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Former good article nominee Physicalism was a good articles nominee, but did not meet the good article criteria at the time. There are suggestions below for improving the article. Once these issues have been addressed, the article can be renominated. Editors may also seek a reassessment of the decision if they believe there was a mistake.
June 28, 2006 Good article nominee Not listed
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Note to user[edit], the correct Dennett quote is zimboes, not zombies, and so I have undone your change. Note the word zimboes is transferable with zombies but that is not what has been written down by Dennett - as he is making the point here that he does not believe in zombies, and refers to them as 'zimboes' when he is hypothesising a description for them.

Richardbrucebaxter (talk) 12:35, 12 May 2009 (UTC)

Needs to be split[edit]

I've just edited this article a fair bit, and placed a notice about it at WikiProject Philosophy of Mind - the introduction is about physicalism generally, and then the article goes on to talk about physicalism about the mental. I think it needs to be split into one article about physicalism generally (called just 'Physicalism') and one about physicalism in the phil of mind (or perhaps this content can be merged into articles about that which already exist?)

What does anyone think? Thomas Ash 11:14, 13 December 2005 (UTC)

Alright, so I picked up this link from WikiProject Philosophy of Mind and decided to comment. While I agree with your (implied) point that there is a difference between Physcalism in general and Physicalism in the philosophy of mind, this distinction doesn't seem terribly meaningful to me. What I mean, is that while the doctrine of physicalism is applicable to more than the philosophy of mind there is a serious lack of publications that chase this idea. Perhaps it is only just that I have been reading the wrong things, but can you point to anything on physicalism written outside the philosophy of mind? Ig0774 15:52, 10 February 2006 (UTC)
There is quite a lot of literature outside of the philosophy of mind on physicalism. It appears everywhere in philosophy of mind because it is, at present, the dominant position. Physicalism, on it's own, just says (in a variety of ways, with varying degrees of strength) that everything that is, is physical. The dominant position in philosophy of mind is that the mind is physica, but this just follows from one form of physicalism; so there's a sense in which the dominant position in philosophy of mind is a consequence of a more general physicalist commitment (though the commitment could run the other way too). Here's ( a good article on physicalism in general, including a discussion of it's role in debates on the mind. (This coment was written by Fabulist)

Old comments about Larry's Text[edit]

Great material here, but desperately needs to be rewritten to sound more like an encyclopedia article and less like a lecture. Wesley 20:33 Sep 18, 2002 (UTC)

Also needs to be basically completely rewritten taking recent (i.e. last 20 years) developments into account: the current text is basically discussing reductive physicalism, which is only one of the two main branches of physicalist thought (the other, unsurprisingly, being nonreductive physicalism), and makes it sound as if reductionism is synonymous with physicalism. I may attempt to begin a rewrite at some point, but it's a major project; there've been quite a few entire books on the subject. --Delirium 07:31 9 Jul 2003 (UTC)

Since a gigantic chunk of Larry's Text had been sitting fallow on this page for two years, attracting little to no edits, I decided to be bold and remove it. The sheer size of the editing project was enough to turn anyone away, including me. Plus, the text itself was entirely un-encyclopediac, being full of "What, that didn't make sense? Let me explain it again" and whatnot.

So here's my suggestion: let's start start from the first paragraph of Larry's text and expand from there organically, in our own words. I have retained Larry's Text on this subject in Talk:Physicalism/LT, so we can still use it as source material. I feel that this will produce a much more useful and readable article. If anyone disagrees, please speak up! -Adam Conover 02:58, Mar 27, 2004 (UTC)

I agree with your decision. I added a notice at the article so that people can know there is a huge chunk of text that can be used. -- Taku 03:11, Mar 27, 2004 (UTC)
Thank you, that's good to know. I also agree with your renaming of the sub-page. Man, we still have a lot of work to do, though... first order of business below. Adam Conover 03:13, Mar 27, 2004 (UTC)

Non-reductive physicalism?[edit]

As this article stands it's currently only considering reductive physicalism. Even though I'm writing my senior thesis on this topic, I've always been frustrated by question of whether or not there's a viable non-reductive form of physicalism. If so, could someone give an outline of it on the article? Adam Conover 03:13, Mar 27, 2004 (UTC)

I don't see how a physicalism could be non-reductive?

This bit:-

"Non-reductive physicalism is the idea that while mental states are physical they are not reducible to physical properties. It asserts that mental states are causally reducible to physical states, which is in opposition to epiphenomenalism, where one or more mental states are not causally reducible to physical states and do not have any influence on physical states."

This seems wrong... because non-reductive physicalism isnt in opposition to epiphenomenalism... in epiphenomenalism mental states are caused by physical states (its just a one way interaction).Heligan (talk) 20:28, 8 February 2011 (UTC)

INteresting article on this here Heligan (talk) 20:49, 8 February 2011 (UTC)

Physicalism and Subjective Idealism - What is the Difference?[edit]

I am a little unclear on the precise difference between physicalism and subjective idealism. Could it be that the only difference is subjective labels used? Both seem to claim that the world is made of one kind of substance, and simply give difference names for this substance. Different labels are not clear evidence of an actual difference.

So, what is the difference between the two? --Michael V.

