Can materialism be true at all?

Materialism is the belief that matter is the ultimate reality, that is to say that everything is material so that there are no such things as souls or numbers.


In a previous post, I argued that materialism seems to be self-contradictory because the concept of “everything” itself is immaterial.

In the following blog post, I want to reformulate my argument in a way that makes it easier to be analysed and criticised.


It basically goes like this:


1) According to materialism, every truth corresponds to a material state of affairs, i.e. a combination of interacting particles located in space and time.

2) But the truth of materialism itself cannot correspond to any such combination of spatially and temporally located interacting particles.

3) Hence materialism cannot be true.

3) is entailed by 1) and 2).


Consequently, you have to reject at least one of these to avoid the conclusion.



Can the truth of materialism correspond to a material state of affairs?

First of all, readers might be astounded by my assertion in 2). I shall try to lay out here what I mean by it.


The truth of materialism means that ALL things are material. This in itself consists of two conditions.

A) Entity 1, entity 2…entity n (whereby n can be infinite) are material, that is to say combinations of interacting particles located in time and space.

B) Entity 1, entity 2…entity n (whereby n can be infinite) are everything that exists.

This is illustrated in the following figure.


Materialism cannot just depend on condition B). For it not only entails that the entities in the circle are material but also that they are ALL THERE IS, so that there is NOTHING outside the circle.

And that very property can neither be located in space nor in time. Nor can it consist of 100,00; 10E+34 or any other number of particles.


What are truths under materialism?

This naturally leads us to examine claim 1).

All materialists are nominalists which means that they reject the existence of abstract objects (such as numbers) that they view as useful human conventions aiming at describing the natural world.

They also believe that truths such as “It is dangerous to drive after having drunk a bottle of Vodka in five minutes” are ultimately nothing more than the product of human language describing material states of affairs, i.e. a representation in our brains of facts of the external world.


In that particular case, there is nothing over and above the fact that almost every actual human being having ever been in that state is totally incapable of coordinating a complex activity such as steering a car.


Now, what would it mean to reject claim 1)?

A first option would be to reject my assertion that a material state of affairs has to be a combination of particles located in time and space. It is certainly true that materialism itself isn’t well defined. But all materialists I know believe there are no objects outside of time and space and I think that any view denying this would deserve another name altogether.


Finally, you can reject my claim that materialism implies that every truth corresponds to a material state of affairs. That might perhaps be the best way to defeat my argument.
But at the moment, I fail to see how this can make any sense. Basically, this would amount to saying: “Everything is material but certain truths go beyond the material world” which sounds self-contradictory to me.


So I am under the impression that materialism cannot possibly be true.

I’d certainly be glad to learn where you think my reasoning is mistaken.


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10 thoughts on “Can materialism be true at all?

  1. Also, I’m not sure why#2 is the case.

    “2) But the truth of materialism itself cannot correspond to any such combination of spatially and temporally located interacting particles.”

    are you saying that materialism is and idea or some sort of mental construct and therefore does not have any associated particles that specify what indicate particularly “materialism”?

    • Good question. I should have been clearer about that.

      Let us, for the sake of the argument, just consider our universe.
      (This can easily be generalised to the multiverse).

      Let us consider the set of all elementary particles contained within the universe.

      How could possibly their spatio-temporal properties (position, mass, kinetic energy etc.) and distribution thereof makes IMPOSSIBLE the existence of any *causally non-connected* parallel realm of existence?

      Because of the very definition of a physical property (which has only consequences in space/time), it cannot have any implications regarding CAUSALLY UNRELATED realms.

      If you disagree with that, do you know any physical properties of a set of objects that can have effects on causally unconnected things?

      • I like that. I suppose perhaps I do not, but maybe then the question has to do with causality? And one could say that, similar the Husserl independent object, the uncaussal physical effect itself is unconnected. This effect, then, as a reference by which ‘all things causal’ gain stature and a capacity to have causality. Perhaps.

      • What I mean to suggest it that there are physical conditions that defy causal relationships that can be proven to various degrees mathematically.

        • Thanks for all your comments.

          For materialism to be true, there must not be any immaterial parallel realm which has never been and will never be connected with our universe and has no common origin with it.

          Now, could the particles in our universe along with their physical properties render the existence of such a realm impossible ?

          Now, the state of the elementary particles making up our universe can have no logical consequence on a realm of existence that has never interacted and will never interact with them and that does not share any common origin with them.

          This just isn’t possible unless the particles have some metaphysical power and would, thus, cease to be physical particles.

          So I think that premise 2) is the safest part of my reasoning. Regardless of their spatial distribution and energy levels, the elementary particles our universe (or multiverse) is composed of cannot account for the fact of there not being anything else.

          • Our universe cannot account for what it can’t account for; paraphrase of your last sentence for #2.

            #1 of your proposal says that materialism says that everything can be accounted for by physical elementary particles.

            So are you saying that materialism is incorrect because it can’t account for what is not universally particulate, or particular?

            … that the universe is more than its physical particles?

            Or that an existence of particles that are not accounted for (outside our universe; immaterial) by a theory (materialism) that only accounts for everything through particles that arise in our universe. ?

            Can’t that be said of any theory ? Since all theory is taking and considering only what is possible in our universe as it is constituent of particles that are only knowable in the context of our universally accessible knowledge?

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