/meuh tear"ee euh liz'euhm/, n.
1. preoccupation with or emphasis on material objects, comforts, and considerations, with a disinterest in or rejection of spiritual, intellectual, or cultural values.
2. the philosophical theory that regards matter and its motions as constituting the universe, and all phenomena, including those of mind, as due to material agencies.
[1740-50; < NL materialismus. See MATERIAL, -ISM]

* * *

In metaphysics, the doctrine that all of reality is essentially of the nature of matter.

In the philosophy of mind, one form of materialism, sometimes called central-state materialism, asserts that states of the mind are identical to states of the human brain. In order to account for the possible existence of mental states in creatures that do not share the human nervous system (e.g., octopuses and Martians), proponents of functionalism identified particular mental states with the functional or causal roles those states play with respect to other physical and mental states of the organism; this allows for the "multiple realizability" of the same mental state in different physical states. (Strictly speaking, functionalism is compatible with both materialism and non-materialism, though most functionalists are materialists.) As a form of materialism, functionalism is "nonreductive," because it holds that mental states cannot be completely explained in terms that refer only to what is physical. Though not identical with physical states, mental states are said to "supervene" on them, in the sense that there can be no change in the former without some change in the latter. "Eliminative" materialism rejects any aspect of the mental that cannot be explained wholly in physical terms; in particular, it denies the existence of the familiar categories of mental state presupposed in folk psychology. See also identity theory; mind-body problem.

* * *


      in philosophy, the view that all facts (including facts about the human mind and will and the course of human history) are causally dependent upon physical processes, or even reducible to them.

      The word Materialism has been used in modern times to refer to a family of metaphysical theories (i.e., theories on the nature of reality) that can best be defined by saying that a theory tends to be called Materialism if it is felt sufficiently to resemble a paradigmatic theory that will here be called mechanical (mechanism) Materialism. This article covers the various types of Materialism and the ways by which they are distinguished and traces the history of Materialism from the Greeks and Romans to modern and contemporary Materialisms.

Types of Materialist theory
      Mechanical Materialism is the theory that the world consists entirely of hard, massy material objects, which, though perhaps imperceptibly small, are otherwise like such things as stones. (A slight modification is to allow the void—or empty space—to exist also in its own right.) These objects interact in the sort of way that stones do: by impact and possibly also by gravitational attraction. The theory denies that immaterial or apparently immaterial things (such as minds (mind)) exist (consciousness) or else explains them away as being material things or motions of material things.

Types distinguished by departures from the paradigm
      In modern physics (if interpreted realistically), however, matter is conceived as made up of such things as electrons, protons, and mesons, which are very unlike the hard, massy, stonelike particles of mechanical Materialism. In it the distinction between matter and energy has also broken down. It is therefore natural to extend the word Materialist beyond the above paradigm case (of mechanical Materialism) to cover anyone who bases his theory on whatever it is that physics asserts ultimately to exist. This sort may be called physicalistic Materialism. Such a Materialist allows the concept of material thing to be extended so as to include all of the elementary particles and other things that are postulated in fundamental physical theory—perhaps even continuous fields and points of space-time. Inasmuch as some cosmologists (cosmology) even try to define the elementary particles themselves in terms of the curvature of space-time, there is no reason why a philosophy (science, philosophy of) based on such a geometricized cosmology should not be counted as Materialist, provided that it does not give an independent existence to nonphysical things such as minds.

      Another sort of departure from the paradigm leads in the direction of what might be called a deistic (Deism) Materialism. In this view it would be allowed that, although there is a spiritual Creator of the universe, he does not interfere with the created universe, which is itself describable in terms of mechanical or physicalist Materialism.

      Still another departure from the paradigm is the theory that holds that everything is composed of material particles (or physical entities generally) but also holds that there are special laws applying to complexes of physical entities, such as living cells or brains (brain), that are not reducible to the laws that apply to the fundamental physical entities. (To avoid inconsistency, such a theory may have to allow that the ordinary laws of physics do not wholly apply within such complex entities.) Such a theory, which could be called “emergent Materialism,” can shade off, however, into theories that one would not wish to call Materialist, such as hylozoism, which ascribes vital characteristics to all matter, and panpsychism, which attributes a mindlike character to all constituents of material things.

