The "Materialist View"

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The "Materialist View"

Postby shel » Sat Feb 02, 2013 9:04 pm

I have a few questions about the materialist view and was hoping some here might be willing to discuss it.

It seems to me that the materialist view is purely a reasoned philosophical position and is not something that can be assumed in others. What I mean is that just because someone describes themselves as an atheist, for example, it doesn't necessarily follow that they hold a materialist philosophical position. Does anyone agree with this?

What is other than, or the opposite of a materialist view? Is it only idealism?

What practical difference does it make if someone has a materialist view or any other ontological view?
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Re: The "Materialist View"

Postby 5heaps » Sat Feb 02, 2013 11:07 pm

yes its possible to be an atheist yet not be a materialist
the opposite of materialism would be some strong form of idealism..or perhaps nihilism by default

from the pov of buddhism, yes, there is practical value in possessing an accurate ontological view regarding oneself and objects. however "view" is too loose a term. buddhism says that you need to study, analyze, practice, etc to get actual knowledge of the facts
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Re: The "Materialist View"

Postby jeeprs » Sat Feb 02, 2013 11:52 pm

I have debated this question at length on a couple of secular philosophy forums, including the now-defunct Dawkins forum. In my experience many people advocate materialist views without being fully aware of what they mean. A lot of the time the motivation is simply to oppose what they see as superstitious beliefs arising from religion. I suppose you could call it "reactive materialism". But if you drill down to the deep implications of materialism, many of these advocates turn out not to be materialist all the way down. (It makes it pointless to debate when you have to explain the nuances of your opponents position to him or her.)

There were materialist philosophers in the Buddha's day, called "carvaka", who espoused beliefs very similar to today's philosophical materialists. They were opposed to any kind of religion or spirituality and thought the body was solely composed of material elements which broke up at death. They denied any notion of re-birth or karma. Generally speaking their view was called ucchedavāda, nihilistic.

The consistent modern materialists hold that kind of view also. The key belief is that mind is simply the output of neurons, 'the mind secretes thought as the liver secretes bile', as one of the European Enlightenment philosophers put it. So in this view, awareness or consciousness is an accidental byproduct of a material process, which got underway spontaneously through a kind of chemical reaction, and has developed according to Darwinian algorithms ever since. So, here we are.
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Re: The "Materialist View"

Postby Jikan » Sun Feb 03, 2013 12:35 am

The short answer is: yes, there's materialism on one side, and idealism on the other. There are different kinds of materialisms and different kinds of idealisms, however. Marx's materialism is perhaps the best known (or at least the most explicated). Erich Fromm's essay on it gives a good introduction to the idealism/materialism distinction that is, at least for me, more interesting than any of the hubbub surrounding Dawkins.

For free here:

http://www.marxists.org/archive/fromm/w ... n/ch02.htm
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Re: The "Materialist View"

Postby jeeprs » Sun Feb 03, 2013 12:58 am

It's interesting you mention Erich Fromm. I have the feeling that a lot of popular anti-religious is driven by what Fromm called 'the fear of freedom'. This is the modern predicament within which we have to take responsibility for defining our own identity, rather than having it made for us by our social roles and traditions. Of course in the past religion and culture would have provided a large part of that sense of identity, but it is the modern predicament that all these kinds of comforting certainties have been dissolved by modern science and the enormous rate of change of the modern world. We have to invent our imagine our own 'possibilities for being', which is something that we are often afraid to do.

I am of the view that a lot of aggressive materialism, that is deeply hostile to anything it sees as spiritual or religious, is actually driven by an unconscious desire not to confront our inherent lack of identity, which is one face of the modern predicament. This 'lack', this deep sense of unease, is one of the things that continually drives us to seek fulfillment in the outer world of sensations, achievements, possessions, and the rest of it. We're trying to fill a hole, but because we're not actually aware of where or what it is, we can never actually succeed. What we really fear is being made aware of our lack of intrinsic identity or own-being, and so we seek some affirmation from the external world for 'who we really are'. And what greater authority and prestige than science could there be, to provide this affirmation? it gives us the sense of being in control, above nature which itself is 'dumb' and lacking in any kind of presiding intelligence.
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Re: The "Materialist View"