Michael -- I think your characterization of subjective idealism is apt. I agree that the distinction seems as though it may be meaningless -- if there's only one kind of things, what's the difference between saying everything is made out of stuff A or made out of stuff B? Still, I would say that that's a meta-position about these two positions, and is thus one we don't have approach yet.
However, I would be wary saying that subjective idealism is the opposite of physicalism, because dualism is also the opposite of physicalism in a sense -- perhaps "another view opposed to physicalism"? Adam Conover 16:39, Apr 10, 2004 (UTC)

I would answer very differently (and forgive the quick and dirty summary). Stuff A and B have very different properties and thus make up very different kinds of worlds, where very different kinds of things can happen. In p'ism, there can be a world of 'dead' matter with no minds at all, as possibly was the case a few billion years ago. And a universal grey goo scenario could kill all life, but the universe would still be there, perhaps to be noticed by life which evolved again later. On the other hand, in i'ism some kind of mind is required for the appearance of matter. Life/mind is not an emergent property of matter, and could not have evolved as science suggests it did. (Or evolution took place among matter-like ideas within a larger mind, etc.) Hope that helps. "alyosha" 22:45, 20 December 2005 (UTC)
Physicalism and idealism are both monisms. Perhaps reading neutral monism might add some clarity to each assumption.Ostracon (talk) 19:05, 7 September 2009 (UTC)


Seems like at least a cursory review of criticisms of reductionism and physicalism/materialism are in order. Anyone care to tackle that?


Supervenience is not the claim that "every particular or property is at root a physical property or particular." It is the claim that "any change in a physical particular or property will cause a change in the corresponding supervening particular or property" (and not just "in effect"). I changed this section. (anon)

No that's the wrong way round. I've corrected it. Thomas Ash 11:10, 13 December 2005 (UTC)

Please help[edit]

We need to go through a major cleanup of these philosophical pages. Right now there are pages on reductionism monism pragmatism materialism physicalism naturalism (philosophy) natural philosophy rationalism empiricism positivism (philosophy) and hordes of others. There should be some way to distinguish between these so that they do not tread on each other. Does anybody have any suggestions on how to improve this growing spiderweb of interrelated articles? --ScienceApologist 01:27, 15 January 2006 (UTC)


Can any one please help me understand the difference between this philsophical approach to materialism...?--Procrastinating@talk2me 14:03, 28 January 2006 (UTC)

While I am in no means an expert on this subject, I believe that physicalism differentiates itself from materialism in allowing for a process to be viewed as physical, and not only that which is clearly material, such as a rock or tree. Also, anything that can be understood and studied by physics, such as gravity, is viewed as physical but it is unlikely that gravity is in any way of a material nature.--Laplace's Demon 05:22, 4 March 2006 (UTC)

Wait, according to special relativity, doesn't E=mc^2 say that matter and energy are interchangable (i.e matter can become energy and vice versa), meaning that materialism is effectively the same as physicalism? D Hill 21:10, 1 June 2006 (UTC)

Yes, according to special relativity, there is no distinction between energy and matter. However, that does not mean that materialism is equivalent to physicalism. Materialism is the philosophy that everything is composed of, or supervenes upon matter. Physicalism is the philosophy that everything is composed of, or supervenes upon the physical. The two terms are not synonomous. For example, in contemporary physics, matter is made up of elementary fermions, i.e, quarks and leptons. However, gauge bosons, such as the gluon, photon, or hypothetical graviton are not considered matter as they mediate the fundamental interactions between matter. Though I know of no one who denies that photons are, in fact, physical.--Laplace's Demon 21:39, 2 June 2006 (UTC)

Demon, this is a great explenation how bout adding it to the article ? (process vs. matter/energy) --Procrastinating@talk2me 09:00, 4 June 2006 (UTC)

I'm placing this on both the materialism and physicalism talk pages. Wikipedia articles on philosophy should conform to terminology used in the philosophy field. The term 'materialism' was first used prior to knowledge of subatomic particles. The modern western philosophers were either idealist (believing that only minds/spirits exist), materialist (believing that only matter exists), or dualist (believing that both exist). The term materialist is used to refer to someone who does not believe in the existence of spirits. Here it has been distorted to be defined as a position on physics rather than philosophy. The fact that the meaning of the word 'matter' has changed as a result of the discovery of subatomic particles etc. does not mean that the philosophical term 'materialism' should be redefined. Are there any philosophers who identify themselves as materialist and argue that quarks do not exist? If not then I suggest that the materialism and physicalism articles be revised to reflect that they are essentially synonyms (i.e. possibly merged). Some sources that appear to indicate that materialism and physicalism are synonymous: "Physicalism is sometimes known as materialism."- "the word Materialism is here used to indicate a particular philosophical position, rather than a hedonistic lifestyle. A less well-knwon but more precise term is Physicalism."- (talk) 02:19, 30 January 2008 (UTC)

Why are there seperate pages for "materialism" and "physicalism"? Are they not clearly the same, with physicalism the more prefered title? As mentioned above, energy and mass are interchangable, and the materialism page states that the materialsist definition of the word "matter" includes energy, thus materialism and physicalism are the same. I believe that the two pages should be combined (under "physicalism", with "materialsim" redirecting to "physicalsim"). — Preceding unsigned comment added by Draxacoffilus (talkcontribs) 05:35, 22 July 2011 (UTC)

I think that physicalism should be distinguished from materialism. Materialism, historically, was the view that matter is at the base of all reality, and everything on higher levels is made up of matter. Matter, historically, was defined as "the principle of individuation," or, to put it in more modern terms, stuff that takes up space and is displaced when other stuff tries to take up the same space. This was the general idea behind matter until the quantum revolution started getting weird and indeterminate. Sure, the concepts of "atom" and "molecule" were there already, but it was thought that those things were fundamentally really really small billiard balls or something of that sort. They take up a specific volume of space, and undergo collisions of the same kind as larger material entities. And then the quantum revolution happened. All the books about what things were at bottom had to be rewritten because what was found to be going on at that level was inconsistent with the "billiard ball" view of matter. It was discovered that particles don't take up a specific volume of space, nor were collisions as straightforward on the lower levels as they were on higher levels. Everything was probabilistic, and quantities were found to be fundamentally discontinuous. So, a revised view had to be developed. Materialism as previously conceived was mostly scrapped, though the basic idea behind it--that reality is, on its most fundamental level, non-mental, non-rational, and non-purposeful--was kept. Processes were given the same ontological status as things, and certain things (bosons) could share the same volume of space without displacement. Determinism, as previously conceived, was abandoned. Stochastic processes were deemed a fundamental part of reality (at least, by the majority). And due to advances in other areas at the same time (relativity theory), space and time had to be considered fluctuating entities, interacting and changing along with the other physical things and processes, definable only relative to certain systems or particles. Because of the need to be consistent with all the discoveries of science in those days, the resulting "materialism 2.0" had very little in common with its predecessor, at least superficially. The fundamental idea, the denial that the most fundamental levels of reality had much in common with us, was retained, but the details were modified to correspond with what those most fundamental levels of reality were found to be by science. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 00:59, 18 August 2012 (UTC)

