... materialism, the idea that we need to explain things that happen right here without appeals to God, without appeals to Platonic essences, without appeals to anything transcendental.
Manuel de Landa

Everyone in the world knows yet no one can put this knowledge into practice.
LaoZi, DaoDeJing ch.78

Our life on earth is, and ought to be, material and carnal. But we have not yet learned to manage our materialism and carnality properly; they are still entangled with the desire for ownership.
E.M. Forster

By the word materialism, the philistine understands gluttony, drunkenness, lust of the eyes, lust of the flesh, arrogance, cupidity, avarice, miserliness, profit‑hunting and stock-exchange swindling — in short all the filthy vices in which he himself indulges in private.
Engels

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away.
Philip Dick

 

Are materialists immoral?

Definitely, according to the antimaterialists. They say that materialism is the conviction that makes people prefer self-enrichment (at the expense of others) over spiritual values. This second meaning of the word materialism is almost the opposite of the philosophical type (in the first sense) of materialism used in this site. The antisocial or second type of materialism should have a different name to avoid confusion (consumerism perhaps?).

Because it is often used in the second sense (consumerism), materialism of the first type (which could be called materealism) has a negative reputation as well. But so has anarchism ("no slave owners please") or atheism ("no supernatural slave owners please"). Materialism ("no harmful ideas please") in the first sense is also seen as immoral by antimaterialists because they identify morality with their own ideology. This site on materialism (of the first type) shows how immoral it is.

Is materialism physicalism?

Yes, according to some. Physicalism holds that only physical entities exist and that mind and consciousness result from physical laws. Seems OK. However existing physical rules simplify and are too restrictive for a satisfactory account of complex matter. That requires chemistry which is something completely different. Moreover theoretical physics is not a convincing basis for a materialistic ontology owing to its use of idealistic abstractions.

Is materialism naturalism?

Almost but perhaps not quite; naturalism holds that things happen according to natural laws without supernatural causes. The stress on natural laws rather than on facts in some definitions of naturalism makes it almost an ideology (like scientism). It tends to consider nature as a sacred text that has prescriptive laws. Social Darwinism is an example of an ideology having ethics inspired by natural laws. But Sellars claims that naturalism is materialism.

Is materialism marxism?

Not in the popular meaning of marxism because that is an ideology. Dialectic materialism is not built on philosophical materialism which is incompatible with what is now known as marxist politics as in stalinism and maoism. It is related to idealism as proposed by the fervently anti-atomist Hegel. Marx invoked a materialistic ontology but what he derived from it was idealistic as was customary at the time. He tried to idealize materialism as 'historic materialism'. His initiative to bring materialism to politics was recently taken up and augmented as new materialism.

Is materialism atheism?

Atheism is an attribute of materialism but atheism is not a coherent world view, it only means absence of a belief in gods. There are many secular ideologies that are basically atheistic religions and are therefore antimaterialistic. However, so-called atheist convictions that also reject secular ideologies are forms of materialism. The AFT identifies atheism with materialism.

Is it a hobby of the Right or the Left?

The materialist stance is not part of some ideological category and is not involved in tribal conflicts such as left - right or collectivism - egotism. Materialists reject all antihuman ideologies as obstacles to well-being, irrespective of political signature such as neo-liberalism, stalinism, and other beliefs. However, some people have tried to make up an ideology based on a materialistic ontology; they simply added non-materialistic postulates to it. Examples of those inconsistent hybrids are objectivism and communism.

 

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An introduction to materialism and some objections against it.

 

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Materialism; a user's guide

Materialism says that whatever exists is matter or produced by matter. That conviction is widely ignored or rejected which is surprising as it is a beneficial alternative to the dismal creeds people use to harass each other. Applied materialism suggest an alternative way of life: an agreeable existence for everyone as far as biologically possible. A truly remarkable original craving. Personal independence, collaboration, and dematerialization are basic trends in the lifestyle of materialists and their ethics are mainly about suggetions to remove pain and suffering. All that and more might make one think that applied materialism is an attractive proposal; however it is not approved by many.

Discover matter - it shows what spirit is

Once upon a time some people had an original idea that turned out to be a very bright one more than twenty centuries later. In the period from 800 to 200 BCE, called the axial age, a curtain lifted and some people began to suspect they had been deceiving themselves. Harsh reality reappeared everywhere around them and ghosts started to fade away. Those freethinkers, the first ones in history, speculated that everything, literally everything, consists of atoms, tiny indivisible pieces of matter. According to them a human being is a dance of atoms just as an earthquake, a hail storm, a sunrise, a worm, a god, and the universe also are.

How they arrived at this and why at that particular time is assigned by historians to the replacement of scarce bronze by cheaper iron in their tools, to increased trade, and to expanded social mobility. There must have been many conflicts between itinerant and sedentary classes in the old world since the agricultural revolution. Most likely people got increasingly bored or irritated with temple economies and recurrent genocides. A few critical dissidents started to look more closely at the world, tried to understand what they observed and decided to have a little fun for once with some enlightened atheism. They questioned established habits in their thinking, observed that reason can often be quite useful, and rediscovered that evidence-based explanations are often superior to those involving spirits and gods that craved costly and mind-numbing sacrifices. Most importantly, they were able to disseminate their awareness via trade routes and to communicate with like-minded critics in other cultures far away. The widespread use of a novel writing technology started a social transition all over the old world. That was when materialism was born.

