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by Daniel Stoljar

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Author: Daniel Stoljar
ISBN: 0415452627
Language: English
Pages: 264 pages
Category: Humanities
Publisher: Routledge; 1 edition (March 12, 2010)
Rating: 4.3
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Physicalism by Daniel Stoljar, provides an in depth examination of the arguments for and definitions of physicalism that have dominated Anglo-American philosophical thought for over a half century.

Physicalism by Daniel Stoljar, provides an in depth examination of the arguments for and definitions of physicalism that have dominated Anglo-American philosophical thought for over a half century. Stoljar is a clear writer, and attempts to provide a broad discussion of the topic. In the middle chapters of the book, however, the writing bogs as one minor variant of definition after another is spelled out then picked apart

Daniel Stoljar’s Physicalism provides a splendid example. Physicalism is part of Routledge’s New Problems of Philosophy, a series that aims to serve both of those functions, focusing more on recent areas of concentrated philosophical interest.

Daniel Stoljar’s Physicalism provides a splendid example. The book is relatively slim (252 pages with the index) but is extraordinarily clear, systematic, and sensitive to the most important issues in this area.

Physicalism, the thesis that everything is physical, is one of the most controversial problems in philosophy

Physicalism, the thesis that everything is physical, is one of the most controversial problems in philosophy. Its adherents argue that there is no more important doctrine in philosophy, whilst its opponents claim that its role is greatly exaggerated. In this superb introduction to the problem Daniel Stoljar focuses on three fundamental questions: the interpretation, truth and philosophical significance of physicalism. In answering these questions he covers the following key topics

Routledge's New Problems of Philosophy series has a most impressive line-up of topical volumes aimed at upper-level undergraduate and graduate students in philosophy and at others with interests in cutting edge philosophical work.

Routledge's New Problems of Philosophy series has a most impressive line-up of topical volumes aimed at upper-level undergraduate and graduate students in philosophy and at others with interests in cutting edge philosophical work. The authors are influential figures in their respective fields and notably adept at synthesizing and explaining intricate topics fairly and comprehensively.

Physicalism, the thesis that everything is physical, is one of the most controversial problems in philosophy

Physicalism, the thesis that everything is physical, is one of the most controversial problems in philosophy.

In philosophy, physicalism is the metaphysical thesis that "everything is physical", that there is "nothing over and above" the physical, or that everything supervenes on the physical. Physicalism is a form of ontological monism-a "one substance" view of the nature of reality as opposed to a "two-substance" (dualism) or "many-substance" (pluralism) view. Both the definition of "physical" and the meaning of physicalism have been debated.

by Daniel Stoljar First published February 18th 2010. Physicalism (New Problems of Philosophy). Published February 18th 2010 by Routledge. Author(s): Daniel Stoljar.

series New Problems of Philosophy. physicalism and key debates in metaphysics and philosophy of mind, such as supervenience, identity and conceivability.

Physicalism, the thesis that everything is physical, is one of the most controversial problems in philosophy. series New Problems of Philosophy. physicalism and causality. Additional features include chapter summaries, annotated further reading and a glossary of technical terms, making Physicalism ideal for those coming to the problem for the first time.

Supervenience physicalism is relatively simple and clear, but when construed as a formulation of physicalism, it faces four problems. The problem that this possibility raises for supervenience definitions of physicalism is as follows

Supervenience physicalism is relatively simple and clear, but when construed as a formulation of physicalism, it faces four problems. There is also a fifth problem to be discussed later, vi. whether supervenience is sufficient for physicalism. The problem that this possibility raises for supervenience definitions of physicalism is as follows. Let us suppose that the relation obtaining at a world W between the mental and the physical is one of weak necessity as just defined; that is, suppose that, at W, the mental is necessitated by the physical but only if certain blockers are absent.

Physicalism, the thesis that everything is physical, is one of the most controversial problems in philosophy. Its adherents argue that there is no more important doctrine in philosophy, whilst its opponents claim that its role is greatly exaggerated. In this superb introduction to the problem Daniel Stoljar focuses on three fundamental questions: the interpretation, truth and philosophical significance of physicalism. In answering these questions he covers the following key topics:

abrief history of physicalism and its definitions what a physical property is and how physicalism meets challenges from empirical sciences ‘Hempel’s dilemma’ and the relationship between physicalism and physics physicalism and key debates in metaphysics and philosophy of mind, such as supervenience, identity and conceivability physicalism and causality.

Additional features include chapter summaries, annotated further reading and a glossary of technical terms, making Physicalism ideal for those coming to the problem for the first time.

