Re: MD A metaphysics

From: Scott R (
Date: Tue Aug 19 2003 - 03:58:56 BST

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    > Matt:
    > We've tangled many times on this issue and I'm very appreciative of your
    learning and your responses. But everytime you call materialism or
    physicalism "dogmatic" I'm reminded of the Marxist who calls everything else
    but his own beliefs ideology. If a philosophical position can be dogmatic,
    then all philospohical positions are dogmatic. The difference would then be
    between good dogma and bad dogma, good ideology and bad ideology. But
    that's not what people generally mean, so here's the deal: I don't think
    philosophical positions can be dogmatic. Only people can be dogmatic. And
    usually only people in the flesh, talking to you. Its hard for an essay to
    be dogmatic because, if the person is arguing a position, then it would be
    kind of silly for her at the end of the piece to say, "But, actually, I've
    been convinced by the other side." Well, why didn't you argue the other
    side then?

    I agree that we are all dogmatic, and in the past I have stated what my
    dogmata are (though I think I've raised the game a notch by insisting that
    the only good dogmata are not understandable -- like "Quality is
    fundamental"). I tend to emphasize materialists' dogma, because of a
    tendency of them to think that they have -- via science -- moved past it.
    They are, I think, more likely to be unconscious of when they put forth a
    position without being conscious of their underlying dogma. or of assuming
    that it doesn't need defending. My favorite example of this is Dennett's
    saying that Darwinism, because it provides an explanation of evolution
    without invoking purpose gives one reason to believe in materialism. What he
    ignores is that it is materialism that leads him to think that (the
    appearance of) purpose needs to be explained in terms of matter. Why not the
    other way around?

    > As far as I can tell, you think the "2000 years with nothing to show"
    argument doesn't wash for dogmatic reasons.

    I think it because I see within the metaphysical line a philosophy that
    explains more than others, and so I accept its dogma (its fundamental
    principles). I reject other dogmata because I see logical problems with
    them, or things they can't explain that my dogma can. (Well, there are
    problems with the word "explain", but nevermind).

    [Matt:] You've found your answer, in mysticism, and nobody else is ready
    for it, which is what people also say about Pirsig. I think this is
    asanine. (Yeah, yeah, I know. I've been using that word a lot. But the
    Society for Better Vocabularies is paying me $1 everytime I use it. I don't
    see the point. I mean, if they really wanted to encourage better, more
    expansive vocabularies wouldn't they want me to use as many different words
    as possible? All I'm doing is encouraging people to use this one word. Now
    that's asanine.) Its not asanine that you're following a path of mysticism,
    or people are Pirsigian. What's asanine is that you call materialists
    dogmatic because they don't agree with you.

    Except that I call myself dogmatic as well. I bring in the word "dogmatic"
    when I see someone saying that something is true, or some method is better
    than another because his or her dogma requires it, without acknowledging
    that it is required.

     [Matt:] The problem I've tried focusing on in our debates is that the
    materialist and the mystic will _never_ convince the other by using
    argumentation because the materialist and
    > the mystic do not hold enough of the relevant premises (i.e. beliefs) in
    common. They both beg the question over the other.

    True, as long as one is referring to the interpretation of a common set of
    data. What gets the mystical philosopher's goat (not the mystic, who is
    above all this nasty squabbling :-) is having the corpus of reports of
    mystical and religious and paranormal experience ignored. I do not mean to
    imply that it is all or even mostly valid as common data, but there comes a
    point where trying to dismiss it all as hallucination or delusion or fraud
    becomes a delusion in itself.

    [Matt:]> I've never seen much force in your "these guys are materialists,
    and *therefore* reject appearance/reality distinctions and metaphysics"
    criticism. Are you saying that if they were only coincidently materialists
    you would agree with them?
    Are you saying that if they weren't materialists and were rather idealists
    you would agree with them? All I've got in reply is What does it matter how
    these guys biographically came to their rejection of metaphysics? They
    rejected it didn't they?

    I am saying that if I have no experience of God, but think that God is real,
    then I have to make an appearance/reality distinction. If I want to explain
    why God is real and yet I have no experience of God, then I have to engage
    in metaphysics. The materialist denies that God exists (or Platonic Ideas,
    etc.), so rejecting appearance/reality distinctions and metaphysics is
    tantamount to a belief in materialism. (Please note that I am working within
    your definition of metaphysics. I still think that materialism, even one of
    Rorty's sort, is best seen as a metaphysical position. A denial of God ,
    like an affirmation of God, or to say that mind is brain, is an ontological

    As to whether materialists are correct, I don't think one can give any
    plausible interpretation of quantum mechanics without making an
    appearance/reality distinction. Well, I suppose the Copenhagen
    interpretation avoids it, but that amounts basically to: don't try to
    interpret it.