      Another common relaxation of the paradigm is that which allows as compatible with Materialism such a theory as epiphenomenalism, according to which sensations and thoughts (thought) do exist in addition to material processes but are nonetheless wholly dependent on material processes and without causal efficacy of their own. They are related to material things somewhat in the way that a man's shadow is related to the man. A similar departure from the paradigm is a form of what might be called “double-aspect Materialism,” according to which in inner experience men are acquainted with nonphysical properties of material processes, though these properties are not causally effective. A form of double-aspect theory in which these properties were allowed to be causally effective would be a species of emergent Materialism.

      Of course, more than one of these qualifications might be made at the same time: thus a person might wish to speak of “physicalist deistic epiphenomenalist Materialism.” If no other qualifications are intended, it is convenient to use the word extreme and to speak, for example, of “extreme physicalist Materialism”—which is probably the type most discussed among professional philosophers in English-speaking countries.

Type distinguished by its view of history
      In the wider world, however, the word Materialism most commonly brings to mind dialectical (dialectical materialism) Materialism, which is the orthodox philosophy (Marxism) of Communist (communism) countries. This is most importantly a theory of how changes arise in human history (history, philosophy of), though a general metaphysical theory lies in the background. Dialectical Materialists contrast their view with what they call “vulgar” Materialism; and it does, indeed, appear that their theory is not an extreme Materialism, whether mechanical or physicalist. They seem to hold merely that mental processes are dependent on or have evolved from material ones. Though they might be akin to emergent Materialists, it is hard to be sure; their assertion that something new emerges at higher levels of organization might refer only to such things as that a wireless receiver is different from a mere heap of the same components. And if so, even an extreme physicalistic Materialist could acquiesce in this view. The distinctive features of dialectical Materialism would, thus, seem to lie as much in its being dialectical as in its being Materialist. Its dialectical side may be epitomized in three laws: (1) that of the transformation of quality into quantity, (2) that of the interpenetration of opposites, and (3) that of the negation of the negation. Nondialectical philosophers find it hard, however, to interpret these laws in a way that does not make them into either platitudes or falsehoods.

      Perhaps because of the historical determinism implicit in dialectical Materialism, and perhaps because of memories of the mechanical Materialist theories of the 18th and 19th centuries, when physics was deterministic, it is popularly supposed that Materialism and determinism must go together. This is not so. As indicated below, even some ancient Materialists were indeterminists, and a modern physicalist Materialism must be indeterministic because of the indeterminism that is built into modern physics. Modern physics does imply, however, that macroscopic bodies behave in a way that is effectively deterministic, and, because even a single neuron (nerve fibre) is a macroscopic object by quantum mechanical standards, a physicalistic Materialist may still regard the human brain as coming near to being a mechanism that behaves in a deterministic way.

Types distinguished by their account of mind
      A rather different way of classifying Materialist theories, which to some extent cuts across the classifications already made, emerges when the theories are divided according to the way in which a Materialist accounts for minds. A central-state Materialist identifies mental processes with processes in the brain. An analytical behaviourist (behaviourism), on the other hand, argues that, in talking about the mind, one is not talking about an actual entity, whether the brain or an immaterial soul, but, rather, one is somehow talking about the way in which people would behave in various circumstances. According to the analytical behaviourist, there is no more of a problem for the Materialist in having to identify mind with something material than there is in identifying such an abstraction as the average plumber with some concrete entity. Analytical behaviourism differs from psychological behaviourism, which is merely a methodological program to base theories on behavioral evidence and to eschew introspective (introspection) reports. The analytical behaviourist usually has a not too plausible theory of introspective reports according to which they are what are sometimes called “avowals”: roughly, he contends that to say “I have a pain” is to engage in a verbal surrogate for a wince. Epistemic Materialism is a theory that can be developed either in the direction of central-state Materialism or in that of analytical behaviourism and that rests on the contention that the only statements that are intersubjectively testable are either observation reports about macroscopic physical objects or statements that imply such observation reports (or are otherwise logically related to them).

