In a previous post, I explained why I believe that materialism (the belief that matter is the only reality) cannot make sense of the truth of materialism.
My reasoning was hard to follow and this prompted me to try to reformulate my argument.
Platonism and Nominalism
According to Platonism, abstract objects not existing in space and time (such as numbers, mathematical operations, concepts such as “everything“, “nothing” etc.) are real and necessary to talk about the world.
For instance, while considering the sentence
“All roses in my garden are red”
a Platonist will consider the words “all” and “red” as examples of abstract objects (or universals) which determine its truth or falsehood.
A Nominalist rejects the existence of abstract objects which are considered to be useful human conventions.
According to them, the above sentence can be rephrased as
“Rose number 1, 2, 3…. and N have roughly the same colour as tomatoes”
thereby seemingly doing away with the indispensability of abstract concepts.
It is important to realise that the plausibility of Nominalism stands and falls with its ability to reformulate such statements without the use of any abstract objects.
If abstract objects can be shown to be indispensable to give a meaning to a true sentence describing the real world, Nominalism is false.
What is the truth of materialism?
Materialists MUST be Nominalists as they reject the existence of anything not located in space and time.
At face value, the truth of materialism can be expressed in different equivalent ways:
“Everything is material”
“There is nothing immaterial”
“If (any object)* A exists, A is material”
“If (any object)* A is real, A is material“.
But is there a way to formulate this proposition without (explicitly and implicitly) appealing to any abstract entities?
It seems to me that in that specific context, all words I have underlined are abstract entities or require the meaning of abstract entities such as existence.
The sentences “there exists no such thing as the concept of existence” or “the concept of reality is not real” appear self-contradictory to me.
Note that I am not saying that the underlined words cannot be interpreted nominallistically in other situations.
But here it seems impossible to me to express the truth of materialism while only appealing to material entities.
If I’m right about that, whenever we assert the truth of materialism, we must resort to non-material concepts. In other words, if the truth of materialism is meaningful, non-material concepts must be meaningful as well.
Conversely, if non-material concepts are meaningless, so is the truth of materialism.
Another way of looking at this is to consider the truth-value of materialism, that is to say the state of affairs of the world that would make it true.
Suppose that 2 billions years later, our highly advanced descendants feel confident that they know everything that exists.
Would the state of affairs corresponding to materialism simply be: “Object 1 is material, object 2 is material…object N is material“?
No, for it must also include “And objects 1 to N are everything that exists” or ‘”there is nothing else than objects 1 to N”.
It thus appears that as an ensemble, objects 1 to N must have a non-material property (namely that of exhaustiveness) that is not localised in time and space and cannot be identified with any set of interacting primary particles.
Therefore, the impossibility of defining materialism without relying on immaterial concepts goes hand in hand with the impossibility of it being true.
I’d be interested to learn if you think I’m wrong and that you know such formulations which do not merely shift the problem. Of course, one solution of the issue might be to use more modest definitions of materialism that do not try to convey the idea of “nothing else”.
*Some might object that the sentence
If (any object) A is real, A is material
can simply be formulated as
If A is real, A is material.
This clearly raises questions about the implicit meaning of A.
If love exists, love is material
If telepathy exists, telepathy is material
can obviously not serve as the definition of materialism, although they naturally follow from its truth.
Nor can this role be played by the sentence
If Lyurmur exists, it is material
which concerns a specific entity called “Lyurmur“.
It is because of mathematical conventions and our use to them that we automatically assume that “A” in the original sentence means “any object having that property“.
It thus follows that we cannot do away with that concept in such a manner.
A creation of human brains
Someone answered that this isn’t a problem as “everything” can be viewed as an abstraction created by human brains.
For an abstract object not existing in time and space does not have to be a noun in a specific language. Consider for example the sentences:
3 roses are red
7 roses are red
9 roses are red
ALL roses are red
EVERY roses are red.
“No”,”All” and “every” are as much abstract objects as “3”, “7” and “9” are.
If “0”, “3”, “7”, “9” have no meaning, neither do the four first sentences.
If “no”, “all” and “every” have no meaning, neither do the three last sentences.
“all” and “every” depend on the concepts of everything in the same way as “something” depends on the concept of something.
The sentence “Fijhfhdfgx is blue” is meaningless without a concept of “Fijhfhdfgx“.
What is more, everything in that context can only mean “every OBJECT” as opposed to “every pineapple or “every wild bears”.
So, I still don’t see how “everything” (every thing) can have a meaning here without the concept of everything and the concept of object.
I also first thought of “everything” as a summation (U).
If all the materialist was claiming were that the objects KNOWN TO US are material, an enumeration such as
– This laptop is material
– This rose is material
– Donald Trump’s brain is material
would indeed be perfectly correct. The problem is that most materialists also include all potentially unknown object.And as such, the summation (U) will also have to explicitly mention
“and all potential objects we know nothing about are material“
so that the problem does remain the same.
This seems to be inevitable. Our descendants in 200 000 000 million years would also face the same problem as they too could not rule out the existence of unknown objects in, say, parallel universes.
So I remain convinced that phrases such as “and nothing else exists” cannot be replaced by any combinations of concrete objects.
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Actually, in order to avoid a tautology (such as ‘all material things are material’), it appears to me that you must allow for the possibility that the object A could be non-material. And as such, A cannot be considered a physical thing of our universe from the outset without begging the question.