I've read some posts here citing this very interesting paragraph (extract pasted below) from Schopenhauer, a refutation of materialism as ultimate explanation of reality:

Of all systems of philosophy which start from the object, the most consistent, and that which may be carried furthest, is simple materialism. It regards matter, and with it time and space, as existing absolutely, and ignores the relation to the subject in which alone all this really exists. It then lays hold of the law of causality as a guiding principle or clue, regarding it as a self-existent order (or arrangement) of things, Veritas aeterna, and so fails to take account of the understanding, in which and for which alone causality is. It seeks the primary and most simple state of matter, and then tries to develop all the others from it ; ascending from mere mechanism, to chemistry, to polarity, to the vegetable and to the animal kingdom. And if we suppose this to have been done, the last link in the chain would be animal sensibility — that is knowledge — which would consequently now appear as a mere modification or state of matter produced by causality. Now if we had followed materialism thus far with clear ideas, when we reached its highest point we would suddenly be seized with a fit of the inextinguishable laughter of the Olympians. As if waking from a dream, we would all at once become aware that its final result — knowledge, which it reached so laboriously — was presupposed as the indispensable condition of its very starting-point, mere matter; and when we imagined that we thought 'matter', we really thought only 'the subject that perceives matter'; the eye that sees it, the hand that feels it, the understanding that knows it. Thus the tremendous petitio principii reveals itself unexpectedly; for suddenly the last link is seen to be the starting-point, the chain a circle, and the materialist is like Baron Munchausen who, when swimming in water on horseback, drew the horse into the air with his legs.

I'm not so much involved in getting the real answer but trying to understand really how he thought this was logical (I point out the steps next.)

In the end he is pointing a contradiction because instead of matter -> ... -> knowledge we end up with knowledge -> matter

But in the same sense that matter can develop the function of polarity, or aggregate into an organism how is he unable to accept that matter may sense itself or know itself (or a similar thing) ?

We could postulate, for example, matter -> ... -> self conscious matter -> knowledge

An in any case, the fact that we are made of matter and know the world, does it imply that knowing was prior to matter ?

  • Schopenhauer was dealing with physicalists who denied the mental, so his argument would world against behaviorist denialists, but not "Identity Theory" physicalists. There are other problems his argument could be deployed against though. Knowledge is a logic state. Knowing is a functional state, and a mental state. This great chain tries to show how knowing as a mental state can be physical, but the logical/functional aspects of knowledge and knowing -- do not appear in the great chain. Physicalism basically requires assuming that abstractions are real -- they are needed in physics.
    – Dcleve
    Jan 2 at 16:59
  • A worldview that includes both matter and abstractions as real -- is not a monist worldview.
    – Dcleve
    Jan 2 at 17:04


You must log in to answer this question.

Browse other questions tagged .