      Before leaving this survey of the family of Materialistic theories, a quite different sense of the word Materialism should be noted in which it denotes not a metaphysical theory but an ethical (ethics) attitude. A person is a Materialist in this sense if he is interested mainly in sensuous pleasures and bodily comforts and hence in the material possessions that bring these about. A man might be a Materialist in this ethical and pejorative sense without being a metaphysical Materialist, and conversely. An extreme physicalistic Materialist, for example, might prefer a Beethoven record to a comfortable mattress for his bed; and a person who believes in immaterial spirits might opt for the mattress.

History of Materialism

Greek and Roman Materialism
      Though Thales of Miletus (c. 580 BC) and some of the other Pre-Socratic philosophers have some claims to being regarded as Materialists, the Materialist tradition in Western philosophy really begins with Leucippus and Democritus, Greek philosophers who were born in the 5th century BC. Leucippus is known only through his influence on Democritus. According to Democritus, the world consists of nothing but atoms (atomism) (indivisible chunks of matter) in empty space (which he seems to have thought of as an entity in its own right). These atoms can be imperceptibly small, and they interact either by impact or by hooking together, depending on their shapes. The great beauty of atomism was its ability to explain the changes in things as due to changes in the configurations of unchanging atoms. The view may be contrasted with that of the earlier philosopher Anaxagoras (c. 480 BC), who thought that when, for example, the bread that a person eats is transformed into human flesh, this must occur because bread itself already contains hidden within itself the characteristics of flesh. Democritus thought that the soul consists of smooth, round atoms and that perceptions consist of motions caused in the soul atoms by the atoms in the perceived thing.

      Because Epicurus' philosophy (Epicureanism) was expounded in a lengthy poem by Lucretius, a Roman (ancient Rome) philosopher of the 1st century BC, Epicurus (died 270 BC) was easily the most influential Greek Materialist. He differed from Democritus in that he postulated an absolute up–down direction in space, so that all atoms fall in roughly parallel paths. To explain their impacts with one another, he then held that the atoms are subject to chance swerves—a doctrine that was also used to explain free will. Epicurus' Materialism therefore differed from that of Democritus in being an indeterministic one. Epicurus' philosophy contained an important ethical part, which was a sort of enlightened egoistic hedonism. His ethics, however, were not Materialistic in the pejorative sense of the word.

Modern Materialism
      Materialism languished throughout the medieval period, but the Epicurean tradition was revived in the first half of the 17th century in the atomistic Materialism of the French Catholic priest Pierre Gassendi (Gassendi, Pierre). In putting forward his system as a hypothesis to explain the facts of experience, Gassendi showed that he understood the method characteristic of modern science, and he may well have helped to pave the way for corpuscular hypotheses in physics. Gassendi was not thoroughgoing in his Materialism inasmuch as he accepted on faith the Christian doctrine that men have immortal souls. His contemporary, the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes (Hobbes, Thomas), also propounded an atomistic Materialism and was a pioneer in trying to work out a mechanistic and physiological psychology. Holding that sensations are corporeal motions in the brain, Hobbes skirted, rather than solved, the philosophical problems about consciousness that had been raised by another contemporary, the great French philosopher René Descartes (Descartes, René). Descartes's philosophy (Cartesianism) was dualistic (mind–body dualism), making a complete split between mind and matter. In his theory of the physical world, however, and especially in his doctrine that animals are automata, Descartes's own system had a mechanistic (mechanism) side to it that was taken up by 18th-century Materialists, such as Julien de La Mettrie (La Mettrie, Julien Offroy de), the French physician whose appropriately titled L'Homme machine (1747; Man a Machine, 1750) applied Descartes's view about animals to man (human being) himself. Denis Diderot (Diderot, Denis), an 18th-century French Encyclopaedist, supported a broadly Materialist outlook by considerations drawn from physiology, embryology, and the study of heredity; and his friend Paul, baron d'Holbach (Holbach, Paul-Henri Dietrich, baron d'), published his Système de la nature (1770), which expounded a deterministic type of Materialism in the light of evidence from contemporary science, reducing everything to matter and to the energy inherent in matter. He also propounded a hedonistic ethics as well as an uncompromising atheism, which provoked a reply even from the Deist Voltaire.

