Munich Center for Mathematical Philosophy (MCMP)

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Workshop: Physicalism (21 May 2022)

Idea & Motivation

The aim of this mini-workshop is to revisit the metaphysical thesis of physicalism and to bring together philosophers both from the physicalist and the anti-physicalist camp to engage in discussion on the tenability/untenability of physicalism.



10:00 - 10:30 Johannes Kleiner and Stephan Hartmann: The closure of the physical, consciousness and scientific practice
10:30 - 11:15 Márton Gömöri: Comment
11:15 - 11:30 Coffee Break
11:30 - 12:00 László E. Szabó: Physicalism and the Quine­–Putnam indispensability argument
12:00 - 12:45 John Dougherty: Comment
12:45 - 14:45 Lunch Break
14:45 - 15:45 Gregor M. Hörzer: "Physical" in physicalism and the nature of physical properties
15:45 - 16:00 Coffee Break
16:00 - 17:00 Balázs Gyenis: Hempel's dilemma and the optimistic meta-induction


Balázs Gyenis (Research Center for the Humanities, Budapest): Hempel's dilemma and the optimistic meta-induction

After stating Hempel's dilemma, I argue that its pessimistic meta-induction sub-argument misses its target, since only a much weaker requirement, that of future inter-theory supervenience, would be needed to defend currentist physicalism against the dilemma. This future inter-theory supervenience is strongly supported by what could be called as "optimistic meta-induction", a historical inductive argument that is based on a strong material premise (a la Norton). Given future inter-theory supervenience, I also present a strong deductive argument for why mental terms cannot reappear as fundamental in future

Gregor M. Hörzer (Universität Osnabrück): "Physical" in physicalism and the nature of physical properties

One central question in explicating the thesis of physicalism is how to best characterize the notion of a physical property. Traditional characterizations frequently tie the notion of a physical property very closely to either current or future physics. This gives rise to Hempel’s dilemma: If we go with current physics, physicalism is most likely false, whereas if we go with an unknown future physics, the thesis lacks content and it may turn out difficult to distinguish physicalism and dualism. This has led some to characterize the physical entirely negatively as the non-mental. Again, this leads to a variety of problems. I discuss a number of constraints that a notion of a physical property should satisfy, argue that the accounts just mentioned all fail to satisfy at least some of those constraints, and propose an alternative account that is more suitable. On this alternative account of the physical, physical properties are picked out by way of using the properties of current physics as prototypes, and then generalizing from there to other properties that share the prototypes’ common nature. I conclude by elaborating on a number of potentially surprising implications of this view, such as the compatibility of physicalism with certain forms of

Johannes Kleiner and Stephan Hartmann (MCMP, Munich): The closure of the physical, consciousness and scientific practice

We analyse the implications of the closure of the physical for experiments in the scientific study of consciousness when all the details are considered, especially how measurement results relate to physical events. It turns out that the closure of the physical implies that no experiment can distinguish between two theories of consciousness that obey this assumption. Therefore, the closure of the physical is incompatible with scientific practice. This conclusion points to a fundamental flaw in the paradigm underlying most of the experiments conducted to date and poses a challenge to any research programme that aims to ground a physicalist understanding of consciousness on empirical

László E. Szabó (Eötvös University, Budapest): Physicalism and the Quine­–Putnam indispensability argument

On the basis of my physico-formalist account for mathematics and for the role of mathematics in physical theory, I will argue that Hartry Field's nominalization project does not resolve the challenge of the indispensability argument for physicalism. For, a nominalized version of a physical theory (L,S,U), say (L',S',U), is, after all, a normal physical theory in which L' is an ordinary formal system. The facts of L' are ordinary logical and mathematical facts–no matter if L' contains only, so called, "physical terms". So, Field's nominalization does not eliminate mathematics (mathematical structures) from physical theories. This doesn't mean, however, that the Quine–Putnam indispensability argument is a valid argument in favor of Platonism. It will be shown that, in a coherent physicalist account, what is indispensable in a physical theory (L,S,U) are the facts of L–physical facts of a physically existing formal system. Consequently, a physical theory (L,S,U) involves ontological commitment only with respect to the physical world U to be described by the theory; the physically existing formal system L; and the physical process producing the correlation between them, which is a necessary requisite for the semantics S of the theory. And, these all are in the physical realm, in accordance with the ontological doctrine of physicalism.





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