In defense of rational materialism

John C. Wright kindly lends the aid of his formidable intellect to his overmatched opponents, in the hopes that they may be able to, finally, present a coherent argument in defense of their philosophy:

My patience, albeit legendary, has finally burst all bounds of reason. Fortunately, this time, patience bursts these bounds inward into the very interior of reason.

In a spirit then of noblest military courtesy to fallen foes, and, in this case, foe unable to mount steed and couch lance, allow me to instruct the Materialist how to frame his argument.

First and foremost, one should define one’s terms.

Materialism, or, to call it by a more precise but less well-recognized name, Panphysicalism, is the position that there no substance exists aside from matter. Anything that seems at first to be made of some other substance, such as spiritual or mental entities or qualities or qualia, can be ultimately resolved to a material substrate.

The word ‘exist’ has several shades of meaning. While, it is a true statement to say that ‘Hamlet exists in Shakespeare’s imagination’ or to say ‘Hamlet exists as a great play’ or even to say ‘Hamlet exists as a word of six letters’, none of those statements would be true if Earth had never brought forth human life. For the purpose of this discussion, we are only speaking of literal, unqualified, or objective existence, that is, existence that does not depend on human imagination or convention.

The word ‘matter’ here does not mean matter as opposed to energy. Here, we mean matter as opposed to spirit. We are not using the definition from the physical sciences of matter, but the philosophical definition.

If the term confuses the undereducated or overeducated dunderhead, we may use the term ‘physical substance.’

More precisely, matter means an entity or the properties of an entity which is extensional and sensible. Extensional means occupying specific points in the three dimensions of space and occupying specific moments of time. Sensible made of something that can be apprehended by the five physical senses either directly or indirectly. For the purpose of this conversation, we can take these two definitions as interchangeable. If there are extensional entities not theoretically sensible, or sensible entities lacking extension and duration, we do not call those ‘matter’.

The term ‘substance’ is a technical term of philosophy that refers to the persistent foundational or fundamental being of reality, that is, some being that cannot be resolved into a more foundational being, some being that is not a manifestation or a side effect of any deeper being.

Second, one should state one’s position precisely.

No Materialist of my acquaintance has ever bothered to do so. Stated precisely, then, the Panphysicalist position is that ‘Nothing save physical substance exists’ or, in other words, ‘All is Matter.’

Third, one should know what manner of statement one is making and defending.

The statement ‘All is Matter’ is an a priori statement, that is, a statement used to interpret sense impression experiences but being logically prior to any particular experience. Ergo it is not an a posteriori statement, that is, a statement deduced from sense impression experiences and logically anterior to them.

The idea held by most, if not all, the Materialists of my acquaintance that Panphysicalism is a deduction of the natural sciences, or a conclusion of physics, or can be proved by experience or disproved by experience, is a sad confession of their utter paucity of understanding their own position.

The results of physical experiments cannot be used to attack or defend metaphysical conjectures or deductions, any more than music theory can be used to attack or defend a theory of astronomy.

It should be too obvious to mention that empirical experiments are always conditional in their findings, that is, under such-and-such conditions, so-and-so is seen to be the result. The statement that ‘All is Matter’ is a universal, applying to everything in existence, microscopic and macroscopic, near and far, past and present and otherwise.

No possible experiment can examine each and every object in reality past and present and hold it before our eyes, and neither our eyes nor any other sense would tell us if the foundational or fundamental being creating the sense impression is physical matter as opposed to something else — the deceptions of Maya, for example, the illusions of the Matrix, or the delirium induced by a the deceptive demon invented by Descartes or the Demiurge by the Gnostics.

Therefore the statement ‘All is Matter’ cannot possibly be a conclusion of an experiment in physics. Therefore appeals to empirical evidence to confirm or deny Panphysicalism are vain.

Fourth and finally, one should actually make an argument, that is, a set of statements resting upon a shared starting assumption, logically related to each other as antecedent and consequent leading to the conclusion one is defending.

To defend the statement ‘All is Matter’ it must be shown that the idea of a non-material something is incoherent; it must be shown that an insubstantial substance is a contradiction in terms; it must be shown to be something that cannot exist.

Read the whole thing, as Mr. Wright proceeds to present, not one, but three, arguments, on behalf of panphysical philosophy. One could consider them strawmen, as they are arguments that the rational materialists have not actually presented and Mr. Wright has previously and preemptively rebutted all three of them, except for the fact that these straw-arguments are considerably more substantial than anything the rational materialists have shown themselves able to construct on their own.

Fans of Mr. Wright might also be interested in his interview concerning TRANSHUMAN AND SUBHUMAN on the SciPhi show.