      The 18th-century French Materialists had been reacting against orthodox Christianity. In the early part of the 19th century, however, certain writers in Germany—usually with a biological or medical background—reacted against a different orthodoxy, the Hegelian (Hegelianism) and Neo-Hegelian tradition in philosophy, which had become entrenched in German universities. Among these were Ludwig Büchner (Büchner, Ludwig) and Karl Vogt. The latter is notorious for his assertion that the brain secretes thought just as the liver secretes bile. This metaphor of secretion, previously used by P.-J.-G. Cabanis (Cabanis, Pierre-Jean-Georges), a late 18th-century French Materialist, is seldom taken seriously, because to most philosophers it does not make sense to think of thought as a stuff. The Hobbesian view, also espoused by Büchner, that thought is a motion in the brain is usually viewed as a more promising one.

      The synthesis of urea (the chief nitrogenous end product of protein metabolism), discovered in 1828, broke down the discontinuity between the organic and the inorganic in chemistry, which had been a mainstay of nonmaterialistic biology. Materialist ways of thinking were later strengthened enormously by the Darwinian theory of evolution, which not only showed the continuity between man and other living things right back to the simplest organisms but also showed how the apparent evidences of design in natural history could be explained on a purely causal basis. There still seemed to be a gap, however, between the living and the nonliving, though E.H. Haeckel (Haeckel, Ernst), a 19th-century German zoologist, thought that certain simple organisms could have been generated from inorganic matter and, indeed, that a certain simple sea creature may well be in process of generation in this way even now. Though Haeckel was wrong, 20th-century biologists have proposed much more sophisticated and more plausible theories of the evolution of life from inorganic matter. Haeckel and his contemporary, the British zoologist T.H. Huxley (Huxley, T.H.), did much to popularize philosophical accounts of the world that were consonant with the scientific thought of their time, but neither could be regarded as an extreme Materialist.

Contemporary Materialism
      Perhaps because recent developments in biochemistry and in physiological psychology have greatly increased the plausibility of Materialism, there has lately been a resurgence of interest in the philosophical defense of central-state Materialism. Central-state Materialists have proposed their theories partly because of dissatisfaction with the analytical behaviourism of the Oxford philosopher Gilbert Ryle (Ryle, Gilbert). Ryle himself is reluctant to call himself a Materialist, partly because of a dislike of all “isms” and partly because he thinks that the notion of matter has meaning only by contrast with that of mind, which he thinks to be an illegitimate sort of contrast. Nevertheless, it would seem that analytical behaviourism could be used to support a physicalist Materialism that would go on to explain human behaviour by means of neural mechanisms. (Ryle himself is suspicious of mechanistic accounts of biology and psychology.) Analytical behaviourism has been felt to be unsatisfactory, however, chiefly because of its account of introspective reports as avowals (see above Types distinguished by their account of mind (Materialism)), which most philosophers have found to be unconvincing.

      Philosophers have distinguished two forms of central-state Materialism, namely, the translation form and the disappearance form. The translation form is the view that mentalistic discourse can be translated into discourse that is neutral between physicalism and dualism, so that the truth of a man's introspective reports is compatible with the objects of these reports being physical processes. The disappearance form is the view that such a translation cannot be done and that this fact, however, does not refute physicalism but shows only that man's ordinary introspective reports are contaminated by false theories.

