My posts generally revolve around my own arguments that I’ve developed for spiritually without belief in a spiritual realm; I’ve done little justice to the fact that this conversation is happening throughout many non-believing communities.
A nice example is this piece by Jennifer Kalmanson of the American Humanist Association on Congregational Humanism.
In my last post I discussed Edelman’s somewhat opaque theory of ‘second nature’, put forward in the book of the same title. This is a way of separating the generalities of human mental life that can be studied by science and the subjective experiences themselves, our internal intuitions, the flashes of artistic inspiration or the intentions of others we gossip and fret about. As these are the type of individual, passing instances that sciences cannot comment on, and researchers have no desire to, it is a way of emphasising those qualities (or qualia) of being human, those that feel dualistic, that avoids the complaints of scientism and reductionism without divorcing them from materialism. This aims to shed some light on the experience and provide us with a compromise between satisfying that nature of ours without denying the evidence that the mind is what the brain does, rather than arising from some non-material element. I also wondered whether it is in this personal, subjective history that science has some limits when exploring some aspects of human life. Continue reading
Reductionism and scientism are phrases thrown around, mostly by people with beliefs that conflict with science, those who’ve been taken in by pseudoscience or who have vested interest against some paradigm in science (such as the anti-vaccine crowd, the climate change denier lobby, certified MBTI® administrators or alternative medicine dispensers). In order to make their arguments unassailable they often use these terms loosely and obtusely; they avoid defining exactly what they are saying.
However, as I will discuss below I suspect by and large they are made by fear and misunderstanding, rather than due to ulterior motives. Furthermore, could some of the criticisms bundled up in these umbrella terms have some merit when used as warnings to avoid potential pitfalls when doing science, or discussing philosophy of science? Here I try to delineate what people mean when they make accusations of scientism and reductionism and I can then discuss to whether my philosophy of spiritual materialism falls afoul of them.
Both are used, then, in a variety of ways, but I think it is possible to cut through the
rhetoric to get at what fears cause people to brandish them so readily. Continue reading
Several people have questioned me on using the word ‘spiritual’. They remark it is nonsensical or confusing, that even if they understand my use of it in the term Spiritual Materialism, that it will cause confusion for others and I’m doing myself a disservice. This is something I worry about, that passers by on my blog will see ‘Spiritual’ and neglect ‘Materialism’, thinking it is yet another site promoting groundless woo or pseudoscientific babble. Also, it risks falling into the ‘spiritual but not religious’ category, which seems to be disliked by both the religious and non-believers, used mostly as an accusation or accompanied with a roll of the eyes.
I use the word ‘spiritual’ for two main reasons. Continue reading
I’ve recently discovered Dan Fincke’s Camels with Hammers blog, which is very much on the same page as me. Here’s a lovely exchange about how atheists can be religious without compromising their materialism and how different people react to this. As a response to a personal plea it covers things from a more personal angle than I often do, and even the things I do discuss are put in better words than I can manage.
– The Spiritual Materialist
Having devoted his first book laying out the idea of ‘Quality’, which I interpret as ‘the internal reality of the mind’, Pirsig uses his second book to develop Quality into a ‘Metaphysics of Quality’. This metaphysics divides subjective reality into the antagonistic Static Quality (convention) and Dynamic Quality; that is the new, the here and now of instinct or reasoning/intellect. Confusingly Dynamic Quality is, I think, pretty synonymous with ‘Quality’ in his first book; the cutting edge of experience. Each Quality can be overlaid to Pirsig’s hierarchy of value patterns, which are:
- Intellectual patterns
- Social or societal patterns
- Biological patterns
- Inorganic patterns
Each pattern is ‘more moral’ than the pattern below and tries to free itself from it and so tries to overcome it and curtail its tendencies. Pirsig makes no justification as to any of this: why is one more moral than the other? Why in that particular order? He attacks the cultural context of science (fairly), but that hierarchy of moral patterns is surely an outcome of the culture it was written in too? He does condemn cultural relativism (laudably in my opinion), so it is noticeable that he does not apply the same criticism to his own ideas. It is a hierarchy that crops up again and again in philosophy, going at least as far back as Plato, who believed the pursuit of philosophy (and intellectual pattern) was the highest calling of the human spirit.
Robert Pirsig is responsible for the best selling philosophy book of all time Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values and his much less read follow-up Lila: An Inquiry into Morals. Much has been written on his ideas, including many an undergraduate dissertation. They had a huge influence on me in developing my ideas about spiritual materialism. Over a couple of posts, taking each book in turn, originally written a couple of years ago, I present what I think he is trying to say and you can see how my ideas developed. Continue reading