Materialism, Determinism, Free Will

May 2024 Forums General discussion Materialism, Determinism, Free Will

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  • #89777
    robbo203
    Participant
    ALB wrote:
    robbo203 wrote:
    The emergence paradigm which I am advocating here and which I suggest the Party would do well to consider is something that gets round the kind of intractable problems thrown up  by a reductionist deterministic model of society.

    Why? Why does the Party have to commit itself to a particular non-idealist theory of the relationship between mind and matter or between mind and brain? Let a thousand flowers bloom except for the weeds that want to bring some supernatural being into it.

     Firstly I didn’t say “commit”  – I said “consider”.  That means something quite different in my dictionarySecondly , you don’t understand what I’m getting at.  Emergence theory is a metaparadigm. Its application is not simply restricted to brain-mind interactions in cognitive science. Its is equally applicable for example  to the individual-society interactions in sociology in which society is viewed as an emergent property of individuals that both depends upon and reciprocally influences individuals The point about emergence theory is that it allows you to think about society in non deterministic or non reductionist terms and yet is still in keeping with a materialist conception of history. Thus,  it acknowledges that people are creative agents and develop or pursue ideas,  even those quite out of sync with their material conditions or material interests – in short, that ideas too have a life of their own  and an impact on history  – but these ideas are sifted through  the material infrastructure of society which determines which survive and prosper and  and which fade out and die.

    #89778
    robbo203
    Participant
    Young Master Smeet wrote:
    robbo203 wrote:
    Logically that commits you to the view that a particular mental event can have only one neurophysical correlate .  Are you willing to defend this manifestly indefensible and unscientific position?  

    As I have repeatedly said, a computer can perform identical operations using different disk sectors and different parts of the chip.  I see no fundamental difference.  But each given operation is itself and no other.Just as a C can be played on a guitar string or a on a flute, identical results may come from different routes.

    robbo203 wrote:
    Also, if there is no mind then there can be no such  thing as a mind exerting downward causation.

    I see no problem in brain states causing further brain states.I’m quite happy to say my brain doesn’t exist, and that I don’t exist.  i’m just a process or matter and fundamental particles.

     You could have fooled me! I distinctly remember meeting you once or twice  and Im kind of disappointed to learn now that these responses that appear to come from you are just some kind computer generated spam or whatever…  LOLAnyway since you are quite happy to announce to the world that you do not exist then can I  assume you are equally happy to endorse Mrs Thatcher’s sentiment that there is no such thing as society?.  Would care to explain in that case why you belong to an organisation that ostensibly seeks to overthrow the existing form of society?    Society is after all an emergent property of individuals just as the mind is an emergent property of the human brainIf the mind does not exist then presumably, by the same token,  neither does society – in which case why are you trying to change the latter?   And why are you trying to change people’s…er…minds when they say you cant change it?

    #89779
    ALB
    Keymaster
    robbo203 wrote:
    The point about emergence theory is that it allows you to think about society in non deterministic or non reductionist terms and yet is still in keeping with a materialist conception of history. Thus,  it acknowledges that people are creative agents and develop or pursue ideas,  even those quite out of sync with their material conditions or material interests – in short, that ideas too have a life of their own  and an impact on history  – but these ideas are sifted through  the material infrastructure of society which determines which survive and prosper and  and which fade out and die.

    This is precisely what the materialist conception of history says:

    Quote:
    The premises from which we begin are not arbitrary ones, not dogmas, but real premises from which abstraction can only be made in the imagination. They are the real individuals, their activity and the material conditions under which they live, both those which they find already existing and those produced by their activity. These premises can thus be verified in a purely empirical way. (German Ideology, 1845)
    Quote:
    Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. (18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, 1852).
    Quote:
    History does nothing, it ‘possesses no immense wealth’, it ‘wages no battles’. It is man, real, living man who does all that, who possesses and fights; ‘history’ is not, as it were, a person apart, using man as a means to achieve its own aims; history is nothing but the activity of man pursuing his aims.(The Holy Family, ch 6, 1846)
    Quote:
    theory also becomes a material force as soon as it has gripped the masses. (Introduction to a Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, 1844)
    Quote:
    Mankind thus inevitably sets itself only such tasks as it is able to solve, since closer examination will always show that the problem itself arises only when the material conditions for its solution are already present or at least in the course of formation. (Preface to the Critique of Political Economy, 1859)
    Quote:
    even when a society has got upon the right track for the discovery of the natural laws of its movement — and it is the ultimate aim of this work, to lay bare the economic law of motion of modern society — it can neither clear by bold leaps, nor remove by legal enactments, the obstacles offered by the successive phases of its normal development. But it can shorten and lessen the birth-pangs. (Preface to First German edition of Capital, 1867)

    Whoever thought that the MCH posited otherwise — except of course the likes of Castoriadis?Incidentally, did you mean to use the word “determines” in the last sentence of your contribution? 

    #89780
    robbo203 wrote:
    If the mind does not exist then presumably, by the same token,  neither does society – in which case why are you trying to change the latter?   And why are you trying to change people’s…er…minds when they say you cant change it?

    There is no such thing as Young Master Smeet, only society.  Society exists, I don’t, I am an illusion generated by society.  Or, rather, my conscious self is a by-product of the facility for language, and since language is inherently social and exists outside any given selfhood, it exists and I merely misrecognise myself through it.

    #89781
    robbo203
    Participant

    I think the point is that you can cherry pick passages from Marx to fit any particular interpretation of  the MCH that you want to convey:   This is the problem with Marx – there is a certain ambiguity about his formulations.  The definitive statement  of the MCH is usually taken to be this passage from his  Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy:”In the social production of their life , men enter into definite relationships that are indispensable and independent of their will, relations of production which correspond to a definite stage of development of their material productive  forces.  The sum total of these relations of production constitute the economic structure of society, the real foundation  on which rises a legal and political superstructure and to which corresponds definite forms of social consciousness.  The mode of production of material life, conditions the social, political and intellectual life process in general.  It is not the consciousness of men that that determines their being but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness” This is the more deterministic Marx – the idea that consciousness is “determined” by social being and not the other way round. I think this is highly misleading because it implies the possibility of a kind temporal priority –  that you could have such a thing as  “social being” before you have “consciousness” which, of course, is nonsense.  This same idea appears in  Engel’s comments in a speech he made at Marx’s funeral  –  namely  that because human beings must first eat, have shelter and clothing and so on before they can engage in politics art  religion and other ideological endeavours, that this somehow permits  one to conclude that the latter can be “explained” in terms of the former. G A  Cohen has argued that this is to commit  what he calls  the “fallacy of equivocation”.  The fact that ideological activities may be dependent on material activities does not mean they can therefore be explained by them!   It the same with the discussion weve been having  on mind brain interactions.  Because the mind is dependent on the brain this does not mean that the mind is reducible to,  or  explicable in terms of , neurophysical events for the reasons I cited (incidentally though I don’t set much credence by this – I find it unbelievable personally  –  there are some like the British neurologist John Lorber, who claims to have encountered cases of individuals with severe hydrocephalus who effectively have “no brain” – just a head filled with fluid  and lined internally with a thin layer of brain tissue. One of these was a mathematician with an IQ of 126!  See this for example  http://www.flatrock.org.nz/topics/science/is_the_brain_really_necessary.htm) But to get back to the point  – there is this deterministic  streak in the MCH which postulates as the prime moving force in history  the developing “material productive forces” to which the “relations of production” will tend to adapt to in the long run (and which in turn are said to “give rise” to a definite form of social consciousness).   The question has to be asked however – What causes these productive forces themselves to develop over time?   One obvious answer is technological innovation but is this not a case of technical knowledge and hence consciousness?  Motives too are an important consideration behind the development of the forces of production- they don’t just develop themselves! – and these often stem from ideological bases . A classic  example is the system of Stakhonovite incentives operating in the early Soviet Union  which was clearly driven by ideological considerations of catching up with, and surpassing, the West. In short, if one had a mind to,  one could just as easily “stand Marx on his head”  (as someone once put it )  -just as Marx claimed to have stood Hegel’s on his  head –  by arguing that it is consciousness that gives rise to the development  of material forces .  Except, of course,   that there are other passages from Marx like the ones you have cherry picked,  which tend to redeem him and save him from the charge of being a crude determinist All of which leads to me to think  that what I call  ” macho-materialism”  – the  hard line deterministic view of society along with its denunciation of what it calls “Idealism” –  is misconceived.  I’ve come across this crass approach  alll too often in places such as the Revleft forum.  If you want to score a victory over your opponent  what you’ve gotta do is call then an “idealist” and that settles the matter!  Ho ho ho.  As if things were that simple.  This same kind attitude is I think to an extent also evident in the SPGB and shows  up particularly when it comes to justifying its nonsensical policy of excluding religious minded revolutionary socialists. The world is more complex than macho materialism would have us believe. Ideas do have a life of their own and are capable of autonomous development to an extent.   They don’t just arise like mushrooms out of a compost in response to prevailing mode  of production as this one way model of causality would suggest.. This is  what I arguing for –  a materialist conception of history which conceives of the “economic base” more in terms of a filtering device in relation to society’s superstructural aspects rather than something that can meaningfully said to ” give rise to” the latter in some crude deterministic sense.  Because I don’t think it does