Translation central-state theories
      Among the philosophers who have advocated the translation form is the U.S. philosopher Herbert Feigl, earlier a member of the Vienna Circle, who, in an influential monograph (see Bibliography: Materialism (Phenomenology)), did the most to get contemporary philosophers to treat central-state Materialism as a serious philosophical theory. Against the objection that, for example, “visual sensation” does not mean “process in the visual cortex,” advocates of the translation form point out that “the morning star” does not mean the same as “the evening star,” and yet the morning star as a matter of fact is the evening star. The objection confuses meaning and reference. Against the objection that a purely physical process (a dance of electrons, protons, and so on) cannot have the sensory quality of greenness that is observed in a visual experience of seeing grass, say, they reply that to talk of the sensory experience of something looking green (or having a green mental image) is not to talk of anything that is literally green, but is simply to report that some internal process is of the sort that normally goes with seeing something, such as a lawn, which really is green. Though an immaterialist might say that the sort of process in question is a spiritual process, the Materialist can equally claim that it is a material process in the brain. The analysis of the introspective report is neutral between these two contentions; the Materialist, however, opts for his contention on various grounds. The British Materialist U.T. Place does so on the ground of normal scientific methodology; and the Australian Materialist J.J.C. Smart does so with a metaphysical application of the principle (called “Ockham's razor”) that entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity. A physicalistic Materialist has, of course, an obligation to go on to give a suitable account of such apparently nonphysicalist qualities as the greenness of grass. At one time Smart analyzed colours in terms of the discriminatory behaviour of human beings. Another Australian Materialist, D.M. Armstrong, holds, on the other hand, that colours are as a matter of fact properties of objects, such properties being of the sort describable in the theoretical terms of physics. Feigl, in turn, is to some extent (and rather reluctantly) a double-aspect theorist. He qualifies the position taken by the other translation theorists, conceding that the translations do leave something out, viz., the immediately introspectable properties of “raw feels,” such as that of hearing the tone of middle C. He holds, however, that such properties are irrelevant to causal explanations of phenomena. The translation form of central-state Materialism thus has some affinities with the earlier epistemic Materialism of the Positivist philosophers Rudolf Carnap (Carnap, Rudolf) and Hans Reichenbach (Reichenbach, Hans), Germans who settled in the United States. Thus Carnap has suggested that mental predicates be treated as applying to material entities: for example, “Carnap sees green” could be taken as meaning “the body Carnap is in the state of green-seeing,” the state of green-seeing being a purely physical state that explains the behavioral facts that led one to ascribe the predicate “sees green” to Carnap in the first place. David K. Lewis (Lewis, David Kellogg), a United States philosopher of science and language, has developed a translation form of central-state Materialism on the basis of a theory regarding the definition of theoretical terms in science. According to this theory, entities such as electrons, protons, and neutrons are defined in terms of the causal roles that they play in relation to observational phenomena—e.g., phenomena in cloud chambers—but the method of definition is able to do justice to the causal and other interrelations between the theoretical entities themselves. Lewis applies this account to commonsense psychology. Since mental entities, such as pains, are defined in commonsense psychology in terms of their causal roles (in relation to observable behaviour) and since there is empirical reason to ascribe the same causal roles to brain processes, Lewis identifies mental events, processes, and states with brain events, processes, and states.

Disappearance central-state theories
      The disappearance form of central-state Materialism is the sort of theory held by P.K. Feyerabend, a U.S. philosopher, who denies that the Materialist can give a neutral analysis of introspective reports. In Feyerabend's view, commonsense introspective reports are irreducibly immaterialist in content. He argues, however, that this admission does not show the untenability of Materialism. Ordinary mentalistic discourse, he holds, is comparable to the medieval discourse about epileptics as being “possessed by the devil.” If one now “identified” demon possession with a certain medical condition of the brain, this would really be an assertion that there is no such thing as a demon-possessed state: the medieval way of looking at the matter is thus rejected. It is in this sort of way that Feyerabend wants to “identify” the mind with the brain: he simply rejects the ordinary mentalistic conceptual scheme and so feels no obligation to show its compatibility with Materialism.

