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The distinction from materialism and physicalism is usually that materialists believe everything is matter, and physicalists believe that everything is physical, which lets them include modern science discoveries under their belief.

Now, it seem obvious that a "regular" sense of materialism today is absurd, if one is to believe in the scientific discoveries. So, my question would be, do materialists today still consider physical forces as somehow purely matter, or is materialism in its traditional sense nonexistent today, completely replaced with physicalism?

  • Modern physics tell us that all forces are mediated by exchange particles (photons, W/Z-bosons, gluons), except for gravitons where the only why to exhibit the particle character of'em by using the whole universe a measurement apparatus. Okay you might argue with the wave-particle duality...maybe we should call them wave-matter-dualists nowadays... – draks ... Feb 19 '18 at 14:46
  • I don't think materialists have ever considered that "everything" is made of matter. Space, time, and vacuum aren't matter for most materialists - even those of ancient times. – Luís Henrique Feb 19 '18 at 22:27
  • +1 E=mc^2 provides a way to link matter (m) with energy (E). One could view this as a monism regardless of the answers you may get. I don't accept either materialism or physicalism, so I will not try to answer your question. – Frank Hubeny Feb 20 '18 at 17:22
  • @LuísHenrique what is the difference then between them and physicalists? – Yechiam Weiss Feb 20 '18 at 17:24
  • @FrankHubeny I'm not sure this is correct, as materialists (as far as I understand it) won't be able to even use E as something "real". But this is a good direction I think. Maybe it can be an answer, replacing everything that's considered energy with matter. – Yechiam Weiss Feb 20 '18 at 17:25
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I don't think such contrast is valid.

Materialism is an old word, and it never meant the idea that "everything is matter". Rather, it has always beend contrasted to "idealism", and the issue between them isn't if everything is matter or everything is idea, but whether ideas originate from matter, or matter originates from ideas. No materialist will tell you that the idea of God is made of atoms; all of them will agree that the idea of God does not pre-exist thinking entities, all of which are made of matter. Conversely, very few, if any, idealists would sustain that a copy of the Holy Bible isn't made of matter.

In such way, there is no meaningful contrast between "materialism" and "physicalism": the terms are synonims. But the latter word, according to the SEP, was coined by two minor philosophers, Neurath and Carnap, to mark the distinction between their position and materialism: materialism would be a "metaphysical", and as such nonsencical, position about reality; "physicalism" would be their idea (in their opinion, merely linguistic and not "metaphysical") that "every statement is synonymous with a physical statement" - which of course, boils down to linguistic idealism.

In this sense, there is a meaningful contrast between "materialism" and "physicalism", but the latter is merely a variant of linguistic idealism (language creates reality, not the other way round).

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