Comments (3)
TheJonnyTest
I have considered myself a Physicalist through and through for a long while now, which is why I picked up this book by Professor Daniel Stoljar. Before having read much about Physicalism, I thought that pretty much everyone serious about Science would also be a Physicalist; I was wrong however. I never knew that there were such difficulties defining what Physicalism is, or what it encompasses. Professor Stoljar states, "As I see it, the literature on these matters [on physicalism] is dominated by two loud and opposing voices. The first, that of the skeptic, accepts that there is no true genuine version of physicalism, and draws a negative consequence for the standard picture and indeed for large parts of philosophy itself. The second, that of the true believer, takes it to be obvious that the standard picture is legitimate, and looks around for a thesis of physicalism that can play the role assigned to it by that person." Professor Stoljar goes on to delineate between three views of Physicalism (the Starting Point View, the Theory View, and the Necessity View), he also discusses Hempel's Dilemma, as well as various alternatives to Physicalism, such as Idealism, `Property' Dualism, Coherentism, and an interesting idea that Stoljar calls Naturalistic Platonism. Stoljar states in the Introduction that, "The view I arrive at by the end of the book is a kind of `bad news/ good news' view. The bad news is that the skeptics about the formulation of physicalism are right: physicalism has no formulation on which it is both true and deserving of the name. The good news is that this does not have the catastrophic effects on philosophy that it is often portrayed as having in the literature." Here are the eleven chapters that comprise the volume: 1) The Standard Picture, 2) Form and Alternatives, 3) The Starting Point View, 4) The Theory View, 5) Hempel's Dilemma, 6) The Necessity View, 7) Is Necessitation Necessary?, 8) Is Necessitation Sufficient? 9) Skeptics and True Believers, 10) Arguments Against Physicalism, and 11) Arguments for Physicalism.