    #89784
    robbo203
    Participant
    Young Master Smeet wrote:
    robbo203 wrote:
    If the mind does not exist then presumably, by the same token,  neither does society – in which case why are you trying to change the latter?   And why are you trying to change people’s…er…minds when they say you cant change it?

    There is no such thing as Young Master Smeet, only society.  Society exists, I don’t, I am an illusion generated by society.  Or, rather, my conscious self is a by-product of the facility for language, and since language is inherently social and exists outside any given selfhood, it exists and I merely misrecognise myself through it.

     This goes from bad to worse!.  Or if you like,  from hilarious to sidesplittingly hilarious.  You’re surely taking the piss, Bill?Mrs Thatcher’s aphorism was  bad enough – “there is no such thing as society only  individuals (and their families)”  .  Now you are telling us (except that it is not “you” who is telling us since you don’t exist! LOL)  that the exact opposite is true.  What then does society consist of if not individuals,  I wonder?  What does the very idea of society imply is not a plurality of individuals that interact with each other?Your conscious self, you say,  is a “by-product of the facility for language”.  While I struggle to understand how a “by product “of something cannot be said to exist if it really is a by product, language itself is a form of communication and communication exists by virtue of the existence of individuals who communicate  between each other.. Language itself , in other words, is a by product of interacting individuals and presupposes them. It is not some wonderful gift from the gods handed down to a speechless race of human beings While I cant believe that what you are literally trying to do is deny your existence of an empirical material entity – that would be rather odd thing for a “materialist” to do – I take it that by “you” you mean a sense of selfhood or self-apprehension.  Because it is an internalised construction developed through language and socialisation, this makes it an “illusion” in your view.  In short, you cant actually touch feel or taste what you call your “self”. Therefore its not real – it doesnt “exist” But, you know,  precisely the same thing could be said about “society” which you say quite definitely “exists” and is also a construction in that sense.  So why does society exist but not  “you” in this sense?  Feel free to withdraw your claim that society exists if  you think this presents a conceptual problem to your whole line of argument  but,  I ask  you again, if you were to think like Mrs Thatcher that society does not exist then what is the point of trying to change it by working  to establish socialism?

