Tearing the Fabric: a Critique of Materialism

  • Passia Pandora University of Victoria
Keywords: mind-body problem, materialism, physical reduction, qualia, paradigm


One of the long-standing questions in the field of philosophy of mind is called the mind-body problem.
The problem is this: given that minds and mental properties appear to be vastly different than
physical objects and physical properties, how can the mind and body relate to and interact with each
other? Materialism is the currently preferred response to philosophy’s classic mind-body problem.
Most contemporary philosophers of mind accept a materialist perspective with respect to the nature
of reality. They believe that there is one reality and it is physical. One of the primary problems
with materialism has to do with the issue of physical reduction, that is, if everything is physical,
how does the mental reduce to the physical? I argue that the materialistic model is problematic
because it cannot sufficiently explain the reduction problem. Specifically, the materialist model does
not account for our subjective experience, including qualia. I also consider the question of why the
materialist stance is so entrenched, given all the problems with the reduction problem that have
been raised. I argue that the paradigmatic influence of materialism explains the puzzling conclusions
drawn by philosophers. In closing, I argue that the failure of materialist perspectives to explain
reduction is our invitation to take a fresh look at the alternatives.

In support of my position, I will consider the reduction problem in two sections. In the first section I will present some contemporary arguments put forth by Jaegwon Kim, Ned Block, Thomas Nagel, John Searle, David Chalmers, Frank Jackson and Roger Penrose. These contemporary arguments address four different reduction problems. Although the arguments presented by Kim, Block, Searle, Nagel, Chalmers, Jackson and Penrose are compelling, I will argue that their arguments have not succeeded in altering the mainstream materialist viewpoint.

In the second section of this paper, I will address three of my concerns regarding the reduction issue, i.e., 1) concerns regarding unresolved issues with respect to the reduction problem, 2) concerns that materialism cannot account for common characteristics of our mental experience 3) concerns regarding the validity of the materialist stance in general. In closing, I will argue that the failure of materialist perspectives to conclusively explain mind and consciousness is our invitation to take a fresh look at the alternatives.

mind-body problem; materialism; physical reduction; qualia; point-of-view

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