Postby Matt J » Sun Feb 03, 2013 1:38 am

If you push the materialist view, I believe you actually discoverer a view of the world as dynamic energy. Materialism made more sense when it was widely held that there was a solid material world. But matter is energy, and energy is matter. Atoms, at their base, are little bits of energy--- there is nothing solid to them. Having said that, it would be easy to subsume the duality of mind and matter under a unified theory of energies.
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Re: The "Materialist View"

Postby jeeprs » Sun Feb 03, 2013 2:15 am

Hence, The Tao of Physics.... :tongue:
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Re: The "Materialist View"

Postby shel » Mon Feb 04, 2013 12:20 am

Hi Jeeprs,

jeeprs wrote:It's interesting you mention Erich Fromm. I have the feeling that a lot of popular anti-religious is driven by what Fromm called 'the fear of freedom'. This is the modern predicament within which we have to take responsibility for defining our own identity, rather than having it made for us by our social roles and traditions. Of course in the past religion and culture would have provided a large part of that sense of identity, but it is the modern predicament that all these kinds of comforting certainties have been dissolved by modern science and the enormous rate of change of the modern world. We have to invent our imagine our own 'possibilities for being', which is something that we are often afraid to do.

It's commonly understood that anti-religious thought is driven by fear of irrationality, rather than fear of freedom. Why would religion particularly be a target for expressing fear of freedom?

What we really fear is being made aware of our lack of intrinsic identity or own-being...

Are you basically saying that we fear death?
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Re: The "Materialist View"

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Mon Feb 04, 2013 12:37 am

Many of the most popular voices of 'anti-religous' thought engage in a whole host of irrational assumptions themselves though, they simply choose not to label them as such. They can claim fear of irrationality all they want, the problem is that to some of them (thinking of people like Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens et al) "irrational" simply seem to means any point of view that sees reality as consisting of something other that empirically verified physical properties (arguably an absurd position of and within itself). Nevermind the fact that there is plenty within what we could call "the materialist view" that is not subject to empirical scrutiny..

I think that these days when one calls themselves an atheist, it comes with just that kind of baggage most of the time, but that is a cultural thing, one can obviously be an atheist in a technical sense without being a materialist. Arguably Buddhism of all stripes is at least partially atheistic, not just the modern "scrubbed" versions either.

I've personally found that many people who label themselves this way funilly enough at core sometimes still hold some beliefs that are actually more "religious" than some religions. Vague ideas about inherent human progress for instance.
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Re: The "Materialist View"

Postby jeeprs » Mon Feb 04, 2013 12:50 am

Shel wrote:It's commonly understood that anti-religious thought is driven by fear of irrationality, rather than fear of freedom. Why would religion particularly be a target for expressing fear of freedom?


This is based on the responses of those who defend the 'scientific materialist' view. Of course many such persons don't like the term 'scientific materialist' but that is nevertheless the view they defend. If you were to go to Philosophy Forum or sites such as Why Evolution is True, you will find many contributors who are very hostile to anything religious - but they draw that term with a very broad brush. It doesn't only include Christian fundamentalism, for instance, but even much traditional, that is, pre-European Enlightenment philosophy, and anything vaguely spiritual whatever. Even the idealist aspects of Western philosophy. They are very strident in their view that the fundamental basis of reality is something that can only be understood through scientific analysis. Anything else, they classify as 'woo' or 'supernatural'. And anything 'supernatural' is of course the target of much scorn and even outrage. I know this from experience. (I will admit to posting somewhat provocative statements on those sites, I'm a bit of a trouble-maker.)

