Saturday, October 17, 2009

Naturalism and Physicalism: A Response to Teague Tubach

This is a claim frequently urged, but I have yet to see it properly defended.
Teague Tubach: Physicalism and naturalism are not the same thing. Vic's blog and several comments here are confused about this, it seems.

I guess I do agree that they are different, all right. But how are they interestingly different, Teague? In physicalism, the basic stratum is the physical, and something can't be physical unless it lacks intentionality, subjectivity, normativity, and purpose. Everything else is a system byproduct of physics, which has nothing in it containing those four characteristics.

Naturalists, I suppose, could refuse to call the basic level the physical if they wanted to. But where would that get us? At the end of the day, we have to either affirm or deny that the mental, as I have described it, is operating causally at the most basic level of analysis. There could be naturalisms, I suppose, that were distinct from physicalism, but they would have exactly the difficulty that I have been posing for physicalism.


Blue Devil Knight said...

Some people really like to get their knickers in a bunch about 'naturalism' versus 'physicalism' (and sometimes 'materialism'). It doesn't matter. Use the terms consistently and you'll be fine. Of course there are metaphysical and methodological versions of each, so it gets a bit complicated, but as long as someone isn't equivocating all over the place who cares.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Incidentally, Chalmers is a naturalistic dualist. He thinks mental properties will be included in the basic furniture of the universe, but that they will follow certain explicable laws as evidenced by the already observed psychophysical correlations (Davidson's unargued for and empircally falsified assertion that there can be no psychophysical laws notwithstanding).

Anonymous said...

I'm a naturalistic theist. I believe God exists, that He is immanent throughout the universe, and that there is an afterlife. I just call all of it 'natural'.

I can do this now, because naturalism has been emptied of any and all meaningful connotation.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Quote from Chalmers' paper Facing up to the Problem of Consciousness where he characterizes naturalistic dualism:
"This position qualifies as a variety of dualism, as it postulates basic properties over and above the properties invoked by physics. But it is an innocent version of dualism, entirely
compatible with the scientific view of the world. [...] There is nothing particularly spiritual or mystical about this theory—its overall shape is like that of a physical theory, with a few fundamental entities connected by fundamental laws. It expands the ontology slightly, to be sure, but
Maxwell did the same thing. Indeed, the overall structure of this position is entirely
naturalistic, allowing that ultimately the universe comes down to a network of basic entities
obeying simple laws, and allowing that there may ultimately be a theory of consciousness cast in terms of such laws. If the position is to have a name, a good choice might be naturalistic dualism."

This seems reasonable. One major contrast class is between nomically governed events and "everything else" (e.g., free will, ghosts, angels, gods). He thinks present physics is insufficient, so rejects neuro-reductionism, but believes physics will expand to include qualia. Wilfrid Sellars believed the same thing, and he is about as scientistic/naturalistic as a philosopher can get.

The point is, there is some wiggle room here. Anonymous, in his hilariously clever sarcastic comment, points out what happens when you wiggle too much.

Anonymous said...

If being as "scientistic/naturalist as one can get" means believing that physics will ultimately "expand" to include mental properties as fundamental constituents of the universe, it just serves to illustrate that "naturalism" doesn't mean much of anything anymore.

Keep in mind that Chalmers also thinks we can be living in a utterly designed universe right now (see his paper on the simulation hypothesis and various implementations of it) and that this, too, is just another naturalistic possibility. Apparently all one has to do is mention offhandedly "there's nothing particularly spiritual or mystical about this theory", and that's nearly enough to get one into the naturalism club.

So, don't write off my claim as sarcastic yet. You say there's "wiggle room" in naturalism, but somehow I "wiggled too much". But why should I agree to that? Why is my limit a bridge too far, but Chalmers' isn't?

Gordon Knight said...

there is a serious question: what is "natural" If we mean something that can, in principle, be part of a scientific description of the world, then the notion is epistemically vague. Ghosts, angels, souls, God, etc all could, for all we know, be part of some super duper future science.

Doctor Logic said...

