Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Love and physicalism

Every so often, I have undergraduates questioning the reduction of the mental to the physical on the basis of love. One rarely meets the idea that love would be a special kind of counterexample to physicalism in the philosophical literature. It is tempting to say that the physicalist who can handle qualia and intentionality can handle love. But perhaps not.

Maybe students just have a direct intuition that love is something that transcends the humdrum physical world?

Or maybe there is an implicit argument like this:

  1. Love has significance of degree or kind N.

  2. No arrangement of particles has significance of degree or kind N.

  3. So, love is not an arrangement of particles.

Here is a related argument that I think is worth taking seriously:

  1. Love has infinite significance.

  2. No finite arrangement of atoms has infinite significance.

  3. So, love is not a finite arrangement of particles.

  4. If physicalism is true, then love is a finite arrangement of particles.

  5. So, physicalism is not true.

One can replace “love” here with various other things, such as humanity, virtue, etc.


IanS said...

The following finite arrangement of pixels has infinite significance: ∞. Well, it signifies infinity, doesn’t it? :-) How about this finite arrangement of pixels: God?

Granted, signifying infinity, or signifying something infinite, is different from signifying infinitely, or being infinitely significant. But that’s precisely my worry: what does ‘has infinite significance’ mean in this context?

Ovidiu Badea said...

I have some trouble understanding „infinite significance”. Could you explain a little, please?

Alexander R Pruss said...

Whatever it is, infinite significance implies some sort of infinite importance.

Michael Gonzalez said...

If the physicalist thinks love is some finite physical arrangement of particles, then they are indeed crazy.... But, I would say the same of someone who thinks that the monetary value of this penny in my pocket is a finite physical arrangement of particles....

Ovidiu Badea said...

So... so much was clear enough, I think. I guess I was wondering why would love be of infinite importance.

IanS said...

Again, I’m not understanding ‘infinite’ importance. Love could have ‘supreme’ importance (meaning: it’s more important, in some relevant sense, that anything else in the world). Love could be ‘essential’ to human nature (meaning that we can’t be human, or at least fully human, without it). But ‘infinite’ importance (with its implied contrast with merely finite importance), what does that mean?

Unknown said...

How do you distinguish physicalism from materialism Alex? Are they the same thing?

Apologetics Squared said...

Note: The premises can be weakened extremely.

1. At least N particles are needed to construct a brain. (Definition)
2. Love has significance of level X. (Definition)
3. No arrangement of N particles can have significance of level X.
4. So, love cannot be an arrangement of N particles.
5. If physicalism is true, then love can be an arrangement of N particles.
6. So, physicalism is not true.

I think there's some messiness in this formulation, but you get the idea. :)

Ovidiu Badea said...

@Apologetics Squared:
Just to clarify:
1. Are there any reasons for 2.? Or is it just a stipulation? How do you establish the level of significance of love?

2. Why is 3 plausible? Does the argument subtly beg the question against the identity of love and the arrangement of particles?

Apologetics Squared said...

@Ovidiu Badea

Premise 2 is just defining what X is (That's why I put "Definition" in parentheses). People could disagree on the level of significance of love (Is it infinite? Large but finite? Small?), so I'm just saying, "Whatever level of significance love has, call that X" to sidestep any such disagreements. The larger you think X is, the more plausible premise 3 will become.
Now, premise 3 is actually just a weakening of the premise Pruss used in his argument:
2. No finite arrangement of atoms has infinite significance.
My premise is weaker, because it works with love being only finitely significant. For example, we can imagine a super high level of significance, like 100 000 "units of significance" and define our units in such a way that something like a galaxy-sized monument could have 100 000 units of significance, but any collection of particles that's the size of a human brain wouldn't be able to attain such a high level of significance. But, if one examines love and finds it to be very significant, at 100 001 units, then that leaves physicalists in a conundrum; love is a feature of the brain, but it's achieving more significance than a brain-sized collection of particles can achieve. So, one should reject physicalism. This of course rests on one's analysis of love actually resulting with the conclusion that love has "100 001 units of significance."

Have a nice day! :)

Michael Gonzalez said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael Gonzalez said...

@Apologetics Squared:

There are some issues with your premises and your inferences; but to me they are not as salient as the deeper assumptions that Pruss is making (or, at least, that he is assigning to the Physicalist).

I'll go ahead and point out a couple of things that seem to be errors in your argument. And I would be interested in your thoughts:

I) P1 deals with the number of particles needed to construct a brain; not with their specific arrangement, which is what the rest of the argument goes on to be about.

II) The phrase "have/has significance" seems at least vague, if not downright equivocated between P2 and P3. Surely the Physicalist isn't committed to saying that a human being "has no significance" (though she does regard a human being as an arrangement of particles). I don't think you mean the same thing by "love has significance" (i.e. love is significant) and "no arrangement of particles can have significance".

III) Is P5 meant to indicate that, on Physicalism, love just is some arrangement of particles in the brain? That is never made clear in the premises (I'm just inferring it from your having mentioned brains in P1).

Michael Gonzalez said...

In any case, the deeper issue is the multi-layered conceptual confusions which, if spelled out, make this entire question clearly meaningless and ought to point us in an entirely different direction. Just some thoughts:

A) The statement, "the monetary value of this penny is an arrangement of particles", is meaningless. Likewise, the statement "love (or the significance of love) is an arrangement of particles" is meaningless. It is neither true nor false; it is nonsense.

B) Love is not a mental state or indeed any other kind of property of an individual alone. It is an attitude toward some other object or person that manifests in all sorts of mental states (some quite opposite to each other!), behaviors, etc. So, even if the Physicalist believes that mental states just are arrangements of particles, they should not believe that love is.

C) If Alice's loving Bob is a fact about Alice (the living creature), then why should the Physicalist think that that requires her love to be an arrangement of particles (whatever that means)? Why can the Physicalist not just think that Alice and Bob are living, animate creatures, made of particles, with the capacity to love each other? I mean, they'd have to permit that certain arrangements of particles have properties that are not reducible to those particles; but, again, I certainly hope they would do so for the value of a penny or the description of something like a "dance" or the possibility of peace in the Middle East.... The whole debate seems framed in such strange and unnecessary terms.