physicalism about the mental[edit]

Need a better explanation of the phrase "physicalism about the mental". It is used several times in that exact and peculiar wording so appears to be some sort of jargon, but its meaning is unclear to the general reader, well, it's unclear to me anyway. Nurg 12:46, 7 April 2006 (UTC)

"Physicalism about the mental" simply means that the mind is physical in some way, and not non-physical as the mind is in Cartesian dualism or psycho-physical parallelism. Check out monism.

Failed GA nomination[edit]

I'm afraid this article doesn't meet the Good Article Qualifications just yet. Here is a brief list of some issues associated with this article that I feel are holding it back. Once these issues have been tackled, feel free to renominate the article.

  • There are some serious jargon issues... While much of the 'philosopher jargon' is wikilinked, the reliance on jargon means that there should be more in-text explanations of terms, and wherever possible, jargon should be replaced with equivalent terms or sentences. I found it very difficult to get through the article, particularly in the Non-Reductive Physicalism section, where even the infographic seemed confusing and under-explained. "The ideal reader of an encyclopedia should be primarily the curious average man. He should only secondarily be the specialist and/or the high school student." - Charles van Doren. This article is currently aimed a bit up toward specialist. When one is an expert in something, it makes explanations that are clear to the non-expert a challenging task. Don't think of it as 'dumbing down' the article, think of it as casting a line out to those who wish to know more.
  • The lead section does not give a clear view of what physicalism actually is. In fact, after reading it, I still find myself at a bit of a loss of how I would describe it to someone. The lead section should be able to stand on its own as a concise description of what physicalism is, and why anyone cares.
  • There are some comprehensiveness issues. While comprehensiveness isn't as critical with GA as it is with FA, there are still some things that I think could be improved. The lead section itself admits that the rest of the article is about 'mental' physicalism. What are the other kinds? Where would we learn about those? The article should link to the 'other' physicalisms, or better yet, summarize the various types, and link to the main articles associated with them. Likewise, I feel like the lack of a 'history' section is a bit jarring. I'm left with some uncertainty about whether this is a modern viewpoint, or an ancient viewpoint. Was this something that Greek philosophers where discussing? Beat poets? Modern college professors? A brief history section could provide some valuable context for understanding.
  • The tone is odd in some areas as well. Note the section on Token Physicalism - "It requires that for social, moral, and psychological particulars there must be a physical particular identical with them. Consider the Supreme Court of the United States. The Supreme Court exists, but according to token physicalism, there is a physical object that is identical to the Supreme Court. However, this physical particular does not necessarily exist in any conventional use of the word 'physical'." This sounds more like something a professor would say to a class, than something I'd read in an encyclopedia. Would it be possible to quote an expert giving an example, for instance?
  • A bit under-referenced. This isn't critical, but there should be more references (inline, using the WP:CITET templates, if possible). When explaining a metaphysical concept, it can be easy to transition from explaining the most common viewpoint, to original research via creative interpretation. References will make it clear that the article represents the current accepted view, and not just the view of the editors.
  • Minor formatting and copyediting issues. There are some spelling errors and grammarical errors sifted around. I'll try to clean a few of those up myself, since they aren't difficult, but a thorough copyedit would be helpful.

Finally, I'd like to note that I do think this article is a good one. I know its a challenging subject to translate, and it seems like the details of the concept are well laid out, including arguments for and against. The article has come a long way, and has a lot of potential. The biggest challenge is the tone and jargon/technical language issues, the rest are small, and should be quickly resolvable. Feel free to leave a message on my talk page if you want any more clarification on my reasons. Phidauex 16:55, 28 June 2006 (UTC)

Mostly Wrong[edit]

Practically everything about this article appears to be wrong. Physicalism is not a metaphysical position, it is not the same as materialism, it is not associated with Quine (a major critic of the philosophy), it is mostly associated with Carnap and Neurath. The references for this section do not include Carnap, Neurath, Schlick or Quine who might be relevant. Even more relevant would be the chapter "Physicalism" in A J Ayer's "Philosophy in the Twentieth Century". It seems odd that an entry on Physicalism would fail to cite an entire chapter on the subject by one of the most respected philosophers of the twentieth century.

Robin 17 July 2006


I have done a fair amount of research, but have found nothing on the history of physicalism. If anyone has any sources, this page needs to cover the history of physicalism. Гырша 13:12, 9 July 2006 (UTC)

et al?[edit]

Should the "et al" in the opening paragraph be replaced with an "etc"? The article on etc says that "et al" should only be used with persons or maybe places. Andrew zot 01:37, 27 July 2006 (UTC)

distinct types of physicalism?[edit]

I don't know much about this subject. In any case, I just spent several minutes convinced that Jackson's argument about Mary's Room is completely wrong. Then, in the "Mary's Room" article, i found this sentence.

