Can Physicalism be defined non-instrumentally?

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Can Physicalism be defined non-instrumentally?

Post by Steve3007 » June 27th, 2020, 11:34 am

Physicalism is the idea that everything supervenes on the physical. But what do we mean by "the physical"?

One way to define the physical is in terms of the patterns in diverse sensations. We can propose that there exists an extra-mental world which causes our sensations. We can then say that the fact that single entities in that world give rise to diverse sensations is what causes those diverse sensations to be related to each other via those patterns. We can then say that those entities, in that world, are "the physical".

But that is an instrumental definition. It defines "the physical", and therefore Physicalism, in terms of its utility for describing and predicting patterns in sensations. Is there another way?

It also means that Physicalism is not necessarily tied to Materialism. Materialism is the idea that everything supervenes on matter. But there is no coherent reason to decide that those entities should only be given the label "matter". Other labels are available. Under this instrumental definition, the label(s) used would depend entirely on what is most useful for describing and predicting the patterns in those sensations.

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Re: Can Physicalism be defined non-instrumentally?

Post by Terrapin Station » June 27th, 2020, 4:22 pm

Steve3007 wrote:
June 27th, 2020, 11:34 am
Physicalism is the idea that everything supervenes on the physical.
??? Not everyone defines physicalism the same way, but "everything supervenes on the physical" would be an odd way to put it, since it could easily be taken to suggest something epiphenomenal and not just physical . . . which wouldn't really be physicalism. Of course, this depends on how exactly we parse supervienence, but it often has a connotation that supervenient properties φ are not identical to what φ supervene on, otherwise we're not really saying anything different by invoking supervenience in the first place.

So physicalism is simply the idea that everything is physical.
But what do we mean by "the physical"?
That varies by species of physicalist. My view is that everything is matter (in the "chunks of stuff" sense), relations of matter and processes of matter. In addition that all amounts to properties. In my view these things aren't really separable from each other (all matter is in relations to other matter, all matter seems to be dynamic, so that relations are dynamic, too, we certainly can't somehow separate properties from any of this, etc.--the only exception would be a hypothetical one-elementary particular universe, where no relations or processes would obtain, though properties still would).

Some people, including some physicalists, apparently, unfortunately see physicalism as kind of a cheerleading squad for physics, but I think it's a mess to see it that way.
One way to define the physical is in terms of the patterns in diverse sensations. We can propose that there exists an extra-mental world which causes our sensations. We can then say that the fact that single entities in that world give rise to diverse sensations is what causes those diverse sensations to be related to each other via those patterns. We can then say that those entities, in that world, are "the physical".
No. That's self-centered "everything reduces to epistemology" crap in my view. As if we can only talk about OUR relations to things, how we know things, etc. That's garbage.
It also means that Physicalism is not necessarily tied to Materialism.
Which would be problematic, because physicalism IS basically materialism. There are a couple reasons "physicalism" is the preferred term now. One is that for some odd reason, people are more likely to straw man physicalism to exclude relations--structures, processes, etc. if we use the term "materialism." Another reason is to distance the view from the Marxist senses of "materialism," which became very popular and tended to mislead people into thinking that one was advocating some species of Marxist views in invoking materialism.

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Re: Can Physicalism be defined non-instrumentally?

Post by Consul » June 27th, 2020, 6:14 pm

Terrapin Station wrote:
June 27th, 2020, 4:22 pm
So physicalism is simply the idea that everything is physical.
…everything that exists, is real.
Terrapin Station wrote:
June 27th, 2020, 4:22 pm
It also means that Physicalism is not necessarily tied to Materialism.
Which would be problematic, because physicalism IS basically materialism. There are a couple reasons "physicalism" is the preferred term now. One is that for some odd reason, people are more likely to straw man physicalism to exclude relations--structures, processes, etc. if we use the term "materialism." Another reason is to distance the view from the Marxist senses of "materialism," which became very popular and tended to mislead people into thinking that one was advocating some species of Marxist views in invoking materialism.
QUOTE>
"Some fear that 'materialism' conveys a commitment that this ultimate physics must be a physics of matter alone: no fields, no radiation, no causally active spacetime. Not so! Let us proclaim our solidarity with forebears who, like us, wanted their philosophy to agree with ultimate physics. Let us not chide and disown them for their less advanced ideas about what ultimate physics might say."

