Friday, May 9, 2014

The most fundamental and what matters most

What matters most are things like people, love, understanding, courage, friendship, beauty, etc. According to many contemporary metaphysicians, what is most fundamental are things like sets, points, photons, charge, spin, the electromagnetic field, etc. It's almost as if the metaphysicians took the fact that something matters to be evidence that it isn't fundamental.

But here is a plausible hypothesis or at least heuristic:

  • Fundamental predicates apply primarily to fundamental entities, and derivatively to other entities.
While a table can have mass or be charged, it has mass or is charged derivatively. It is particles that primarily have mass or are charged. Now, some value predicates like "matters" or "is valuable" are fundamental. (Of course, this is the controversial assumption.) Thus we have reason to think the kinds of things they primarily apply to are themselves fundamental, and they apply only derivatively to non-fundamental things. But the value of a person is not derivative from the value of the person's constituents like fields or particles, and the way in which a person matters does not derive from the ways in which fields or particles matter.

Thus, either persons will be themselves fundamental, and primary bearers of value, or else persons will be partly constituted by something fundamental which is a primary bearer of value. The best candidate for this valuable constituent is the soul. Hence, either persons are fundamental or they have souls that are fundamental.

In fact, I would conjecture that we should turn on its head the correlation between fundamentality and not mattering that we find in much contemporary metaphysics. The more something matters, the more reason we have to think it is fundamental, I suspect. This may lead to a metaphysics on which there are fundamental facts about persons, their psychology and their biology, a realist metaphysics with a human face.


Brian Cutter said...

I'm attracted to the idea that certain value properties like mattering or being valuable are fundamental, but here's a source of unease: a fundamental property, I take it, is supposed to be any property F such that, possibly, something x has F and there are no other facts about x in virtue of which it has F. (This is consistent with some things having F derivatively.) So, if being negatively charged is fundamental, and some particle x is negatively charged, there should be no other facts about x in virtue of which it is negatively charged. But in the case of being valuable or mattering, it does seem that we can point to features of a thing that explain, in a grounding sort of way, why it is valuable. Maybe the point is best put contrastively: a human is valuable but a rock is not (let's say). Presumably there are some other *descriptive* features of the human that differentiate it from the rock and which explain why the human, but not the rock, is valuable. Right?

One response which veers pretty far the idea you seem to have in mind is this: the fundamentality of F only requires that (possibly) *something* has F non-derivatively. That is consistent with humans (and their souls) only having value properties derivatively. The theist here might say that "no one is (non-derivatively) good but God alone."

Alexander R Pruss said...

In the end, I suspect that being valuable or mattering are not the fundamental value predicates. What will be fundamental may be perfectionist facts like: "x's is perfected in respect A" or teleological facts like: "x is fulfills its telos in respect A". And these facts will be fundamental. Other value facts will be grounded in facts like this.

This allows for a very tight link between value and ontology, doing justice to the Augustinian idea that to be is to be good. :-)

Jonathan D. Jacobs said...

A slightly different way to think of this is to think of fundamentality as applying to propositions or representations, not things or sub-propositional entities. And to *not* think of non-fundamental propositions as *derivative* on the fundamental ones.

Then one could say that chairs are important, without that being derivative on, say, the electrons that compose the chairs being important.

And persons are important, but if that proposition is not fundamental, on the view I'm proposing, it isn't because persons' importance is derivative on something else's importance.