    #89785
    robbo203 wrote:
    Your conscious self, you say,  is a “by-product of the facility for language”.  While I struggle to understand how a “by product “of something cannot be said to exist if it really is a by product, language itself is a form of communication and communication exists by virtue of the existence of individuals who communicate  between each other.. Language itself , in other words, is a by product of interacting individuals and presupposes them. It is not some wonderful gift from the gods handed down to a speechless race of human beings

    Language existed before this particular lump of animated meat had to accomodate itself to it.

    robbo203 wrote:
    While I cant believe that what you are literally trying to do is deny your existence of an empirical material entity – that would be rather odd thing for a “materialist” to do – I take it that by “you” you mean a sense of selfhood or self-apprehension.  Because it is an internalised construction developed through language and socialisation, this makes it an “illusion” in your view.  In short, you cant actually touch feel or taste what you call your “self”. Therefore its not real – it doesnt “exist”

    No, not because I cannot touch it, but because that so much of what the meat does is not controlled by the talking voice in the head, which really is a specialist in retroactive justifications (the owl of Minerva spreads it wings with the dying of the light, and all that).  So much of what we call ourselves is in fact many different processes/devices doing different tasks.

    #89783
    Anonymous
    Inactive

     Consciousness IS a material condition. Therefore to say that ideas take on an independent existence is to say that one material condition becomes independent of all others.Marx wrote:“Language is as old as consciousness, language is practical, real consciousness that exists for other men as well, and only therefore does it also exist for me; language, like consciousness, only arises from the need, the necessity, of intercourse with other men.”If material conditions do not determine consciousness, then it has always fascinated me to find that 100% of people speak their native language. Why –  if people can have ideas independent of their material conditions – didn’t one of my brothers or friends spontaneously speak Chinese or Latin? Why do we all speak English?

    #89786
    DJP
    Participant
    robbo203 wrote:
    The point about emergence theory is that it allows you to think about society in non deterministic or non reductionist terms and yet is still in keeping with a materialist conception of history. 

    Emergence does not seem to run counter to determinism, the formation of the patterns of snow flakes is a emergent process but I think it would seem not to make sense to say that these are formed through in-determinate means.It’s probably bad to quote wikipedia but I’ll do it anyhow:

    wikipedia wrote:
    As an illustration, some strategy board games have rigorous rules in which no information (such as cards’ face values) is hidden from either player and no random events (such as dice rolling) occur in the game. Nevertheless, strategy games like chess and especially Go, with its simple deterministic rules, can have an extremely large number of unpredictable moves. By analogy, “emergentists” suggest that the experience of free will emerges from the interaction of finite rules and deterministic parameters that generate infinite and unpredictable behavior. Yet, if all these events were accounted for, and there were a known way to evaluate these events, the seemingly unpredictable behavior would become predictable.[95][93][96] Cellular automata and the generative sciences can model emergent processes of social behavior on this philosophy.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_will#Determinism_and_emergent_behavior
    robbo203 wrote:
    The definitive statement  of the MCH is usually taken to be this passage from his  Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy:

    It probably is, but to base a ‘critque’ of a theory on a couple of paragraphs is sloppy in the extreme. To get a full handle on it you’d have to read at least The German Ideology,  Anti-Duhring and  Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy.

    Engels wrote:
    According to the materialist conception of history, the ultimately determining element in history is the production and reproduction of real life. Other than this neither Marx nor I have ever asserted. Hence if somebody twists this into saying that the economic element is the only determining one, he transforms that proposition into a meaningless, abstract, senseless phrase.[…]Marx and I are ourselves partly to blame for the fact that the younger people sometimes lay more stress on the economic side than is due to it. We had to emphasise the main principle vis-à-vis our adversaries, who denied it, and we had not always the time, the place or the opportunity to give their due to the other elements involved in the interaction. But when it came to presenting a section of history, that is, to making a practical application, it was a different matter and there no error was permissible. Unfortunately, however, it happens only too often that people think they have fully understood a new theory and can apply it without more ado from the moment they have assimilated its main principles, and even those not always correctly. And I cannot exempt many of the more recent “Marxists” from this reproach, for the most amazing rubbish has been produced in this quarter, too….http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1890/letters/90_09_21.htm
    #89787
    Anonymous
    Inactive

     “We make our history ourselves, but, in the first place, under very definite assumptions and conditions. Among these the economic ones are ultimately decisive. But the political ones, etc., and indeed even the traditions which haunt human minds also play a part, although not the decisive one. “

    #89788
    Anonymous
    Inactive

    RobMy last post is not a reply to your last post. I dont know how it happened but I posted before your post appeared!

