What Is Materialism?

Materialism is an ideology which holds that everything consists of matter and all phenomena are the result of material causes, thus challenging philosophical idealism.

Modern scientific materialism rests upon an intricate knowledge of leptons, quarks, photons and the other elementary particles as well as energies and forces. Furthermore, its success relies upon macroscopic events like brain activity being predictable according to quantum mechanical standards.

Definition

Materialism is a philosophy which asserts that all facts regarding the universe, including facts regarding human minds and spirits, can be reduced to physical processes. Modern physics supports this view while some ancient philosophers like Democritus and Epicurus were materialists despite also possibly holding idealist or dualist ideologies.

Materialism can also be defined in another way, which entails preoccupation with material objects, comforts, and considerations while disinterested with spiritual, intellectual or cultural values. This use of materialism can be both ethically and pejorative; anyone could be considered a materialist even without necessarily adhering to any philosophical position regarding materialism.

Metaphysical materialism is an expansive family of theories on the nature of reality that have an expansive history. First appearing organically across a number of locations – India (Carvaka school started studying it as early as 600 BCE), Middle East, and ancient Greece where philosophers like Thales, Lucretius and Epicurus conducted analyses on matter in various forms – it can now be found across continents and centuries.

Christianity had long disproved materialism in Europe; only during the 17th century did materialism make a comeback under philosophers such as Pierre Gassendi and Thomas Hobbes who made an argument that all reality, including spirits and minds that existed outside physical matter, consisted of molecules floating through space; even space itself existed as nothing more than an empty void.

Modern physicists tend to be materialists. Even those who accept that quantum mechanics imposes certain constraints on reality no longer accept that matter must occupy absolute space (as Newtonians did) or that all physical phenomena are determined (as Einstein did).

Philosophy that stands in opposition to scientific materialism include idealism, pluralism, dualism and panpsychism. Modern neuroscience research also supports this view that there exists a direct relationship between physical processes in brains and mental states or states of consciousness.

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Origins

Materialism is a philosophy which asserts that all existence is composed of matter alone, disproving souls, spirits and gods as supernatural beings. At its extreme form, materialism has also been associated with antireligious beliefs. Materialism’s development throughout history has often been closely tied with physical science because its belief that everything consists of matter led to rejection of supernatural explanations for natural events.

Ancient philosophers laid the groundwork for modern materialism, such as Thales, Parmenides, Anaxagoras, Democritus Lucretius and Epicurus. Epicureanism had an especially significant influence on scientific materialism because its adherents held that ultimate reality consisted of invisible yet indefinable particles of matter free-falling through empty space.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, materialism was reinforced through scientific discoveries in science and mathematics, including evidence that all material particles including space and time make up our universe. Pierre Gassendi and Thomas Hobbes promoted an absolute materialist view of our universe via the famous equation E=mc2. Furthermore, scientists Pierre Gassendi and Thomas Hobbes promoted an irreducibly materialist viewpoint through the E=mc2 equation which demonstrated their point.

Today’s scientific materialism rests upon an in-depth knowledge of subatomic particles (leptons, quarks and photons), their properties and force fields; as well as an understanding that they obey an absolute causal law of causality governed by an absolute causal law governed by an absolute causal law; often known as “reductive or mechanistic materialism”.

Materialist approaches in social sciences usually focus on material processes’ role in shaping society, often with Marxist or dialectical materialism as its foundation. This may take various forms; however, one main tenet usually remains.

Importantly, materialist approaches in social science do not generally support any particular political ideology; rather they often support justice and equality – an emphasis reflected by scholars such as Donna Haraway, Angela Davis and Achille Mbembe. If material processes are truly transformative they must not be used to erase existing inequalities.

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Significance

Materialists believe that everything that exists consists of matter, atoms, and molecules; they do not recognize non-physical realities such as souls, spirits, heaven, or hell and deny the existence of god. This philosophy has been around since centuries with Indian philosophers pioneering Carvaka-influenced materialism before modern continental philosophers like Gilles Deleuze revived it a century or so ago to create something known as new materialism within social sciences disciplines.

Research has demonstrated that individuals with higher levels of materialism tend to experience reduced subjective well-being, due to their focus on amassing possessions that lack emotional or personal significance. Materialism has been associated with various well-being constructs such as life satisfaction, happiness and frequency of positive and negative emotions; however most associations are caused by neuroticism or an overall desire for material gains as opposed to genuine causal factors.

One’s level of materialism can be affected by factors like family, society and media influences; certain cultures place greater emphasis on material goods than others; as well as one’s current economic circumstances – stress related financial worries can cause people to become more materialistic than normal.

Researchers have long noted the damaging consequences of materialism, prompting researchers to search for explanations. A popular theory holds that those with materialistic values lead lives which don’t adequately satisfy psychological needs like freedom, competence and socialization.

Another possible explanation is that individuals with high levels of materialism tend to experience negative emotions such as anxiety and depression more frequently, and are more prone to engaging in risky behavior – perhaps out of needing to compensate for lack of hedonic/eudaemonic experiences? Furthermore, they may struggle to shift away from this materialistic mindset when faced with difficulties such as job loss or health issues.

Misconceptions

Modern materialism refers to any theory which holds that all facts (including those related to human mind and will) can be reduced to physical processes, or are dependent upon physical processes for their existence. Such a view could take any form, from philosophical discussions on this subject matter all the way down to specific systems like Marxism which see the world dominated solely by economic forces.

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Reductive materialists assert that all mental states can be reduced to brain activity, and deny any immaterial or soul-like entities. Unfortunately, however, this view has fallen out of fashion since it clashes with the Multiple Realizability Objection which asserts that mental states cannot be reduced to physical processes alone.

Relaxation of materialism makes room for epiphenomenalism, which posits that sensations and thoughts are somehow connected to physical processes but lack their own independent causal efficacy. Double-aspect materialism asserts that inner experience involves awareness of nonphysical properties of material processes that do not possess causal efficacy in their own right.

Misunderstandings about materialism often lead to unnecessary suffering for individuals. One plausible explanation as to why materialistic values are linked with lower levels of well-being and happiness is because materialism makes it hard for people to meet psychological needs such as self-worth, autonomy, and connectedness with other people.

Research has demonstrated the correlation between materialistic values and emotions such as frustration, anxiety and depression. People who are materialistic often focus solely on material possessions to find happiness – finding satisfaction only when their goals have been accomplished or met is hard for them. But there are ways to overcome this tendency and create more spiritual lives with greater peace of mind – Tim Kasser from Knox College Galesburg Illinois is an expert on materialism and well-being.