An Empirical Case Against Materialism

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An Empirical Case Against Materialism

Quote:Empirical arguments for materialism are highly circumstantial — based, as they are, upon inductions from our knowledge of the physical and upon the fact that mental phenomena have physical correlates, causes and effects. However, the qualitative characteristics of first-person conscious experience are empirically distinct from uncontroversially physical phenomena in being — at least on our present knowledge — thoroughly resistant to the kind of abstract, formal description to which the latter are always, to some degree, readily amenable. The prima facie inference that phenomenal qualities are, most probably, non-physical may be resisted either by denying their existence altogether or by proposing that they are properties of some peculiar sort of mysterious physical complexity, located, for example, within the functioning of the brain. It is argued here, however, that the first, eliminative hypothesis is empirically absurd — while the second is extravagant, vague, ad hoc and (for various additional reasons) profoundly implausible. Taken together, these considerations provide a compelling empirical case against materialism — yet its converse, mentalism, is usually regarded as subject to serious difficulties of its own. I conclude by suggesting empirical and theoretical desiderata, respectively, for the vindication of materialism and alternatively, for the development and defense of a potentially robust and viable mentalist theory of consciousness.
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell

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