(Lewis, David. "Naming the Colours." In Papers in Metaphysics and Epistemology, 332-358. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999. p. 332n2)

"[Materialism] was so named when the best physics of the day was the physics of matter alone. Now our best physics acknowledges other bearers of fundamental properties: parts of pervasive fields, parts of causally active spacetime. But it would be pedantry to change the name on that account, and disown our intellectual ancestors. Or worse, it would be a tacky marketing ploy, akin to British Rail's decree that second class passengers shall now be called 'standard class customers'."

(Lewis, David. "Reduction of Mind." In A Companion to the Philosophy of Mind, edited by Samuel D. Guttenplan, 412-431. Oxford: Blackwell, 1994. p. 413)
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Re: Can Physicalism be defined non-instrumentally?

Post by hegel » June 27th, 2020, 6:48 pm

Steve3007 wrote:
June 27th, 2020, 11:34 am
Physicalism is the idea that everything supervenes on the physical. But what do we mean by "the physical"?

One way to define the physical is in terms of the patterns in diverse sensations. We can propose that there exists an extra-mental world which causes our sensations. We can then say that the fact that single entities in that world give rise to diverse sensations is what causes those diverse sensations to be related to each other via those patterns. We can then say that those entities, in that world, are "the physical".

But that is an instrumental definition. It defines "the physical", and therefore Physicalism, in terms of its utility for describing and predicting patterns in sensations. Is there another way?

It also means that Physicalism is not necessarily tied to Materialism. Materialism is the idea that everything supervenes on matter. But there is no coherent reason to decide that those entities should only be given the label "matter". Other labels are available. Under this instrumental definition, the label(s) used would depend entirely on what is most useful for describing and predicting the patterns in those sensations.
I don't see how physicalism can be described without appealing to instrumentalism. The physical is only definded as that which has properties of the physical.

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Re: Can Physicalism be defined non-instrumentally?

Post by Consul » June 27th, 2020, 6:57 pm

Steve3007 wrote:
June 27th, 2020, 11:34 am
Physicalism is the idea that everything supervenes on the physical. But what do we mean by "the physical"?
Supervenience may be sufficient for nonreductive physicalism, but it's not sufficient for reductive physicalism. For example, the mental states of immaterial souls might supervene on the physical states of bodies; but if so, they would still be nonphysical, physically irreducible states of nonphysical, physically irreducible things, in which case reductive physicalism is false.

As for the concept of physicality, there's only one adjective in (standard) English, "physical", but there are two ones in German: "physisch" and "physikalisch". The latter means "having to do with physics", "relating to physics", "pertaining to the subject matter of physics".

A physikalische Entität is an entity which is thematically part of physics, in the sense that it is part of what physicists qua physicists talk and think about—or in the sense that it would be part of what physicists talk and think about if they knew it exists; and it is also an entity which is ontically part of physics, in the sense of being part of its ontology, of being one of those entities which constitute the ontology of physics (qua basic science of MEST, the matter-energy-space-time system)—or in the sense of being such that it would be added to and included in the ontology of physics if the physicists knew it exists.

Galen Strawson has coined the term "physicsal" ("physicSal"), which is a good translation of "physikalisch". Now we have two English adjectives corresponding to the two German ones: "physical" and "physicsal".

Given this verbal distinction, I define a physical entity (physische Entität) as one which is either a physicsal entity (physikalische Entität) or an entity composed of or constituted by nothing but purely physicsal entities.

All physicsal entities are physical entities by (this) definition; and according to reductive physicalism, all nonphysicsal, i.e. all chemical, biological, psychological, or sociological entities, are physical entities too by being ontologically reducible to (reductively identifiable with) purely physicsal ones.
"We may philosophize well or ill, but we must philosophize." – Wilfrid Sellars

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Re: Can Physicalism be defined non-instrumentally?