I've thought about the definition of "natural" quite a bit, and whether or not you agree with my definition, I hope you will see that there is an important distinction we can make.

By my definition, a natural system is one whose behavior/existence can be predicted by a deductive-nomological model. Now, I think it is unavoidable that some stuff is not going to be natural. The ultimate natural laws of the universe cannot predict themselves.

Also, I think it is a degenerate case to say that there could be natural laws stating outcomes of unique events. For example, suppose neutron decay is fundamentally random. Neutrons have a mean lifetime of about 15 minutes, but if a neutron lasts 8 days, it still has the same odds of decaying in the next 15 minutes as we would have given it in its first 15 minutes. If the test neutron in my flask decays after 4 minutes, I don't think that it makes sense to say that there is a unique physical law which applies just to this one neutron at this particular day and time, and which made this particular neutron decay after 4 minutes instead of, say, 8 minutes. Even if I did suppose there was such a unique law, this law would be a brute, non-natural fact about the universe, and therefore, beyond natural.

Natural, as I've defined it, does not contradict dualism. It could be that mental stuff is basic and follows predictive mental laws in the same way that spacetime is basic and follows physical laws.

However, this definition comes at a price. There can be no such thing as a supernatural explanation. A non-natural event just happens, and could not have been predicted. You might know that an event was more likely than another because of natural laws, but the actual outcome could not have been predicted by anyone even in principle. The outcome is just a brute fact of the universe, as brute as the existence of the most fundamental. Brute = arbitrary. If brute were not arbitrary, there would be a deductive-nomological model explaining why it was not brute.

Just my 2 cents.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this!
I'm still a bit lost though. I'm not sure why the naturalist would "have to either affirm or deny", couldn't they just say idk, and if that was an honest answer shouldn't we accept that? But assuming our naturalist has a gun to their head, I still don't see why this matters. Sure, the mental is causally fundemental -- does that necessarily lead to supernaturalism?
Perhaps our naturalist can go no further, she doesn't know how or why the material and mental exist as they do. She just doubt a supernatural origin and thus remains a naturalist.

MC said...
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MC said...
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Anonymous said...

Here, I'll do a bit to defend my claim that the distinction between physicalism and naturalism exists for reason.

Nate: I'm a naturalist and a dualist.

Paul: But naturalism and physicalism are nearly the same thing, your beliefs are referentially incoherent.

Nate: Well, I do not think that consciousness can be reduced to matter, but I also don't believe there is anything spooky behind this.

Paul: If consciousness is causally responsible at some basic level, then there must be a mind behind it, not matter.

Nate: Sure, thats why I'm a dualist and not a physicalist.

Paul: Sooooo, where did that consciousness come from if it wasn't matter? Must have been a mind, right?

Nate: I have no idea. I doubt it was a god or a magical mind fairy, or The Great Pumpkin -- if thats where you are going. This doubt, and lack of belief, is why I am a naturalist.

Anonymous said...

Why can't the non-physical be part of the ontological ground floor on naturalism? Is there some special reason to think that it can't be a basic feature of the universe without God's creation?

One might ask where the non-physical came from, but why think that it came at all? Why can't it be eternal?

Tu quoque, theists. ;-)

Anonymous said...

^ right, it seems like the idea is that naturalists cannot believe in non-physical because that implies God (something a naturalist cannot endorse). If that is the case, I just want some clarity. How exactly does one get from the admission of non-material to God necessarily existing, and thus ruling out naturalism?

Anonymous said...

More from me:

Victor Reppert said...

I don't see any problem with Christian theism being true, and it not be regarded as in any way supernatural. If you want to define naturalism so widely that it includes God, angels, demons, and souls, and all those things are natural, I have no problem with it.

To me, "naturalism" is a concept the naturalist uses typically to deny the existence of God, or whatever they need to exclude.

Suppose we define physicalism as that which includes whatever physics talks about, and let us assume that the ideally completed physics includes God and all that other good stuff. Fine, I'll be a physicalist under those circumstances. You've got to figure out how to exclude me.

Anonymous said...

