Materialist Reduction *Just Is* Elimination

To say that the organism is nothing but its atomic constituents – taking “atom” in its original Democritean sense, as the most basic and indisintegrable component of all corporeal objects – is to say that in itself it is nothing. It is to say that there is in fact no organism at all, but rather only atoms.

For anyone trying to understand anything more complex than atoms, this is obviously an unsatisfactory result. It eliminates all such complexities ontologically. If everything is nothing but atoms, then there are no such things as organisms, or societies, or ecologies, or watersheds, or even vortices, winds, currents, crystals – or, indeed, atoms in the modern, Rutherfordian sense, or for that matter protons on the one hand, or molecules on the other. What’s worse, there are then no such things as the minds and thoughts of organisms such as we. In that case, there is no such thing as the system of thoughts that constitutes materialist reduction. Having devoured all science, the doctrine devours itself.

Like all evil ideas, materialist reduction reduces in the end, and logically, to the ultimate absurdity: nothingness.

This is why materialists so often resort to the dodge of emergence in order to keep thinking. Emergence seems to suggest a way that complex entities can arise from the agglomeration of their atomic constituents. It seems to save the appearances, and so allow materialists to continue to believe in their own existence – as they cannot but do – without violating their principles. But really it cannot save the appearances, because it cannot provide a way that complex entities can emerge from the agglomeration of their constituent atoms; all it really shows is that nothing emerges from the agglomeration of atoms, because what seems to emerge is really nothing but atoms.

Emergence can’t save materialist reduction from its implicit corollary that there are no such things as complex entities.

The absurd failure of materialist reduction should tell us that in trying to explain things from the bottom up we are on the wrong track. It should tell us that the only hope we have of explaining anything lies in starting at the top, and then working our way down to the atomic constituents. It should tell us that wholes are ontological reals, and that their constituents are their parts in virtue of their participation of the wholes of which they are parts. It should tell us that wholes are prior to their parts, and explain their participation.

More on that priority in a subsequent post, for it is one of the Philosophical Skeleton Keys.

In the meantime, it should be noted that when we give up on explaining wholes in terms of their parts, and instead turn to explaining parts in terms of their wholes, we don’t end up in any ontological eliminations either of wholes or parts. Holism does not insist that there are no such things as parts. It does not, e.g., insist that the constituent parts of an organism are nothing but aspects of that organism – i.e., that they do not really exist. On the contrary.

Holism does not impoverish our intellectual tool kit. It does not force us to reject the reality of important aspects of our experience, as materialism does. And this should be our clue that in taking wholes as ontological reals, we are on the right track.

17 thoughts on “Materialist Reduction *Just Is* Elimination

  1. Pingback: Materialist Reduction *Just Is* Elimination | @the_arv

  2. Pingback: Materialist Reduction *Just Is* Elimination | Reaction Times

  3. There are also no such thing as atoms, in the modern sense of the word, nor sub atomic particles nor quarks since all of these are mental constructs. Yo can try to keep going until you get to formless matter with no accidents, but it really is turtles all the way down.

    • Josh, that’s an excellent point, which I had never before considered. The basic constituents to which materialist reduction would reduce all phenomena are not in the final analysis actualities, but rather terms in our explanations. If there are no complexities such as organisms to have thoughts, then there are no explanations, or terms.

      As I said: the evil idea reduces in the final analysis to non-being.

      • In Aristotelian metaphysics, uninformed prime matter is pure potentiality, no actuality. I don’t see how it could be otherwise.

    • Responding both to Mickvet and to Josh’s comment about Aristotle (which seems responsive to Mickvet): It has long been apparent to me that QM is the mathematical formalization of the Aristotelian account of becoming.

      • Wolfgang Smith deals with this in some detail. Ascribes Potency to the quantum world, Act to the Formal one.

    • Bohr’s friend Aage Hendriksen, a literary scholar and critic, visited Bohr in his stuge or country cottage, and he noticed that his host had nailed an inverted horseshoe over the door frame, for good luck. Is that not a superstition, Hendriksen, a skeptic, wanted to know; and, do you believe in it? Well then, I have heard, as Bohr is reported to have answered, that it is effective whether one believes in it or not. Hendriksen recorded another of Bohr’s utterances: The opposite of one profound truth is likely to be another profound truth.

  4. I would not wish to reason away quantum foam, which has greatly eased my twice-a-day shaving sessions. I use Occam’s Razor.

  5. Love this and the rest of the skeleton key series. As a die-hard proponent of scientific holism, I wish I could just come out and say these things as directly and clearly, and with as much economy, as you do.

    With respect to emergence, I think that it does happen, but only in already-animated totalities whose existence cannot itself be explained in terms of emergence.

    • Thanks. That’s the first time anyone has characterized my writing as economical. Lawrence would be proud of his dilatory student.

      With respect to emergence, I think that it does happen, but only in already-animated totalities whose existence cannot itself be explained in terms of emergence.

      Exactly. Rabbits do certainly emerge now and then from hats. But you can’t pull a rabbit out of a hat that has no rabbit in it. The rabbit has first to be real in order to emerge, or to do anything else whatever.

      The emergence of the rabbit does not explain the real presence of the rabbit, which enabled his emergence.

      First there is somehow or other a rabbit (that’s the mysterious explanandum that emergence does not explain); then, the rabbit emerges from his prior obscurity.

  6. Pingback: Philosophical Skeleton Keys: The Logical & Ontological Priority of Wholes to Their Parts – The Orthosphere


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