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The notion of fundamentality, as it is used in metaphysics, aims to capture the idea that there is something basic or primitive in the world. This metaphysical notion is related to the vernacular use of “fundamental”, but philosophers have also put forward various technical definitions of the notion.

I am especially interested in the idea of building blocks, but would be happy to read an answer about any version of fundamentality

By giving a complete list of the fundamental entities, we can provide a minimal complete description of reality.

It is implausible to think consciousness - in any of its models - is a fundamental, and does it make for panpsychism or theism?

If not, then are phenomenological essences (colours always have extent, the nature of time consciousness) fundamental? Are some fundamental entities causally inert?

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  • Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Philosophy Meta, or in Philosophy Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Commented Mar 13, 2023 at 7:40
  • Consciousness is a heavily loaded word. Sentience is related but they are quite distinct. Sentience is the more fundamental term which can be generalized to the earliest and most primitive organic entities, e.g., the subitizing of brainless, single celled organisms. aeon.co/essays/…
    – DJohnson
    Commented Apr 28, 2023 at 23:51

8 Answers 8

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Is it implausible to claim consciousness is a fundamental?

No. It is plausible.

If we think of consciousness as something that everybody feels which ends with a person's death, we may doubt if that is implausible. If that is so, you may even try to count it :)

But when we consider consciousness as pure consciousness (or beingness), it is never to be treated like other things since all the rest are comparable. And it is the ultimate fundamental thing. You cannot use it even in plural form (like building blocks, fundamental entities etc.)

Are some fundamental entities causally inert?

It is the same problem with consciousness that prompts us to wonder how active and powerful things emerged from inert fundamental entities...A Gordian Knot for those who strongly believe in their intelligence.

Mahavakyas also direct the same thing.

You may also read my answer to this question:

Can a tool use itself?

The property mentioned above is possible only to this thing because it is the ultimate fundamental thing.

Again, if the answer to the above-mentioned question were always/only 'No', the doubt would always be there unsolved and consciousness would also be considered just like other things.

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Is it implausible to claim consciousness is a fundamental?

Not at all. Is phenomenological thinking plausible? Absolutely! And by extension, idealism itself is completely plausible and metaphysically robust. George Berkeley had subjective idealism. In fact, idealism went through a long historical period of being favored over materialism and was the popular metaphysical position in the German Idealist movement:

The most famous representatives of this movement are Kant, Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel. While there are important differences between these figures, they all share a commitment to idealism. Kant’s transcendental idealism was a modest philosophical doctrine about the difference between appearances and things in themselves, which claimed that the objects of human cognition are appearances and not things in themselves. Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel radicalized this view, transforming Kant’s transcendental idealism into absolute idealism, which holds that things in themselves are a contradiction in terms, because a thing must be an object of our consciousness if it is to be an object at all.

Thus, there are a number of positions that err on the side of the mental as foundational most famously Husserl and his phenomenology which was immensely influential to Continental philosophers. Here, consciousness is where the thinking begins, and then the thinker brackets his normal thoughts to "deconstruct" them by reasoning about appearances and actuality which could be thought of as a search for certainty in the face of the problem that naive realism presents, how do you know what is true and real?

There are three terms, naturalism, materialism, and physicalism that are often taken by contemporary thinkers to be synonymous because of an increasingly scientific worldview. But a careful reading of philosophy does not metaphysically necessarily expunge idealism and phenomenology. It's actually quite a radical stance to reject consciousness and phenomenological thinking. Even Daniel Dennett who identifies as a eliminative materialist nonetheless puts forth positions like intentional stance and heterophenomenology in order to cope with consciousness despite his claims it's an illusion (whatever that means).

So, it is certainly out of fashion not to be a physicalist and materialist, but as Chalmers suggests, even for analytic philosophy there is no escaping consciousness as a philosophical problem. Ultimately, there is always a looming conversation in philosophy regarding monism, dualism, or something else, and consciousness always plays prominently in the discussion.