I think anyone who has spent serious time in meditation learns to be at home with a sense of 'what I don't know'. This doesn't mean wandering around in a daze - in my case, whilst I have learned that aspect of the mind through meditation, I also have a very technical occupation which demands skill and concentration. So I think meditators become acquainted with those deeper aspects of mind, which are pre-linguistic and pre-conscious, beyond the scope of discursive reason. My feeling about many people who are really hostile to anything spiritual, is that they are actually frightened by those aspects of their own being. So they use science to defend their sense of ego, which is very much intertwined with the modern individualist view of life. Here we are, holding aloft the candle of reason in the dark, sorrounded by mysterious forces, which are inanimate and mostly dumb, which we can subdue through science and engineering. So everything has to be understood through the lens of science - whether it be evolutionary, or neurobiological, or sociological, or whatever. It's a mind-set.
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Re: The "Materialist View"

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Mon Feb 04, 2013 12:58 am

I fully agree with what you are presenting here Jeeprs.

Most often when you present this to someone they will say you are "anti science", when in fact the only assertion you are really making is that science itself is not an adequate basis for the creation of their ideology, which clearly relies on assumptions that are outside the realm of science to make judgements on...ironically enough. If one wants to literally only believe things for which there is ample, testable, empirical physical evidence.and for instance to not rely on inference, you are actually looking at a much narrower, partial view of reality than what people that hold such views typically subscribe to - but this is something I rarely if ever see admitted.
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is not born in the hearts of disciples in whom the moisture of attachment has dried up. It grows instead in the hearts of ordinary sentient beings who possess in full the fetters of bondage." -Se Chilbu Choki Gyaltsen
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Re: The "Materialist View"

Postby shel » Mon Feb 04, 2013 1:47 am

jeeprs wrote:
Shel wrote:It's commonly understood that anti-religious thought is driven by fear of irrationality, rather than fear of freedom. Why would religion particularly be a target for expressing fear of freedom?

... I think meditators become acquainted with those deeper aspects of mind, which are pre-linguistic and pre-conscious, beyond the scope of discursive reason. My feeling about many people who are really hostile to anything spiritual, is that they are actually frightened by those aspects of their own being.

I agree, and I agree with Johnny Dangerous's post above also. However I may see the situation in a slightly different way. The fact that anti-religious thinkers are not entirely rational does not in any way invalidate fear of the irrational, it only supports it. How can we trust others, particularly with what can't be seen or measured, when we can't even completely trust ourselves. In the secular domain, people can be manipulated and influenced to drink Kool-Aid, even though it's ingredients are basically toxic, by appeals to the irrational mind. We know how much worse it can be when we trust others with what can't be seen or measured, and completely abandoning reason.

So they use science to defend their sense of ego, which is very much intertwined with the modern individualist view of life. Here we are, holding aloft the candle of reason in the dark, sorrounded by mysterious forces, which are inanimate and mostly dumb, which we can subdue through science and engineering. So everything has to be understood through the lens of science - whether it be evolutionary, or neurobiological, or sociological, or whatever. It's a mind-set.

I think the more we learn through science the more precarious our position appears. It also appears likely that we'll soon ruin the world and our species because of our irrationality, or stupidity.
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Re: The "Materialist View"

Postby jeeprs » Mon Feb 04, 2013 2:02 am

Buddhism recognizes that there is that which surpasses reason, which is not the same thing as falling short of reason or being irrational.
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Re: The "Materialist View"

Postby shel » Mon Feb 04, 2013 2:11 am

jeeprs wrote:Buddhism recognizes that there is that which surpasses reason, which is not the same thing as falling short of reason or being irrational.

We were discussing what drives anti-religious thought. Are you now suggesting that anti-religious thought is driven by fear of that which surpasses reason, or something related to this? If so, can you explain the dynamics of how this works?

If it's fear of non-being, isn't this basically fear of death?
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Re: The "Materialist View"

Postby jeeprs » Mon Feb 04, 2013 4:36 am

shel wrote:
jeeprs wrote:Buddhism recognizes that there is that which surpasses reason, which is not the same thing as falling short of reason or being irrational.

We were discussing what drives anti-religious thought. Are you now suggesting that anti-religious thought is driven by fear of that which surpasses reason, or something related to this? If so, can you explain the dynamics of how this works?

If it's fear of non-being, isn't this basically fear of death?


