Materialism, meaning, and morality

Materialism, meaning, and morality
To Mega Therion
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Posted Mar 27, 2012 - 7:57 PM:
Subject: Materialism, meaning, and morality
It is often alleged that, since the materialist standpoint can not admit any transcendent ground of value, the materialist can not value humanity as much as the idealist does. Now, the fallacious nature of arguments that rely on this "fact" aside, is this even true? To me it seems that the materialist, if they value humanity, values humanity as it is, with no additions that the idealist requires.

This might not be entirely fair, but in contrast to this, certain varieties of idealism seem unable to recognise anything valuable in humanity as one encounters it in daily life, relying instead on some grand transcendent sanction. So, I would say that, if anything, it is the materialist that values humanity more, assuming they do value it, since their valuation is not dependent on anything external to humanity.

The same is often said of morality - that the consistent materialist, who does not recognise any transcendent source of moral normativity, can not be as moral as the idealist. But, once again, it is not the materialist that requires some heavenly gendarme in order to act morally, whereas the idealist that relies on "arguments" from morality seems to admit that only the postulation of some transcendent order, external to all human practice, can make them behave.

Am I missing something here?
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Posted Mar 27, 2012 - 9:53 PM:

To Mega Therion wrote:
It is often alleged that, since the materialist standpoint can not admit any transcendent ground of value, the materialist can not value humanity as much as the idealist does. Now, the fallacious nature of arguments that rely on this "fact" aside, is this even true? To me it seems that the materialist, if they value humanity, values humanity as it is, with no additions that the idealist requires.

This might not be entirely fair, but in contrast to this, certain varieties of idealism seem unable to recognise anything valuable in humanity as one encounters it in daily life, relying instead on some grand transcendent sanction. So, I would say that, if anything, it is the materialist that values humanity more, assuming they do value it, since their valuation is not dependent on anything external to humanity.

The same is often said of morality - that the consistent materialist, who does not recognise any transcendent source of moral normativity, can not be as moral as the idealist. But, once again, it is not the materialist that requires some heavenly gendarme in order to act morally, whereas the idealist that relies on "arguments" from morality seems to admit that only the postulation of some transcendent order, external to all human practice, can make them behave.

Am I missing something here?

If you would change your avatar, I'd like materialists a lot better. How about a Hello Kitty?

I don't think there are many consistent materialists or idealists. Either is going to be prone to slipping up and looking at things the other way from time to time.

But it stands to reason that idealists would tend to be blind to life as it is. They're known for condemning earthly life as vile. But when materialists start complaining about human life.. fasten your psychic seatbelt, because it doesn't have any bottom to it. It's going to be a dirge where grief itself is for nothing. As Ecclesiasticus said; "I realized that everything is in vain, and I hated life. And this too was in vain."

You definitely need to catch your materialist on a good day.

Morally speaking... it seems like you're talking out of both sides of your mouth?

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Posted Mar 27, 2012 - 11:04 PM:

Your position seems to be that materialism is better than idealism, rather than something more focused on how materialism approaches meaning and morality -- hopefully not merely in contrast to how an idealist would...



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Posted Mar 28, 2012 - 7:32 AM:

Well, a materialist can value and attend to humans from the standpoint of them as valuable assets. ie. skills or knowledge they possess or some other capability they have that serves a utilitarian purpose. Idealists can be preachy, self-impressed and their "morals" a bit insulting, like they feel superior to those they help and thus it becomes more out of pride than charity. This is not all idealists, but enough that it bears mention. The materialist could be expected to be more cold in their "right" actions owing to what would be the motivator for the behavior, but at least it would be honest.
To Mega Therion
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Posted Mar 30, 2012 - 10:33 AM:

Kelvin wrote:
If you would change your avatar, I'd like materialists a lot better. How about a Hello Kitty?


...now that would be frightening.

Kelvin wrote:
I don't think there are many consistent materialists or idealists. Either is going to be prone to slipping up and looking at things the other way from time to time.


Certainly, but considering an alternative option doesn't make one inconsistent. However, certain philosophers who claim to be materialists or idealists, incorporate elements that are incompatible with a materialist or idealist standpoint into their thought, usually without recognition. For example, I would say that Searle is an inconsistent materialist.

Kelvin wrote:
But when materialists start complaining about human life.. fasten your psychic seatbelt, because it doesn't have any bottom to it. It's going to be a dirge where grief itself is for nothing. As Ecclesiasticus said; "I realized that everything is in vain, and I hated life. And this too was in vain."


Some materialists can act in this manner, certainly, but I still think that idealist pessimism can be worse, to the point where it becomes surreally entertaining. After all, the materialist can't convince himself, as Schopenhauer or E. von Hartmann did, that existence is thoroughly evil.

Kelvin wrote:
Morally speaking... it seems like you're talking out of both sides of your mouth?


How so?

Wosret wrote:
Your position seems to be that materialism is better than idealism, rather than something more focused on how materialism approaches meaning and morality -- hopefully not merely in contrast to how an idealist would...


I would say that I am discussing how materialists approach these subjects - perhaps the focus on differences with idealism seems superficial, but since materialism as such implies nothing about what is valuable, or what is moral, it seems to me that a rejection of transcendental grounding of these phenomena is the only thing that various materialist approaches share.

themadscientist wrote:

Well, a materialist can value and attend to humans from the standpoint of them as valuable assets.


Not all materialists are utilitarians, and I think that only an extreme minority would view humans as assets.
themadscientist
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Posted Mar 30, 2012 - 8:28 PM:

Do you mean they say "assets" in a dismissive way or that they cannot appreciate how vital our fellow persons can be and thus would not consider them such?
Tizio
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Posted Apr 1, 2012 - 10:53 AM:

To Mega Therion wrote:
To me it seems that the materialist, if they value humanity, values humanity as it is, with no additions that the idealist requires.


I see materialism as the view that everything can be reduced to physical phenomena (physicalism).

If so, then in principle any ethical statements that anyone might express can be ultimately explained as the outcome of physical phenomena, and therefore, so to speak, ethics can be fully reduced to physics.

- Is it a good thing for a philosopher to value humanity for what it is?
- Is the increase in entropy of an isolated system due to the second law of thermodynamics a good thing?

Would materialists see an essential difference between the two questions, and if so, would they be able to explain from a materialist perspective what this essential difference is?
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