Materialism is a form of philosophical monism which holds that matter is the fundamental substance in nature, and that all things, including mental aspects and consciousness, are results of material interactions.

In Idealism, mind and consciousness are first-order realities to which matter is subject and secondary. In philosophical materialism the converse is true. Here mind and consciousness are by-products or epiphenomena of material processes (the biochemistry of the human brain and nervous system, for example) without which they cannot exist. According to this doctrine the material creates and determines consciousness, not vice versa.

Materialist theories are mainly divided into three groups. Naive materialism identifies the material world with specific elements (e.g. the scheme of the four elements—fire, air, water and earth—devised by the pre-Socratic philosopher Empedocles). Metaphysical materialism examines separated parts of the world in a static, isolated environment. Dialectical materialism adapts the Hegelian dialectic for materialism, examining parts of the world in relation to each other within a dynamic environment.

Materialism is closely related to physicalism, the view that all that exists is ultimately physical. Philosophical physicalism has evolved from materialism with the theories of the physical sciences to incorporate more sophisticated notions of physicality than mere ordinary matter, such as: spacetime, physical energies and forces, dark matter, and so on. Thus the term "physicalism" is preferred over "materialism" by some, while others use the terms as if they are synonymous.

Philosophies contradictory to materialism or physicalism include idealism, pluralism, dualism, and other forms of monism.


La Mettrie, L'homme machine, 1748 Wellcome L0015753
In 1748, French doctor and philosopher La Mettrie exposes the first materialistic definition of the human soul in L'Homme Machine

Materialism belongs to the class of monist ontology. As such, it is different from ontological theories based on dualism or pluralism. For singular explanations of the phenomenal reality, materialism would be in contrast to idealism, neutral monism, and spiritualism.

Despite the large number of philosophical schools and subtle nuances between many,[1][2][3] all philosophies are said to fall into one of two primary categories, which are defined in contrast to each other: idealism and materialism.[a] The basic proposition of these two categories pertains to the nature of reality, and the primary distinction between them is the way they answer two fundamental questions: "what does reality consist of?" and "how does it originate?" To idealists, spirit or mind or the objects of mind (ideas) are primary, and matter secondary. To materialists, matter is primary, and mind or spirit or ideas are secondary, the product of matter acting upon matter.[3]

The materialist view is perhaps best understood in its opposition to the doctrines of immaterial substance applied to the mind historically, famously by René Descartes. However, by itself materialism says nothing about how material substance should be characterized. In practice, it is frequently assimilated to one variety of physicalism or another.

Materialism is often associated with reductionism, according to which the objects or phenomena individuated at one level of description, if they are genuine, must be explicable in terms of the objects or phenomena at some other level of description—typically, at a more reduced level. Non-reductive materialism explicitly rejects this notion, however, taking the material constitution of all particulars to be consistent with the existence of real objects, properties, or phenomena not explicable in the terms canonically used for the basic material constituents. Jerry Fodor influentially argues this view, according to which empirical laws and explanations in "special sciences" like psychology or geology are invisible from the perspective of basic physics. A lot of vigorous literature has grown up around the relation between these views.

Modern philosophical materialists extend the definition of other scientifically observable entities such as energy, forces, and the curvature of space. However philosophers such as Mary Midgley suggest that the concept of "matter" is elusive and poorly defined.[4]

Materialism typically contrasts with dualism, phenomenalism, idealism, vitalism, and dual-aspect monism. Its materiality can, in some ways, be linked to the concept of determinism, as espoused by Enlightenment thinkers.

During the 19th century, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels extended the concept of materialism to elaborate a materialist conception of history centered on the roughly empirical world of human activity (practice, including labor) and the institutions created, reproduced, or destroyed by that activity (see Materialist conception of history). They also developed dialectical materialism, through taking Hegelian dialectics, stripping them of their idealist aspects, and fusing them with materialism[5] (see Modern philosophy).


Axial Age

Materialism developed, possibly independently, in several geographically separated regions of Eurasia during what Karl Jaspers termed the Axial Age (c. 800–200 BC).

In ancient Indian philosophy, materialism developed around 600 BC with the works of Ajita Kesakambali, Payasi, Kanada, and the proponents of the Cārvāka school of philosophy. Kanada became one of the early proponents of atomism. The NyayaVaisesika school (c. 600 BC – 100 BC) developed one of the earliest forms of atomism, though their proofs of God and their positing that consciousness was not material precludes labelling them as materialists. Buddhist atomism and the Jaina school continued the atomic tradition.

Ancient Greek atomists like Leucippus, Democritus, and Epicurus prefigure later materialists. The Latin poem De Rerum Natura by Lucretius (99 BC – c. 55 BC) reflects the mechanistic philosophy of Democritus and Epicurus. According to this view, all that exists is matter and void, and all phenomena result from different motions and conglomerations of base material particles called "atoms" (literally: "indivisibles"). De Rerum Natura provides mechanistic explanations for phenomena such as erosion, evaporation, wind, and sound. Famous principles like "nothing can touch body but body" first appeared in the works of Lucretius. Democritus and Epicurus however did not hold to a monist ontology since they held to the ontological separation of matter and space i.e. space being "another kind" of being, indicating that the definition of "materialism" is wider than given scope for in this article.

Common Era

Wang Chong (27 – c. 100 AD) was a Chinese thinker of the early Common Era said to be a materialist.[6]

Later Indian materialist Jayaraashi Bhatta (6th century) in his work Tattvopaplavasimha ("The upsetting of all principles") refuted the Nyaya Sutra epistemology. The materialistic Cārvāka philosophy appears to have died out some time after 1400. When Madhavacharya compiled Sarva-darśana-samgraha (a digest of all philosophies) in the 14th century, he had no Cārvāka/Lokāyata text to quote from, or even refer to.[7]

In early 12th-century al-Andalus, the Arabian philosopher, Ibn Tufail (Abubacer), wrote discussions on materialism in his philosophical novel, Hayy ibn Yaqdhan (Philosophus Autodidactus), while vaguely foreshadowing the idea of a historical materialism.[8]

Modern philosophy

Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679)[9] and Pierre Gassendi (1592–1665)[10] represented the materialist tradition in opposition to the attempts of René Descartes (1596–1650) to provide the natural sciences with dualist foundations. There followed the materialist and atheist abbé Jean Meslier (1664–1729) and the works of the French materialists: Julien Offray de La Mettrie, the German-French Baron d'Holbach (1723–1789), Denis Diderot (1713–1784), and other French Enlightenment thinkers. In England John "Walking" Stewart (1747–1822) insisted in seeing matter as endowed with a moral dimension had a major impact on the philosophical poetry of William Wordsworth (1770–1850).