That's not quite the issue though, right? The issue is this: suppose we allow the non-physical in on the ground floor (both abstracta and concreta). What is the evidence that ought to push such a naturalist to theism? It seems to me to be a problem for theists that they can't motivate the jump from such a version of naturalism to theism.

Gregory said...

Whatever definition of "natural", "physical" or "material" is given, I would propose this as definition of "supernatural":

Anything that cannot be explained by referring to natural law nor can be sufficiently categorized, ostensively, as a property of some physical object.

One striking example of this is the cosmic singularity, proposed by Big Bang Cosmology. The Cosmic Singularity has no apparent nomic, nor physical, precursors. Whatever hypothesis/explanation can be given for such a "singularity", it is certainly not going to be an explanation found in the sciences.

And I suspect that the wild speculations about "multiple universes", "the oscillating universe" and "steady-state" models, by Cosmologists and Astrophysicists, is simply an attempt to avoid the unpleasantness of "supernaturalism" (i.e. as I have defined it above).

The difficulty of naturalism is also observed in human behavior and psychology. One notable example is the failure of the C.I.A. to produce any kind of effective "truth serum" or any reliable psychoactive "mind control" drug. What's more, studies of American POW's in Korea and Vietnam showed no marked change in worldview under extreme torture and/or conditions involving sensory deprivation. Many POW's did give an outward profession of fealty to enemy ideals and philosophy during torture, but quickly reverted back to their formerly held ideological positions after release. And the percentage of POW's who actually underwent a philosophical conversion during capture was so small as to be wholly negligible, in terms of providing any relevant support for "brain washing" theory.

LSD, and other psychotropic drugs, can briefly alter a person's sensory perceptions during the duration of use. And, in some cases, permanently modify brain chemistry to the degree that, in a very small number of incidents, the drugged participants end up having have less cognitive function and/or long term emotional instability. But, due to the overall ineffectiveness of LSD and other psychoactive drugs in modifying behavior, the C.I.A. scrapped using it as a possible biochemical weapon/agent.

In other words, all the physicalist hype about supervenience, neurological reductionism and behavioral predictability, is not supported by the empirical data. Which explains, in large part, why Psychology is not considered a "hard" science. In fact, many academic Scientists consider Psychology as a "wishy washy" pseudoscience. And Psychiatry, while considered a "medical science", has failed to provide a single substantive cure for any of it's extensive listings of mental pathologies.

Gordon Knight said...

One thing should be clear, nonnaturalism is not the same thing as theism. So we should distinguish the question

Is naturalism false?


Is theism true?

But what makes someone a nonnaturalist?

G.E. Moore held that good was a nonnatural property.

What makes a property "nonnatural"

Why is intrinsic intentionality not a natural property (if it is one). How can I decide

I know most self described naturalists do not believe there is intrinsic intentionality. But what is the reason for this? What makes this property more spooky than any other (unless naturalism really is just some kind of physicalism)

But all this is compatible with either atheism or theism

Anonymous said...

But where is the link between physicalism and naturalism? I believe my mental states can cause other mental states. I believe in intentionality and subjectivity and normativity. Yet, I still consider myself a naturalist.

What I'm trying to ask is: what's the problem with my above beliefs? Are they inconsistent? What non-natural belief have I brought upon myself?

Physicalism is about physical explanations and laws, etc. Naturalism is about denying, or at least lack of believing in, gods, magic and The Great Pumpkin. They aren't even about the same thing. Why are you putting them in such close proximity?

Anonymous said...

Because one of the things that used to define 'god, magic' and the rest was their being non-physical - or their being fundamental "mental" entities. That was the line in the sand, the great and shocking naturalist claim: All that exists is the physical! All that exists is the laplacian machine! It's not the theist's fault that classical materialism was blown apart (by science, of all things) and that increasing numbers of physicalists are suspecting that, gosh, they're actually going to have to count the mental as fundamental to the universe.

Looking at this thread, it seems like the primary - hell, perhaps the only - distinction naturalism is now gripping onto as defining itself is this: "There's just nothing spooky about anything." That, shockingly, seems to be it. A refusal to call anything that actually exists "spooky". Wow!

