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Schrödinger, Democritus, and the paradox of materialism

For those who might be interested, some reflections on philosophy of mind and modern physical science, over at my personal blog.

Comments (3)

the early moderns’ move of redefining matter so that it is devoid of color, odor, taste, sound, and the like as common sense understands them necessarily made these sensory qualities inexplicable in materialistic terms.

The only way to avoid such dualism is either to reject the existence of matter (as Berkeley did), to reject the existence of the sensory qualities (as eliminativists do explicitly and most other materialists do implicitly), or to reject the mechanistic conception of matter that led to the problem in the first place (as Aristotelians do;

Do I take it correctly from these statements, Ed, that you believe that color, odor, taste, sound, and the like as common sense understands them are not in any sense Lockean secondary properties of matter but really are in some sense intrinsic properties of matter?

Hi Lydia,

The exact status of the sensory qualities is a disputed question among Aristotelian/Thomistic/Scholastic types, and I don't myself have a settled view on the issue. But the conclusion you're drawing does not in any case follow from those statements, at least not if by "matter" you mean the external material world. One could accept that the sensory qualities in question do not exist in the external world as common sense understands them, but still take them to be in some sense material properties of the brain. Of course, someone who claims that matter as such is devoid of these qualities could not say this; and someone who favors a purely mathematical-cum-mechanistic conception of the material world is bound to make this claim. Hence (as I said in my original post) to affirm both that conception of matter and the reality of the sensory qualites is to embrace a kind of dualism.

But the A-T position already rejects on independent grounds a purely mathematical and mechanistic conception of matter, and thus is not forced to regard the sensory qualities as immaterial given that they are not intrinsic to external material objects. There is a third option of regarding them as material properties of the brain (though obviously not in the materialist's mechanistic sense of "matter") though not intrinsic to external material objects.

That is not to say that they are not in fact intrinsic to the external material world; again, I have no settled view. And if anything, I do prefer these days (unlike my earlier, pre-Aristotelian self) to get as far as possibe away from the Lockean approach. But the point is that neither position is forced on the A-T theorist by the statements you quoted. This will sound puzzling only if one tacitly assumes that "matter" must mean what modern philosophers tend to mean by it, and/or if one assumes that all material attributes must be reducible to some one type (e.g. exhaustively describable in terms of mathematics). But again, A-T rejects these assumptions from the get-go.

In other words, the matter of the brain might on the A-T view be radically different from other matter, perhaps? So that these could be material properties of it even though not material properties of the (other) objects the human person contemplates? But wouldn't a paradox then arise when one person contemplates another person's brain? :-)

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