Blogging through Markus Gabriel's Why the World Does Not Exist Pt. 6
This post continues my summary of Gabriel's first chapter. His introduction is summarised in four parts, all of which can be read here.
Markus Gabriel, Gregory S. Moss, trans., Why the World Does Not Exist (Cambridge: Polity, 2015)
Chapter I. What is this Actually: the World?
Gabriel defines physicalism as the claim that all existing things are located in the universe and can, for that reason, be investigated physically. Materialism states that all existing things are made up of matter (28). Of course, materialism is variously understood, but here he employs it simply to state: 1) “everything is found in the universe” and 2) “everything that is found in the universe is material or has material foundations” (29). So the idea that my thoughts about unicorns are ontological in a way that is not material, is refuted on the basis that the thoughts are themselves merely the product of physical states. This entire set of claims, Gabriel argues, is problematized by two reasons and – even more importantly – flatly falsified by a further two.
First, Gabriel asks:
“How can one explain, for example, that, although brain states are material, they are able to refer to non-material objects in the form of images? How can material objects, in any way, be about anything that is not material? When the materialist admits that brain states are about something that is not material, he has already admitted that there is something that is not material, namely all of the non-material objects brain states can be about” (29).
Quite simply: “Even if all our thoughts put be understood as brain states and, therefore, as material, it would still be about all sorts of things that we do not believe to be material” (29, italics mine).
Second, if my non- material mental imaginations are based on material conditions, then it follows that the thought “there are only material conditions” is itself determined by material conditions. So the question becomes, “how does the materialist know that his thought ‘Only material conditions exist’ is not a fantasy?” (30). Of course, the materialist could imagine that he could proceed experimentally, to demonstrate that all objects and all thoughts are material, or based on material conditions. But the amount of material needed to substantiate this claim is too much. One cannot experimentally verify the materialist claim that “Only material conditions exist”. This is to say that the materialist claim is a metaphysical assumption.
More significantly, materialism is simply false for the following two reasons. First, materialism struggles with the problem of identification. Gabriel illustrates this issue in the following way:
The point of this is to transfer the need to identify something before its material constitution is established, to fantasies: “we must recognise the existence of fantasies, and there with non-material representational contents, in order to be able to identify the group particles that are responsible for it” (31). This is to say that materialism needs to recognise “the existence of representations in order for it to be able to deny them that the next step”, which is simply a contradiction. Therefore, materialism is false.
Second, materialism is false because the idea of materialism is not material. Materialism is a theory, and the truth of that theory cannot be established on the basis of materialism’s commitments.
All of this is to say that not all things exist in the domain of the physical universe, a claim that would only work if physicalism or materialism were endorsed. And this we cannot do for materialism is false.