Tag Archives: physicalism

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.


One notable exception…

I have to admit, I sort of liked both of these Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews:

Wayne Christensen writes, “Of all the contributors, only Barbara Montero directly challenges Dreyfus’s empirical claims about expertise…” (→ Wayne Christensen’s review). The paper he’s talking about: A Dancer Reflects

Amy Kind, in her review, writes, “One notable exception is Barbara Montero’s excellent chapter on physicalism…” (→ Amy Kind’s review)  And here’s the paper: Physicalism

book reviews of me



Russellian Physicalism

Russellian Physicalism, forthcoming  in Russellian Monism, edited by Torin Alter and Yujin Nagasawa:

According to David Chalmers, the conceivability of worlds that duplicate our physics yet lack consciousness refutes physicalism. Or rather, it almost refutes it. This qualification arises because “Russellian monism,” characterized roughly as the view that consciousness is determined by the intrinsic properties of fundamental physical entities, escapes this sort of antiphysicalist conceivability argument. One might think this is good news for the physicalist, but not so Chalmers. Although he takes Russellian monism to be a highly appealing view, he claims that many physicalists will reject it as it “shares the spirit of antimaterialism.”  I think that the loophole in the conceivability argument is more significant than Chalmers has made it out to be, for, as I shall argue, Chalmers fails to take into account a version of Russellian monism, what I refer to as “Russellian physicalism,” that escapes the conceivability argument yet is fully physicalistic.  (→ to Russellian Physicalism)


Northwestern Philosophy Workshop: “Nineteenth-Century German Philosophy Of Mind”

Philosophers at Northwestern University helped me with my paper on nineteenth-century German philosophy of mind. While I was there, I also had a lively discussion about expertise and Plato’s Ion, as a guest in Rachel Zuckert’s aesthetics course.   Here are some photos; the first few are from the class; the last couple, from the workshop.

IMG_0622 German Philosophy Northwestern

Philosophy of Mind in Nineteenth-Century German Philosophy

A draft of Philosophy of Mind in Nineteenth-Century, forthcoming in “Oxford Handbook of Nineteenth-Century German Philosophy,” edited by Michael Forster and Kristin Gjesdal.

Book Review of Daniel Stojar’s Physicalism

My review can be found here:  http://ndpr.nd.edu/news/31706-physicalism/

Abstract. It is somewhat incongruous that Daniel Stoljar’s book Physicalism is part of Routledge’s New Problems of Philosophy series, for physicalism, as Stoljar’s quote from Fredrich Lange’s book on the topic makes clear, “is as old as philosophy, but not older.” Lange, no doubt, is correct that strands of the view, or cluster of views, we refer to today as “physicalism” are found in Democritus, Epicurus and even Thales; nonetheless, under Stoljar’s deft hand, the subject becomes new due to his focus on the distinctly contemporary concern of how to define or interpret physicalism. His interest in this issue, as he mentions in the acknowledgements, was sparked by Noam Chomsky, who, Stoljar says, “first asked me what on earth I thought physicalism was anyway” (xii). The book, as well as a good part of the rest of Stoljar’s insightful and abundant research, is a response to Chomsky’s query.

Must Physicalism Imply the Supervenience of the Mental on the Physical?

Barbara Gail Montero, “Must Physicalism Imply the Supervenience of the Mental on the Physical?”, Journal of Philosophy, 2013.

Here is a close to final draft of the paper:
Must Physicalism Imply the Supervenience of the Mental on the Physical?

Abstract. In the literature on physicalism, one finds a plethora of supervenience relations along with debates over their respective roles in formulating the thesis of physicalism. However, one finds little, if any, debate over whether a weak supervenience principle, of the sort proposed by Frank Jackson, David Chalmers, and David Lewis is necessary for physicalism. This article questions whether a supervenience principle, even of this weak sort, is necessary for physicalism.

Must Physicalism Imply the Supervenience of the Mental on the Physical, New York City, 2012

This is a talk I gave for the CUNY Philosophy Colloquium on February 22, 2012, which was included as a presentation for the Online Consciousness Conference, with commentary by Robert Howell, Gene Witmer and Frank Jackson.  Please visit the conference site for further information, including links to the commentaries, my responses and discussion.

Varieties of Causal Closure

Here is a draft of a 2003 paper that attempts to unravel the concept of causal closure as it occurs in the literature on physicalism:

Varieties of Causal Closure

The final version is in Sven Walter, Heinz-Dieter Heckmann, eds. Physicalism and Mental Causation: The Metaphysics of Mind and Action. Imprint Academic.