      The influential American philosophers W.V. Quine (Quine, Willard Van Orman) and Wilfrid Sellars (Sellars, Wilfrid) also hold theories that could be regarded as disappearance forms of physicalistic Materialism, though there is a Kantian twist to Sellars' philosophy that makes it hard to classify. Sellars holds that mentalistic concepts cannot be eliminated from man's commonsense picture of the world, which he calls “the manifest image.” In a way reminiscent of Kant he holds that, although the manifest image is inescapable, it does not give metaphysical truth about the world as it really is in itself. This truth is given, instead, by “the scientific image”—i.e., by theoretical science, which is physicalist. In the case of Quine, there is a certain Platonism in that he believes in the objective reality of nonspatiotemporal entities, viz., those that are the subject matter of pure mathematics. Because he holds that the reason for believing mathematics is that it is needed as part of physical theory, his reasons for believing in numbers and the like are not in principle different from those for believing in electrons; thus Quine's Platonism does not really compromise his physicalism.

      The Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (Wittgenstein, Ludwig), who lived to the mid-20th century and was professor of philosophy at Cambridge University, has sometimes been interpreted as a behaviourist (behaviourism), though his insistence that an inner process stands in need of outward criteria could possibly be interpreted as a sort of epistemic and central-state Materialism. Nevertheless, to count Wittgenstein as a Materialist would be to take considerable liberties with him; for, while displaying at times a certain mystical attitude, he also held very strongly that the business of a philosopher is not to put forward any metaphysical theory but to clear up conceptual confusions—to show the fly the way out of the fly bottle.

Eastern Materialism
      This historical survey has been concerned with Materialism in Western philosophy. On the whole, Materialism is contrary to the spirit of both Indian and traditional Chinese philosophy, though the Cārvāka school of Materialists flourished from the 6th century BC until medieval times in India. Mention should also be made of the strong naturalistic tendency in Theravāda Buddhism, as also in certain schools of Chinese philosophy that exalt ch'i (“ether” or “material force”) above principle and mind.

Substantive issues in Materialism

      The main attraction of Materialism today is the way in which it fits in with a unified picture of science—a picture that has become very plausible. Thus, chemistry is reducible to physics inasmuch as there is a quantum-mechanical theory of the chemical bond. Biology is mainly an application of physics and chemistry to the structures described in natural history (including the natural history that one can explore through powerful microscopes). Increasingly, biological explanations resemble explanations in engineering, in which material structures are described and then the laws of physics and chemistry are used to explain the behaviour of these structures. (In the biological case, of course, these structures are often dynamic in the sense that their molecules are continually being replaced.) Through the influence of neurophysiology and also cybernetics (the science of information and control, which can be applied also to artificial automata), scientific psychology is also fitting well into the same mechanistic scheme. The recalcitrant residue appears in the phenomena of consciousness. Here mental events seem, indeed, to be correlated with physical events; but, if the mental events are not the very same as the physical events, one is left with apparently ultimate (or irreducible) physical–mental laws that do not fit happily into unified science, and one is thus faced with a situation unlike that of the rest of science. Looking at science generally, one expects ultimate laws to relate simple entities, such as fundamental particles. A physical–mental law, however, would have to refer to something very complex—a brain process involving perhaps millions of neurons, with each neuron being itself an almost fantastically complex entity. There would be a multitude of physical–mental laws, which would look like excrescences on the face of science. Because they would not fit into the network of scientific laws, Herbert Feigl has called them “nomological danglers.” To get rid of these danglers is one of the chief attractions of Materialism. Of course, an immaterialist might assert that mental entities exist and also that there are no physical–mental laws. But it might be hard for him to reconcile this position with the empirical evidence; and in any case he would be faced with the problem of how to distinguish the free exercise of such anomalous physical–mental interaction from mere chance behaviour.