    #89789
    robbo203
    Participant
    DJP wrote:
    . Emergence does not seem to run counter to determinism, the formation of the patterns of snow flakes is a emergent process but I think it would seem not to make sense to say that these are formed through in-determinate means.

    It is fundamental  to Emergence theory that you cannot “reduce” or satisfactorily account for  a higher or emergent level of reality in terms of the lower level upon which it “supervenes” So for example : You cannot  satisfactorily explain the workings of the mind simply in terms of the neurophysical processes that accompany it or enable it to happen. You cannot explain what goes on at the level of society as a whole simply in terms of the outlook, wants and interests of the individuals who comprise it. The basic idea is that the whole is more than the sum of its parts and that certainly does seem to run counter to “determinism” which claims that the parts can explain or determine the whole  (methodological individualism) In terms of the MCH,  “determinism” refers to the alleged  effect of the economic base of society on its “superstructure”.Determinism is only meaningful as one-way causality.  Which is nonsense since clearly ” ideas” do affect the economic base in all sorts of ways  which I touched on earlier e.g.. technical knowledge, innovation , production motives etc etc .  There is in other words “downward causation” to use the terminology of Emergence theory  which is being exerted by  the higher emergent level (society’s superstructure in this case)  upon the economic base upon which it supervenes In other words,  in acknowledging the fact of downward causation ,  we are no longer talking about a deterministic model  of society/history but rather one based on the notion of reciprocal influences – albeit hierarchically organized and giving greatest weight to economic factors. Influences have a determining effect, certainly,  but your mistake is to infer form that that  this means one is putting forward deterministic model .  Not so.   Rejecting determinism does not necessarily mean one is putting forward the idea of “indeterminate  means” – it can mean, for example, a two way or interactive model of causality  .Determinism means something much more specific and precise than the mere absence of indetermination or a-causality

    #89790
    robbo203
    Participant
    TheOldGreyWhistle wrote:
    RobMy last post is not a reply to your last post. I dont know how it happened but I posted before your post appeared!

     I reckon it was unseen  mystical powers at work that forced your hand!  LOL  ;-)

    #89782
    robbo203
    Participant
    TheOldGreyWhistle wrote:
     Consciousness IS a material condition. Therefore to say that ideas take on an independent existence is to say that one material condition becomes independent of all others.Marx wrote:“Language is as old as consciousness, language is practical, real consciousness that exists for other men as well, and only therefore does it also exist for me; language, like consciousness, only arises from the need, the necessity, of intercourse with other men.”If material conditions do not determine consciousness, then it has always fascinated me to find that 100% of people speak their native language. Why –  if people can have ideas independent of their material conditions – didn’t one of my brothers or friends spontaneously speak Chinese or Latin? Why do we all speak English?