Well, screw it. I'm saying God isn't spooky. I'm saying God isn't magic either. Miracles aren't magic, they're simply technology. God isn't supernatural, He's simply nature of a different type (say the difference between a computer programmer and a computer simulation).

I'm delighted to see this thread, because it confirms something I've always suspected. Naturalism doesn't mean diddly anymore. It's a more academic sounding word for rejecting certain religions. (Not even all religions!)

normajean said...

@ last Anon: LOL!

Anonymous said...

Was the physical/non-physical distinction "the line in the sand" for Spinoza, Hume, Russell, Quine, etc.?

I suggest you don't really know what you're talking about. Put down the apologetics books and read some actual philosophy.

Anonymous said...

And I suggest I know what I'm talking about all too well, which is why you're huffing and puffing and doing little else.

It's not merely the physical/nonphysical distinction, though that certainly is one hell of a blow to the ol' naturalist project. But counting mental properties as being part of the fundamental constituents of the universe? Sorry, if you don't see how that flies in the face of naturalism (or at least 'naturalism, until science and sudden bouts of rationality made naturalists worry too much'), then you've simply gotten too used to your "wiggle room" to think straight.

But by all means, keep it up. Keep telling us how naturalism can be right at home with the mental being fundamental to the universe. Indeed, throw out lines about how full-blown Berkeleyan idealism can be true and yet naturalism is true. And keep huffing and puffing, clenching your fists, and insisting - DEMANDING - I stop laughing at you when you say this doesn't expose naturalism as either a stance void of any interesting claims (other than a dislike of certain religions) or in full-blown retreat or defeat.

Sincerely, an orthodox theist believer, who is also a naturalist (because I realize that God isn't spooky.)

Anonymous said...

That was pretty damn funny! I'm sure the distinction between natural and supernatural didn't go anywhere though. Sorry.

Anonymous said...

Are Spinoza-style dual attribute accounts of substance theistic? No, and yet they're clearly over your "line in the sand".

Accounts of this sort are historically prominent, and they have no theistic implications. And yet such a view doesn't seem to show up on your mental radar.

You're out of your depth.

Anonymous said...

Frankly, I'd rather read funny and wrongheaded than boring and right.

Anonymous said...

Go anywhere? It's been exposed as practically meaningless now - and in particular, non-essential for the theist. Naturalism allows the non-physical to be fundamental? The mental as well? Berkeleyan idealism can be naturalistic?

I have no problem with calling God natural. And I have no problem being a theistic naturalist. I wonder if naturalists have a problem with that. Perhaps not. Which would be yet more comedy.

Anonymous said...

Anon, when you have to embrace *Spinoza* of all people to defend your vision of naturalism, you've already lost. If you don't see the theistic implications of counting the mental as a fundamental component of the universe, you're either naive or willfully blind.

Try reading and comprehending rather than simply quoting and referencing. It'll do you wonders.

Anonymous said...

Let's see if we can get this discussion back on track. Start with this argument:

1. There are immaterial entities.
2. Therefore, God exists.

I take it this argument isn't any good. But how do we fix it? How about:

1. There are immaterial entities.
2. If there are immaterial entities, then God exists.
3. Therefore, God exists.

Ok, better: we have a valid argument. So if the premises are true, then the conclusion must be true. Now suppose we grant (1) for the sake of argument. That leaves us with (2). Why should we accept it? Would someone like to support that premise?

Anonymous said...

Who's making a "there are immaterial entities, therefore God exists" claim? Certainly isn't me, so enjoy burning your strawman.

Can I be a theist and a naturalist? Let's hear your answer.

Anonymous said...

So you grant that immaterial entities can exist if God doesn't exist? Perhaps, then, you can tell us why you think non-physicalist versions of naturalism concede the debate to theism.

Anonymous said...

You haven't even been reading, have you? Where - WHERE - did I say that a definition of naturalism accepting the existence of non-physical and mental entities as fundamental 'concedes the debate to theism'?