A Russellian Response to the Structural Argument Against Physicalism

Journal of Consciousness Studies, 17, No. 3–4, 2010, pp. 70–83

Draft of A Russellian Response to the Structural Argument Against Physicalism

Abstract. According to David Chalmers (2002), ‘we have good reason to suppose that consciousness has a fundamental place in nature’ (p. 135). This, he thinks is because the world as revealed to us by fundamental physics is entirely structural — it is a world not of things, but of relations — yet relations can only account for more relations, and consciousness is not merely a relation (pp. 120–21). Call this the ‘structural argument against physicalism.’I shall argue that there is a view about the relationship between mind and body, what I call, ‘Russellian physicalism’ that is consistent with the premises of the structural argument yet  does not imply that consciousness is fundamental.

Physicalism Could Be True Even if Mary Learns Something New

Barbara Montero (2007). Physicalism Could Be True Even If Mary Learns Something New. Philosophical Quarterly57 (227):176-189.

Here is a close to final draft of Physicalism could be true even if Mary learns something new.

Abstract. Mary knows all there is to know about physics, chemistry and neurophysiology, yet has never experienced colour. Most philosophers think that if Mary learns something genuinely new upon seeing colour for the first time, then physicalism is false. I argue, however, that physicalism is consistent with Mary’s acquisition of new information. Indeed, even if she has perfect powers of deduction, and higher-level physical facts are a priori deducible from lower-level ones, Mary may still lack concepts which are required in order (…) to deduce from the lower-level physical facts what it is like to see red.

Physicalism in an Infinitely Decomposable World

Montero (2006). Physicalism in an Infinitely Decomposable World, Erkentnis64 (2):177-191.

Draft of Physicalism in an Infinitely Decomposable World

Might the world be structured, as Leibniz thought, so that every part of matter is divided ad infinitum? The Physicist David Bohm accepted infinitely decomposable matter, and even Steven Weinberg, a staunch supporter of the idea that science is converging on a final theory, admits the possibility of an endless chain of ever more fundamental theories. However, if there is no fundamental level, physicalism, thought of as the view that everything is determined by fundamental phenomena and that all fundamental phenomena (…) are physical, turns out false, for in such a world, there are no fundamental phenomena, and so fundamental phenomena determine nothing. While some take physicalism necessarily to posit a fundamental level, here I present a thesis of physicalism that allows for its truth even in an infinitely decomposable world.

The Epistemic/Ontic Divide

Barbara Montero (2003). The Epistemic/Ontic Divide. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research66 (2):404-418.

A number of philosophers think that although we cannot explain how the mind is physical, we can know that it is physical, nonetheless. That is, they accept both the explanatory gap between the mental and the physical and ontological physicalism. I argue that this position is unstable. Among other things, I argue that once one accepts the explanatory gap, the main argument for ontological physicalism, the argument from causation, loses its force.



Final version: Journal of Consciousness Studies 8 (2):61-80, 2001

draft of Post-Physicalism

What exactly is the problem, inherited from Descartes, that we now call “the mind-body problem”? In his most recent book, Jaegwon Kim provides an answer with which many would agree. “Through the ’70’s and ’80’s and down to this day,” Kim tells us, “the mind-body problem-our mind-body problem-has been that of finding a place for the mind in a world that is fundamentally physical.” This problem, which at one time was at home mainly in departments of philosophy, is now studied by a broad range of disciplines. One finds, for example, neuroscientists arguing that certain discoveries about the brain show that consciousness is physical, researchers in artificial intelligence claiming that because human thought can stimulated by complex computers, thought requires nothing beyond the physical and evolutionary biologists declaring that insights into the evolution of the mind indicate that it must be fundamentally physical. But what does it mean to be physical? While the basic results of the research being done may be clear enough, how are we to interpret the further claim “and this shows that the mind is physical”? The answer is that we have no idea.

I am going to argue that it is time to come to terms with the difficulty of understanding what it means to be physical and start thinking about the mind-body problem from a new perspective. Instead of construing the mind-body problem as the problem of finding a place for mentality in a fundamentally physical world, we should think of it as the problem of finding a place for mentality in a fundamentally nonmental world, a world that is at its most fundamental level entirely nonmental. The mind-body problem, I want to argue, is the problem of determining whether mentality can be accounted for in terms of nonmental phenomena. In other words, it is the question, “is mentality a fundamental feature of the world?”

The Body Problem

The Body Problem,  Noûs 33 (2):183-200, 1999.  JSTOR

The Body Problem Draft


Abstract. Is the mind physical? Are mental properties, such as the property of being in pain or thinking about the higher orders of infinity, actually physical properties? Certainly many philosophers think that they are. For no matter how strange and remarkable consciousness and cognition may be, many hold that they are, nevertheless, entirely physical. While some take this view as a starting point in their discussions about the mind, others, well aware that there are dissenters among the ranks, argue for it strenuously. One wonders, however, just what is being assumed, argued for, or denied. In other words, one wonders, Just what does it mean to be physical? This is the question I call, “the body problem.”

What is the Physical?

“What is the Physical?” (2oo5) In Ansgar Beckermann & Brian P. McLaughlin (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Mind. Oxford University Press.

Here is a draft of the paper.  Please quote only from published version.

draft What is the physical? (2005).