      The development of computers and other devices to take over much of the more routine sort of human behaviour has led to attempts on the part of scientists and technologists, such as the American M.L. Minsky (Minsky, Marvin), to develop real artificial intelligence. So far, the success that these scientists hoped for has not been achieved. An American linguistic theorist, Noam Chomsky (Chomsky, Noam), has argued on the basis of his theories of generative grammar that the brain is quite unlike any already-understood type of mechanism. Indeed, any physicalistic Materialist must certainly concede that there are very deep problems about the brain, which apparently can no longer be thought of as a bundle of conditioned reflex mechanisms or the like, as it often has seemed to be to many psychologists. The physicalist can stress, however, that the investigator's ignorance need not lead him to assume that he will never be able to find an explanation of intelligence and of linguistic abilities in terms consonant with his present notion of a physical mechanism. (There is also the possibility that physical laws not yet discovered might be needed to explain the workings of the brain. So long as these turned outto be basic laws of physics, such discoveries would not imply a shift to emergentist Materialism.)

Logic, intentionality, and psychical research
      Some philosophers, such as the Oxford philosopher J.R. Lucas, have tried to produce positive arguments against a mechanistic theory of mind by employing certain discoveries in mathematical logic, especially Gödel's theorem, which implies that no axiomatic theory could possibly capture all arithmetical truths. In general, philosophers have not found such attempts to extract an antimaterialist philosophy from mathematical logic to be convincing. Nevertheless, the problems of mechanizing intelligence (brain), including the mathematical abilities of human (mind) beings, do pose unsolved problems that the Materialist is obliged to take seriously.

      Perhaps the most common challenge to Materialism comes from philosophers who hold that it cannot do justice to the concept of intentionality, which Franz Brentano (Brentano, Franz), a pre-World War I German philosopher, made the distinguishing mark between the mental and the nonmental. (A related objection is that Materialism cannot do justice to the distinction between behaviour and mere bodily movements.) Brentano held that mental events and states somehow point toward objects beyond themselves (or have a “content”). Many contemporary philosophers agree with Brentano that purely physical entities cannot have this property. If it is said, for example, that punched holes on the tape of a computer can refer beyond themselves in the way that thoughts do, then it is commonly replied that, in themselves, the holes on the tape have no reference or content—for this belongs only to the thoughts in the mind of a person who reads the tape. The Materialist reply may be to argue, however, that there is a fundamental unclarity in the very notion of intentionality (this is roughly Quine's position) or else to argue that purely physical systems can, after all, possess intentionality.

      The alleged spiritualistic and other phenomena (parapsychological phenomenon) reported in psychical research are sometimes adduced against Materialism. The Materialist, however, can well afford to postpone discussion of these phenomena until such time as they are accepted by the general scientific community, which on the whole still remains skeptical of them.

      At present, there are reputable philosophers who accept Materialism, and there are also reputable philosophers who either reject it as false or hold that it is not the business of a philosopher to propound any sort of metaphysical system. Perhaps Materialists are still in a minority; but at any rate there is much less tendency than there was a generation ago for this type of theory to be thought philosophically naive.