In late modern philosophy, German dialectical materialist and atheist anthropologist Ludwig Feuerbach[11] would signal a new turn in materialism through his book, The Essence of Christianity (1841), which presented a humanist account of religion as the outward projection of man's inward nature.

Another notable school of naturalist thought that developed in the middle of the 19th century was German materialism: members included Ludwig Büchner, Jacob Moleschott, and Karl Vogt.[12][13]

Feuerbach's materialism would later heavily influence Karl Marx, who in the late 19th century elaborated the concept of historical materialism, which is the basis for what Marx and Engels outlined as scientific socialism:

The materialist conception of history starts from the proposition that the production of the means to support human life and, next to production, the exchange of things produced, is the basis of all social structure; that in every society that has appeared in history, the manner in which wealth is distributed and society divided into classes or orders is dependent upon what is produced, how it is produced, and how the products are exchanged. From this point of view, the final causes of all social changes and political revolutions are to be sought, not in men's brains, not in men's better insights into eternal truth and justice, but in changes in the modes of production and exchange. They are to be sought, not in the philosophy, but in the economics of each particular epoch.

— Friedrich Engels, Socialism: Scientific and Utopian

Later, Vladimir Lenin outlined philosophical materialism in his book Materialism and Empirio-criticism, which connected the political conceptions put forth by his opponents to their anti-materialist philosophies. Therein, Lenin attempted to answer questions concerning matter, experience, sensations, space and time, causality, and freedom.

Contemporary philosophy

Continental philosophy

Contemporary Continental philosopher Gilles Deleuze has attempted to rework and strengthen classical materialist ideas.[14] Contemporary theorists such as Manuel DeLanda, working with this reinvigorated materialism, have come to be classified as "new materialist" in persuasion.[15] New materialism has now become its own specialized subfield of knowledge, with courses being offered on the topic at major universities, as well as numerous conferences, edited collections, and monographs devoted to it. Jane Bennett's book Vibrant Matter (Duke UP, 2010) has been particularly instrumental in bringing theories of monist ontology and vitalism back into a critical theoretical fold dominated by poststructuralist theories of language and discourse.[16] Scholars such as Mel Y. Chen and Zakiyyah Iman Jackson, however, have critiqued this body of new materialist literature for its neglect in considering the materiality of race and gender in particular.[17][18] Other scholars such as Hélene Vosters have questioned whether there is anything particularly "new" about this so-called "new materialism", as Indigenous and other animist ontologies have attested to what might be called the "vibrancy of matter" for centuries.[19]

Analytic philosophy

Contemporary analytic philosophers—e.g., Daniel Dennett, Willard Van Orman Quine, Donald Davidson, and Jerry Fodor—operate within a broadly physicalist or scientific materialist framework, producing rival accounts of how best to accommodate mind, including functionalism, anomalous monism, identity theory, and so on.[20]

Scientific materialism is often synonymous with, and has so far been described as being, a reductive materialism. In recent years, Paul and Patricia Churchland have advocated a radically contrasting position (at least, in regards to certain hypotheses); eliminativist materialism holds that some mental phenomena simply do not exist at all, and that talk of those mental phenomena reflects a totally spurious "folk psychology" and introspection illusion. That is, an eliminative materialist might believe that a concept like "belief" simply has no basis in fact—the way folk science speaks of demon-caused illnesses would be just one obvious example. Reductive materialism being at one end of a continuum (our theories will reduce to facts) and eliminative materialism on the other (certain theories will need to be eliminated in light of new facts), Revisionary materialism is somewhere in the middle.[20]

Defining matter

The nature and definition of matter—like other key concepts in science and philosophy—have occasioned much debate.[21] Is there a single kind of matter (hyle) which everything is made of, or multiple kinds? Is matter a continuous substance capable of expressing multiple forms (hylomorphism),[22] or a number of discrete, unchanging constituents (atomism)?[23] Does it have intrinsic properties (substance theory),[24][25] or is it lacking them (prima materia)?

One challenge to the traditional concept of matter as tangible "stuff" came with the rise of field physics in the 19th century. Relativity shows that matter and energy (including the spatially distributed energy of fields) are interchangeable. This enables the ontological view that energy is prima materia and matter is one of its forms. On the other hand, the Standard Model of Particle physics uses quantum field theory to describe all interactions. On this view it could be said that fields are prima materia and the energy is a property of the field.

According to the dominant cosmological model, the Lambda-CDM model, less than 5% of the universe's energy density is made up of the "matter" described by the Standard Model of Particle Physics, and the majority of the universe is composed of dark matter and dark energy—with little agreement amongst scientists about what these are made of.[26]

With the advent of quantum physics, some scientists believed the concept of matter had merely changed, while others believed the conventional position could no longer be maintained. For instance Werner Heisenberg said "The ontology of materialism rested upon the illusion that the kind of existence, the direct 'actuality' of the world around us, can be extrapolated into the atomic range. This extrapolation, however, is impossible... atoms are not things." Likewise, some philosophers feel that these dichotomies necessitate a switch from materialism to physicalism. Others use the terms "materialism" and "physicalism" interchangeably.[27]

The concept of matter has changed in response to new scientific discoveries. Thus materialism has no definite content independent of the particular theory of matter on which it is based. According to Noam Chomsky, any property can be considered material, if one defines matter such that it has that property.[28]


George Stack distinguishes between materialism and physicalism:

In the twentieth century, physicalism has emerged out of positivism. Physicalism restricts meaningful statements to physical bodies or processes that are verifiable or in principle verifiable. It is an empirical hypothesis that is subject to revision and, hence, lacks the dogmatic stance of classical materialism. Herbert Feigl defended physicalism in the United States and consistently held that mental states are brain states and that mental terms have the same referent as physical terms. The twentieth century has witnessed many materialist theories of the mental, and much debate surrounding them.[29]

However, not all conceptions of physicalism are tied to verificationist theories of meaning or direct realist accounts of perception. Rather, physicalists believe that no “element of reality” is missing from the mathematical formalism of our best description of the world. “Materialist” physicalists also believe that the formalism describes fields of insentience. In other words, the intrinsic nature of the physical is non-experiential.