Post by Terrapin Station » June 27th, 2020, 7:37 pm

Consul wrote:
June 27th, 2020, 6:14 pm
Terrapin Station wrote:
June 27th, 2020, 4:22 pm
So physicalism is simply the idea that everything is physical.
…everything that exists, is real.
Which has what the f--- to do with the fact that physicalism posits that everything is physical?

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Re: Can Physicalism be defined non-instrumentally?

Post by Marvin_Edwards » June 27th, 2020, 8:44 pm

Steve3007 wrote:
June 27th, 2020, 11:34 am
Physicalism is the idea that everything supervenes on the physical.
I really dislike the term "supervenes on". There is an intuitive sense that if A "supervenes on" B then A is somehow influencing B. But as I understand it now, "supervenes on" can be replaced with "follows from". To say that A "supervenes on" B means that A follows from B. It means that B was there first, and A was derived from B.

I believe you are using it correctly Steve, and that you are saying that physicalism is the idea that everything proceeds from a physical foundation.
Steve3007 wrote:
June 27th, 2020, 11:34 am
But what do we mean by "the physical"?

One way to define the physical is in terms of the patterns in diverse sensations. We can propose that there exists an extra-mental world which causes our sensations. We can then say that the fact that single entities in that world give rise to diverse sensations is what causes those diverse sensations to be related to each other via those patterns. We can then say that those entities, in that world, are "the physical".
I think that the intelligent living organisms (known affectionately as "us") are physical objects running physical processes. To survive, we need to understand our physical environment sufficiently to find food and shelter. It is to these ends that our senses evolved.

So, it is our knowledge of our physical environment that is instrumental to our survival.

And we distinguish what is physically real from what is dreamed or imagined. This means that we conceive of the physical environment as something that is separate from us. There will be parts of that physical environment which is not instrumental for anything. It's just there. There will be other parts that are used for food or materials for building a house.
Steve3007 wrote:
June 27th, 2020, 11:34 am
But that is an instrumental definition. It defines "the physical", and therefore Physicalism, in terms of its utility for describing and predicting patterns in sensations. Is there another way?
The physical environment is presumed by nearly all of us to exist separate from our sensations.
Steve3007 wrote:
June 27th, 2020, 11:34 am
It also means that Physicalism is not necessarily tied to Materialism. Materialism is the idea that everything supervenes on matter. But there is no coherent reason to decide that those entities should only be given the label "matter".
I'm not sure one can logically distinguish physical objects from material objects. We could describe ourselves as objects made up of physical material organized as living organisms of an intelligent species.

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Re: Can Physicalism be defined non-instrumentally?

Post by Consul » June 27th, 2020, 9:58 pm

Terrapin Station wrote:
June 27th, 2020, 7:37 pm
Consul wrote:
June 27th, 2020, 6:14 pm
…everything that exists, is real.
Which has what the f--- to do with the fact that physicalism posits that everything is physical?
If the domain of the universal quantifier "everything" isn't only the set of existent things but the union of the set of existent things and the set of nonexistent things, then it is false that everything is physical, because things such as God and immaterial souls aren't physical things. Of course, nonphysical things don't refute physicalism unless they exist, so it had better be defined as the view that all existent (real) things are physical, and not just as the view that all things are physical.
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Re: Can Physicalism be defined non-instrumentally?

Post by The Beast » June 27th, 2020, 10:03 pm

One substance; three basic entities.
Lifeforce
Blueprint
Consciousness.

The non-physical entities are perceived by consciousness by the same mechanism as an abstract number is.
Example: the number 1 is an abstract, but it is perceived when it is attached to a physical entity like 1 apple.
The idea of the lifeforce creating the blueprint to generate consciousness is the same as Consciousness being the sole executive agent of Reality. Much like the thought and the afterthought. Change is also an abstract. Change due to the perceptual machine built by the lifeforce is perceived as a conscious reality. Consciousness is a changing Entity. The blueprint (DNA) is a changing Entity. If the lifeforce changes is a matter of belief. Belief as perceived by Consciousness. Believe in nonexistence.