John Jamieson Carswell Smart

Additional Reading
For the period up through the mid-19th century, see F.A. Lange, Geschichte des Materialismus und Kritik seiner Bedeutung in der Gegenwart, 2 vol. (1902; Eng. trans., History of Materialism and Criticism of Its Present Importance, 3rd ed., 3 vol. (1925). For later times, see John Passmore, A Hundred Years of Philosophy, 2nd ed. (1966). There are excellent articles by Keith Campbell and H.B. Acton on “Materialism” and “Dialectical Materialism” in the Encyclopedia of Philosophy, vol. 5, pp. 179–188 and vol. 2, pp. 389–397 (1967). Examples of work by most of the contemporary writers are given in John O'Connor (ed.), Modern Materialism: Readings on Mind-Body Identity (1969); and C.V. Borst (ed.), The Mind-Brain Identity Theory (1970). See also Herbert Feigl, The “Mental” and the “Physical”: The Essay and a Postscript (1967); J.J.C. Smart, Philosophy and Scientific Realism (1963); D.M. Armstrong, A Materialist Theory of the Mind (1968); and Wilfrid Sellars, Science, Perception and Reality (1963), especially ch. 1. A rather difficult book defending Materialism from the difficulties about intentionality is D.C. Dennett, Content and Consciousness (1969). For two very different styles of antimaterialist argument, see J.R. Lucas, The Freedom of the Will (1970); and Norman Malcolm, Problems of Mind (1971). Another interesting critique of Materialism is in John Beloff, The Existence of Mind (1962). A mainly mechanistic philosophy of biology is presented by the German biologist B. Rensch in Biophilosophie auf erkenntnistheoretischer Grundlage (Panpsychistischer Identismus) (1968; Eng. trans., Biophilosophy, 1971), though Rensch's philosophy is also panpsychist.Some classic Materialist works are: Lucretius, On the Nature of the Universe, trans. by R.E. Latham (1951); Thomas Hobbes, Body, Mind and Citizen: Selections, ed. by R.S. Peters (1962); René Descartes, Philosophical Writings, trans. and ed. by Elizabeth Anscombe and P.T. Geach (1954); and A. Vartanian, La Mettrie's “L'Homme Machine”: A Study in the Origins of an Idea (1960), which is a critical edition with introductory monograph and notes.For epistemic Materialism, see Rudolf Carnap, “Psychology in Physical Language,” in A.J. Ayer (ed.), Logical Positivism (1959); Carnap's replies to Herbert Feigl and A.J. Ayer in P.A. Schilpp (ed.), The Philosophy of Rudolf Carnap (1964); and H. Reichenbach, Experience and Prediction (1938). The most relevant and important works by Ryle and Wittgenstein are: Gilbert Ryle, The Concept of Mind (1949); and Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations (1953). For a Materialist critique of Ryle, see Brian Medlin, “Ryle and the Mechanical Hypothesis,” in C.F. Presley (ed.), The Identity Theory of Mind, 2nd ed. (1971).

* * *

Universalium. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Materialism — materialism …   Dictionary of sociology

  • Materialism — • As the word itself signifies, Materialism is a philosophical system which regards matter as the only reality in the world, which undertakes to explain every event in the universe as resulting from the conditions and activity of matter, and… …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • materialism — MATERIALÍSM s.n. 1. Concepţie filozofică potrivit căreia materia este factorul prim, iar conştiinţa factorul derivat; spec. filozofie marxistă (marxism). ♢ Materialism dialectic = ştiinţa despre raportul dintre materie şi conştiinţă, despre… …   Dicționar Român

  • Materialism — Ma*te ri*al*ism, n. [Cf. F. mat[ e]rialisme.] 1. The doctrine of materialists; materialistic views and tenets; called also {philosophical materialism}. [1913 Webster] The irregular fears of a future state had been supplanted by the materialism of …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • materialism —    Materialism is a philosophy of the ultimate constituents of reality that generally postulates either (1) all that exists is material, or (2) all that exists is either material or dependent upon the material. The first view has an ancient… …   Christian Philosophy

  • materialism — 1748, “philosophy that nothing exists except matter” (from Fr. matérialisme); 1851 as “a way of life based entirely on consumer goods.” From MATERIAL (Cf. material) + ISM (Cf. ism) …   Etymology dictionary

  • materialism — ► NOUN 1) a tendency to consider material possessions and physical comfort as more important than spiritual values. 2) Philosophy the doctrine that nothing exists except matter and its movements and modifications. DERIVATIVES materialist noun &… …   English terms dictionary

  • materialism — [mə tir′ē əl iz΄əm] n. [Fr matérialisme] 1. a) the philosophic doctrine that matter is the only reality and that everything in the world, including thought, will, and feeling, can be explained in terms of matter alone: opposed to IDEALISM b) the… …   English World dictionary

  • Materialism — Not to be confused with Materialistic. For the prioritization of resources, see economic materialism. For the Marxist analysis, see dialectical materialism. For consumerism, see consumerism. For materialist perspective on social development, see… …   Wikipedia

  • Materialism —    As the principal terms and labels for Karl Marx’s central theory and approach suggest (“the materialist conception of history,” “historical materialism,” “dialectical materialism”), materialism lies at the heart of Marxism. Marx developed his… …   Historical dictionary of Marxism

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”