Criticism and alternatives

From scientists

Rudolf Peierls, a physicist who played a major role in the Manhattan Project, rejected materialism, saying "The premise that you can describe in terms of physics the whole function of a human being...including knowledge and consciousness, is untenable. There is still something missing."[30]

Erwin Schrödinger said "Consciousness cannot be accounted for in physical terms. For consciousness is absolutely fundamental. It cannot be accounted for in terms of anything else".[31]

Werner Heisenberg, who came up with the uncertainty principle wrote "The ontology of materialism rested upon the illusion that the kind of existence, the direct ‘actuality’ of the world around us, can be extrapolated into the atomic range. This extrapolation, however, is impossible…Atoms are not things".[32]

Quantum mechanics

Some 20th century physicists (such as Eugene Wigner[33] and Henry Stapp)[34] and modern day physicists and science writers—such as Stephen Barr[35], Paul Davies and John Gribbin—have argued that materialism has been disproven by certain scientific findings in physics, such as quantum mechanics and chaos theory. In 1991, Gribbin and Davies released their book The Matter Myth, the first chapter of which, "The Death of Materialism", contained the following passage:

Then came our Quantum theory, which totally transformed our image of matter. The old assumption that the microscopic world of atoms was simply a scaled-down version of the everyday world had to be abandoned. Newton's deterministic machine was replaced by a shadowy and paradoxical conjunction of waves and particles, governed by the laws of chance, rather than the rigid rules of causality. An extension of the quantum theory goes beyond even this; it paints a picture in which solid matter dissolves away, to be replaced by weird excitations and vibrations of invisible field energy. Quantum physics undermines materialism because it reveals that matter has far less "substance" than we might believe. But another development goes even further by demolishing Newton's image of matter as inert lumps. This development is the theory of chaos, which has recently gained widespread attention.

— Paul Davies and John Gribbin, The Matter Myth, Chapter 1

Digital physics

Davies' and Gribbin's objections are shared by proponents of digital physics who view information rather than matter to be fundamental. Famous physicist and proponent of digital physics John Archibald Wheeler wrote "all matter and all things physical are information-theoretic in origin and this is a participatory universe."[36] Their objections were also shared by some founders of quantum theory, such as Max Planck, who wrote:

As a man who has devoted his whole life to the most clear headed science, to the study of matter, I can tell you as a result of my research about atoms this much: There is no matter as such. All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particle of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together. We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent Mind. This Mind is the matrix of all matter.

— Max Planck, Das Wesen der Materie, 1944

James Jeans concurred with Planck saying "The Universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine. Mind no longer appears to be an accidental intruder into the realm of matter".[37]

Religious and spiritual views

According to Constantin Gutberlet writing in Catholic Encyclopedia (1911), materialism, defined as "a philosophical system which regards matter as the only reality in the world [...] denies the existence of God and the soul".[38] In this view materialism could be perceived incompatible with most world religions. Materialism could be conflated with atheism. However Friedrich Lange wrote in 1892 "Diderot has not always in the Encyclopaedia expressed his own individual opinion, but it is just as true that at its commencement he had not yet got as far as Atheism and Materialism".[39]

Most of Hinduism and transcendentalism regards all matter as an illusion called Maya, blinding humans from knowing the truth. Transcendental experiences like the perception of Brahman are considered to destroy the illusion.[40]

Joseph Smith, the founder of the Latter Day Saint movement, taught: "There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes; We cannot see it; but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter."[41] This spirit element is believed to always have existed and to be co-eternal with God.[42]

Philosophical objections

Kant argued against all three forms of materialism, subjective idealism (which he contrasts with his "transcendental idealism"[43]) and mind–body dualism.[44] However, Kant also argues that change and time require an enduring substrate,[45] and does so in connection with his refutation of idealism.[46] Postmodern/poststructuralist thinkers also express a skepticism about any all-encompassing metaphysical scheme. Philosopher Mary Midgley,[47] among others,[48][49][50][51] argues that materialism is a self-refuting idea, at least in its eliminative form.


An argument for idealism, such as those of Hegel and Berkeley, often takes the form of an argument against materialism; indeed, the idealism of Berkeley was in fact called 'immaterialism.' Now, matter can be argued to be redundant, as in bundle theory, and mind-independent properties can, in turn, be reduced to subjective percepts. Berkeley presents an example of the latter by pointing out that it is impossible to gather direct evidence of matter, as there is no direct experience of matter; all that is experienced is perception, whether internal or external. As such, the existence of matter can only be assumed from the apparent (perceived) stability of perceptions; it finds absolutely no evidence in direct experience.

If matter and energy are seen as necessary to explain the physical world, but incapable of explaining mind, dualism results. Emergence, holism, and process philosophy seek to ameliorate the perceived shortcomings of traditional (especially mechanistic) materialism without abandoning materialism entirely.

