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Saturday, March 7, A.D. 2009
Materialist Folly

Once during a philosophy oral examination, some professors asked me to defend my “controversial” contention that philosophical materialism was not rationally defensible. I answered that Aristotle’s simple refutation of the materialist account of mind is sufficient, but I do not think that proofs end there. Aristotle points out that the mind must be at least partially immaterial for it to be able to contemplate so many different objects, including immaterial objects. Moreover, one cannot deny that there are immaterial objects of the mind because the mind thinks about the structure and objects of mathematics, which are most definitely not material.

The Platonic objection to materialism may be even stronger. If materialism wishes to reduce all reality to constituent material parts, such as atoms or the misnamed subatomic particles, it must attribute the structure of reality in all its diversity and apparent order to the structure of those constituent parts individually and in combination. Yet, the materialist cannot reduce the structure of the parts themselves and the structure of their combinations to the parts themselves. The structure is immaterial. The form of each material part itself is not material. However, if a materialist objected and said that we cannot get “behind” the basic fact of the smallest constituent material part—that it is simply what it is, structure and matter together, then he still could not explain any reality beyond the mere facthood of each radically unique indivisible material part. Yet, we know that these constituent parts are not radically unique; they have particular structures that they share with other constituent parts. There are classes of subatomic particles, and there are types of atoms. A structure—an order—that is shared cannot itself be material. This same problem for materialism applies to all higher material combinations. Any given molecule has a certain structure that itself is not material.

Therefore, materialism is rather idiotic. Intelligent people often adopt it, but unthinkingly; they never ask metaphysical questions, though they affirm a metaphysical theory. I really do not understand why this occurs, especially among physicists who ought to be more demanding of their assumptions. I guess that most of these folks are simply interested in physical phenomena; they do not wish to trouble themselves with underlying metaphysical principles.

Posted by Joseph on Saturday, March 7, A.D. 2009
Philosophy | MetaphysicsPermalink
Comments

I just had to say, reading Bonald’s “In Defense of Religion,”—particularly the part that shows that the nature of being is evidence that something omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent has to be behind everything—got me interested in going back to read this article. A lightbulb went off beginning at your sentence “Yet, we know that constituent parts are not unique.” Having read Plato’s “Republic” I always had a gross misunderstanding of the Theory of Forms—something like, “if there are many chairs, there must literally be some Form of a chair floating around in a place like Heaven.” But your piece makes it clear. I guess it really doesn’t make sense that the universe or all the multiverses are eternal after all. The otherwise inexplicable nature of why all atoms have the same basic structure is what hit home for me. Combined with Bonald’s piece it makes me a theist, although I hate feeling like an easily convinced person. If I had come back a few months later and told you of my theism, it would seem more right. One of C.S. Lewis’ pieces on faith in “Mere Christianity” acknowledges how the emotional gets in the way of the rational to cause us to lose whatever we believe and I’ve experienced it many times. These are truly rational reasons for beliefs though, so it should work out. Anyway, great piece!

Posted by Tyler on Saturday, February 25, A.D. 2012

Also, I just looked at the date on this and it seems like it was written around the time you got into a 3 hour long debate with a mutual acquaintance on just this topic. Back then I had had no comprehension of what either of you were really saying though. Good times though!

Posted by Tyler on Saturday, February 25, A.D. 2012

Andrew always says that a rational man is only a solid demonstration away from changing his mind. There is no shame in metanoia if it follows from a good argument.

I wish you the best.

As far as the date goes, it is weird to look behind the curtain of another man’s life, isn’t it?

Posted by Joseph from Arimathea on Saturday, February 25, A.D. 2012
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