In conclusion, I don't necessarily agree with the way Professor Stoljar has presented the argument, but that's my problem, not his. In fact, he is quite forthcoming in the Introduction when he states: "...at this point it is worth issuing a word of warning about the discussions to follow. This is that while I certainly take myself to be a reliable narrator. I am not an unopinionated one. And my opinions have certainly affected how I present the issues, what I think is plausible and not plausible and so on. Whether my opinions are correct or not is a matter about which you will have to make up your own mind. My best advice - though here again I am being opinionated! - is to follow up the readings I have suggested at the end of each chapter (and the references contained in those readings) and, even more importantly, to think through the issues yourself." This is good advice, even if it easier said than done! At any rate, if you enjoy science and philosophy like I do, then reading this book should be well worth your time and attention. Lastly, I would recommend reading, The Waning of Materialism, and The Blind Spot: Science and the Crisis of Uncertainty, to develop a more well-rounded view of what Physicalism is.
Beazekelv
Physicalism by Daniel Stoljar, provides an in depth examination of the arguments for and definitions of physicalism that have dominated Anglo-American philosophical thought for over a half century. Stoljar is a clear writer, and attempts to provide a broad discussion of the topic. In the middle chapters of the book, however, the writing bogs as one minor variant of definition after another is spelled out then picked apart. Stoljar attempts to explain the popularity of physicalism among philosophers today, and the primary reason it is popular, he argues, is that it gives philosophers a useful role in discourse. There is a risk of philosophy being subsumed into science, or into linguistics, but physicalism gives philosophers the intermediate job of trying to rationalize why so many things that appear not to be physical, actually are physical despite our apparent belief they are not. This makes physicalist philosophers basically the apologists for theocratic scientism.
He makes no mention of what I had always taken to the classic rationale for physicalism – the Occam’s Razor advantage relative to more complex worldviews. The reason for the absence of the Occam rationale is never mentioned – but it can possibly be inferred from the complex rationalizations that physicalists have invoked, including Identity laws, the contingent necessity, the apparent acceptance of logic and math as non-physical, and functionalism as a further non-physical feature of the world. I am inferreing that this world assumed by physicalists has become so complex, that they seem to recognize that “simple” no longer describes it.
Ultimately, Stoljar rejects physicalism as an inappropriate remnant view left over from the 19th century, when the matter we knew was all similar to the macro-scale objects we manipulate in every day life. Physicalism is best understood as a thesis that all matter is like macro solid matter. He concludes in his final chapter that physics has revealed the world to work so differently from our macro scale intuitions that physicalism is simply false, and the efforts to preserve the doctrine by recasting it to include the bizarre discoveries of modern physics have robbed the term of any useful content.
The above reasoning from the concluding chapter is fundamentally empirical – the nature of our world, and what types of stuff it consists of, is ultimately an empirical question, and one should expect empirical observations to play a major role in evaluating the possible options, and in determining the truth, or usefulness, of physicalism. But this is the only empirically focused chapter in the book. Instead, Stoljer explicitly says in the intro he will avoid discussing physics, and that (contrary to his conclusion) philosophers should be able to evaluate physicalism without referring to actual physics! The rest of the book then focuses on definitions, and thought problems that philosophers have constructed out of their intuitions. Neither defintionalism, nor intuitive thought problems are a particularly useful way to evaluate an empirical question. They will only lead one to a correct conclusion if actual physics has become embedded in the imaginations of the philosophers engaged in this exercise. As Stoljar concludes that physicalism contradicts the very non-intuitive nature of physics itself, and physics became non intuitive with the Quantum and Relativity revolutions of ~1900-1920, and physicalism became the philosophic consensus in ~1960 – one can actually conclude from this that the intuitions of philosophers do a very poor job reflecting the reality of physics knowledge. Stoljer claims that the efforts of philosophers from 1960 to today to solve the “problems” that what we know about consciousness, ideas, willing, causation, etc seems to directly contradict physicalism have not been pointless. WHY he thinks that, when the methodology used is non-empirical but applied to an empirical question, the intuitions of philosophers were so manifestly wrong, and physicalism itself is incorrect, is difficult to understand.
Digging into the details of the book provided me an in depth review of what is wrong with much of contemporary philosophy. In chapter 1, Stoljar lists the questions that provide challenges to physicalism:
• Perception and sensation
• Speaking and thinking
• Meaning to words
• Sensation properties to objects (color, taste)
• Dimensional and non-superposition properties to objects
• Reasoning and normative thinking
• Apparent free will
• Sociology affecting behavior
• Mathematics and logic, and our knowledge of both
But in this work, he only discusses issues with perception and sensation, except for a bare few paragraphs each on meaning and morality. It doesn’t matter how one parses the definition of physical and causal closure (parsing these terms is the primary content of this book), if physicalism could not deal with the reality of the above list, then it is refuted by test, regardless of whether modern physics is intuitive or not.
When he gets to the defining process, Stojar initially posits a definition: “absolutely everything whatsoever is physical” which he quickly rejects. This is an exception to his not doing empirical tests, as he rejects this claim due to numbers and the Supreme Court not being plausibly physical (the last two bullets in the above list) – and he immediately vitiates physicalism from a global claim to a mere claim about a “certain salient class” of objects/phenomena. As I consider materialism to be a coherent philosophy, and one which needs to be taken seriously, I found this concession, that basically materialism IS NOT TRUE, right off the bat, to be startling, as was the lack of content to the argument pro/con this concession. I have not found non-philosophers who lean toward materialism to be willing to make this concession without putting up quite a fight. If Stoljar is representing materialist philosophers correctly here, then materialism itself has basically lost all its advocates.
Another issue I was startled by was the insistence by Stoljer that emergent property dualism is not physicalism, and the unacceptability of including property dualism in the definition of physicalism played a significant role in his discussion of various possible definitions. From the point of view of spiritual dualists, and of idealists, the efforts by property monist physicalists to define property dualist physicalists out of their club seem like an argument between bigenders and littlenders.