     I think what you doing here is confusing consciousness – or the capacity for consciousness – with the content of consciousness – the thoughts or ideas we entertain in our head.  Its the ideas or thoughts I am talking about , not consciousness per se.  An  idea is not a “material condition” is it?  There is no such thing as a unicorn in material  reality yet people have the thought of a unicorn.  Many of them think that a god exists but I wouldn’t have thought the SPGB of all people would take kindly to the thought that god is part of our material realityYou might say an idea is a ” reflection” of  material conditions. It may be but  equally  it may not be and this is the point that I was trying to convey in saying that ideas have a certain autonomy in that sense and that human beings have a capacity to be creative , to go beyond what materially exists in and through their imaginings.  To use the example of the  unicorn again,  we can certainly trace the various traits of a unicorn to different actually existing animals in material reality. However,  in  the process of selecting  and assembling this montage of traits  we go beyond what exists in material reality .  We enter a world of surreality I repeat  –  yes our thought processes  depends on material reality, (and quite literally  on the human brain).   but they are not reducible to the latter.  To use again the analogy I used earlier – thoughts are not like mushrooms that grow out of the compost heap that is “material conditions”; they can, for instance grow,  out of other thoughts  . Reflection can lead to insights that might have never occurred to anyone before.or have never been put into material practice before Material conditions do not not so much generate ideas as filter them. I liken “material conditions” to a kind of censor that allows some ideas to grow while discouraging or banning others . Who gets to act as the censor is question of social power and the balance of forces in society.  In any event what this censor does is to try to shape the overall pattern of ideas manifest on society  but it does not in the literal sense of the word, give rise to ideas. : it respond to them The belief that it – material conditions – does give rise to ideas actually boils down to a kind of mystical idealism which supposes that there  is such a thing as an objective rationality embedded in our material existence.  So for example you get the claim made by many on the left that a socialist revolution needs to be preceded by a catastrophic  economic crisis –  almost as  though one can automatically  read into a economic crisis the need for a socialist revolution. Thats bollocks  frankly because we know that economic crises can just as easily pave the way to a fascist takeover..  There is no objective rationality out there that compels us to read events one way rather than another which means  that how we read events is a matter of subjective interpretation. To put it differently, it is the ideas that we hold in our head which conditions our response to material reality rather than material  reality conditioning our ideas  Point is that this nonsensical idea  that there is such a thing as an objective rationality is directly linked to the silly dogma that ideas are simply a reflection of material reality and nothing more.Anyway, this is how I understand the materialist conception of history – not as some kind of crude deterministic  model of how ideas come to lodge themselves in people’s heads but as a model which gives due allowance for human creativity and our self evident  ability to surpass our material conditions.  As I mentioned earlier some of the stuff Marx and Engels wrote might have lent themselves to a crude deterministic interpretation but equally some other stuff that they wrote is much more in keeping with what I think is the correct approach to a materialist conception of history .For example ,  thisAccording to the materialistic conception of history, the production and reproduction of real life constitutes in the last instance the determining factor of history. Neither Marx nor I ever maintained more. Now when someone comes along and distorts this to mean that the economic factor is the sole determining factor, he is converting the former proposition into a meaningless, abstract and absurd phrase. The economic situation is the basis but the various factors of the superstructure – the political forms of the class struggles and its results – constitutions, etc., established by victorious classes after hard-won battles – legal forms, and even the reflexes of all these real struggles in the brain of the participants, political, juridical, philosophical theories, religious conceptions and their further development into systematic dogmas – all these exercise an influence upon the course of historical struggles, and in many cases determine for the most part their form. There is a reciprocity between all these factors in which, finally, through the endless array of contingencies (i.e…, of things and events whose inner connection with one another is so remote, or so incapable of proof, that we may neglect it, regarding it as nonexistent) the economic movement asserts itself as necessary.(http://www.marxistsfr.org/archive/marx/works/1890/letters/90_09_21a.htm

    #89791
    DJP
    Participant
    robbo203 wrote:
    Influences have a determining effect, certainly,  but your mistake is to infer form that that  this means one is putting forward deterministic model .  Not so.   Rejecting determinism does not necessarily mean one is putting forward the idea of “indeterminate  means” – it can mean, for example, a two way or interactive model of causality  .Determinism means something much more specific and precise than the mere absence of indetermination or a-causality

    I know and agree with what you mean by reductionism.It seems to me that all we are disagreeing about is what we mean by ‘Determinism’. To me, if there’s a casual link of any kind it’s still a deterministic system. Perhaps I’m using the term too broadly but I don’t think so.

    Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy wrote:
    “Causal determinism is, roughly speaking, the idea that every event is necessitated by antecedent events and conditions together with the laws of nature.”http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/determinism-causal/

    Not sure If I’ll have much more to say on this topic for the time being but this quote came to mind…

    Dietzgen wrote:
    Everything is large, everything is small, everything extended through space and time, everything cause and everything effect, everything a whole and a part, because everything is the essence of everything, because everything is contained in the all, everything related, everything connected, everything interdependent. The conception of all as the absolute, the content of which consists of innumerable relativities, the concept of the all as the universal truth which reflects many phenomena, that is the basis of the science of understanding.
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