Can we define the truth of materialism?

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.

The Red Spider Nebula: Surfing in Sagittarius - not for the faint-hearted!

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”, “everywhere” 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 as being 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 sentence, 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 ways:
Everything is material”
“There is nothing immaterial”
“If A truly exists, A is material”
“If A is a real thing, A is material”
But is there a way to formulate this proposition without appealing to any abstract entities?

It seems to me that in that specific context, all words I have underlined are abstract entities.
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 “real thing” A could be non-material. And as such, A cannot be identified with any physical things of our physical universe (and combinations thereof).

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 fictional unreal notions.

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.

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3 thoughts on “Can we define the truth of materialism?

  1. In my reading you are re-covering ground previously poked over exhaustively by not-least Russell and Wittgenstein. I would not suggest you are wrong, but the closing proposition “whenever we assert the truth of materialism we must resort to fictional unreal notions” is simply a problem of the curse (Verhexung) of our language. Language structures a tautological trap – as with your reasonable proposition; logical nonsense is the alternative.

    Surely though, Ludwig Bertie (and possibly Jacque Derrida) to one side, we must in any case always employ the ‘ideal’ to understand the material (to reduce it to a form)? I enjoy Badiou explaining how the real (I am not sure that this is the same as the material) is always that which escapes understanding, and so the ideal is all we can grasp.

    • Did u study philosophy? You should start with a glossary of terms.
      What is matter? What is energy? Are abstract things within reality? Would u consider your mind within space and time? Etc.

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