Thoughts on physicalism

I’m currently taking a class that aims to explore the question: “what is physical?”. This class has made me think about metaphysics and the role this question has in it. I find it more and more to be a strange undertaking, and one that should be questioned. I realize I can no longer write papers the same way most others do, my thoughts are too scattered. In prepaeration for the paper, I’ve started outlining my thoughts on the matter. These are what I have so far:

-if mental properties were fundamental properties, would the mind-body problem disappear? No, since the mind-body problem is not about the incompatibility of the two properties, but is about their relationship. Even if mental properties are explained by science, the question of their connection is still not answered

-What if we answered what physiclaism is, what would it do for us? It owuldn’t solve any problems, it wouldn’t do much for us philosophically. What is the motivation for answering the question “what is physical?”

-Is physicalism a a priori or a posteriori claim? Answering this question is key, as it changes what our theory looks like and is supposed to do.

-Is solving the physcialism debate a matter of empirical exploration? Much like discovering the properties of an acid?

-If we posited a theory of physicalism that did not include beings like angels, and there ended up being angels, is physicalism false?

-if we posited a theory of physicalism that included trees, and science determined that trees did not have the properties that made something physical, do we now say that trees are not physical? Or have we gone wrong with our theory?

-If I point to something and say “that’s not physical”, have I contradicted myself?

-It seems philosophers are divided about how to approach physicalism. Some philosophers involved in the mind-body problem simply state a theory that subsumes the mental properties into physical properties (typically brain states or x-fibers firing). The question “what is physical?” is never addressed, it is glossed over. Does this mean these philosophers are sloppy because they did not address what the physical is? Other philosophers seem to want science to explain everything. They posit a physicalism that is rooted in the empirical sciences. This seems to have a different agenda all together. Are either one of these ways of approaching physicalism wrong? Is either right? Or is there no truth about the matter?

-Are implicit assumptions about the physical built into all theories about physicalism? Do we reject a theory of physicalism when the theory clashes with our intuitions? We don’t want our theories and our intuitions to be at war with each other.

-Is superposition a physical property? There is a question as to whether quantum physicists has gone wrong when they talk of particles being superposed. If our mathematical and empirical theories that support and determine physics end up merely showing the limits of empirical experimentation (statistics, etc), what does that say about physicialism?

-if the scientific method fails to give us what we want (truth), then what do we say about physicialism? Can physicalism still be rooted in the sciences? Or is physicalism simply false?

-physicialism in a metaphysical mode looks different than one posited in a scientific mode. It seems we must chose what mode we want our theory to be in.

-what do we say when our empirical theories have gone wrong? Dowell: What to say, then, with the discovery of what came to be called ‘hydrochloric acid’, a substance now recognized as an acid and which fails to contain oxygen? We could say that ‘‘acid’’ changed its meaning slightly so as to include in its extension certain oxygenless substances such as hydrochloric acid. But another possibility is that the original chemists were wrong in thinking that they held A a priori. It turned out that there was a way the world could turn out to be that was by their lights such that there were oxygenless acids; indeed, the actual world is one such way. The correct way to describe this scenario is as one in which what chemists thought was impossible, that something should both be an acid and fail to contain oxygen, is possible. The important distinction that the acid example illustrates, then, is just this distinction between believing that one holds a claim a priori (or a posteriori) and holding it a priori (or a posteriori). A diagnosis of the intuition behind the NFM [no fundamental mentality] constraint is that its treats the incompatibility between fundamental physicality and mentality as a priori, when it is in fact a posteriori.” (Dowell 44)

-Why should we be concerned with their being no fundamental mentality? Red is not a fundamental property, it can only be instantiated in shades of red. Am I some kind of color “shadiest” if I hold this view? I think I’m merely describing a relationship between two properties.

-Again, the question that bugs me: why do we care about what is physical? What does it solve?

-Will physicalism ever help us explain anything?

– Dowell constructs a theory of physicalism in a scientific mode. What would it look like to construct a theory of physicalism in a metaphysical mode? Is such a project possible?

-How would one go about refuting Dowell’s view? Wouldn’t be something like, “this theory doesn’t do what we want it to.”? Doesn’t the question, “what is physical?”, hinge on what we’re trying to do wioth the answer. Note that saying “Because I want to know what is physical”, doesn’t help us here. What are we trying to do with our answer? Notice if I say “because I want to know what exists”, already posits a theory we have yet to determine. IF I say something like, “I want to know what the body is in the mind-body problem”, it seems I have said something crazy or nonsensical. How can I not know what the body is?

-Another answer we might be seeking is something like “I want to know what is fundamental”. Again, why are we trying to figure this out? Given there is an answer, what would the answer do for us philosophically?

-Would any theory of physicalism determine that mental properties don’t exist? If it does, would we believe the theory?

-Why do we think we can posit what is physical and done anything significant?

-Look at how physicalism came about in the history of philosophy. It was a response to Cartesian dualism. Descartes said that the physical and the mental had to be different types or kinds of properties. Physicalism posited that the mental is connected to the physical, or is determined by the physical. How does positing what is physical help us with the description of the relationship between the mind and the body?

-Again, it seems the philosophers involved in the contemporary debate wan to do something different with their theories of physicalism. The question is what that is. If the theory yields nothing useful for philosophy, why would we posit it?

-If souls exist, and there was no way to prove this empirically, is physicalism false? Why do I want to say it isn’t? What do I commit myself to if I do believe souls exist and physicalism is true? I think I merely commit myself to a particular way of looking at the mind-body problem. Outside of that context, the theory holds no meaning.

-Wittgenstein’s family resemblances looks like the only way to help cash out the “what is physical” question and still be satisfactory. The problem is that the answer is now non-codifiable, which is exactly what the physicalists are trying to avoid.

-Nothing hinges on the answer to the question “what is physical?”. The question “what is large?” comes up with the same problems the former question does, and the answer wouldn’t be of any real importance. We merely have marked off some descriptions in our ontology.

-What if the answer ended up being “nothing”. Where would that put us?

-What if the answer ended up being “everything”. There would be many more questions to answer here.

-If we come up with an exhaustive list of properties that are physical, have we answered the question “what is physical?”

-If I say “these things and only these things are physical, now we can move on”, how I done any metaphysical work? Isn’t this merely a linguistic thesis that clarifies the word “physical”? Why is this not a satisfactory approach to answering our question?

-One philosopher stated, “the physical is what is spatially and temporally located”… Why was this view rejected?

-Hempel’s dilemma only comes up when we try to tie physicalism to the posits of physics. Would it be incorrect or misguided to disengage with the project of tying physicalism with physics? If so, why is that the case?

-If our project is to come up with an exhaustive list of criteria for the physical, then our answer would always meet with exceptions or be arbitrary. It wouldn’t do any kind of work for us, it would be a linguistic thesis.

-Is any answer to the question a metaphysical answer? Are we saying something about metaphysics? Have we “discovered” something about metaphysics?

-If I found an object in the world, does it make sense to ask the question “Is this physical?”, and to then check over my list of criteria to see if it satisfies the list?

-I suppose I have my own presupposition: metaphysical theories should help us solve metaphysical problems. I think this must be the case, for what would metaphysical theories be for other than solving philosophical problems?

~ by Barky on March 10, 2012.

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