"It is important to note that in Jackson's article, physicalism refers to the epistemological doctrine that all knowledge is knowledge of physical facts, and not the metaphysical doctrine that all things are physical things."

Should there be mention early on in this article of the distinction between these two doctrines so other's don't get similarly confused? SH

Writing style[edit]

"The zombie argument is a thought experiment that attempts to show that it is conceivable, and therefore possible" This is bad writing style.


Has anyone noticed that this argument against physicalism affirms the consequent? If any one can find a source that says that it might help the argument. —Preceding unsigned comment added by J Hill (talkcontribs)

The zombies argument is used by property dualists/non-reductive physicalsts such as Chalmers; see:- and But as most of the stance on nonreductive physicalism in this article is wrong, its hardly surprising this fact is also missed.Heligan (talk) 02:35, 9 February 2011 (UTC)

Possibly a bit harsh in my last comment, most of it isnt wrong...Ive had a bit of a tidy up, moved things around a bit. Im going to go in an edit in the zombie section to make the point about non-reductive physicalism.Heligan (talk) 05:23, 9 February 2011 (UTC)

Definition of "supervenience".[edit]

Something is wrong here.

"Supervenience is the relationship between a higher level and lower level where the higher level is dependent on the lower level."

Okay, with you so far.

"This means that one level supervenes on another if and only if a change in the lower level causes a change in the higher level..."

Makes sense, although should it not be "any" change?

"(e.g. a set of properties A supervenes upon a set of properties B when there cannot be an A difference without a B difference)."

Here is where I get lost. Isn't this backwards? Alternatively, the position of the biconditional in the main (non-parenthetical) sentence is wrong.

Either of these would make sense to me:

1) This means that one level supervenes on another if and only if any change in the lower level causes a change in the higher level (e.g. a set of properties A supervenes upon a set of properties B when there cannot be a B difference without an A difference).

2) This means that one level supervenes on another when there can be a change in the higher level if and only if there is a change in the lower level.

I am not familiar with the material, so I leave it to somebody else to rephrase this.

Drake Dun 07:53, 19 December 2006 (UTC)

Since nobody has addressed this I have rolled it around and concluded that logically the answer must be (2) above. I am going to make the change myself.

Drake Dun 13:40, 4 January 2007 (UTC)

All: Your definition of Supervenience doesn't get off on the right foot. Supervenience does not deal with "higher" and "lower" level properties at all; that is a matter for reductionism and anti-reductionism. Here is an observation: All physicalists must hold that mental states supervene on physical states, but this does not imply that physicalists must have a particular view on the reductionism of higher-level properties to lower-level ones. I will attempt to clean this up, but you should read for a discussion. There is a systematic misunderstanding on Wikipedia about what supervenience is (the main article is not very focussed, occasionally conflating reductionism with supervenience; it also introduces exotic views rarely associated with supervenience) so this will likely take a while. R. Brian Tracz (talk) 13:12, 26 May 2013 (UTC)


"The essential objects of physicalism ultimately include whatever is described by physics -- not just matter but energy, space, time, physical forces, structure, physical processes, information, state, et al."

Would "information" as used in the introduction to this article refer specically to physical information? If so, I'm going to change the link. Canadianism 01:49, 20 December 2006 (UTC)

Since its been a few days and I'm almost certain physical information is the proper word, I'm going to change it. Canadianism 02:00, 22 December 2006 (UTC)

New discoveries[edit]

Physicalism is not locked into 19th century mechanics as this article suggests - it expects that new discoveries concerning the nature of perception will extend physics. References can be found in the work of the Vienna Circle - who are all also positivists.

--Myscience 00:18, 13 February 2007 (UTC)

The relationship between physicalism and materialism[edit]

This physicalism article says: "Physicalism is also called 'materialism', but the term 'physicalism' is preferable because it has evolved with the physical sciences to incorporate far more sophisticated notions of physicality than matter." However, the materialism article says: "Materialism is that form of physicalism which holds that the only thing that can truly be said to exist is matter." After reading these two passages, I don't know whether physicalism are equivalent views, different views, or variants of the same view, or if one is a variant of the other. Judging from the first passage, I'm guessing materialism can be considered a form of physicalism. However, the second passage leads me to suspect that people often use the two terms interchangeably. Could someone clear this up? --Phatius McBluff 04:41, 2 April 2007 (UTC)

Well, it's a bit murky. My understanding, which the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy shares, is that "materialism" was a historical doctrine that held everything is matter; this was later refined, in light of new discoveries in physics, to admit a few things other than matter but still in the same general spirit of the materialist doctrine, like gravity and the strong nuclear force. So the doctrine was renamed to "physicalism" to both stress the connection with physics, and avoid the now-misleading focus on only matter. In that view, "physicalism" is basically the modern form of materialism, and the latter is primarily a historical term. I'm not aware (but I could be wrong) of a modern doctrine of materialism that sees itself as a specific, more radical kind of physicalism. --Delirium 02:05, 9 May 2007 (UTC)

Berkeley and Physicalism[edit]

Point of clarification that I'm not sure is worthy of mention on this page: Berkeley wholeheartedly believed in PHYSICAL things, inasmuch as that meant things which could be seen and heard and kicked. He disavowed the existence of MATERIAL things, inasmuch as that meant some metaphysical material substance beyond what can be seen/heard/etc. Berkeley himself emphasized this distinction, so it may be relevant for inclusion here, IMO. Opinions?

