- This article primarily focuses on the general concepts of matter and existence. For usage related to the prioritization of spending resources, see economic materialism.
Materialism is the philosophical view that the only thing that can truly be said to 'exist' is matter; that fundamentally, all things are comprised of 'material'. The view is perhaps best understood in its opposition to the doctrines of immaterial substance applied to the mind historically, and most 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 sometimes allied with the methodological principle of 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, a more general level than the reduced one. 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, say, basic physics. A vigorous literature has grown up around the relation between these views.
"Materialism" has also frequently been understood to designate an entire scientific, "rationalistic" world view, particularly by religious thinkers opposed to it and also by Marxists. It typically contrasts with dualism, phenomenalism, idealism, and vitalism.
For Marxism, materialism is central to the "materialist conception of history", which centers on the empirical world of actual human activity (practice, including labor) and institutions created, reproduced, or destroyed by that activity. In this view, subjective thoughts and speech affect the historical process only via practice.
The definition of "matter" in modern philosophical materialism extends to all scientifically observable entities such as energy, forces, and the curvature of space. In this view, one might speak of the "material world".
Varieties of materialism
History of materialism
Ancient Greek philosophers like Parmenides, Epicurus, and even Aristotle prefigure later materialists. Later on, Thomas Hobbes and Pierre Gassendi represent the materialist tradition, in opposition to René Descartes' attempts to provide the natural sciences with dualist foundations. Later materialists included Denis Diderot and other French enlightenment thinkers, as well as Ludwig Feuerbach.
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, turning the idealist dialectics of Georg Hegel "upside down", provided materialism with a view on processes of quantitative and qualitative change called dialectical materialism, and with a materialist account of the course of history, known as historical materialism.
In recent years, Paul and Patricia Churchland have advocated an extreme form of materialism, eliminativist materialism, which holds that mental phenomena simply do not exist at all -- that talk of the mental reflects a totally spurious "folk psychology" that simply has no basis in fact, something like the way that folk science speaks of demon-caused illness.
- Churchland, Paul (1981). Eliminative Materialism and the Propositional Attitudes. The Philosophy of Science. Boyd, Richard; P. Gasper; J. D. Trout. Cambridge, Massachusetts, MIT Press.
- Flanagan, Owen (1991). The Science of the Mind. 2nd edition Cambridge Massachusetts, MIT Press.
- Fodor, J.A. (1974) Special Sciences, Synthese, Vol.28.
- Kim, J. (1994) Multiple Realization and the Metaphysics of Reduction, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. 52.
- Moser, P. K.; J. D. Trout, Ed. (1995) Contemporary Materialism: A Reader. New York, Routledge.
- Vitzthum, Richard C. (1995) Materialism: An Affirmative History and Definition. Amhert, New York, Prometheus Books.
- Buchner, L. (1920). Force and Matter. New York, Peter Eckler Publishing CO.
- Maetmere, Man The machine