Materialism as methodology

Some critics object to materialism as part of an overly skeptical, narrow or reductivist approach to theorizing, rather than to the ontological claim that matter is the only substance. Particle physicist and Anglican theologian John Polkinghorne objects to what he calls promissory materialism—claims that materialistic science will eventually succeed in explaining phenomena it has not so far been able to explain.[52] Polkinghorne prefers "dual-aspect monism" to materialism.[53]

Some scientific materialists have been criticized, for example by Noam Chomsky, for failing to provide clear definitions for what constitutes matter, leaving the term "materialism" without any definite meaning. Chomsky also states that since the concept of matter may be affected by new scientific discoveries, as has happened in the past, scientific materialists are being dogmatic in assuming the opposite.[28]

See also


a. ^ Indeed, it has been noted it is difficult if not impossible to define one category without contrasting it with the other.[2][3]


  1. ^ Edwards, Paul, ed. (1972) [1967], The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Vols.1-4, ISBN 0-02-894950-1(Originally published 1967 in 8 volumes) Alternative ISBN 978-0-02-894950-5
  2. ^ a b Priest, Stephen (1991), Theories of the Mind, London: Penguin Books, ISBN 0-14-013069-1 Alternative ISBN 978-0-14-013069-0
  3. ^ a b c Novack, George (1979), The Origins of Materialism, New York: Pathfinder Press, ISBN 0-87348-022-8
  4. ^ Mary Midgley The Myths We Live By.
  5. ^ Capital Vol. 1, Afterword to the Second German Edition.
  6. ^ The Cambridge Companion to Atheism (2006), p. 228, at Google Books
  7. ^ History of Indian Materialism, Ramakrishna Bhattacharya
  8. ^ Dominique Urvoy, "The Rationality of Everyday Life: The Andalusian Tradition? (Aropos of Hayy's First Experiences)", in Lawrence I. Conrad (1996), The World of Ibn Tufayl: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Ḥayy Ibn Yaqẓān, pp. 38-46, Brill Publishers, ISBN 90-04-09300-1.
  9. ^ Thomas Hobbes (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
  10. ^ Pierre Gassendi (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
  11. ^ Nicholas Churchich, Marxism and Alienation, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1990, p. 57: "Although Marx has rejected Feuerbach's abstract materialism," Lenin says that Feuerbach's views "are consistently materialist," implying that Feuerbach's conception of causality is entirely in line with dialectical materialism."
  12. ^ Owen Chadwick, The Secularization of the European Mind in the Nineteenth Century, Cambridge University Press, 1990, p. 165: "During the 1850s German ... scientists conducted a controversy known ... as the materialistic controversy. It was specially associated with the names of Vogt, Moleschott and Büchner" and p. 173: "Frenchmen were surprised to see Büchner and Vogt. ... [T]he French were surprised at German materialism".
  13. ^ The Nineteenth Century and After, Vol. 151, 1952, p. 227: "the Continental materialism of Moleschott and Buchner".
  14. ^ Smith, Daniel; Protevi, John (1 January 2015). Zalta, Edward N. (ed.). Gilles Deleuze (Winter 2015 ed.).
  15. ^ Dolphijn, Rick; Tuin, Iris van der (1 January 2013). "New Materialism: Interviews & Cartographies".
  16. ^ Bennett, Jane (4 January 2010). Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. Duke University Press. ISBN 9780822346333.
  17. ^ "Animal: New Directions in the Theorization of Race and Posthumanism". Retrieved 8 May 2016.
  18. ^ Chen, Mel Y. (10 July 2012). Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect. Duke University Press. ISBN 9780822352549.
  19. ^ Schweitzer, M.; Zerdy, J. (14 August 2014). Performing Objects and Theatrical Things. Springer. ISBN 9781137402455.
  20. ^ a b, by William Ramsey
  21. ^ Wikisource-logo.svg Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Matter" . Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  22. ^ "Hylomorphism" Concise Britannica
  23. ^ "Atomism: Antiquity to the Seventeenth Century" Archived 9 September 2006 at the Wayback Machine Dictionary of the History of Ideas
    "Atomism in the Seventeenth Century" Dictionary of the History of Ideas
    Article by a philosopher who opposes atomism Archived 21 December 2006 at the Wayback Machine
    Information on Buddhist atomism Archived 16 February 2007 at the Wayback Machine
    Article on traditional Greek atomism
    "Atomism from the 17th to the 20th Century" Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  24. ^ "''Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy'' on substance theory". Retrieved 24 June 2013.
  25. ^ "The Friesian School on Substance and Essence". Retrieved 24 June 2013.
  26. ^ Bernard Sadoulet "Particle Dark Matter in the Universe: At the Brink of Discovery?" Science 5 January 2007: Vol. 315. no. 5808, pp. 61 - 63
  27. ^ "Many philosophers and scientists now use the terms `material' and `physical' interchangeably" Dictionary of the Philosophy of Mind
  28. ^ a b Chomsky, Noam (2000) New Horizons in the Study of Language and Mind
  29. ^ stack, George J. (1998), "Materialism", in Craig, E. (ed.), Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Luther to Nifo (v. 6), Routledge, pp. 171–172, ISBN 978-0-415-18714-5
  30. ^ [1]
  31. ^ "General Scientific and Popular Papers," in Collected Papers, Vol. 4. Vienna: Austrian Academy of Sciences. Friedr. Vieweg & Sohn, Braunschweig/Wiesbaden. p. 334
  32. ^ W. Heisenberg (1962). Physics and philosophy: the revolution in modern science
  33. ^ [2]
  34. ^ "Quantum interactive dualism - an alternative to materialism," Journal of Consciousness Studies
  35. ^
  36. ^ "Information, Physics, Quantum: The Search for Links" in Complexity, Entropy and the Physics of Information (1990), ed. by Wojciech H. Zurek
  37. ^ James Jeans, The Mysterious Universe p. 137, 1937 ed.
  38. ^ Wikisource-logo.svg Gutberlet, Constantin (1911). "Materialism" . In Herbermann, Charles (ed.). Catholic Encyclopedia. 10. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  39. ^ Lange, Friedrich Albert (1892). History of Materialism and Criticism of Its Present Importance. English and foreign philosophical library. 2: History of materialism until Kant (4 ed.). K. Paul, Trench, Trübner, & Company, Limited. pp. 25–26. Retrieved August 2015. Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  40. ^
  41. ^ Doctrine and Covenants 131:7–8
  42. ^ Smith, Joseph (1938). Smith, Joseph Fielding (ed.). Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book. pp. 352–354. OCLC 718055..
  43. ^ See Critique of Pure Reason where he gives a "refutation of idealism" in pp345-52 (1st Ed) and pp 244-7 (2nd Ed) in the Norman Kemp Smith edition
  44. ^ Critique of Pure Reason (A379, p352 NKS translation). "If, however, as commonly happens, we seek to extend the concept of dualism, and take it in the transcendental sense, neither it nor the two counter-alternatives — pneumatism [idealism] on the one hand, materialism on the other — would have any sort of basis [...] Neither the transcendental object which underlies outer appearances nor that which underlies inner intuition, is in itself either matter or a thinking being, but a ground (to us unknown)..."
  45. ^ "Kant argues that we can determine that there has been a change in the objects of our perception, not merely a change in our perceptions themselves, only by conceiving of what we perceive as successive states of enduring substances (see Substance)".Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy Archived 6 February 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  46. ^ "All determination of time presupposes something permanent in perception. This permanent cannot, however, be something in me [...]" Critique of Pure Reason, B274, P245 (NKS translation)
  47. ^ see Mary Midgley The Myths we Live by
  48. ^ Baker, L. (1987). Saving Belief Princeton, Princeton University Press
  49. ^ Reppert, V. (1992). "Eliminative Materialism, Cognitive Suicide, and Begging the Question". Metaphilosophy 23: 378-92.
  50. ^ Seidner, Stanley S. (10 June 2009) "A Trojan Horse: Logotherapeutic Transcendence and its Secular Implications for Theology". Mater Dei Institute. p 5.
  51. ^ Boghossian, P. (1990). "The Status of Content" Philosophical Review 99: 157-84. and (1991) "The Status of Content Revisited". Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 71: 264-78.
  52. ^ However, critics of materialism are equally guilty of prognosticating that it will never be able to explain certain phenomena. "Over a hundred years ago William James saw clearly that science would never resolve the mind-body problem." Are We Spiritual Machines? Dembski, W.
  53. ^ "Interview with John Polkinghorne". Retrieved 24 June 2013.