Addendum: I don't mean to call Berkeley a physicalist, as he clearly believes in non-physical things as well (souls and God, namely). Rather, I'm objecting the the phrase currently in the article "...George Berkeley, holds that there is no physical reality at all...", which Berkeley himself would object to - Berkeley was all for the real existence of the things discovered by empirical science, and just questioned the metaphysical nature of those things (namely rejecting the existence of material substances)

On a related note, the phenomenalism of the positivists is clearly physicalist in nature, and yet phenomenalism is usually considered more closely related to idealism than to materialism. I'm not sure what to say about this as relates to the article; perhaps don't imply that physicalism is so closely tied to materialism, but leave it as a monist position without any particular commitment to any metaphysical substrate? -- Forrest

You're absolutely right about Berkeley's distinction between "objects" (those things that are immediately present to the senses) and material objects (objects that, in some sense, exist "out there", independent of our impressions of them). In other words, Berkeley believed in objects, but he thought objects were no more than our ideas of them. A chair is no more (or less) than my idea of that chair. However, I'm not sure whether he used the word "physical" in his writings. As far as I remember, the distinction he presented was strictly between "objects" and "material objects", not between "physical objects" and "material objects". I'm not saying you're wrong. You seem to know what you're talking about, and I only know about Berkeley's writings from an introductory course I took recently. In fact, I may not remember my Berkeley very well. But I'm anxious to know whether Berkeley himself actually used the word "physical" in opposition to the word "material" in his writings. If he doesn't, then it might be a good idea to avoid any references to him in this article (although he's obviously an appropriate topic in the materialism article). --Phatius McBluff 01:28, 18 May 2007 (UTC)

I recently took an upper division class on Berkeley (I'm a graduating philosophy major at UCSB) and I recall that distinction being made quite emphatically, that Berkeley does not deny the physical world, he merely denies that it is material; that he thinks the physical sciences are all great, but strictly speaking we should understand ourselves (as scientists) merely to be investigating the patterns of ideas which are the physical world, and we should not inject any notion of 'material substance' into that science. I think I sold my books back from that class, might have them around here somewhere to check, but if I do have them they're buried in my closet. A quick Google search returns a Standord Encyclopedia of Philosophy article [1] and an Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article [2] which both seem to speak in the same way (though neither of them cite passages where Berkeley himself uses the term "physical"), seeming to mean by "physical" only 'those things discoverable by empirical science' with no commitment to what substrate they rest upon, if any.

Which I guess is my point of contention here; I don't think the article should position physicalism as roughly-synonymous with materialism as far as monistic ontologies go, as contrasted with idealism. Idealism and materialism contrast, yes; but physicalism in the broadest sense is compatible with either (e.g. the logical positivists' physicalist phenomenalism). Or, I suppose you might say, it's incompatible with either - as the physical sciences consider metaphysical issues like "substance" outside their scope, and thus, if physicalism holds that all that exists is that which is the domain of the physical sciences, then any talk of mental or physical "substances" is already stepping beyond physicalism. Perhaps we should just delete the entire section contrasting physicalism to other monisms, and merely mention that physicalism is a monistic position? -- Forrest 09:25, 18 May 2007 (UTC)

I basically agree with you here. However, simply deleting Berkeley from the whole article might be a little bit unwarranted, especially since someone else clearly thought he was relevant enough to add.

But, at any rate, I don't know what a reference to Berkeley (or Spinoza, for that matter) is doing in the article's header. The header should contain just enough information to let the reader know what the term "physicalism" means. Comparisons to neutral monism, etc. belong in a later section. --Phatius McBluff 04:43, 20 May 2007 (UTC)

Spinoza and neutral monism[edit]

Er, I think I see a problem with the header for this article. It says that Spinoza believed that there's only a single substance, neither material nor mental. Well, Spinoza does say that there's only one substance. And he doesn't think of it as solely material substance or solely mental substance. But doesn't he say that it's both material and mental in its attributes? If I remember Spinoza's Ethics correctly, Spinoza says (1) the universe is a single substance; (2) a human being, myself for instance, is a mode of that substance; (3) my body is a mode of the one substance, considered under the attribute of extension (material existence), and my mind is that very same mode, considered under the attribute of thought (mental existence). Wouldn't it be more accurate to say that Spinoza believes in a single substance that's both mental and material? --Phatius McBluff 01:37, 18 May 2007 (UTC)

Not that it probably matters much, but my recollection of Spinoza's ontology is as you describe; however, according to the Neutral Monism and Spinoza articles, Neutral Monism is what Spinoza's ontological position is called (though it seems a bad name to me). Although, this mention of Spinoza, like the mention of Berkeley, seems to me a bit out of place in a page about physicalism (see my above comments about deleting that entire paragraph), unless we wanted to go into a lot more detail about whether physicalism is compatible with these various ontological positions. It seems intuitively compatible and nearly identical with materialism, though again see my comments in the Berkeley discussion above; and yet it also seems compatible with immaterialist, 'idealist' phenomenalism as of the positivists; and perhaps with Spinoza's ontology as well (as there is nothing in Spinoza's world which lacks a physical property, they've just all got mental properties too). And while I'd be happy to write at length about that, that would be original research; and I'm not aware of any text that have been written specifically on that issue, so I do think it's perhaps best just not to have that discussion in this article. -- Forrest 09:50, 18 May 2007 (UTC)

Again, I basically agree. At this point, no one looking at this article is even sure about the relationship between physicalism and materialism. Spinoza's philosophy definitely relates to materialism (since Spinoza uses the word "matter" in his own writings), but we can't be sure at this point what Spinoza would say about "physicalism", defined as something distinct from materialism. --Phatius McBluff 04:47, 20 May 2007 (UTC)

arguments for and against[edit]

The Arguments for and against section really needs to be broken down into a distinction between reductive and non-reductive, or between token and type, physicalism. As it stands it is very confusing, as in many cases the arguments for one type are the very arguments against the other. e.g. the exclusion principle may be an argument for reductive physicalism but it is certainly not an argument for non-reductive physicalism. Likewise the knowledge argument is problematic for reductive physicalism, but perfectly compatible with non-reduction. Any suggestions as to how best restructure things? --Altundra, 2 June 2007--

The Zombie criticism[edit]

I fail to see how the theoretical possibility of the existence of zombies would refute physicalism. The notion that physicalists must prove that zombies don't exist is an unfair and unnecessary burden. So what if there can be zombies? The existence of machines that behave exactly like humans, and the existence of humans themselves, are not mutually exclusive.

