Saturday, November 26, 2005

a short argument against physicalism

There is a view according to which all there is is either a physical object or something reducible to it. I won't get into the problems that this claim has concerning explanations. I'll just present a brief argument against what I here have described as physicalism.

(1)If physicalism is true, then there is no object or entity which is not physical or reducible to something physical.

This is just an explication of what it is to be a physicalist, or what physicalism implies. Now, the problem is this: there is a nice amount of things, objects or entities, that are not physical nor reducible to something physical. Here is a list: Borges' 'Ficciones', Beethoven's 'Eroica', Frege's 'On Sense and Nominatum', Newton's 'Principia Naturalis', Einstein's Theories of Relativity, David Lewis' arguments on Metaphysics and the joints of nature, Lull's theory of Universals, basic sciences like Physics and Chemistry, but also special ones like Geology and Geography, together with social ones like Anthropology and Sociology, and of course Lizalde's Tiger and other poems.

Physicalists tend to forget that all these things exist. Maybe there is someone who actually believes that the things I listed don't really exist (as in 'they have no existence of their own'). I won't fight against this. In part because I take that view to be clearly false, in part because this is a short argument against physicalism. Everything in my list is an existent entity. Nothing in that list (poems, short stories, theories, and works of art)is a physical entity. We must ask then, are they reducible to something physical?

Well, it depends. If you take reduction as implying identity, the answer is clearly NO. For we have already said that they were not physical entities, and so that also means they cannot be identical with physical entities. However, if you take reduction as not implying identity but, say, something like Kim's functionalizing of non-physical stuff, then maybe. But how? Kim's proposal works for mental stuff because the mind seems to be closely related to the brain. But what about theories, literature and music? Are they something closely related to brains? I guess not. All brains can disappear from the face of the world and Beethoven's 'Eroica' can still be there, interpreted OR NOT by a machine. The things in my list somehow survive all physical changes of the world. You might take the task of burning all the copies of Newton's 'Principia' and still the intellectual work of Newton will exist. Cut the pie the way you want, theories, literature, poetry, music, and what not, are not in the head or in any other physical object for that matter. How are we going to functionalize that then? Does it make any sense to try?

You cannot reduce something K into something Y unless it makes sense to say that K's are nothing over and above Y's. For all the things in my list it makes NO sense to say that they are nothing over and above physical things. Thus, the things in my list are not reducible to physical things.

(P2)There are some entities (like the ones in my list) that are not physical or reducible to something physical.

It follows by Modus Tollens, that

(C) Physicalism is not true.

So, fanatics of a non black and white world, all of you who like to think that the world is complex as opposed to simple, that it is plural as opposed to singular, can exist with peace. Physicalism is just not true, and something near enough is still not physicalism. More than a proper metaphysical view, physicalism seems to be one more among the utterly failed human projects intended to embrace totality with a finger. Physicalists, however, might find it amusing to be right next to a long list of very intelligent people starting with the Presochratics, and filled up with briliant minds such as Leibniz (e.g. ever heard of monadology?), Spinoza (e.g. theogeometry?) and Berkeley (e.g. pantheism?). Whoever cares to join, here's a recipe for failure: come up with a theory that explains everything! Your theory will most certainly be false.