Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Back to the Stoics: Dynamical Monism as the Foundation for a Reformed Naturalism

By James Barham
March 2002

ABSTRACT-The metaphysical naturalism underlying most of contemporary scientific and philosophical discourse stands in need of reformation because it leaves out of account one of the most salient features of the world---the normativity that lies at the heart of life itself, and of all higher human forms of value and striving. In the introduction, "Why Naturalism Needs a Reformation," I agree with Alvin Plantinga that mechanistic naturalism is inherently incapable of accounting for normative phenomena; the question is, however, whether naturalism must be identified with philosophical mechanism, or whether a postmechanistic reformation of naturalism may be possible.  There are two contemporary philosophical programs which reject mechanistic naturalism and take a realistic stance towards teleological phenomena: intelligent design theory and dynamical monism, a philosophical offshoot of self-organization theory. In the second section, "The Design Inference," I briefly discuss intelligent design theory, agreeing with William Dembski that the mechanistic assumptions underlying mainstream science lead ineluctably to the design inference in the case of organisms. However, I regard Dembski’s demonstration as a reductio of the premise that organisms are machines. In the third section, "Teleology and Functionalism," I review a number of reasons for rejecting the dominant functionalist philosophy of mind, in particular the doctrine of the "multiple realizability" of functions. In the fourth section, "Elements of a Dynamical Monism," I briefly sketch an alternative view of organisms as natural teleological systems, drawing on recent work in nonlinear dynamics and condensed-matter physics.  In the fifth section, "Naturalism and Theism," I consider the question of the epistemic status of metaphysical naturalism. I agree that the metaphysical ground of human reason transcends empiricism and rests in some sense on faith. Nevertheless, I reject the epistemic equivalence between science and religious faith. The reason is that science is essentially an extension of the "animal faith" of common sense, and so is grounded in our universal biological nature in a way that religious faith is not, while religious faith is grounded in particular cultures in a way that science is not. In the last section, "Back to the Stoics," I draw on the natural philosophy of the Old Stoics to consider what a more universal form of religious faith compatible with a dynamical monist understanding of life and mind might look like.


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