Unless the argument is referring to zombies which physically "under the hood" function using the exact same means by which humans function (identical brains, etc.). But that makes the argument meaningless, because it is simply a denial that the mind arises from the brain. It is saying "physicalism is false because brains might not be the center of consciousness", the second part of which is debatable, but is a red herring (does not refute physicalism, but the notion that functioning brains will inherently be conscious) and thus the whole argument is a non-sequitur. It does not refute the notion that people who are not zombies have their consciousness arising from physical properties. It should also be noted that consciousness does have an effect on physical reality (if it did not, we would not be discussing it... this is also a fairly decent argument against epiphenomenalism IMO). So these zombies could not 1) be physically identical to humans, 2) behave exactly like humans, and 3) not have consciousness, all at the same time, without a contradiction.

I wonder if anyone can find a reliable source that makes these arguments, and if so, could add them to the article. Either that or remove the zombies argument, since, while a valid thought experiment for a lot of purposes, does not really serve the purpose of refuting physicalism.

Either that, or I'd like someone to put me in my place.

Mbarbier 17:24, 13 August 2007 (UTC)

I haven't really read your specific objection (since this isn't the place to debate philosophy), but the point of this article is to summarize the literature, and the zombie argument has been put forth as a criticism of physicalism. That you disagree with its claim to refute physicalism isn't really an objection to including that section in the article, though of course if you feel it inaccurately summarizes the literature that's another matter. --Delirium 19:57, 13 August 2007 (UTC)
Fair enough. My main point was that I didn't even see how it addresses physicalism in the first place, except only vaguely. But if it is presented in the literature (which I admittedly am not up on) as a refutation of physicalism then you're right; that means it belongs in this article. Mbarbier 17:06, 14 August 2007 (UTC)

K. V. Wilkes[edit]

Hasn't Wilkes been important enough to be mentioned? —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 21:48, 5 May 2008 (UTC)

Berkeley, Spinoza, Monisms[edit]

As per some earlier talk consensuses (consensae?), I've removed the somewhat inaccurate and off-topic passage on different monisms from the intro. Here it is for archival's sake:

In contrast, subjective idealism, as exemplified by the metaphysics proposed by George Berkeley, holds that there is no physical reality at all and that everything that exists is mental or spiritual (i.e. it is also monistic, but in disagreement over the fundamental nature of that monistic reality). According to neutral monism, a philosophy advocated by Baruch Spinoza, only one substance exists, but this substance is both mental and physical — mental if conceived under the aspect of thought, and physical if conceived under the aspect of spatial extension.[1] —Preceding unsigned comment added by Pfhorrest (talkcontribs) 21:10, 18 September 2008 (UTC)

New argument against physicalism[edit]

Is this a new argument against physicalism? —Preceding unsigned comment added by Tennenrishin (talkcontribs) 13:45, 30 December 2009 (UTC)

Who is making this argument? You? BashBrannigan (talk) 19:52, 30 December 2009 (UTC)

No it is not a new argument. Having identical brain connections, each "me" would think they are the unique individual (actually, being my brain in both bodies, I would realize "I" exist in two distinctly separate places). However, because of the plasticity of the brain, the environment would begin to affect each human and begin to change their brains immediately. Because Red and Blue are different colors they would elicit different responses, which would begin to change each brain in the two rooms into two separate identities. Chaos Theory takes over, creating, over time, distinctly separate identities of these two individuals.
Granted that each of them have tremendous similarities between them, their minute differences would absolutely qualify them as two distinct individuals. This shows that the idea of self is an illusion. "We," our selves, are not independent of our brains but directly the result of them. Granted, we could always say the "original me" is the one that was placed in the box first, or the one where the copy was created, but because neither of my brains would be able to tell which is which (without some kind of cue), we would both think we are the originals. An objective third-person viewer would be able to clarify the issue. For Hollywood's take on this, watch Multiplicity. (talk) 05:27, 7 June 2010 (UTC)

Hempel's Dilemma[edit]

How is the mentioned reply is really a reply? It doesn't even address the dilemma. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 20:05, 4 September 2010 (UTC)

According to the article it's a false dilema, what the Physicalist (appears to) thinks is that the current definition may in the future be shown to be wrong but as it is it explains the situation more than any other and will be refined in the future. IRWolfie- (talk) 19:39, 8 February 2011 (UTC)

Zombie criticism[edit]

A for/against type of setup seems pointless. why not have each argument as a separate section? IRWolfie- (talk) 19:24, 8 February 2011 (UTC)

Messy article[edit]

This article is in a pretty poor state. It's dense with jargon, contains REAMS of unsourced material and is tremendously overlong. Especially considering the fact that it hasn't been edited much lately, I'm going to tag it with a multiple issues tag in hopes of attracting some attention.--Grapplequip (formerly LAR) (talk) 01:52, 15 August 2011 (UTC)

I think the long list of tags was unecessary; you seem to be arguing that the whole article basically needs a rewrite. I summarized your criticisms with a simpler tag.-Tesseract2(talk) 15:48, 18 August 2011 (UTC)

Thanks Tesseract. I'm new to tagging so pardon me if my etiquette is weak! I'll make use of your advice in future cases. That aside, do you agree with my assessment?--Grapplequip (formerly LAR) (talk) 06:05, 19 August 2011 (UTC)