     [Matt:] And besides, materialists don't say that it is only appearances
    that are real, unless you construe all people who reject the
    appearance/reality distinction as saying that only appearances are real.
    This, however, doesn't really happen because when you reject the
    distinction, you reject the force of saying things are one side or the

    I understand this. My point above is that it prevents one from considering
    something that clearly doesn't appear, but one considers real, a hidden
    cause of what does appear.

     [Matt:] Sure, appearances are reality and reality is appearances. We do
    experience Quality, mind, spirit, consciousness, conscience, God, and all
    the other things
    > that various people have said they experience over the years. We
    experience them because we talk about them. If somebody told me that they
    felt the force of God, I would believe them insofar as I would think that
    they really did think that they felt the force of God. The fact that I
    never have, nor ever expect to, nor think even possible, does nothing to
    that person's experience. The fact that I can explain his experience in
    different terms, like in terms of nerves and brain activity, does nothing to
    his experience of God.

    Except that you can't explain any experience in those terms -- see my post
    to Ian.

     [Matt:] I don't think this belittles the believer, I simply think it ends
    the conversation a little quicker than if he had told another believer. It
    ends, not because I'm right and he's wrong, or he's right and I'm wrong, but
    because we have very little in common on the topic of God. A conversation
    between an atheist and a theist would be just as long, and end for exactly
    the same reason, as a conversation between myself and a cricket player. I
    know nothin
    > g about cricket, nor do I care that much, but I do think my English
    counterpart's enthusiasm for the sport is admirable and exciting. We do
    have that in common: ethusiasm. We are just enthusiastic about different

    This is a bad analogy. I agree that it is a a matter of dueling dogmas, and
    that neither side is likely to convince the other. However, the idea that
    this is just a difference of opinion or enthusiasm mainly applies to your
    side. Although we have partially moved beyond the days when the believer of
    God thinks he has to convert you to prevent you from going to Hell (though
    such people are still around), it is nevertheless the case that the
    religionist has to make some attempt to convert, while the secularist is
    content if he is just not bothered by the religionist. (This is not entirely
    the case. Many secularists think that religion is an evil which must be
    eradicated.) The need to convert comes from the (please take this
    metaphorically) idea that the first thing the devil does is try to convince
    the victim that he doesn't exist. My version of this is that we all need to
    realize that we are insane, as being the first step in recovery.

    > So, okay, you aren't a materialist. But materialists have good reasons
    for being materialists. You just aren't hearing them, or aren't ready for

    Umm, since I was a materialist for many years, and am aware of the reasons
    for being a materialist, and all their arguments against religion (which I
    once accepted) and have continued to read materialist thinkers after ceasing
    to be a materialist, I object. But I understand what you are saying.
    However, I do lay tentative claim to the higher rational ground for having
    seen the good reasons to be a materialist and then learning that they aren't
    so good. The "tentative" is because I realize that one cannot see what the
    next level of reason might lead one to.

    > Andy said:
    > What do you mean by materialism and how does Rorty fall under this
    category? What data do materialist ignore? I haven't heard Rorty refer to
    himself as a materialist. Is it a categorization he would agree he falls
    under? How does one emerge out from under this absurd influence of a
    materialist view?
    > Matt:
    > Rorty describes himself as a non-reductive physicalist. In a former, much
    older, rhetorical turn, Rorty defended something called eliminative
    materialism. Eliminative materialism, I think, means we can describe
    everything we experience to particles bouncing in a void. The operative
    word is "can". That doesn't mean we have to. Rorty has moved on from there
    to argue that we shouldn't reduce anything to anything else, fundamentally.
    We should simply use one set of descriptions for one purpose and another set
    of descriptions for another purpose.
    > I'm not quite sure why Scott doesn't believe him and continues to call him
    a reductive materialist.

    I haven't called him a reductive materialist since you pointed this essay
    out to me. I may have said that I can't see that it is a difference that
    makes a difference, but since this is a quarrel within the materialist camp,
    I wouldn't.

    - Scott

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