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September 26, 2005



djc, what do you think of Ross and Spurrett's What To Say To A Skeptical Metaphysician (PDF) which derides J. Kim's notion of the fundamental character of the physical as naive?

Damon Woolsey

In your percentage breakdown, you forgot the neutral monists! (Not that I can think of any, besides myself)


Dave - it's not quite right to say that Horgan comes out as a dualist in that paper. His main claim is that the "phenomenal concepts" strategy for defending materialism against zombie/gap worries doesn't work. That doesn't mean that other strategy won't work. True, he says in passing that he doesn't see what other strategy could work. But that too comes short of saying that he does see that other strategies won't work.


Daksya: I haven't read the Ross and Spurrett paper (N.B. better link) carefully. But in general I'm fairly sympathetic with Kim on matters in this vicinity, especially on reduction via functionalization and on species-specific reductive explanation, though not so much on the exclusion argument against nonreductive materialism. On a quick glance I'm doubtful that the considerations about the physical raised by Ross and Spurrett make a big difference to the fundamental issues.

Damon: I suppose that I was tacitly including neutral monists and panpsychists with the anti-materialists (though I mostly didn't include them in the list). I have a fair amount of sympathy with neutral monism myself: some versions of Russellian type-F materialism can be seen as versions of it. Another sympathizer is Leopold Stubenberg.

Uriah: I didn't mean to imply that the linked items constitute the entire evidence base for the categorization. In some cases, including this one, the evidence base includes conversation. I'm not sure that Terry has explicitly rejected materialism in print, and it's probably fair to say that his attitude is not entirely settled, but certainly the tenor of his work in recent years has switched from defending materialism to raising problems for it.

Peli Grietzer

I'm almost sure Kim declared himself a dualist in an interview some years ago. Though perhaps by "comes out" you mean that this is the first occasion where he does philosophical work in a dualist vein.

mitchell porter

Next, the comeback of idealism. You heard it here first!


How is Burge on the dualist list? I've not read many of his papers for a while but when he was giving a series of talks at Penn a couple of years ago he was quite the committed naturalist it seemed, at least on perception and the like. His earlier papers (the ones I'm more familiar with) also don't seem to me to support dualism- surely just becuase you're not an (old) Kim-style reductionist doesn't make you a dualist.


Burge is another case where the evidence base goes beyond what's in print. It's well-known in the oral tradition that Burge is very doubtful about materialism. He hasn't usually made a big deal about this in print, but for some pretty severe doubts about materialism (without quite declaring himself a dualist), see "Mind-Body Causation and Explanatory Practice" in the 1993 Heil and Mele volume on mental causation, and the reply to Dretske in the recent collection on his work, Reflections and Replies.

As for naturalism, this is another case of the familiar point that one shouldn't collapse naturalism and materialism. I take it that Burge is pretty committed to the idea that philosophy should be responsive to science, but as he says in the 1993 paper, "Materialism is not established, or even clearly supported, by science. Metaphysics should venture beyond science with an acute sense of its liabilities." And in the recent collection: "A generalized commitment to materialism seems to me to owe more to pious hope, wild inductive projection, and caricatures of nonmaterialist alternatives, than to rational argument or empirical support."

Eray Ozkural

I did not know that Kim was a dualist, and I am very surprised. because I keep referring to his criticism of anomalous monism (which I think is a bad theory), and emphasis of physicalism. So my other hero Tim Crane is also an anti-materialist. I did not know that, either.

I am hoping that I am not the last true physicalist on Earth. Who is a true physicalist nowadays (seriously asking)?

François Loth

I don’t see David, why you’re thinking that Jaegwon Kim is a dualist. Page 159 he writes:

“If causality excludes dual realms of mental and physical properties, that means that there is only one secure causal domain, the domain of physical properties. What then happens to mental properties? One possibility is that mental properties are reductible to physical properties: if mental properties are reduced to physical properties, this would conserve and legitimatize them as members of the physical domain, thereby safeguarding their causal status. But suppose that the mental fails to reduce: we would then be faced with the spectre of epiphenomenalism, and we must find a way to live with causally impotent mental properties.”

And because we can’t read, in the Kim’s book, a thing like the renouncement of Alexander’s dictum, which deprive of existence something that eschews causal powers, really the little realm out of the materialist scope is not a dualist stance.


Kim says explicitly that on his view qualia are nonphysical and epiphenomenal. E.g. on p. 173: "Intrinsic qualities of qualia are not functionalizable and are therefore irreducible, and hence causally impotent. They stay outside the physical domain, but they make no causal difference and we won't miss them." It seems reasonably clear that he's rejecting Alexander's dictum, though maybe he still holds some attenuated version, e.g. that everything important that exists has causal powers. Of course if by "dualism" one means only Cartesian substance dualism, then one won't count him a "dualist", but most people count epiphenomenalist property dualism as a version of dualism, if a relatively weak (and scientifically acceptable) version.

As for physicalists about consciousness, a few clear cases (just running my eyes across my bookshelf) include Carruthers, the Churchlands, Dennett, Dretske, Lycan, Perry, Papineau, Shoemaker, Tye. Of course there are many others.

Eray Ozkural

Thanks for the comment. I think at any rate you suggest that the book is worth reading. Kim makes quite detailed arguments, so at least we can hope to understand his argument. BTW, I just fell from the chair laughing at the parenthetical remark. :)

I must confess that I have never read Carruthers, who you put at the front of the list. It seems he has a book about the subject:
The Nature of the Mind: An Introduction, Peter Carruthers. (New York, NY: Routledge, 2004).

