Tuesday, 2 August 2011

BrainPolice on 'Vulgar Materialism' or reductionism.

Conclusions of Materialism


I've noticed a tendency of some materialists to completely dismiss the moral perspective and the aesthetic perspective (and even the epistemological perspective) out of hand, leading to a certain kind of scientistic (and not scientific) nihilism. I think that this is a non-sequitor from materialism in which context is dropped. By materialism I refer to the basic naturalistic notion that matter is the only thing that exists, which is generally understood to be in opposition to idealism and supernaturalism. By all accounts, I am a materialist myself, but I object to the conclusions that some people reach from materialism.



Materialism can sometimes lead people to adopt what might be called a "concrete-bound" or "anti-conceptual" mentality in which the role or power of concepts is neglected, taken to the point of dismissing various abstractions as if they necessarily are "floating" or completely unrelated to reality. This can be manifested as a reductionism taken too far or a sort of vulgar atomism in which aggregates or higher-level properties are said to not exist. It also can be manifested as a crude view in which conciousness practically dissapears. But, given a sensible philosophy of mind (hint: John Searle?), such views are indefensible.



Materialism has also lead some people to adopt a pessimistic nihilism in terms of the viewpoint that life is just a pointless cycle of consumption and reproduction, the continual fruitless striving to avoid pain and the purely malevolent play of volatile physical forces. This is basically what happens when we project a pessimistic value judgement onto determinism that downplays what we can potentially make out of life while we're here. But I don't think that any of this necessarily follows from materialism. It seems like one could just as easily find meaning in life as an individual in a more existentialist sense. The fact that I'm a biological being doesn't have to negate my individuality and the various goals and things that make me happy in life. Such a nihilism is a non-sequitor; materialism does not negate the realm of experience.



Another issue is the use of scientific descriptions as if they override morality and aesthetics. For example, suppose someone is playing a piece of music on a guitar. A materialist can lecture us about how the sound waves coming from the guitar technically work. But from a musical perspective, that is irrelevant - what matters is how it sounds, how that makes us feel and values that it could represent. It seems like both the scientific and the aesthetic perspective are valid, it's just that they're different contexts. The scientific description of sound waves doesn't negate the aesthetic value of the music and the aesthetic value of the music doesn't make the scientific description of how it's produced false either. In this sense, perspectivism (or a vibrant contextualism) makes sense to me.



Or let's use a flower as an example. A scientist can lecture us about the "brute facts" of the flower, the description of its physical composition. On the other hand, someone can consider the flower in terms of its beauty or in terms of the particular function that it may have in a given context (for example, perhaps the flower was given to them as a gift and they view it as a token of appriciation). It seems clear to me that both perspectives can be valid without contradicting eachother. The "brute facts" about the flower don't negate its aesthetic value or its "use value", and its aesthetic value and "use value" don't negate its physical nature as an object. One could concievably entertain both aspects of the flower at the same time. To use materialism to negate aesthetic value and "use value" seems rather vulgar and misses the point.

Posted by Brainpolice

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