Saturday, June 1, 2013

Material beings

What is a material being? Suggestion:

  1. x is material if and only if x is in space.
A minor problem: The philosophical tradition has it that materiality is some kind of a negative status. But (1) makes materiality be a positive status. A more serious problem: God is omnipresent, so (1) makes God material. Revision:
  1. x is material if and only if x occupies a proper part of space.
This takes care of the case of God and shows how materiality is a limitation on omnipresence. But imagine a world all of whose space is filled by a walnut. Surely, the walnut would still be material. So:
  1. x is material if and only if possibly x occupies a proper part of space.
This is better. Whether it is adequate will depend on one's intuitions about things like the electromagnetic field. Suppose one thinks both that (a) the electromagnetic field is not a material being and (b) God could miraculusly make it occupy a proper part of space. (I assume that normally it occupies all of space, even the places where its value is zero.) Then (3) is inadequate. I am happy to count the electromagnetic field as material myself. But if you're not, then:
  1. x is material if and only if necessarily it is abnormal for x to occupy only a proper part of space.


Andrew Jaeger said...
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Andrew Jaeger said...

Hi Alex,

Here's a thought about (3)...I don't mean it to be an objection, I'd just like your thoughts on it.

It seems that (3) might rule out the blobject, or something like Spinoza's substance, or perhaps Schaffer's Spacetime view of substance (in which case Schaffer would actually be some sort of idealist, or something??) from being material. Perhaps we think that one of the *essential* properties of the blobject is that it is the entire world (or that it not occupy a proper part of space), and so it would not be possible for it to occupy a proper part of space. So, it would not be material.

I pass over the details of why it is not possible for the blobject to occupy a proper part of space, but I think an argument could be made here.

Do you think (3) rules out the blobject from being material?


Richard A. Christian said...

"x is material if and only if x is in space.
A more serious problem: God is omnipresent, so (1) makes God material."

I don't think the theist is committed to God being in space to be omnipresent, take Aquinas or Anselm for example who understood omnipresence as God being present everywhere in power and knowledge. Perhaps the serious problem isn't a problem after all?

Alexander R Pruss said...

Yeah, on these views, these things aren't material.

But the views are false and perhaps impossible.

It's an interesting question of when we want an account of Fness to answer the question of whether impossible things are Fs. Maybe for something as basic as "material" we do?

One interesting ambiguity in my account is what "space" means in a multiverse: all the space there is, across all the universes, or the maximal spatially connected space? If we take the first view, then the blogject might count as material, as in a multiverse it would probably occupy only the space of a single universe.

Andrew Jaeger said...

Can you think of a 'theory neutral' account of "being material", which would be consistent with the epistemic (even if not metaphysical) possibility like blobjectivism?

DO you think something like the following might work?

(4) x is material if and only if x is *entirely located* in space?

One would then have to specify what it means to be entirely located.
One might be able to argue that even if God is located in space, God is not entirely located in space, since (maybe as traditional theism holds) it is true that God also exists "outside" (in some important sense that I'm not really sure how to specify) of space and time.
Maybe something can be said to make this plausible; it does however seem like a distinction that classical theists might want to acknowledge independently.
This would would also have the advantage of allowing the blobject to be considered material, since it is entirely located in space, since it is in space and not "outside" (in the sense God is) space.
I guess your magnetic field might also be considered entirely located in space, in which case it would be a material object.

Alexander R Pruss said...

A simple being seems to be entirely located wherever it is located, since a simple being can't be partially located anywhere.

Douglas said...

Suppose you are in an art class with another student. The teacher gives you each some materials (paint, paper, and so on). Call the artwork you would have made had you received your classmate's materials `a'. I wonder whether a satisfies the right side of 3 and fails to satisfy the left side.

Heath White said...

What do you do with black holes? In one way they do not "occupy" space. Though they do have a location. If locations are good enough for materiality, might it follow that finite minds are material?

Just a guess/suggestion: it seems to me that the philosophical interest of "material" is as an older incarnation of what nowadays would be called "natural", i.e. the things naturalism would countenance. These are better understood in terms of scientific concepts (like being explicable in terms of scientific laws) than in terms of space or matter, properly speaking.