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  • so physicalists by definition don't think mind is fundamental? if you can find a quote that would be helpful, because i cannot, though it seems straight-forward
    – user65174
    Commented Mar 15, 2023 at 20:42
  • See WP's materialism: "Materialism is a form of philosophical monism which holds matter to be the fundamental substance in nature, and all things, including mental states and consciousness, are results of material interactions. According to philosophical materialism, mind and consciousness are by-products or epiphenomena of material processes". Thus, according to general materialism mind reduces to matter or mind emerges from it or mind supervenes upon matter, and it is matter that fundamental, not mind.
    – J D
    Commented Mar 15, 2023 at 20:54
  • fundamental in the sense i mention?
    – user65174
    Commented Mar 15, 2023 at 20:55
  • Yes. Monism means that there is one fundamental "thing" in the universe. Idealism posits it is mind, and thus the physical world comes after the mental. Materialism is the opposite. Most contemporary thinkers, especially scientists, presuppose materialism or physicalism these days.
    – J D
    Commented Mar 15, 2023 at 21:01
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    @ScottRowe Perhaps. I'm still doing my best to understand metaphysics. :D
    – J D
    Commented Apr 28, 2023 at 16:16
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Yes, consciousness is fundamental.

Fundamental is that which can cannot be further simplified or reduced. Pretty much all analytic philosophers, cognitive scientists, behaviourists and AI researchers say that consciousness is just a bunch of hardware, and the mind is software. Well, it is not at all a combinatorics number crunching machine, this whole way of thinking is wrong.

You may have heard of the easy and the hard problems of consciousness. Reductionist theories claim that the hard problem does not exist by trying to reduce it to the easy problem. All of these attempts have failed, and it often devolves into sophistry along the lines of "consciousness does not exist because it is not a clearly empirically defined term".

Phenomenology is much closer to the truth than those reductionist theories. Phenomenological structures are also fundamental and irreducible. They can be analyzed, and distinct parts in them can be traced out, but they form an indissoluble whole, which phenomenologists call an intentional act.

Interestingly, being a Platonic physicist, Roger Penrose claims that consciousness is both quantum and irreducible.

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  • I think Nonduality moves in the right direction. People don't really bring it up here though for some reason.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Apr 28, 2023 at 10:57
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What is a conscious?

Conscious is a dream about the other, dream of the butterfly about the man, or the man's dream about the butterfly(a butterfly).

The man that is thinking that this dream is a reality called a human, and this dream called "human being". But it is not a real being, it is just an existing - the void being.

Why this is void being? because it doesn't have fundament - it is a house with walls and with the roof, but without fundament.

Conscious is the reflecting on the dream of other about thyself. It is hard to understand in Eng language space, because "thou" definition was erased from conscious of a man several centuries before( in 16 century~). And when it is called you - you it is many others - and you ll got a refer to other - you are other - it is your dream - the problem is blind zone of the mind. That is why panpsychism or theism - are -isms, isms is a doctrines about objective world. Myths and greece psycho, greece gods - it is not about objective world, it is about ideas, witch versions - eidoses - are need to creating the forms of the object world. God - is idea (idea is a God), God as a creator(creator role of God) of the World is eidos, World is a form of the eidos - God - World and all things are the forms of God. But if you don't have a fundamental idea the house is not completed - it is pseudohouse. You can't say that house is a roof, or house is a wall, or house is a fundament, because House art Idea of Home. That is why it is impossible in this version of the conscious of subjective human mind.

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  • How do you know? How do you know what is in another person's mind, or subjective experience? Is language dreamt too, and if so within each solitary mind or together? Is dreaming in company, really dreaming? Your answer is just speculation & opinion. Pansychism means no mind-independent world, so arguably no objective world.
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Mar 14, 2023 at 10:39
  • @CriglCragl So, do you need an answers to you many questions? Commented Mar 14, 2023 at 12:03
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    For your answer to be any good, it should answer rather than just raise, those questions. And, as per site guidelines, you should be referencing philosophical literature, not just giving opinions - see philosophy.stackexchange.com/help/how-to-answer I was giving information on why I downvoted your answer.
    – CriglCragl
    Commented Mar 14, 2023 at 15:35
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    @JD do you know who is thou? i mean you are right that nobody used in Eng, do you know why? and why priests still uses? it is simple you are already almost asking self question. Tiger Tiger who art thee? Commented Mar 16, 2023 at 9:24
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    I might be seeing it the way you see it. When you said Void, that fits for me. But I think few people ('minds' ha ha) see it. And no one can describe it to anyone so that they will understand. "Of which we cannot speak, thereof we must remain silent."
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Apr 28, 2023 at 10:43
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A little intuition pump for you.

Imagine all consciousness ends tomorrow.

Has the universe ceased to exist?

There might be something epistemically fundamental about consciousness, but the metaphysical question is more along this line. And actually, it's quite feasible that the absence of observation does do strange things to what we understand physics to be, but it's something that needs quite serious and focused philosophical consideration before we can definitely settle on it.