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Re: Can Physicalism be defined non-instrumentally?

Post by Consul » June 27th, 2020, 10:16 pm

Marvin_Edwards wrote:
June 27th, 2020, 8:44 pm
I really dislike the term "supervenes on". There is an intuitive sense that if A "supervenes on" B then A is somehow influencing B. But as I understand it now, "supervenes on" can be replaced with "follows from". To say that A "supervenes on" B means that A follows from B. It means that B was there first, and A was derived from B.
"We shall say that entity Q supervenes upon entity P if and only if it is impossible that P should exist and Q not exist, where P is possible."

(Armstrong, D. M. A World of States of Affairs. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997. p. 11)

Armstrong's definition is idiosyncratic and actually improper, because what he defines here isn't really supervenience but ontological necessitation or "entailment": The existence of P necessitates or "entails" the existence of Q. But supervenience is different both from necessitation and from "derivation", because it's really necessary covariance: A variable X supervenes on a variable Y if and only if there can be no change of X without any change of Y.

"The idea is simple and easy: we have supervenience when there could be no difference of one sort without differences of another sort."

(Lewis, David. On the Plurality of Worlds. Oxford: Blackwell, 1986. p. 14)

"A supervenience thesis is a denial of independent variation. …To say that so-and-so supervenes on such-and-such is to say that there can be no difference in respect of so-and-so without differences in respect of such-and-such."

(Lewis, David. "New Work for a Theory of Universals." 1983. Reprinted in Papers in Metaphysics and Epistemology, 8-55. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999. p. 29)

"A set of properties A supervenes upon another set B just in case no two things can differ with respect to A-properties without also differing with respect to their B-properties. In slogan form, “there cannot be an A-difference without a B-difference”."

Supervenience: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/supervenience/
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Re: Can Physicalism be defined non-instrumentally?

Post by Marvin_Edwards » June 27th, 2020, 11:33 pm

Consul wrote:
June 27th, 2020, 10:16 pm
Marvin_Edwards wrote:
June 27th, 2020, 8:44 pm
I really dislike the term "supervenes on". There is an intuitive sense that if A "supervenes on" B then A is somehow influencing B. But as I understand it now, "supervenes on" can be replaced with "follows from". To say that A "supervenes on" B means that A follows from B. It means that B was there first, and A was derived from B.
"We shall say that entity Q supervenes upon entity P if and only if it is impossible that P should exist and Q not exist, where P is possible."

(Armstrong, D. M. A World of States of Affairs. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997. p. 11)

Armstrong's definition is idiosyncratic and actually improper, because what he defines here isn't really supervenience but ontological necessitation or "entailment": The existence of P necessitates or "entails" the existence of Q. But supervenience is different both from necessitation and from "derivation", because it's really necessary covariance: A variable X supervenes on a variable Y if and only if there can be no change of X without any change of Y.

"The idea is simple and easy: we have supervenience when there could be no difference of one sort without differences of another sort."

(Lewis, David. On the Plurality of Worlds. Oxford: Blackwell, 1986. p. 14)

"A supervenience thesis is a denial of independent variation. …To say that so-and-so supervenes on such-and-such is to say that there can be no difference in respect of so-and-so without differences in respect of such-and-such."

(Lewis, David. "New Work for a Theory of Universals." 1983. Reprinted in Papers in Metaphysics and Epistemology, 8-55. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999. p. 29)

"A set of properties A supervenes upon another set B just in case no two things can differ with respect to A-properties without also differing with respect to their B-properties. In slogan form, “there cannot be an A-difference without a B-difference”."

Supervenience: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/supervenience/
Which is why no one should ever use the term "supervenes on". It's basically technical jargon with very few (if any) applications that could not be expressed better without the jargon.

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Re: Can Physicalism be defined non-instrumentally?