I think the problem is that we have no cultural system which provides for ideas that surpass reason, in the sense that 'reason' is understood by the empirical sciences. If something can't be conceptualized and mapped in accordance with the scientific reasoning, then I think many people are tempted to say that it must be irrational. Many people seem ready to characterize any kind of religious faith in that way. They seem the only choices for a lot of people. So in relation to Buddhism, and even transcendental philosophies of Western culture, I think there is this apprehension that they must be antagonistic to the scientific world-view.

These are all very hard questions, and very deep questions. I am not saying there are any easy answers or that questions of this kind are not fraught with difficulties.
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Re: The "Materialist View"

Postby Karma Dorje » Mon Feb 04, 2013 4:44 am

jeeprs has it right: What we have now is largely the result of the success of the First Vienna Circle and what came to be known as Logical Positivism. This cancerous worldview rejected metaphysics outright, and indeed any form of ontology. The analytic philosophers of the last century owe much to them and unfortunately in many circles have shut down meaningful discourse outside of very narrowly defined empiricism.
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Re: The "Materialist View"

Postby Indrajala » Mon Feb 04, 2013 5:45 am

jeeprs wrote:If something can't be conceptualized and mapped in accordance with the scientific reasoning, then I think many people are tempted to say that it must be irrational. Many people seem ready to characterize any kind of religious faith in that way. They seem the only choices for a lot of people.


You can turn the tables and point out that materialists have an arbitrary belief that plenty of immaterial experiences (patterns, logic, mathematics and all manner of mental feelings) are in fact material and/or don't really exist or play a role in causality.

I think materialist science is skilled in investigating our material world, but there's more to experience than matter. A whole range of experiences are immaterial and need to be investigated and addressed using different methods suited to the task. There's nothing irrational about that at all. I don't even need to have faith that immaterial phenomena occur -- I experience them all the time.
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Re: The "Materialist View"

Postby shel » Mon Feb 04, 2013 5:53 am

jeeprs wrote:I think the problem is that we have no cultural system which provides for ideas that surpass reason, in the sense that 'reason' is understood by the empirical sciences.

You mean ideas such as the ideas of no-self and emptiness in Buddhism, for example. Please, Jeeprs, the cultural system which primarily provides for these kinds of ideas is called religion.

If something can't be conceptualized and mapped in accordance with the scientific reasoning, then I think many people are tempted to say that it must be irrational.

Many people, including myself, would say that love is irrational. Irrationality is not so bad once you get used to it. :tongue:

Many people seem ready to characterize any kind of religious faith in that way. They seem the only choices for a lot of people. So in relation to Buddhism, and even transcendental philosophies of Western culture, I think there is this apprehension that they must be antagonistic to the scientific world-view.

This is just an impression, but you seem antagonistic to the scientific would-view.
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Re: The "Materialist View"

Postby Indrajala » Mon Feb 04, 2013 6:01 am

Johnny Dangerous wrote:Vague ideas about inherent human progress for instance.


This is a deeply embedded idea in modernity. To suggest otherwise is only perceived in extremes. We either get Star Trek in the future or complete and total annihilation of the planet. The idea of historical cycles escapes a lot of people despite it being widely acknowledged that nature is all about cycles.

The belief that present day materialist science should prevail over all other competing ideologies offers the promise of a utopia in the future free of disease, hunger, ignorance, superstition and war. The hope it entails is akin to what you find in science's parent Christianity with the resurrection and heaven.
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Re: The "Materialist View"

Postby jeeprs » Mon Feb 04, 2013 8:16 am

I don't think there ought to be 'a scientific worldview'. I think science is a method, not a set of beliefs about the world. Insofar as it is a set of beliefs about the world, such as 'the universe is devoid of meaning' and 'life arose as a consequence of random interactions of material particles', then it is something other than science. This is where it becomes an ideological attitude rather than a method for eliciting knowledge. Some people understand that, and others don't. But in my experience, many of those who don't understand it, don't understand what it is that they don't understand, and there is no way of explaining it. It's like asking someone to look at their spectacles, not through them - to which the reply comes 'I can't see anything without them'. :tongue:
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