Further reading

External links


Charvaka (IAST: Cārvāka), originally known as Lokāyata and Bārhaspatya, is the ancient school of Indian materialism. Charvaka holds direct perception, empiricism, and conditional inference as proper sources of knowledge, embraces philosophical skepticism and rejects Vedas, Vedic ritualism, and supernaturalism.Ajita Kesakambali is credited as the forerunner of the Charvakas, while Brihaspati is usually referred to as the founder of Charvaka or Lokāyata philosophy. Much of the primary literature of Charvaka, the Barhaspatya sutras (ca. 600 BCE), are missing or lost. Its teachings have been compiled from historic secondary literature such as those found in the shastras, sutras, and the Indian epic poetry as well as in the dialogues of Gautama Buddha and from Jain literature.One of the widely studied principles of Charvaka philosophy was its rejection of inference as a means to establish valid, universal knowledge, and metaphysical truths. In other words, the Charvaka epistemology states that whenever one infers a truth from a set of observations or truths, one must acknowledge doubt; inferred knowledge is conditional.Charvaka is categorized as a heterodox school of Indian philosophy. It is considered an example of atheistic schools in the Hindu tradition.

Cultural materialism (anthropology)

Cultural materialism is an anthropological research orientation first introduced by Marvin Harris in his 1968 book The Rise of Anthropological Theory, as a theoretical paradigm and research strategy. It is said to be the most enduring achievement of that work. Harris subsequently developed a full elaboration and defense of the paradigm in his 1979 book Cultural Materialism. To Harris social change is dependent of three factors: a society's infrastructure, structure, and superstructure.Harris's concept of cultural materialism was influenced by the writings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, as well as their theories as modified by Karl August Wittfogel and his 1957 book, Oriental Despotism: A Comparative Study of Total Power. Yet this materialism is distinct from Marxist dialectical materialism, as well as from philosophical materialism. Thomas Malthus's work encouraged Harris to consider reproduction of equal importance to production. The research strategy was also influenced by the work of earlier anthropologists including Herbert Spencer, Edward Tylor and Lewis Henry Morgan who, in the 19th century, first proposed that cultures evolved from the less complex to the more complex over time. Leslie White and Julian Steward and their theories of cultural evolution and cultural ecology were instrumental in the reemergence of evolutionist theories of culture in the 20th century and Harris took inspiration from them in formulating cultural materialism.


Dialectic or dialectics (Greek: διαλεκτική, dialektikḗ; related to dialogue), also known as the dialectical method, is at base a discourse between two or more people holding different points of view about a subject but wishing to establish the truth through reasoned arguments. Dialectic resembles debate, but the concept excludes subjective elements such as emotional appeal and the modern pejorative sense of rhetoric. Dialectic may be contrasted with the didactic method, wherein one side of the conversation teaches the other. Dialectic is alternatively known as minor logic, as opposed to major logic or critique.

Within Hegelianism, the word dialectic has the specialised meaning of a contradiction between ideas that serves as the determining factor in their relationship. Dialectic comprises three stages of development: first, a thesis or statement of an idea, which gives rise to a second step, a reaction or antithesis that contradicts or negates the thesis, and third, the synthesis, a statement through which the differences between the two points are resolved. Dialectical materialism, a theory or set of theories produced mainly by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, adapted the Hegelian dialectic into arguments regarding traditional materialism.

Dialectic tends to imply a process of evolution and so does not naturally fit within formal logic (see logic and dialectic). This process is particularly marked in Hegelian dialectic and even more so in Marxist dialectic which may rely on the evolution of ideas over longer time periods in the real world; dialectical logic attempts to address this.

Dialectical and Historical Materialism

Dialectical and Historical Materialism (Russian: О диалектическом и историческом материализме), by Joseph Stalin, is a central text within Soviet political theory Marxism–Leninism.