Post by Consul » June 28th, 2020, 12:03 am

Marvin_Edwards wrote:
June 27th, 2020, 11:33 pm
Which is why no one should ever use the term "supervenes on". It's basically technical jargon with very few (if any) applications that could not be expressed better without the jargon.
There's nothing wrong with having technical terms in philosophy, but defining physicalism in terms of supervenience (or necessary covariance) is very unsatisfying, not only because supervenience physicalism can be true in worlds containing lots of nonphysical things, but also because supervenience as such doesn't explain anything. That all things or facts supervene on physical things or facts may be sold as a brute, inexplicable fact; but we'd like to know what the ontological ground of that relation of supervenience is. For example, if physicalism is defined instead in terms of composition, then the resulting supervenience of all things on physical things becomes transparent and explainable, because wholes cannot change (intrinsically) unless some of their parts change.

QUOTE>
"The moral is not that supervenience cannot be an important part of a broadly materialistic metaphysics, but rather this: putative supervenience relations that are themselves unexplainable and sui generis cannot play such a role. The corresponding positive moral is that the sort of inter-level relation needed by the materialist who is also a realist about a given mode of discourse (e.g., mental discourse) is not bare supervenience, but rather what I hereby dub superdupervenience: viz., ontological supervenience that is robustly explainable in a materialistically explainable way. Superdupervenience would indeed constitute a kind of ontic determination which is itself materialistically kosher, and which thereby confers materialistic respectability on higher-order properties and facts."

(Horgan, Terry. "From Supervenience to Superdupervenience: Meeting the Demands of a Material World." Mind 102/408 (1993): 555–586. pp. 565-6)
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Re: Can Physicalism be defined non-instrumentally?

Post by Marvin_Edwards » June 28th, 2020, 7:25 am

Consul wrote:
June 28th, 2020, 12:03 am
There's nothing wrong with having technical terms in philosophy, but defining physicalism in terms of supervenience (or necessary covariance) is very unsatisfying, not only because supervenience physicalism can be true in worlds containing lots of nonphysical things, but also because supervenience as such doesn't explain anything.
The notion of "necessary covariance" sounds to me like the simpler technical definition of supervenience.

When trying to understand supervenience, in the article on supervenience I was reading, the descriptions they used seemed to be suggesting that "if A supervenes on B" then A and B were essentially the same entity. Because how else could their covariance be necessary?

And if that is the actual meaning, that A and B are essentially the same thing, then it would be simpler to just say that. Or, more importantly, to explain why A and B were co-varying so precisely if they were not the same thing.
Consul wrote:
June 28th, 2020, 12:03 am
That all things or facts supervene on physical things or facts may be sold as a brute, inexplicable fact; but we'd like to know what the ontological ground of that relation of supervenience is. For example, if physicalism is defined instead in terms of composition, then the resulting supervenience of all things on physical things becomes transparent and explainable, because wholes cannot change (intrinsically) unless some of their parts change.
The key distinction to me is between a physical object and a physical process. The physical process of thinking is a series of rapid changes within the physical object of the brain. While the process is running the living organism acts purposefully to meet its physical needs. When the process stops, we are dead, and the brain becomes an inert lump of inanimate matter. So, we are more than a physical object, we are the process that is running upon that object.

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Re: Can Physicalism be defined non-instrumentally?

Post by Terrapin Station » June 28th, 2020, 9:47 am

Consul wrote:
June 27th, 2020, 9:58 pm
If the domain of the universal quantifier "everything" isn't only the set of existent things but the union of the set of existent things and the set of nonexistent things, then it is false that everything is physical
False. To physicalists, everything is physical.

Physicalists wouldn't say, "There are nonexistent things that are not physical." Insofar as there is anything, to a physicalist, that thing is physical.
because things such as God and immaterial souls aren't physical things.
To a physicalist, yes they are, insofar as they're anything. (For example, as ideas, they're physical things, or as members of a set of "nonexistents," they're physical things, etc.)

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Re: Can Physicalism be defined non-instrumentally?

Post by Terrapin Station » June 28th, 2020, 9:51 am

hegel wrote:
June 27th, 2020, 6:48 pm
I don't see how physicalism can be described without appealing to instrumentalism. The physical is only definded as that which has properties of the physical.
??? And how would you say that the second sentence implies instrumentalism?

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