Thursday, May 08, 2008

Materialism - In Our Time - Melvyn Bragg / Anthony Grayling

MATERIALISM - Listen to 'In Our Time' with Melvyn Bragg, Anthony Grayling et al

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The philosophy of materialism holds that the only thing that can be truly proven to exist is matter, and is considered a form of physicalism. Fundamentally, all things are composed of material and all phenomena are the result of material interactions; therefore, matter is the only substance. As a theory, materialism belongs to the class of monist ontology. As such, it is different from ontological theories based on dualism or pluralism.

"If we go back to the beginning we shall find that ignorance and fear created the gods; that fancy, enthusiasm, or deceit adorned or disfigured them; that weakness worships them; that credulity preserves them, and that custom, respect and tyranny support them."

It’s provocative stuff even today and certainly was in 1770 when published by Baron D’Holbach in his book The System of Nature. The baron’s boldness was underpinned by Materialism, a philosophical idea so dangerous that every copy of the book was condemned to be burnt. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, materialism dominates much of our understanding of the world today.

But what does materialism really mean, how has it developed over time and can we still have free will if we are living in a materialist world?


Anthony C Grayling (ACG), Professor of Philosophy at Birkbeck College, University of London

Caroline Warman (CW), Fellow of Jesus College, Oxford

Anthony O’Hear (AH), Professor of Philosophy at the University of Buckingham

Transcription - the best bits!

ACG (1.15) - Materialism is the view that the only thing that exists in the universe is matter and the forces that act on matter and the processes that those forces bring about in matter so by entailment that there nothing immaterial in the universe - that is not part of the physical universe, for example, no independantly existing minds, or deities or angels or supernatural things of any kind. Their just is matter.
MB: matter is ideas aswell?
ACG: 2.30 brains give rise to thoughts and consciousness. Thales was first materialist (water is fundamental). Anaximenes (air),- universe is fundamental material in nature. 4:00 In 15th century atomism of ancients was revived (Pierre Gasenndi)
CW: 4.37 Epicurus - ( matter / pleasure - only one substance in universe - that is matter. Aristotle believed in essences, Epicurus did not.
AH: 8.30 - Lucretius (Roman poet & Epicurean philosopher 'on the nature of things') - atom means indivisible - religion frightens people with goblins - in effect no gods. Death nothing to be scared of - once we die, nothing to experience - so nothing to afraid of. Philip Larkin (atheist) - there is something to afraid of in death!
12.30 - Materialists are hostile to idea of final causes - Aristotle - nature is an interlocking system - may have been designed by an intelligent designer. Socrates was not a materialist.
MB: 14.00 - 4th Century - next 1200 years - Christianity blocked out other thought - repressed materialism
ACG: 15.00 Plato - immortal soul, ethical view: the idea that matter is bad and spirit is good - infuses Christianity - a Dualist view - until differant ways of thinking about spirit and matter was introduced by Rene Descarte (b.1596)
MB: 16.30 Arians 4th Century said Christ was just a man (not a god).
ACG: 16.50 - Descartes - can think of physical (science / natural philosophy - treat as clockwork) and spiritual (church) world separately.
AH: 18.00 Galileo - science concentrate on physical properties - feel, taste etc - Descarte gave justification for Galileo. Science should be based on mathematics.
CW: Pierre Gasenndi - empirical approach (evidence) - thought - there are only surfaces - moves away from idea of soul - reinject Epicurus into scientific debate
ACG: 21.30 - corpusular theory - made up of particles
MB: 22.40 - church had dominated for so long with ideas of soul, spirit, mystery, to be revered in.
AH: Thomas Hobbes - atomism - only things that exist were bodies - (even god was a body!). Humans are bodies and thought - experience caused by materialistic view. Ability of thought and consciousness takes to a differant level.
CW: 26.00 Baron d'Holbach poors scorn on represion by religion - have to be atheist.
MB: Reformation started in 1517 by Martin Luther - freethinking - dam of Christianity was being threatened by torrents of thought by scientists
ACG: 27.20 - d'Holbach - science shows that only thing is material - nothing else exists in it eg spiritual - makes a claim on us - morality - political system - divine right of kings - all goes out of the window.
AH: 29.00 - Descarte - reduction and science can show nature of world, human soul of mind - could not be explained by materialism. Hobbes and d'Holbach - want to bring human mind into Cartesian principle. Scientific materialism. William Blake thought repulsive - it left out - spirituality, beauty, nature. if all that exists is atoms.
ACG: 32.00 - 18th century - psychogy - matter in motion can produce mind David Hume - how can give rise to consciousness - still remains a mystery - brain structure and mental life - a lot known now. In 18th century - ideas and thought - place of reason and emotions - matter and mind - free will question - moral responsibility -
CW: 34.50 - Denis Diderot - free will and consciousness, what is the mind?
AH: 36.30 - Immanuel Kant - moral experience unsuccessfully tried to reconcile with materialism, free will and deterministic picture. Logic and reason - dont seem to have to do with materialism. Gottfried Leibnitz - if could look at brain dont see thoughts and ideas - consciousness - a single self unified - acts and chooses freedom. Materialism has a big problem
MB: 39.30 - ACG will words like feelings, memories, desires will be as ancient as pre-Galilean ideas of the universe? Will materialism make us think in a differant way (like a multistage rocket - these ideas will fall away by the ideas of materialism).
ACG: 40.00 - Paul Churchland and Patricia Churchland - eliminative materialists - can eliminate concepts like , hopes, memories, desires, thoughts - ONCE we have explained how brain gives rise to all mental phenomena - ultimately moral terms to brain physiology, chemical and physical - overambitious. Think that physcological concepts is explorable by materialistic science.
MB: Hagel, Philip Pullman, Marx, quantum physics - not talked about - we do try to put a quart into a thimble!!

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