the idea that there are non-physical things doesn't automatically assume hard dualism; there's no reason to assume that physical reality and a non-physical reality can never interact.Noble Dust

    This highlights the problem for me, though; because on the one hand you say dualism is not implied, and on the other you seem to be assuming there are two realities which interact with one another.
  • Noble Dust
    1.5k


    I said hard dualism; my understanding is that's a Kantian dualism where the two can never interact, but correct me if I'm wrong. But I'm saying a "soft" dualism could exist where the two interact; oil and water poured into the same glass will interact, although they'll never congeal. But the two will affect change in one another.

    I don't necessarily even subscribe to that, but I think it's plausible. What makes more sense to me is a concept that transcends the dualism/monism distinction, which I think of as generative; spirit giving stillborn birth to the physical world. I've talked about that before.
  • Πετροκότσυφας
    445


    I guess I don't find it adequate; because it can be turned around easily to support the idea that it's its physical object of study that makes physics, physics. Either we define physics in terms of its object (the physical), or vice versa, the question of what is physical has not been given any content. It remains vacuous.
  • Noble Dust
    1.5k


    I think that's actually an argument against materialism, though. What other definition can even be given?
  • Πετροκότσυφας
    445


    No, it's an argument against the coherency of the term "physical", at least when so defined. And if the physical's opposite is assumed to be the "mental", that is incoherent too.
  • Noble Dust
    1.5k


    So what's a definition of physical that isn't circular?
  • Πετροκότσυφας
    445


    I haven't come across any adequate definition and I suspect this is so, because the debate itself (which seems to rest on dualist presuppositions) is misguided.
  • Noble Dust
    1.5k


    So defining "physical" is misguided because it suggests dualism? I assume you have a different reason to deny dualism, then? Otherwise, if no definition of physical can be given, I would assume that would open up the possibility for dualism.
  • Janus
    4k
    I said hard dualism; my understanding is that's a Kantian dualism where the two can never interact, but correct me if I'm wrong.Noble Dust

    In Kant's system appearances (phenomena) are appearances of things in themselves; so, for Kant we do perceive things in themselves, not as they are in themselves, but as appearances. It is an epistemological, not an ontological, distinction. Kant scholars argue over whether Kant meant to present a 'two aspect' or a two world' theory. I think the distinction between 'aspects' and 'worlds' is not really that significant. If things in themselves are not known to us as they are in themselves, but only as appearances, then these just are the two aspects of things in themselves.

    But, if, for us there is a world of things in themselves as they are in themselves that we cannot know, and a world of things in themselves as they appear to us, then for us there are (epistemologically speaking) two worlds. But this does not necessarily lead to the conclusion, and thus should not lead us to conclude, that there are, ontologically speaking, two worlds.
  • Πετροκότσυφας
    445


    What is misguided is the debate, since it obviously cannot give a coherent account of its terms (i.e. the physical and the mental). And, no, if no definition of the physical (or the mental) can be given, dualism fails because one of its horns is the physical. And if you can't define that, then the other horn can't be defined either, because it's usually defined relative to its other. You literally have nothing at all.
bold
italic
underline
strike
code
quote
ulist
image
url
mention
reveal
youtube
tweet
Add a Comment

Welcome to The Philosophy Forum!

Get involved in philosophical discussions about knowledge, truth, language, consciousness, science, politics, religion, logic and mathematics, art, history, and lots more. No ads, no clutter, and very little agreement — just fascinating conversations.