The work first appeared in 1938, drawing heavily upon both Vladimir Lenin's philosophical works and the then-new Short Course in the History of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks). It later became the state doctrine of the Soviet Union. The title refers to dialectical materialism and historical materialism.

Dialectical materialism

Dialectical materialism is a philosophy of science and nature developed in Europe and based on the writings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. In contrast to the Hegelian dialectic, which emphasized the idealist observation that human experience is dependent on the mind's perceptions, Marxist dialectics emphasizes the importance of real world conditions, in terms of class, labor, and socioeconomic interactions. Marx supposed that these material conditions contained contradictions which seek resolution in new forms of social organisation.

Dialectical materialism accepts the evolution of the natural world and the emergence of new qualities of being at new stages of evolution. As Z. A. Jordan notes, "Engels made constant use of the metaphysical insight that the higher level of existence emerges from and has its roots in the lower; that the higher level constitutes a new order of being with its irreducible laws; and that this process of evolutionary advance is governed by laws of development which reflect basic properties of 'matter in motion as a whole'."The formulation of the Soviet version of dialectical and historical materialism (such as in Stalin's book Dialectical and Historical Materialism) in the 1930s by Joseph Stalin and his associates, became the "official" Soviet interpretation of Marxism. It was codified and popularized in textbooks which were required reading in the Soviet Union as well as in some Eastern European countries.

Economic materialism

This article addresses materialism in the economic sense of the word. For information on the philosophical and scientific meanings, see materialism.Materialism is a personal attitude which attaches importance to acquiring and consuming material goods.

The use of the term materialistic tends to describe a person's personality or a society tends to have a negative or critical connotation. Also called acquisitiveness, it is often associated with a value system which regards social status as being determined by affluence (see conspicuous consumption), as well as the belief that possessions can provide happiness. Environmentalism can be considered a competing orientation to materialism.Materialism can be considered a pragmatic form of enlightened self-interest based on a prudent understanding of the character of market-oriented economy and society.

Eliminative materialism

Eliminative materialism (also called eliminativism) is the claim that people's common-sense understanding of the mind (or folk psychology) is false and that certain classes of mental states that most people believe in do not exist. It is a materialist position in the philosophy of mind. Some supporters of eliminativism argue that no coherent neural basis will be found for many everyday psychological concepts such as belief or desire, since they are poorly defined. Rather, they argue that psychological concepts of behaviour and experience should be judged by how well they reduce to the biological level. Other versions entail the non-existence of conscious mental states such as pain and visual perceptions.Eliminativism about a class of entities is the view that that class of entities does not exist. For example, materialism tends to be eliminativist about the soul; modern chemists are eliminativist about phlogiston; and modern physicists are eliminativist about the existence of luminiferous aether. Eliminative materialism is the relatively new (1960s–1970s) idea that certain classes of mental entities that common sense takes for granted, such as beliefs, desires, and the subjective sensation of pain, do not exist. The most common versions are eliminativism about propositional attitudes, as expressed by Paul and Patricia Churchland, and eliminativism about qualia (subjective interpretations about particular instances of subjective experience), as expressed by Daniel Dennett and Georges Rey. These philosophers often appeal to an introspection illusion.

In the context of materialist understandings of psychology, eliminativism stands in opposition to reductive materialism which argues that mental states as conventionally understood do exist, and that they directly correspond to the physical state of the nervous system. An intermediate position is revisionary materialism, which will often argue that the mental state in question will prove to be somewhat reducible to physical phenomena—with some changes needed to the common sense concept.

Since eliminative materialism claims that future research will fail to find a neuronal basis for various mental phenomena, it must necessarily wait for science to progress further. One might question the position on these grounds, but other philosophers like Churchland argue that eliminativism is often necessary in order to open the minds of thinkers to new evidence and better explanations.

Emergent materialism

In the philosophy of mind, emergent (or emergentist) materialism is a theory which asserts that the mind is an irreducible existent in some sense, albeit not in the sense of being an ontological simple, and that the study of mental phenomena is independent of other sciences.

The view can be divided into emergence which denies mental causation and emergence which allows for causal effect. A version of the latter type has been advocated by John R. Searle, called biological naturalism.

The other main group of materialist views in the philosophy of mind can be labeled non-emergent (or non-emergentist) materialism, and includes identity theory (reductive materialism), philosophical behaviorism, functionalism, and eliminativism (eliminative materialism).

Georges Bataille

Georges Albert Maurice Victor Bataille (; French: [ʒɔʁʒ batɑj]; 10 September 1897 – 9 July 1962) was a French intellectual and literary figure working in literature, philosophy, anthropology, economics, sociology and history of art. His writing, which included essays, novels, and poetry, explored such subjects as erotism, mysticism, surrealism, and transgression. His work would prove influential on subsequent schools of philosophy and social theory, including poststructuralism.

Historical materialism

Historical materialism (also materialist conception of history) is a methodology used by some communist and Marxist historiographers that focuses on human societies and their development through history, arguing that history is the result of material conditions rather than ideas. This was first articulated by Karl Marx (1818–1883) as the "materialist conception of history." It is principally a theory of history which asserts that the material conditions of a society's mode of production or in Marxist terms, the union of a society's productive forces and relations of production, fundamentally determine society's organization and development. Historical materialism is an example of Marx and Engel's scientific socialism, attempting to show that socialism and communism are scientific necessities rather than philosophical ideals.Historical materialism is materialist as it does not believe that history has been driven by individual's consciousness or ideals, but rather ascribes to the philosophical monism that matter is the fundamental substance of nature and henceforth the driving force in all of world history; this drove Marx and other historical materialists to abandon ideas such as rights (e.g. "right to life, liberty, and property" as liberalism professed). In contrast, idealists believe that human consciousness creates reality rather than the materialist conception that material reality creates human consciousness. This put Marx in direct conflict with groups like the liberals who believed that reality was governed by some set of ideals.

Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence.

