Thursday, April 22, 2010

Neutral Monism

Neutral monism was described in my comment box as follows:

1. the world is composed of just one kind of substance, and its essence has both physical and phenomenological or proto-phenomenal attributes (alternatively: the one kind of substance is neither physical nor mental, but but the physical and mental are composed of it).

I'm just not sure this position hangs together. It looks like your explanatory chain has to terminate with a reason, or else it has to terminate wtih something that is not a reason.

I found an interesting Edward Feser blog post on this.


Steve said...

Hi Dr. Reppert. I noticed my favorite position in philosophy of mind was being discussed.

I had one comment: rather than thinking about a substance monism, I would go with Russell himself and suggest a framework of events.

Russell said that physical theory describes a causal structure connecting the experiential events which occur when we conduct empirical research. For instance, physicists create mathematical models which allow them to generalize and extrapolate in order to describe inferred events beyond our direct experience. He then argued that it is a mistake to ascribe reality to the models themselves (what Whitehead called the fallacy of misplaced concreteness").

The causally connected events are the reality. We have no good reason to think the "physical" events which we infer have a completely different character from the events we experience directly ("mental").

Whether we think all natural events are experiential or mindlike (leading to panpsychism) is open to further debate. Russell himself took the conservative option, and did not wish to posit panpsychism. But at a minimum, his view means that all events, mental or physical, share a underlying qualititative character.

Anonymous said...


It'd be interesting to hear your reasons as to why you think neutral monism is incoherent.

Meanwhile, I noticed that you passed on commenting on my characterization of dualism in the same comment you quoted from:

2. The world is composed of two really distinct kinds of substance: purely physical substances and purely immaterial substances. Furthermore, these two sorts of substances are capable of interacting with one another. In addition, there are both finite and infinite immaterial substances -- human (and perhaps animal) souls and God -- and the infinite immaterial substance created the finite immaterial substances (and perhaps the material ones, too), and created them without pre-existing materials (i.e., out of nothing).

Are you really saying that while neutral monism sounds incoherent, hypothesis (2) (i.e., your view) does not sound problematic? Those are some curious intuitions you have there. ;-)

J said...

or, per Marxy Marx:

"""It is impossible to separate thought from matter that thinks."""

(not a contradiction, however odd and that doesn't mean that rose bushs are conscious as are humans, but does posit something like intelligence at work in organic processes...a point mostly foreign to the Russellian sort of monism...tho' admittedly BR had read his Spinoza)