Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Heavy, Ike.

From Jean Kazez:
Tis unconceivable that inanimate brute matter should (without the mediation of something else which is not material) operate upon and affect other matter without mutual contact; as it must if gravitation in the sense of Epicurus be essential and inherent in it. And this is one reason why I desired you would not ascribe innate gravity to me. That gravity should be innate inherent and essential to matter so that one body may act upon another at a distance through a vacuum without the mediation of any thing else by and through which their action or force may be conveyed from one to another is to me so great an absurdity that I believe no man who has in philosophical matters any competent faculty of thinking can ever fall into it.

Isaac Newton to Richard Bentley, February 25, 1693


Something handy to keep in your pocket for when faced with crude conceivability "arguments" against materialism.

9 comments:

Andrew Bailey said...

This was a very opportune post. I spent much of this morning picking away on a paper against Leibniz-style arguments against materialism... I think you may have found me an epigram or somesuch for my paper!

Anonymous said...

It's also worth keeping in your hat for crude interactionist objections to substance dualism.

Clayton said...

No it's not, there's no such thing as a bad objection to dualism.

Martin said...

Following up on Andrew's reference to Leibniz, it is worth noting that Leibniz's famous mill thought experiment (section 17 of Monadology) was aimed at mechanical explanations of perception, which for Leibniz was not the same thing as apperception or consciousness (section 14). Given that Leibniz's account of perception bears a striking resemblance to contemporary accounts of perception, accounts which many dualists are prepared to accept and concede are consistent will materialism, it is no small irony that such dualists often invoke Leibniz in support of their cause.

Martin Roth

Anonymous said...

Erm, maybe Newton was right, and we've just changed our conception of matter. Materialism -- "Everything is matter" -- as it would have been understood at the time, was proven false. But Materialism*: that unfalsifiable, amorphous, pro-science stand/research project was simply updated. Materialism* always wins, literally by definition. It's a moving target. If tomorrow the priests in white-coats irrefutably proved that there are Cartesian souls, Materialism* would embrace souls as a new and exciting kind of matter. You can watch something like this actually happening these days as so-called "dark matter" stretches our conception of matter beyond recognition (and perhaps even beyond coherence). Once again, a non-vacuous version of Materialism is disproved. And, once again, Materialism* lives on unscathed.

Alejandro said...

Well, "unconceivable" may be going too far since plenty of high school and first-year college students have no problem conceiving Newton's law in its original "action-at-distance" form, but it is worth saying that Newton was ultimately right. The gravitation interaction in Einstein's theory is not "at distance" but mediated by the gravitaional field, which takes time to propagate. And, while obviously not spiritual or supernatural, the gravitational field is not "material" in the Cartesian sense that Newton had probably in mind.

Eric Schliesser said...

This passage from Newton's letter to Bentley receives very different interpretations. Some (Maxwell, Koyre, and, more recently, Andrew Janiak) read it as Newton ruling out action at a distance. Others (Roger Cotes, the editor of the 2nd edition, John Henry and me) think it only rules out a particular (Epicurean) conception of action at a distance.
I have a forthcoming paper on this (you can find an earlier draft here: http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/archive/00004248/).

It is also worth nothing that the correspondence with Bentley is not an innocent affair. The political and religious circumstances of Great Britain had changed dramatically after the glorious revolution, and Bentley was an ambitious part of the new religious establishment. (He radically altered, for example, Halley's Epicurean ode to Newton in the second edition.) The whole correspondence must be treated with care, especially because the first two (or maybe three) letters by Bentley to Newton are missing.

Anonymous said...

Ike rules!

Jean Kazez said...

'Twas not actually me doing the quoting, but Angus Taylor, who took over my blog while I was traveling for the last few weeks.