I said that the definition of naturalism is being loosened up to the point where I, as a theist, can call myself a naturalist without contradition. And that trying to exclude theistic naturalists, given that "definition", seems extremely difficult - apparently naturalism can be 'loosened up' one hell of a lot anyway. I say it's loose enough at that point for theism to get inside.

Anonymous said...

I don't think you can be a theist and a naturalist, since part of being a naturalist is, as Plantinga or someone like that might point out, not believing in God or anything like him. So its pretty lame to ask 'can I be a theist and not a theist'?

Moreover, you can't be a theist and a naturalist because when we get down to examples there would be some explanation given by the theist in the form "goddidit" and the naturalist would not buy it. That's where the difference lays.

Anonymous said...

It hasn't loosened, its just being clarified. There was never that line in the sand that said naturalists had to believe in physicalism. If so, prove it. (or just be funny, because its false anyway so might as well live it up while you can)

Anonymous said...

Who's making a "there are immaterial entities, therefore God exists" claim? Certainly isn't me

You haven't even been reading, have you? Where - WHERE - did I say that a definition of naturalism accepting the existence of non-physical and mental entities as fundamental 'concedes the debate to theism'?

"It's not merely the physical/nonphysical distinction, though that certainly is one hell of a blow to the ol' naturalist project. But counting mental properties as being part of the fundamental constituents of the universe? Sorry, if you don't see how that flies in the face of naturalism (or at least 'naturalism, until science and sudden bouts of rationality made naturalists worry too much'), then you've simply gotten too used to your "wiggle room" to think straight." 10:42pm

"when you have to embrace *Spinoza* of all people to defend your vision of naturalism, you've already lost. If you don't see the theistic implications of counting the mental as a fundamental component of the universe, you're either naive or willfully blind." 11:23pm

Anonymous said...

And Plantinga and/or others would also point out that part of being a naturalist is refusing to accept non-physical realities, much less making the mental fundamental. But that's what's being done here, so what the hell does Plantinga's view matter? This is a definition with 'wiggle room', remember. You can wiggle in the non-physical, dualism, and making the mental fundamental to the universe. Sounds like you can 'wiggle in' quite a lot. I'm just 'clarifying' the meaning further.

And, 'Goddidit'? What a laugh. You're allowing fundamental mental and nonphysical explanations into the 'naturalist' room, my friend.

As to the latest anon, nice quotes. Try some reading comprehension: I said that taking mental properties as real and fundamental flies in the face of the old naturalist project. I said there are theistic implications of embracing the nonphysical/fundamentally mental as real, much less embracing Spinozism. An implication is not logical proof that God exists.

A little too quick on the shot there. But then again the theme of this thread does seem to be 'Desperate "Naturalists"'. Accent on those quotes.

Anonymous said...

So you've now come full-circle: you do think the existence of immaterial and mental properties at the fundamental level supports theism over naturalism. So you endorse an argument in the ballpark of:

1. Immaterial and/or mental properties exist at the fundamental level of reality.
2. If (1), then theism is more probable than non-theism.
3. Therefore, theism is more probable than non-theism.

So suppose we grant (1) for the sake of argument. Why are we supposed to accept (2)? What's your argument for it?

Gregory said...

Tubach's quote:

"But where is the link between physicalism and naturalism? I believe my mental states can cause other mental states. I believe in intentionality and subjectivity and normativity. Yet, I still consider myself a naturalist.

What I'm trying to ask is: what's the problem with my above beliefs? Are they inconsistent? What non-natural belief have I brought upon myself?

My reply:

There isn't anything "wrong" with what you are saying, per se. It just sounds to me like you're proposing some form of "substance dualism".

But naturalism is understood as proposing, in terms of it's core doctrine, an ontology founded upon monism. In other words, whatever "stuff" reality is comprised of, is really all the same matter/material; whether that "matter" happens to be physical (i.e. physicalism) or mental (i.e. idealism). So, when all is said and done, monism entails that there is only one layer/strata to reality.

