Non-Physicalistic Materialism: Follow-Up Questions to Those from the Previous Post

Continuing the discussion from the previous post:

There are a lot of issues to untangle and sort out here.

 Let me start with this: Suppose there is just one kind of substance, and it has both ordinary physical properties and informational/representational properties essentially and fundamentally. Suppose further that it's an uncreated, eternal, and at least de facto indestructible substance (since it's a "free-standing", metaphysically independent sort of stuff, and it turns out that nothing else that exists in our world has what it takes to annihilate it). Call this "The Quasi-Spinozistic View".

On The Quasi-Spinozistic view, then, consciousness and other mental properties don't emerge from, and aren't caused by, the physical. Furthermore, no god is required to create such properties, anymore than a god is needed to make its physical properties. Finally, there's no special problem about where this substance came from or why it exists. For it never came from anything -- it's eternal and (de facto) indestructible.

Now given The Quasi-Spinozistic View of substance, here are some of my initial questions:


What's so implausible about such a picture of substance from a theistic point of view? Is it that we can't get the informational/representational properties without an external cause, like a god? Well, if this is a serious problem, then it's an equally serious problem for theism. For theism likewise entails that informational/representational properties are a basic feature of an eternal substance, i.e., God, and that both they and the substance in which they inhere (viz., God) lack an external cause. 

So theism has no epistemic advantage over The Quasi-Spinozistic View in at least these respects.

2. What's so implausible about it from an atheistic point of view? Is it that the representational properties aren't properly physicalistic, scientifically describable and/or observable properties? Well, that just faults non-physical properties for not behaving like physical properties. And why, in an atheistic universe, should we expect the world to conform to what's convenient for human interests?

So these are just some initial thoughts and issues I have. I don't know whether consciousness is reducible to the physical. All I'm interested in here is this: if it should turn out that it isn't, would that provide even slight epistemic support of theism over naturalism? At this stage in my inquiry, my suspicion is that the answer is 'no'.

What do you think?


AIGBusted said...

Are you espousing some form of panpsychism? On this view, is the one kind of thing that exists just matter but that matter has consciousness "built into it" or has consciousness as one of its properties?

I'd say that one could accept that and still be an atheist. However, I think that proposal runs into problems with Metaphysical Naturalism. Naturalism to me means that Mental things are ultimately reducible to nonmental things. The Quasi-Spinozistic view would seem to say that mental and non-mental things are both ultimately irreducible. So by defintion they are incompatible.

I believe that the quasi-spinozistic view is false, though, because I think there are satisfactory naturalistic explanations of consciousness.

exapologist said...

Hi AIGBusted,

Well, it's not necessarily panpsychism. There are a cluster of views in the neighborhood here. For an overview of non-physicalistic versions of naturalism, see the SEP article on neurtral monism, here.

But in any case, I'm not quite espousing it -- at least not yet; I guess you could say that I espouse a disjunction of views that fall under the catchall term, 'naturalism', but I don't know which disjunct within the disjunction is true. It could be physicalism that turns out to be true, but for all I can tell so far, it could be some other disjunct.

I'm unhappy with the term, 'panpsychism', since it's typically used as a term of derision. And in any case, versions of panpsychism espoused by some contemporary philosophers are not the simplistic caricature attributed to them. So, for example, David Chalmers is sympathetic to a view he calls 'panprotopsychism'. On this view, it's not that all objects (say, a car bumper) are conscious (Good Lord -- who would ever hold a view like that! Certainly not myself of Chalmers). Rather, the idea is that concrete objects have both a physical side and a representational side. But the representational aspects need not reside in a latent 'mind' inside of a given concrete object. And although the representational aspects of objects are fundamental to them, consciousness doesn't enter into the equation unless or until a chunk of matter has a suitably complex configuration.

For a very helpful sketch of non-physicalistic versions of naturalism of this sort, I recommend looking at the relevant sections of Chalmers' seminal book, The Conscious Mind.