Metaphysical Materialism

Metaphysical materialism claims that the only existing things are material and the laws governing the material.  This point of view is becoming more and more popular among atheists and some scientists.  What are the consequences of this view?  The most obvious results seem to be that 1) religion is nonsense; 2) humans are merely sub-atomic particles arranged in a peculiar way; 3) ethics is also nonsense.  How could ethics mean or command anything, if there is no soul or source of command?  At most, ethics is an expression of emotion, and nothing more.  If this is the case, the statement “rape is wrong” is merely a sneaky translation of the statement “I personally do not like rape.”  Thus, being unethical is surely not a bad thing, it is merely a matter of taste.

It seems obvious what the metaphysical materialist ought to do if he plans to change society.  Learn the rules that predict the actions of people, and implement policies that make use of these rules to maximum efficiency.  If all that exists is merely material, governing society is merely a matter of cause and effect.  Why, for example, would we not implement mass abortion or genocide (if they prove to be useful) other than outdated concepts like “evil” or “human rights” or “the dignity of man”?  Those concepts all point to a reality that is very distinctly non-material.  But if materialism is true, then the non-material is surely illusory.  Hence, we have no problem.  For the materialist, Pavlov and Skinner are the key to human success.

This view is very extreme.  But why wouldn’t we take it if we are materialists?  Either because we are weak and sentimental–so much so that we can’t follow our premises to their logical conclusions, or because we believe that things like human dignity, souls, ethics, or whatever, are real.  No middle ground seems to make sense.  We should always treat things according to their nature.  If materialism is true, then treat people like the randomly configured bundles of particles that they are, which is to say treat them like expendable objects, which they are.  If materialism is false, then discover what the distinct nature of humanity is, and treat them accordingly.

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