Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The evident falsity of materialism

Kevin Timpe has just posted on his portion of the Plantinga/Tooley book (here). Plantinga claims that we can just 'see' that materialism is false:
The answer, I think, is that one can just see upon reflection that these things are impossible.... One can see that a physical object just can't do that sort of thing [i.e., think]. This isn't as clear, perhaps, as that a proposition can't be red; some impossibilities are more clearly impossible than others. But one can see it at least to some degree. And the same doesn't go for an immaterial thing's thinking; we certainly can't see that no immaterial thing can think (57f).

I don't buy it and here's the quick argument I've run over there:
(1) In general, inspecting the material parts does not put one in a position to see what could arise once the material parts are in place.
(2) As such, only people with special epistemic powers could see what Plantinga claims to see.

I think we get some support for (1) if we think about normative properties. If you cannot derive an 'ought' from an 'is', it seems that inspecting the 'is' properties will not put us in a position to appreciate what 'ought' to be. You can restrict (1) so as to exclude normative properties, but the point seems perfectly general and I can't think of any reason to accept (1) on its restricted reading. I suppose there's a question as to how to link (1) and (2). The implicit assumption is that if we ought to expect that we could not see that p is true on the hypothesis that it is, we ought to be sceptical of anyone's claims that they can just see that p is false. So, I guess we can infer (2) from (1) and demand more from those who reject materialism.

1 comment:

Brandon said...

I don't think (1) is formulated properly; what's at issue is not seeing what could arise but seeing what couldn't arise. And arguably we are sometimes able to see what couldn't arise from a set of material parts; at least some forms of rational investigation build on this. For instance, one can tell, by inspecting a banana, that it couldn't be used to stab through bone; one can tell, by inspecting a sheet of paper, that it can't perform the functions of a rubber band, or a machine gun, or an opera house. This is true even though we can't tell by inspection everything that might arise from these things. Seeing what can't arise and seeing what can arise are two different things. A more promising line, it seems to me, is to give the reasons we have for thinking that, in fact, at least some physical objects are the sorts of things that can think; and they are legion.

I'm not clear on how the ought/is analogy is supposed to go. If we cannot derive an 'ought' from an 'is', how are we to understand that the former 'arises' from the latter?