Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Empiricism is great, unless you dissent from mechanical materialism

In which case, empirical evidence is discounted because it's philosophically incorrect. What I mean by that is this: at the juncture of the 18th and 19th centuries there was a great amount of discussion about whether the mechanistic mindset, that of atomism, was all there was, or whether there was some other element that wasn't being considered that also explained things. This element was, somewhat misleadingly called "spirit", or "organic unity", and denoted in general the connecting forces and movement within what we perceive as materialist reality rather than the atomic reality itself. This aspect of life, the process of living, the flow of events, the development of individuals, plants, and the interrelationship between various parts that transcends the parts taken individually, is empirically observable as well.

Looking at society, at our lives, our history, at how the world appears to work, it's very easy to see a succession of relationships between people, places, and events themselves that in turn lead to new relationships, on top of the raw material facts that the relationships take place with. There's mass and there's motion, in other words, and you can't necessarily determine what motion a billiard ball has from its chemical constitution. Yet, although we can empirically see this, talk about it, and to some extent quantify it, because what we're seeing is not primarily a "thing" but relationships between things, saying that there are causes and elements to life beyond that of chemical reactions, sometimes brings on disbelief. Surely, we're all bags of chemicals whose thoughts, feelings, nature, and the rest, are determined solely by those factors. Surely, when you talk about relationships that you can't directly see in the sense of a piece of coal, determining things and being a source of meaning in life, you're getting into realms that are unproveable. But it is proveable, in that I can perceive them, talk about them, and in certain ways examine them, but just not put them under a microscope.

Which gets preference, then, the philosophical attitude of materialism, which is just that, a philosophical model, or the experiential awareness of relationships, sometimes called "spirit", organic function, synergistic functioning, motions in process and actions? 

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