Your etiquette is clearly great! I am glad you didn't mind me summarizing your tag. As for whether I agree, I will read over the page when I get a chance.-Tesseract2(talk) 03:28, 20 August 2011 (UTC)

The above begs the questions: Where is it "messy"? In what way is it "too long"? What "jargon" are you complaining about? I just read the whole thing, head to toe, and much of it seems straight-forward enough. The exception is the section on supervention, which I think has gotten things upside-down, w.r.t. the shadow and the thing casting the shadow, w.r.t.reductionist vs. non-reductionist. So, yes, the section on supervention needs "expert attention", and probably a re-write. But then, supervention leaks into a number of different sections, so those too may not be exactly correct, as some of the pro-reductionist arguments seem to use anti-reductionist definitions of supervention to make claims, so yes, its a bit of a mess. I suggest clarifying the section on supervention first, and then reviewing its use in all the later sections. linas (talk) 17:55, 22 February 2012 (UTC)

Why are We not all Zombies?[edit]

If physicalism is true, why are we not all P-Zombies? The fact that the brain exists and is responsible for all of our memories and emotions, as well as our personality would sugest that there is no such thing as metaphysical "souls" or "spirts". Since Sentience does exist, could that sugest that (modern) computers are actually alive, albeit in a very primitive way? --Draxacoffilus (talk) 04:57, 18 August 2011 (UTC)

I made sure the article links to the main page about the Zombie argument. I am personally partial to Marvin Minsky's reply that the Zombie argument is circular. Physicalism would seem to suggest that there is no need for a soul, and that a physically identical world would have just as much (or little) consciousness. It would also suggest that we could create intelligent computers that would basically deserve to be called "alive" - although it is difficult in practice, to say the least.
The line between life and non-life is fuzzy, and "life" seems to be a question of complexity (consider Conway's Game of Life).-Tesseract2(talk) 15:48, 18 August 2011 (UTC)


Everyone: reading the above talk page (and the article itself) reveals quite a bit of opinionated and incorrect assumptions regarding physicalism. I am going to work on purging the original article of these issues. For instance, in the introduction, the idea that "physicalism" is to be preferred to "materialism" is (1) bad English, because we do not know under what conditions it might be preferred or not, and (2) mere conjecture. R. Brian Tracz (talk) 12:02, 26 May 2013 (UTC)

Strawsonian physicalism[edit]

I've moved the following contribution to the talk page for further development in terms of WP:Encyclopedic style#Information style and tone.—Machine Elf 1735 19:39, 11 September 2013 (UTC)

Machine Elf, if there are any particular typos or infelicities of style you (or anyone else!) have noticed, then I'd be happy to amend the section; it was written earlier this year when a proposal arose to merge the Wikipedia entry on Physicalism with Materialism. [DCP] — Preceding unsigned comment added by Davidcpearce (talkcontribs) 16:11, 12 September 2013 (UTC)

Ontological monism[edit]

"Physicalism, therefore, is a form of ontological monism—a 'one stuff' view of the nature of reality as opposed to a 'two-stuff' (dualism) or 'many-stuff' (pluralism) view."

Possibly what is meant by 'one stuff ' here is 'matter', but that is a rather archaic and nebulous viewpoint that ignores much of modern science. Is 'matter' really 'one stuff ' or a generic name for a multitude of 'stuffs' and their many interactions? In any event, this statement requires explanation and sourcing. Brews ohare (talk) 15:54, 17 September 2013 (UTC)

Strawsonian Physicalism?[edit]

Using the definition of "physical" as matter or energy, or in the via negative sense as "not the mind", minds or "the oversoul" according the the panpsychist interpretation cannot exist in a physicalist interpretation. The two philosophical positions are inherently incompatible. "Strawsonian Physicalism" is then neither physicalism nor panpsychist. For this reason I have removed this section. — Preceding unsigned comment added by Andersenpuckett (talkcontribs) 03:48, 26 January 2014 (UTC)

Andersenpucket, please feel free to add a Criticisms section if you feel it's appropriate. But Strawsonian physicalism is discussed in depth by Seager, Chalmers and others. Omitting this section altogether would rob the reader of any sense of the contemporary debate.--Davidcpearce (talk) 09:45, 26 January 2014 (UTC)
Davidcpearce, I have removed the section once again. Strawson belabors the point that he wants to redefine real physicalism as distinct from what he calls "PhysicSalism" (to the chagrin of physicalists like Daniel Dennett). As the topic of this article is physicalism in the common acceptation, Strawson's criticism of PhysicSalism would be appropriate... but he's the first to admit that his real approach is not mainstream, and so he doesn't simply call it "physicalism". Can you can make that clear while shortening the entry considerably (per WP:UNDUE)? Thanks—Machine Elf 1735 18:11, 26 January 2014 (UTC)

──────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────── Machine Elf, you reproach the Strawsonian physicalist for not using "physical" in a standard sense. The mysterious "fire in the equations" is indeed often assumed - implicitly - to be devoid of phenomenal properties, irrespective of our professed ignorance of its intrinsic character. But this was precisely the point of the opening sentence deleted in an earlier edit, ("Physicalism and materialism are often supposed to be close cousins.") Of course, a traditional materialist can always stipulatively _define_ the intrinsic character of the physical so as to exclude the phenomenal. But this is precisely the question at issue. No less contentiously, a traditional materialist could claim that theoretical physics _does_ disclose the intrinsic nature of the physical. This would be a very bold claim, to say the least.

Optimal length? Is 240 odd words excessive? Other things being equal, I'd agree concision is admirable. Here, however, I think we would run the risk of making an already compressed text too elliptical to be of use to the general reader. Further brevity would also leave a counterintuitive position almost completely unmotivated ("There is nothing so absurd that some philosopher has not already said it." etc)

For what it's worth, I arrived at Strawsonian physicalism via Lockwood rather than Strawson. But this tradition stenches back via Russell to Schopenhauer's critique of Kant.