The project of early 20th Century Analytic Philosophy was founded upon the insights of David Hume. Hume proposed that metaphysical propositions ought to be rejected unless, of course, they were statements which pertained either to "matters of fact" (i.e. empirical statements) or to logic and mathematics (i.e. analytic statements). And, where metaphysical statements are neither empirical nor analytic, Hume recommends suspending judgment about them (i.e. skepticism).

However, the novel proposal of the early Analytic School of Philosophy, notably those affiliated with the Vienna Circle, was not merely to "suspend judgment" about metaphysical statements, but, rather, to reject metaphysics wholesale. And when you take the popularity of anti-metaphysical philosophy and combine that with the exponential interest in the natural sciences in the first half of the 20th Century, then it is easy to see why late 20th/early 21st Century academic Philosophy became inundated with the materialist/physicalist point of view.

To propose a notion, as you have, of radically compartmentalizing the "mental" from the "physical", strikes me as somewhat bizarre. But that is because I, and most Philosophers, are approaching "naturalism" as an ideology whose roots are founded upon the monistic, anti-metaphysical materialism of the 20th Century.

Gordon Knight said...

I get my sense of "natural" from how philosophers use it. Thus Colin McGinn is, or used to be a "mysterian" about consciousness. He is not a dualist (property or otherwize), but he doubts that it is possible for us to understand how physical processes can be conscious. The reason he is not a dualist is that he wants to remain true to "naturalism" A lot of people think like this (check out the lit).

Of course someone can use a word anyway they like. but if you have a conception of naturalism that allows immaterial selves, then that conception does not, in itself preclude the existence of God.

And you can define naturalism as the non belief in God or gods or afterlife, but then naturalism would not constitute a REASON for rejecting God, gods, afterlife etc. You would simply be begging the question

Blue Devil Knight said...

A couple of points.

First, nothing interesting seems to ride on the conclusions of these arguments. No matter what someone would call me, or Victor, or Chalmers, we will still have fundamental disagreements about the scope of neuronal explanations, the existence of Gods, and such. The words used to describe it, especially words like naturalist, physicalist, and such, are partly defined by convention. That doesn't mean they are meaningless, of course.

Chalmers uses 'naturalism' in a somewhat exceptional way, but he focuses on a real trend within naturalists, the focus on nomic regularities instead of stuff. This excludes Gods and angels, but not rule-governed mental properties.

Second, just because it is hard to find a clean dividing line between two categories doesn't mean the categories are illusory. Where is the clean dividing line between life and non-life? What about viruses with genomes as large as bacteria? There exist humans with male and sexual female organs, does that mean that the distinction between male and female is illusory?

Fuzziness of categories does not imply dissolution of categories.

At any rate, these semantic quibbles are sort of silly and I don't understand why philosophers get all hot and bothered. Use the terms consistently and you'll be fine. If you want to define naturalism as belief in Gods, fine. You will be at odds with the conventions used by all other naturalists, but if you use it consistently fine, all other naturalists will disagree with you and you can argue about real issues rather than what labels you want to apply to things.

This thread might be a good test: if you love arguing about what words mean, you might want to be a philosopher. If you'd rather argue about how the world is, perhaps philosophy would drive you insane.

Gordon Knight said...

This is why the linguistic turn was the wrong turn for philosophy to take.

If you want to do metaphysics properly, you have to do phenomenology!

Blue Devil Knight said...

Gordon, I strongly agree about the linguistic turn. As for phenomenology, eh. It's all been downhill since Merleau Ponty.

Anonymous said...

Gordon just made me puke in my mouth...

Thanks for the reply Gregory. I'm sure that Sellers and Dewey and other self described naturalists of the 20th century did have leanings towards materialism. I understand what you've wrote about Hume and the LP.

I'm looking for the logical connection though. Just two movements are historically related does not mean that they are the same, or close to the same positions.

I'm not asking for wiggle room, I think there was room enough all along.

Anon, by "goddidit" I mean to say that you probably think that God did something, right? And the naturalist would disagree. That's all.

Gordon Knight said...

Husserl, if you can stand his style and Sartre arethe best, Continental philosophy went downhill post 1960 or so.