Should Physicalists Fear Abstracta? Journal of Consciousness Studies, Volume 24, Numbers 9-10, 2017, pp. 40-49(10)

Everyone has their daemons. For some, it’s addictions. For others, it’s the failure to live up to parental expectations. For me, it’s my thighs: why are they so big? But perhaps I digress. Already. Physicalists have their daemons too; for them, it’s abstract entities, in particular, the abstract, mathematical relations that, as some have argued, are an inextricable part of the physical base, that is to say, an inextricable part of the fundamental properties and entities upon which the rest of the world is built. Physicalists may have other daemons too; if they’re like the rest of us, they’ve got to. But at least this much is clear: physicalism is true only if the things we know and love—our tables, our chairs, our minds, our bodies, and most ardently our phones—are somehow all ultimately built out of or dependent on entirely concrete aspects of the world. The intrusion of abstracta ravages everything.

Or at least, this is the view espoused by Susan Schneider in her paper, “The Problem of the Physical Base,” in which she argues that physicalism must be false if abstracta are part of the dependence base of chairs, tables, phones and so forth. Here, in my own divagating way, I beg to differ: one can be a veritable physicalist, I shall argue, and countenance abstracta too. Or at least I’d like to set out some reasons to think that abstracta in general, as well as the abstracta woven into the dependence base (base-abstracta), are something physicalists can accept with consistency.


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