Stoljer decided to define physicalism based on properties. This struck me as a fundamentally confused approach. Whether a property is physical, perceptual/mental, or a logic/relational/idea property seems far less subject to intuitive understanding than the physicality of items. Relationships appear to be intrinsically non-physical, and he basically conceded this, vitiating his definitiona bit further by asyign that physicalism holds that all properties are physical properties, or dependent on physical properties. This would have been a good opportunity to address the math/logic point of the bullet list of questions, and try to explain how math and logic can exist in a purely physical universe, or if they lead to matter/idea dualism, but he did not discuss the metaphysical consequences from his added clause. Presumably he was holding that all relationship properties are derived from logic, plus physical objects – making logic an only semi-independent phenomena.
Even worse, Stoljar used color and shape as examples of “physical” phenomena. But neither are physical at all – they are ascriptions by our minds. The weakness of his non-empirical approach to an empirical question is painfully apparent, as the study of neurology has made very clear that we have four frequency ranges of photon detector in our eyes, and our eyes do scanning and image integration over time and the sensor grid, and our perception of color is an interpretative attribution by our neural processing. Reflectivity and or/re-emission of photons in a particular wavelength can be a property of an object, but color isn’t. Shape – is mostly perceptual with a logic/category aspect. Squareness is a logic category binning of perceptions we are visually good at cuing on. Blockishness would be the related physical property – but the underlying blockish nature of objects is often not discernable by us in visual scanning – the perception , the categorization, and the physical properties are three very different things. I also assumed that blockishness, and reflectivity, should be considered physical properties, but they are also plausibly relational, not physical. Which brings to the fore the lack of clarity of a ”physical” property. IMAGINE a red brick, and imagine touching it to establish its resistance and roughness, and scraping it to establish its hardness. Are the redness, brick shape, resistance, roughness, and hardness of this imaginary object -- PHYSICAL properties? I think this question, if pursued -- will lead pretty quickly to incoherence. All of this confusion could have been avoided by sticking to objects, but Stoljer apparently wanted to avoid an even worse set of problems with that.
Ultimately, the definitional problems that Stoljar, and the materialist philosophers whom he discusses suffer from, are directly due to their use of an incorrect mode of thinking. Rationalism starts with definitions. One must define terms precisely or one can get nowhere, as precise terms are needed for logic operations. But in empiricism, definitions are always loose until a subject has been thoroughly understood. It is only after the science investigation is done that precise definitions are available to a field. One could define physicalism as the belief that everything is the stuff that is subject to einstein’s matter/energy equivalence, and everything that appears to be non-physical is somehow dependent upon or emergent from this substance. The definition is loose, because its purpose is not to do logic operations , but to inspire experiments. An empirical approach to physicalism would spend almost no time on definitions, but instead explore the test data relative to the bullet list above.
Much of the book is focused on “necessity” arguments, that rely upon the concept of metaphysical necessity – defined as something true in all possible worlds. The intuitions of philosophers who developed this idea seem to rely upon several invalid premises. The original example of metaphysical necessity is that Water must be H2O. Necessity is a very strong claim, and there is a very high burden to demonstrate the validity of a necessity claim – one not met in this book, where necessity claims are thrown about fairly casually. Worse than not meeting its burden these claims share a set of weaknesses that shown them to be refuted! This “necessity” claim relies upon “water” actually being something, and not a mere arbitrary label to be affixed to H2O – hence there is a hidden Platonism behind the claim. Additionally, the “laws of Physics” are presumed to themselves be necessary and inviolable – but physics itself has refuted this intuition. M-theory holds that the fundamental forces that create H2O in its current form could have been otherwise – IE H2O could combine in another world, and have very different properties from what we call water. Additionally, all of the “laws of physics” are the result of symmetries, and every one of the symmetries can be broken (gauge symmetry) – so even in THIS world H2O need not behave like water. Metaphysical necessity is required to be a credible concept for about half of the discussion in the book, and presumably about half of the published philosophy on the subject, and it is not, as it has been refuted by physics.
The “Arguments Against Physicalism” chapter did not even raise the fairly devastating concern that Quantum Mechanics theoreticians are pretty much all idealists. Or the equally devastating one that Biologists, Psychologists, Sociologists, and Mathematicians all hold that their disciplines are not reducible. Nor the equally devastating observation that evolutionary selection for multi-feature consciousness refutes the Identity Theory. Of course not – these would be empirical tests of the idea. Instead, this chapter focused on the Conceivability Argument – various thought problems that reflect the preconceptions of philosophers about what might or might not be possible relative to consciousness. Conceivability arguments have no weight for empiricists.
Ultimately, this book did not achieve Stoljer’s goal of replacing physicalism with a scientific naturalism. While physicalism likely cannot serve as a valid descriptor of our world, for the reasons given in the conclusion, the lack of empirical focus in the rest of the book prevented Stoljer from assembling the evidenced to support his thesis. Along the way, his discussion highlighted the similar failure of his fellow philosophers to apply empiricism to these empirical questions, and the resulting futility of most of their thinking. While Stoljer’s thesis that physicalims is either untrue or cannot be defined is likely true, the primary takeaway from his book should have been the need for philosophers to radically change their methodology to avoid irrelevance and futility.
Jaberini
A worthwhile read, Stoljar takes a thorough look at whether or not there can be a theory of "Physicalism" that is both true and deserving of the name. This crux of the book seems to be, in short, an argument developed in the spirit of Hempel's dilemma, only formulated in modal terms rather than mere historical terms. Beyond this central argument, Stoljar has plenty of content engaging with various Physicalist theories, as well as arguments for and against Physicalism. Overall a great book on the topic, and so aptly named.