-Karl Marx, The German Ideology

Historical materialism looks for the causes of developments and changes in human society in the means by which humans collectively produce the necessities of life. It posits that social classes and the relationship between them, along with the political structures and ways of thinking in society, are founded on and reflect contemporary economic activity.Since Marx's time, the theory has been modified and expanded by some writers. It now has many Marxist and non-Marxist variants. Many Marxists contend that historical materialism is a scientific approach to the study of history: scientific socialism.


In philosophy, Idealism is the group of metaphysical philosophies that assert that reality, or reality as humans can know it, is fundamentally mental, mentally constructed, or otherwise immaterial. Epistemologically, Idealism manifests as a skepticism about the possibility of knowing any mind-independent thing. In contrast to Materialism, Idealism asserts the primacy of consciousness as the origin and prerequisite of material phenomena. According to this view, consciousness exists before and is the pre-condition of material existence. Consciousness creates and determines the material and not vice versa. Idealism believes consciousness and mind to be the origin of the material world and aims to explain the existing world according to these principles.

Idealism theories are mainly divided into two groups. Subjective idealism takes as its starting point the given fact of human consciousness seeing the existing world as a combination of sensation. Objective idealism posits the existence of an objective consciousness which exists before and, in some sense, independently of human ones. In a sociological sense, idealism emphasizes how human ideas—especially beliefs and values—shape society. As an ontological doctrine, idealism goes further, asserting that all entities are composed of mind or spirit. Idealism thus rejects those physicalist and dualist theories that fail to ascribe priority to the mind.

The earliest extant arguments that the world of experience is grounded in the mental derive from India and Greece. The Hindu idealists in India and the Greek Neoplatonists gave panentheistic arguments for an all-pervading consciousness as the ground or true nature of reality. In contrast, the Yogācāra school, which arose within Mahayana Buddhism in India in the 4th century CE, based its "mind-only" idealism to a greater extent on phenomenological analyses of personal experience. This turn toward the subjective anticipated empiricists such as George Berkeley, who revived idealism in 18th-century Europe by employing skeptical arguments against materialism. Beginning with Immanuel Kant, German idealists such as Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, and Arthur Schopenhauer dominated 19th-century philosophy. This tradition, which emphasized the mental or "ideal" character of all phenomena, gave birth to idealistic and subjectivist schools ranging from British idealism to phenomenalism to existentialism.

Idealism as a philosophy came under heavy attack in the West at the turn of the 20th century. The most influential critics of both epistemological and ontological idealism were G. E. Moore and Bertrand Russell, but its critics also included the New Realists. According to Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the attacks by Moore and Russell were so influential that even more than 100 years later "any acknowledgment of idealistic tendencies is viewed in the English-speaking world with reservation". However, many aspects and paradigms of idealism did still have a large influence on subsequent philosophy.


Marxism is a theory and method of working class self-emancipation. As a theory, it relies on a method of socioeconomic analysis that views class relations and social conflict using a materialist interpretation of historical development and takes a dialectical view of social transformation. It originates from the works of 19th-century German philosophers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.

Marxism uses a methodology, now known as historical materialism, to analyze and critique the development of class society and especially of capitalism as well as the role of class struggles in systemic economic, social, and political change.

According to Marxist theory, in capitalist societies, class conflict arises due to contradictions between the material interests of the oppressed and exploited proletariat—a class of wage labourers employed to produce goods and services—and the bourgeoisie—the ruling class that owns the means of production and extracts its wealth through appropriation of the surplus product produced by the proletariat in the form of profit.

This class struggle that is commonly expressed as the revolt of a society's productive forces against its relations of production, results in a period of short-term crises as the bourgeoisie struggle to manage the intensifying alienation of labor experienced by the proletariat, albeit with varying degrees of class consciousness.

In periods of deep crisis, the resistance of the oppressed can culminate in a proletarian revolution which, if victorious, leads to the establishment of socialism—a socioeconomic system based on social ownership of the means of production, distribution based on one's contribution and production organized directly for use. As the productive forces continued to advance, Marx hypothesized that socialism would ultimately be transformed into a communist society: a classless, stateless, humane society based on common ownership and the underlying principle: "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs".

Marxism has developed into many different branches and schools of thought, with the result that there is now no single definitive Marxist theory. Different Marxian schools place a greater emphasis on certain aspects of classical Marxism while rejecting or modifying other aspects. Many schools of thought have sought to combine Marxian concepts and non-Marxian concepts, which has then led to contradicting conclusions. However, lately there is movement toward the recognition that historical materialism and dialectical materialism remains the fundamental aspect of all Marxist schools of thought.Marxism has had a profound impact on global academia and has influenced many fields such as archaeology, anthropology, media studies, political science, theater, history, sociology, art history and theory, cultural studies, education, economics, ethics, criminology, geography, literary criticism, aesthetics, film theory, critical psychology and philosophy.

Materialism and Empirio-criticism

Materialism and Empirio-criticism (Russian: Материализм и эмпириокритицизм, Materializm i empiriokrititsizm) is a philosophical work by Vladimir Lenin, published in 1909. It was an obligatory subject of study in all institutions of higher education in the Soviet Union, as a seminal work of dialectical materialism, a part of the curriculum called "Marxist–Leninist Philosophy". Lenin argued that human perceptions correctly and accurately reflect the objective external world.

Lenin formulates the fundamental philosophical contradiction between idealism and materialism as follows:

"Materialism is the recognition of 'objects in themselves' or objects outside the mind; the ideas and sensations are copies or images of these objects. The opposite doctrine (idealism) says: the objects do not exist, outside the mind '; they are 'connections of sensations'."

Metaphysical naturalism

Metaphysical naturalism (also called ontological naturalism, philosophical naturalism, scientific materialism and antisupernaturalism) is a philosophical worldview which holds that there is nothing but natural elements, principles, and relations of the kind studied by the natural sciences. Methodological naturalism is a philosophical basis for science, for which metaphysical naturalism provides only one possible ontological foundation. Broadly, the corresponding theological perspective is religious naturalism or spiritual naturalism. More specifically, metaphysical naturalism rejects the supernatural concepts and explanations that are part of many religions.