So, no, it's not implausible, but be specific!

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  • Imagine all gravity ended tomorrow... What fits the definition of 'fundamental'? It is the Ship of Theseus in reverse.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Apr 28, 2023 at 10:32
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Consciousness is fundamental in Descartes' dubito, ergo cogito, ergo sum ("I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am"). ref.

When Heidegger writes that Descartes posits the mathematical he means it in the sense of conscious rationalisation.

Descartes does not doubt because he is a skeptic; rather, he must become a doubter because he posits the mathematical as the absolute ground and seeks for all knowledge a foundation that will be in accord with it. (Modern Science, Metaphysics, and Mathematics, p. 278)

He continues

Insofar as thinking and positing directs itself toward itself, it finds the following: whatever may be asserted, and in whatever sense, this asserting and thinking is always an "I think." Thinking is always an "I think," ego cogito. Therein lies: I am, sum. Cogito, sum — this is the highest certainty lying immediately in the proposition as such.

It's not that everything beyond is a simulation. It just that whatever it is one thinks is there is less certain than the ego cogito itself.

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  • ""I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am" very well put!! Although one can say that this is an epistemological certainly only and does not necessarily have ontological consequences (although implausible)..
    – Nikos M.
    Commented Apr 30 at 9:30
  • @NikosM. As I understand it the ontological existence of objective things ties back to the observer, e.g. Kant: "[existence] is the conjunction of the [possible] thing with perception." note 36 B287. So this circles round to the existence of the ego cogito. For Kant, thought comes from the intuition prior to thought: die gedankenlose Anschauung A111für uns so viel als gar nichts seyn. "for us it would be as much as nothing at all." Commented Apr 30 at 10:22
  • This is echoed by Heidegger in his 1949 preface to On the Essence of Ground in Pathmarks, p. 97: "The nothing is the "not" of beings, and is thus being, experienced from the perspective of beings. The ontological difference is the "not" between beings and being." Commented Apr 30 at 10:33
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No, I do not find it implausible that consciousness is fundamental. Panpsychism proposes that it is. This idea has existed since ancient philosophers, such as Thales and Plato. Russell progressed it in the previous century with monism. Currently, there are several proponents, such as Philip Goff. So the universe is conscious, fundamental particles are conscious. Quantum entanglement is being researched to elucidate this.

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Two cents.

According to the hard problem of consciousness (Chalmers), consciousness defies any attempt to nail it down to some function or reduce to other terms.

It is undeniable that some organisms are subjects of experience. But the question of how it is that these systems are subjects of experience is perplexing. [...]If any problem qualifies as the problem of consciousness, it is this one. In this central sense of “consciousness”, an organism is conscious if there is something it is like to be that organism, and a mental state is conscious if there is something it is like to be in that state. [...]Why are the easy problems easy, and why is the hard problem hard? The easy problems are easy precisely because they concern the explanation of cognitive abilities and functions. To explain a cognitive function, we need only specify a mechanism that can perform the function. The methods of cognitive science are well-suited for this sort of explanation, and so are well-suited to the easy problems of consciousness. By contrast, the hard problem is hard precisely because it is not a problem about the performance of functions. The problem persists even when the performance of all the relevant functions is explained.

Some approaches like illusionism deny there is any hard problem at all, by denying consciousness (as commonly understood) really exists. This questioning of the existence of any hard problem of consciousness is called the meta problem of consciousness (Chalmers).

Other approaches like computationalism and functionalism, if they are not illusionist, hope that some form of emergence will explain consciousness, although we are far from that.

It has been argued (Strawson) that experiential phenomena are given and must be addressed. Emergence, shows Strawson, can only work for some properties, not any conceivable property can be emergent (eg length cannot emerge from lengthless processes). In this sense, he investigates conditions for experiential phenomena to be able to emerge from wholly non-experiential phenomena, and it turns out that either conditions for emergence to happen cannot be satisfied, else one can only invoke emergence as a miracle.

It is concluded that consciousness cannot emerge, it must be there already, irreducible and primitive. In this sense, physicalism (about experiential phenomena) entails a form of panpsychism. Panpsychism elegantly solves a number of problems at once: a) hard problem of consciousness, b) mind-body relation, c) problem of other minds, d) agency and physical closure. Panpsychism has its own problem of combination (how partial experiences combine into a greater experience), but it is not a detrimental problem (for one answer to the combination problem see this).

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