Initially those freethinkers did not immediately affect technology with their new assumption, that occurred later when people discovered what it meant. Nor did they stop the habit of rulers to kill others to solve social problems, but they launched a fundamental cultural revolution of a sort. Besides neglecting their unproductive gods and spirits, they also desacralized their idols and tyrants if they could get away with it and began to distinguish facts from fictions. But what was most remarkable, they tried to base their ethics on the body and no longer on gods or myths: for them, evil was just pain, good was the absence of suffering. Their ethics were no longer applied religion (as they were made to believe since its invention) but applied physiology. They discovered that war, mutilation, subjection, slavery, penury, and murder, in short all the miseries people inflict on each other, were routinely justified by their self-imposed, arbitrary beliefs and they noticed that they had much less problems with each other if they ceased taking dogmas too seriously. Who worried about important existential questions such as What Is Going On Here and What Am I Doing Here, tried to find the answers themselves. Those secular freethinkers were the first antifundamentalists. It was a small group but their indirect influence on the others was considerable according to modern historians who noticed the revolutionary changes in religious opinions at that time. The cultural change in the axial age was temporary. A few centuries later materialism disappeared as a motive for a lifestyle, at least in Europe, until it surfaced again during the enlightenment. After that revival it could no longer be suppressed, despite many efforts to do so. The demons that once haunted the world were put to rest, at least for an unbelieving minority that is growing in several European countries. Materialists have shown that their methods of dealing with the world and each other would eliminate unnecessary suffering but their ways, which were literally incredible, have always been strongly suppressed, which is equally incredible. Even now Dawkins has a hard time making people follow his arguments; but why is it so hard to grasp such a simple point?

Because idealism (sometimes called spiritualism) prevails, even though it is known to be the source of all man-made misery. Idealism is incompatible with materialism. In childhood everyone is routinely subjected to an ideologically tainted education, which is why religious convictions and secular ideologies with their superstitions and dogma's have such a tenacious existence. Delusions taught to children are difficult to correct later in life. However, because of the advances in their technologies, which clearly would have been impossible without a non-idealist or materialist mindset, people now increasingly realize that in antiquity the Indians, Greeks and Chinese had arrived at something of immense value. Their program strongly improves the well-being of those who adopt it. Thanks to the knowledge that we have gradually acquired, it has become easier to adopt their basis for a philosomatic lifestyle. We can't afford to let it pass unnoticed. The information necessary to implement that program is available for the taking on the Internet. However, search engines produce mainly links to sites made by salesmen and kantian trolls. In order to find useful information more quickly a guide might be helpful. This site (EpistYlion) supplies such a guide. EpistYlion is set up to show what materialism offers by summarizing what it is:

GongTo start with, by reviewing the remarkable innovation that was achieved by our ancestors. Materialism was introduced almost simultaneously in three widely distant locations in the ancient world and was gradually improved and developed in three different ways. Without ancient materialism there would be no science now.

GongThe page on how philosophers deal with materialism explains why materialism is generally rejected, except by engineers, artists, and scientists. Which makes one think. Profane philosophy began in India as an emancipation movement and spread out to Europe and China but after a while changed into its opposite. The first philosopher in Europe was an engineer, the first moral philosopher a materialist. Then someone crippled European philosophy permanently by inventing idealism.

GongAtomism is based on a supposition that explains many phenomena such as life and consciousness, which always will remain a mystery for those of a spiritual persuasion. There is much more to atomism than atoms, it also suggests a lifestyle. Recent results in neuroscience, which is a spin-off of atomism, have thoroughly changed our concept of the ego.

GongThe idealism of Plato, the philosophical framework which invents absolute certainties to oppose materialism, is still popular because stories involving fundamental ideas are more alluring than the quirks of matter. Platonists are afraid of atomism for the same reason that believers fear atheism and fascists anarchism: the logic of facts knocks the bottom out of their narratives.

GongIf ethics is the art of living well, why then are morals everywhere so idealistic and hostile to the body? Obviously, ethical rules that make sense can only follow from the characteristics of the body. Solon's ten commandments are older and less parochial than those of Moses but virtually unknown.

GongOur knowledge of matter increases with a dizzying speed but what that implies for our daily life does not get through to public opinion; the majority behaves as if it still believes in something against its better judgement. This is rather frightening. The way in which we treat the earth and each other is desperately in need of a radical change. Knowledge is vital; slow tech is the new high tech.

This site gives a summary of the history and logic of materialism as well as links to practical applications. The pages, linked to above, give a short outline of materialism to pave the way to the following:

GongIn practice materialists try to live in a way that is beneficial to their body. Materialists like to manage matter in a sustainable way, they seek a sufficient degree of personal independence, and claim a freely accessible public domain. However, owing to spiritual traditions, a materialist lifestyle is still rather exceptional.

GongFinally there is a do-it-yourself page that has tips for adopting a materialistic lifestyle. It has links to initiatives, news, and comments on modern developments in materialism.

A caveat

In certain societies education is intended to develop the ability to distinguish facts from fiction, reality from wishful thinking, empiry from myths. Readers who enjoyed such a schooling and already are somewhat familiar with materialism are warned here: for them, much on the introductory pages of this site must be old hat. Nonetheless they are invited to browse it anyway because in addition to stating the obvious, these simplified introductions also mention some misunderstood and less familiar associations involving theological chemistry, the morality of technoscience, counter-philosophical opinions, and democritic views on the compound ego. Exaggerations such as these may inspire novel views. Richard Feynman once said: "In talking about the impact of ideas in one field on ideas in another field, one is always apt to make a fool of oneself." So be it; there is something to be said for doing things yourself even if it involves areas outside the box of familiarity. The materialist lifestyle is too beneficial to keep to oneself although true words are not eloquent as Lao Tse said. Lucretius did not fully understand what he wrote about, yet he was able to show that it really mattered. Other well written stories on the implications of the materialist assumption can be found in the literature from other contributors. Parts of those are given on our pages as quotations in the left-hand column. To sites of interest, links are given. Feel free to jump around.

Dawkins.netNexusHedonismeSecular Web