Should a Criticisms/Controversies subsection be added? I'd be inclined to add:mention of the volume of critical essays "Consciousness and Its Place in Nature: Does Physicalism Entail Panpsychism?" Galen Strawson (Author), Peter Carruthers (Author), Frank Jackson (Author), William G. Lycan (Author), Colin McGinn (Author), David Papineau (Author), Georges Rey (Author), J.J.C. Smart (Author), et al. (Author), Anthony Freeman (Editor) But if anyone believes more substantive criticisms would be appropriate, that would be excellent.--Davidcpearce (talk) 12:02, 27 January 2014 (UTC)

Sadly, you're WP:EDITWARing. That was you're third revert (again), see WP:3RR.—Machine Elf 1735 15:39, 27 January 2014 (UTC)
The Galen Strawson article might be a better venue to develop the material?—Machine Elf 1735 16:13, 27 January 2014 (UTC)
As I see it, the controversial text does not really say much. It intros some name dropping, but does not encyclopedically describe Strawson's argument, and is therefore long on hand-waving and short on explanation. Trim it down to a streamlined and more understandable version, and it may be a lasting and good addition to this article. – Paine Ellsworth CLIMAX! 16:24, 27 January 2014 (UTC)

FWIW I would very much like to see Strawson's view included in this page in some appropriate matter. Unfortunately I don't have the time to commit to engaging in a lengthy debate on what exactly is the most appropriate manner, but it certain deserves some kind of mention. --Pfhorrest (talk) 08:13, 28 January 2014 (UTC)

I've undeleted the deletion because the reader needs to know, at least in very barest outline, _why_ Strawson et al. believe such a bizarre-sounding idea.

Whether it's really the case that theoretical physics offers no more than a mathematical straitjacket, and says nothing about the intrinsic nature of the physical, can of course be strongly contested, as too can the claim that our conscious minds disclose a hint of the answer. Either way. MachineElf, if you feel that the position is represented too sympathetically, perhaps add and/or cite some of the criticisms levelled by philosophical heavyweights who have waded in on the issue?

Postscript: MachineElf has just messaged me with an ultimatum: "This is your final warning".

Unless I let MachineElf's latest edit stand, he will "report" me. I guess I'm going to bow out of this one soon.

For what it's worth, IMO simply deleting half the text makes the position sound unmotivated if not silly - and comes perilously close to the kind of near-vandalism that pseudonymous editing encourages.--Davidcpearce (talk) 19:00, 29 January 2014 (UTC)

Davidcpearce, you've received numerous invitations to help fix the problems that have been pointed out (not just by me). Don't let me discourage you from bowing out but really all you need to do is stop reverting wholesale to your original contribution... and yes, I guarantee you'll be reported if you don't stop edit warring.
So do you have a problem with WP:NPOV as well? Wouldn't have guessed, I'm a fan of all things Pan myself.—Machine Elf 1735 20:26, 29 January 2014 (UTC)
I agree that Davidcpearce has gone well beyond wp:BRD in an effort to add this material. Since another editor has felt that something on Strawson would be useful, then I must also agree that the short, brief material as it has recently been edited does need a bit of clarification. I don't get the part about "one part of the natural world". Which part is that, again? – Paine Ellsworth CLIMAX! 21:08, 29 January 2014 (UTC)
Evidently that would be the WP:OR part. Staying close to the source material, I've tried to refocus on Strawson's criticism of physicalism.—Machine Elf 1735 10:11, 30 January 2014 (UTC)
I like these changes you have made, MachineElf. Keeps this important material in there, in a much tighter, more encyclopedic way. --Pfhorrest (talk) 20:11, 30 January 2014 (UTC)

MachineElf's latest edit is an improvement on the mutilated text he left before. Either way, it's wholly inappropriate for one editor to send private threats to another. But effective...--Davidcpearce (talk) 20:38, 30 January 2014 (UTC)

David, if you're referring to MachineElf's notice (not threat) on your talk page, that was completely appropriate; in fact there is a standard template for leaving such notices, which he used. The policy here for editing is to make a change, and then if someone else contests and reverts that change, you talk about it until agreement is reached and then institute the agreed-upon version of it. Nobody gets to just keep re-adding the same contested change over and over again, and if an admin sees someone doing that they will block them. AFAIK MachineElf is not an admin so he cannot personally block you; he was just warning you that someone else will if you continue to edit disruptively.
I want to see you stick around here because I think you have useful contributions to make to the encyclopedia, but you need to learn to play nice with other editors or else you may attract the attention of admins and be blocked, which would be sad. Please read the important Wikipedia policy called "bold, revert, discuss" ("BRD" for short), which explains what is expected of editors in this regard and why. --Pfhorrest (talk) 21:19, 30 January 2014 (UTC)
Yes I also "Bravo" Machine Elf 1735's efforts. Yours, too, David, because you remind me of me several years ago. This project is a community effort of staggering proportions, not just a one-man show. Joys! – Paine Ellsworth CLIMAX! 03:11, 31 January 2014 (UTC)

Horribly Written[edit]

I just want to say this is the most horribly written article I've ever seen on wikipedia. Modern philosophers are bad about making things unnecessarily convoluted, this should be reviewed by someone else it doesn't even follow Wikipedia's basic structure. Awful. (talk) 08:01, 7 March 2014 (UTC)

  1. ^ "For every mode in extension that is a relatively stable collection of matter, there is a corresponding mode in thought. In fact, he insists, 'a mode of extension and the idea of that mode are one and the same thing, but expressed in two ways' (IIp7s)" (Nadler).