Naturalism (philosophy)

In philosophy, naturalism is the "idea or belief that only natural (as opposed to supernatural or spiritual) laws and forces operate in the world." Adherents of naturalism (i.e., naturalists) assert that natural laws are the rules that govern the structure and behavior of the natural universe, that the changing universe at every stage is a product of these laws."Naturalism can intuitively be separated into an ontological and a methodological component," argues David Papineau. "Ontological" refers to the philosophical study of the nature of being. Some philosophers equate naturalism with materialism. For example, philosopher Paul Kurtz argues that nature is best accounted for by reference to material principles. These principles include mass, energy, and other physical and chemical properties accepted by the scientific community. Further, this sense of naturalism holds that spirits, deities, and ghosts are not real and that there is no "purpose" in nature. Such an absolute belief in naturalism is commonly referred to as metaphysical naturalism.Assuming naturalism in working methods as the current paradigm, without the further consideration of naturalism as an absolute truth with philosophical entailment, is called methodological naturalism. The subject matter here is a philosophy of acquiring knowledge based on an assumed paradigm.

With the exception of pantheists—who believe that Nature is identical with divinity while not recognizing a distinct personal anthropomorphic god—theists challenge the idea that nature contains all of reality. According to some theists, natural laws may be viewed as so-called secondary causes of God(s).

In the 20th century, Willard Van Orman Quine, George Santayana, and other philosophers argued that the success of naturalism in science meant that scientific methods should also be used in philosophy. Science and philosophy are said to form a continuum, according to this view.


In sociology, postmaterialism is the transformation of individual values from materialist, physical, and economic to new individual values of autonomy and self-expression.

The term was popularized by the political scientist Ronald Inglehart in his 1977 book The Silent Revolution, in which he discovered that the formative affluence experienced by the post-war generations was leading some of them to take their material security for granted and instead place greater importance on non-material goals such as self-expression, autonomy, freedom of speech, gender equality and environmentalism. Inglehart argued that with increasing prosperity, such postmaterial values would gradually increase in the publics of advanced industrial societies through the process of intergenerational replacement.

Postmaterialism is a tool in developing an understanding of modern culture. It can be considered in reference of three distinct concepts of materialism. The first kind of materialism, and the one in reference to which the word postmaterialism is used most often, refers to materialism as a value-system relating to the desire for fulfillment of material needs (such as security, sustenance and shelter) and an emphasis on material luxuries in a consumerist society. A second referent is the materialist conception of history held by many socialists, most notably Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, as well as their philosophic concept of dialectical materialism. The third definition of materialism concerns the philosophical argument that matter is the only existing reality. The first concept is sociological, the second is both philosophical and sociological, and the third is philosophical.

Depending on which of the three above notions of materialism are being discussed, postmaterialism can be an ontological postmaterialism, an existentialistic postmaterialism, an ethical postmaterialism, or a political-sociological postmaterialism, which is also the best known.

Speculative realism

Speculative realism is a movement in contemporary Continental-inspired philosophy (also known as post-Continental philosophy) that defines itself loosely in its stance of metaphysical realism against the dominant forms of post-Kantian philosophy (or what it terms "correlationism").Speculative realism takes its name from a conference held at Goldsmiths College, University of London in April 2007. The conference was moderated by Alberto Toscano of Goldsmiths College, and featured presentations by Ray Brassier of American University of Beirut (then at Middlesex University), Iain Hamilton Grant of the University of the West of England, Graham Harman of the American University in Cairo, and Quentin Meillassoux of the École Normale Supérieure in Paris. Credit for the name "speculative realism" is generally ascribed to Brassier, though Meillassoux had already used the term "speculative materialism" to describe his own position.A second conference, entitled "Speculative Realism/Speculative Materialism", took place at the UWE Bristol on Friday 24 April 2009, two years after the original event at Goldsmiths. The line-up consisted of Ray Brassier, Iain Hamilton Grant, Graham Harman, and (in place of Meillassoux, who was unable to attend) Alberto Toscano.

Spiritual materialism

Spiritual materialism is a term coined by Chögyam Trungpa in his book Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism. The book is a compendium of his talks explaining Buddhism given while opening the Karma Dzong meditation center in Boulder, Colorado. He expands on the concept in later seminars that became books such as Work, Sex, Money. He uses the term to describe mistakes spiritual seekers commit which turn the pursuit of spirituality into an ego building and confusion creating endeavor, based on the idea that ego development is counter to spiritual progress.Conventionally, it is used to describe capitalist and spiritual narcissism, commercial efforts such as "new age" bookstores and wealthy lecturers on spirituality; it might also mean the attempt to build up a list of credentials or accumulate teachings in order to present oneself as a more realized or holy person. Author Jorge Ferrer equates the terms "Spiritual materialism" and "Spiritual Narcissism", though others draw a distinction, that spiritual narcissism is believing that one deserves love and respect or is better than another because one has accumulated spiritual training instead of the belief that accumulating training will bring an end to suffering.

Type physicalism

Type physicalism (also known as reductive materialism, type identity theory, mind–brain identity theory and identity theory of mind) is a physicalist theory, in the philosophy of mind. It asserts that mental events can be grouped into types, and can then be correlated with types of physical events in the brain. For example, one type of mental event, such as "mental pains" will, presumably, turn out to be describing one type of physical event (like C-fiber firings).

Type physicalism is contrasted by token identity physicalism, which argues that mental events are unlikely to have "steady" or categorical biological correlates. These positions make use of the philosophical type–token distinction (e.g., Two persons having the same "type" of car need not mean that they share a "token", a single vehicle). Type physicalism can now be understood to argue that there is identicalness between types, whereas token identity physicalism says one can only describe a particular, unique, brain event.

There are other ways a physicalist might criticize type physicalism; eliminative materialism and revisionary materialism question whether science is currently using the best categorisations. In the same way talk of demonic possession was questioned with scientific advance, categorisations like "pain" may need to be revised.

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