DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DC098-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved September 28, 2023, from

4. Recent materialism

In the twentieth century, physicalism has emerged out of positivism. Physicalism restricts meaningful statements to physical bodies or processes that are verifiable or in principle verifiable. It is an empirical hypothesis that is subject to revision and, hence, lacks the dogmatic stance of classical materialism. Herbert Feigl defended physicalism in the USA and consistently held that mental states are brain states and that mental terms have the same referent as physical terms (Feigl 1958). The twentieth century has witnessed many materialist theories of the mental, and much debate surrounding them (see Behaviourism, analytic; Functionalism; Mind, identity theory of; Materialism in the philosophy of mind).

In the field of artificial intelligence, the mind is held to be analogous to computers in so far as it functions as an information-processing entity. Daniel Dennett has, in a qualified way, argued that information-processing machines are valid models of the mind. In addition to the scientifically informed arguments for various forms of materialism, including nonreductive materialism, the twentieth-century conception of matter as composed of electrons, protons and other subatomic particles has spawned a rich speculative literature that effectively undermines previous forms of materialism. What the late US philosopher of science, Norwood Hanson, called the ‘dematerialization’ of matter, raises questions concerning what ‘materialism’ means in terms of the theories of microphysics. Many of the arguments that sustained earlier forms of materialism (including the assumption of causality as universal in nature) have been put in question. The confluence of contemporary theories about the structure and function of the mind and the nature of matter have introduced a complexity of detail and an array of paradoxical claims that make contemporary materialism a welter of intriguing, but conflicting and perplexing, theoretical elements.

Citing this article:
Stack, George J.. Recent materialism. Materialism, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DC098-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2023 Routledge.

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