And I think I must find out more about Perry. Who do you think has made the strongest argument for physicalism (about consciousness)?


I understand that one should not conflate naturalism and materialism... but what exactly is the difference between physicalism and materialism?

It seems from the context of Dave's original post that physicalism and materialism are synonymous, so perhaps it's as simple as that. The fact that two terms are employed where one would seem to do, however, leads me to believe that there are some under-recognized nuances afoot...


Bick: I use "materialism" and "physicalism" interchangeably, as I think most philosophers do. Every now and then someone uses the two terms with different meanings, but there isn't any standard difference. Between the two, I prefer the former as it is more familiar and less of a philosophers' neologism. Some people prefer "physicalism" on the grounds that contemporary physics (after electromagnetism, quantum mechanics, etc) isn't just about "matter" any more, but also about fields, waves, etc. But I think one can more naturally take it that contemporary physics has expanded our conception of matter to include these things, so that "materialism" is still an appropriate name.

Eray: I don't know about the strongest argument for physicalism, but I think the most sophisticated defense of physicalism from anti-physicalist arguments is probably still Brian Loar's "Phenomenal States".

Gregg Rosenberg

I live and work in the layman's world and very frequently have conversations about this with ordinary people when I'm talking about my interests and hobbies. My experience has been that when I use "materialism" it leads to misunderstanding because people usually seem to think I'm talking about Madonna, Donald Trump, the pursuit of riches, and such. If I use "physicalism" people at least know I'm using a technical term and will stop me to make sure they understand.



I still wonder if Burge really supports anything that can even plausibly be called dualism. I actually tend to think that Kim spoiled the term "materialism" by associating it w/ an untenable reductionism. If rejecitng Kim's sytle of reductionism makes one a dualist, then Fodor would end up being a dualist, but that seems like it has to be wrong. I'm obviously not privy to as much info as others as to Burge's views, and I've not read the paper in question, but my impression is that you can only get that result by taking too strong a reading of materialism, one that's not very plausible, and also has very little to do with science, for example.

Timothy Scriven

By the way, there's an interesting discusion at Telic Thoughts on the dualist revolution and its disanalogies with the so-called "Intelligent Design" revolution, based on the above post on this blog. Though it's written by ID supporters it reminds me of a fundamental difference between a crank academic revolution and a real academic revolution: cranks go to the public first and to their academic peers second, real revolutionaries go to their peers first and the public second.


My two favorite intellectual hobbies have long been the evolution vs. creation debate and the materialism vs. dualism debate. Of particular fascination to me is Dennett's key role in both debates. Especially in light of his work with the Brights, I've come to suspect that Dennett sees dualism as a sort of "gateway drug" to creationism/intelligent design. It's quite interesting to see the arguments for dualism being used to precisely that effect by the IDiots at Telic Thoughts...

Peli Grietzer

This whole discussion calls to my mind a related issue- Out of the vast inventory of Type B materialists, who are latent Dualists, and who are Type A materialist who just got linguistically tangled up (Though obviously this is presupposing there is no coherent Type B materialism)?

I tend to feel that Perry is really a step away from being a Dualist, while Tye is pretty much Type A in essence. Maybe the break-down is between Type B materialists who posit the 'solution to the explanatory gap' as a McGuffin, and ones who attempt to construct it (If there seems to be an implied value judgment in favor of the latter here, it's because though I'm a dualist, I find Type A materialism to display a more responsible and cohesive thought than Type B).

George Graham


Thanks for your remarks about the apparent fact of a dwindling or disappearing consensus among philosophers of mind over the truth of some form of materialist monism or physicalism or physicalistic naturalism about the mental. On my own reading of the literature I certainly don't see any sort of new wave dualism emerging, but I do interpret what a lot of philosophers of mind are saying as skepticism -- of one type or another -- about physicalism.

Speaking of types, I find it useful to make a distinction between two sorts of skepticism about physicalism. Skepticism of the first kind is domain or strategy specific: Skeptics claim that there is some defense of physicalism, or some physicalistic treatment of some category of the mental, that just does not work. Skepticism of the second kind is domain or strategy general; it's global. Skeptics of the second kind claim physicalism or materialism about the mental is implausible period. Some of the folks you mention or list as anti- or non-materialists are of the domain specific rather than general sort, as I am sure you would admit. Kim may be an explicit case in point.

I myself am no good at self classification or ontic decision making when it comes to the metaphysics of mind. Problems of mental causation pull me in the direction of physicalism, but there are other problems, perhaps foremost those associated with what I take to be the inseparability of consciousness and Intentionality, and therein the extended extent of what you have called the Hard Problem, that push me, for various reasons, against materialism. I am also disturbed by various difficulties that the (materialist) naturalist program has with norms, especially epistemic norms; see, for example, Alan Berger's 'The quinean quandary and the indispensability of nonnaturalized epistemology,' PHILOSOPHICAL FORUM, 2003, 34, pp. 367-82. These problems impact on the metaphysics of mind in various ways (some as yet rather undiscussed in the literature). So, yes, I don't mind being classified as non-materialist. I certainly am, at least, a strategy or domain specific skeptic about materialism about the mental. But, in a deeper sense, I am still hunting for the right overall general theory.

Cheers, and thanks for all your web services!



I really need to read through the book. I feel like it has got some interesting things to ponder on.


Hello. Very interesting blog. I think that some Kim's thesis are a little bit weak. I'm interested in his thoughts,too. You're invited to check my blog, where I write about mind-body supervenience. Later I will upload what do I think about that.

Jim Slagle

I think you can add William Hasker to the list. The third chapter of his The Emergent Self is entitled "Why the Physical Isn't Closed."

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