Metaphysical Naturalism and Metaphysical Materialism

I have trouble differentiating between Metaphysical Naturalism and Metaphysical Materialism. Maybe someone here can explain the difference between them, if any.

If I understand correctly, in order to be a coherent Metaphysical Naturalist you need to adhere/subscribe to the following:

  1. Mechanism (nothing mental at the basic level)
  2. Causal closure of the physical
  3. Supervenience

Anything I am missing?

I apologize, but I do not understand your question. ???

Metaphysical Materialism is not something I have ever heard of (will read up and get back to you on that one). Metaphysical Naturalism is, in layman’s terms, as I understand, a branch of science concerned with what does/does not exist, and that attests that nature is all that exists. (ie natural phenomena such as gravity and our experience of emotions etc etc are all experienced within the natural world, and there is no spiritual realm or supernatural beings) The philosophy of materialism, to my knowledge is also in contrast with philosophies such as idealism or spiritualism, but places more emphasis on the existance of matter (ie atoms etc as opposed to natural phenomena) :-[ or something like that…

Stop trying to label everything, thereby erecting scarecrows AKA straw men.

The term ‘naturalism’ has no very precise meaning in contemporary philosophy.

I don’t think Metaphysical Naturalism is a branch of science, rather a branch of philosophy. Perhaps you are referring to methodological naturalism?

Fair enough. I am just wondering, if you are indeed a metaphysical naturalist and/or a metaphysical materialist, what sort of beliefs about reality do you need to hold in order to have a coherent, rational and logical set of beliefs.

I think these three are a start:

  1. Mechanism (nothing mental at the basic level)
  2. Causal closure of the physical
  3. Supervenience

To elaborate a little:
1) Mechanism
At the basic levels of physics (elementary particles), there are no mental events. In other words, there are no choices to be made or thinking or reasoning done any elementary particles.

2) Causal closure of the physical
There is no external influence from an outside agent or something else at the basic levels of physics.

3) Supervenience
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy


Chart demonstrating how one set (A) supervenes on another set (B).

I think it is therefore reasonable to say that if you want to be a coherent, logical and rational metaphysical naturalist and/or a metaphysical materialist, you need to adhere or defend at least these three views.

too true it is a branch of philosophy. you asked about metaphysical naturalism ??? and to my knowledge it is a branch of philosophy. (which i have studied, i am not a scientist by trade profession or background)
and lets not get pedantic - methodological naturalism simply refers to a branch of philosophy concerned with the nature of knowledge as opposed to metaphysical naturalism being concerned with the nature of reality.

Yes: The correct use of certain verbs.


Fixed, thanks. Anything else?

I am interested in what one needs to adhere/subscribe to and defend in order to be a coherent, logical and rational metaphysical naturalist and/or a metaphysical materialist. I am fine with methodological naturalism, that can be a discussion for another thread though.

Yes: The validity of inductive reasoning.


Hitting the metaphysical snooze button?
IIRC, you are a metaphysical materialist?
Why do you believe it is coherent, logical and rational?

I am sorry i cannot contribute to this discussion as i am not familiar with the term ‘metaphysical materialism’ nor have i been able to find a reliable source that can explain the concept.

Ah, I think “philosophical materialism” is a better description.

Apologies for my ignorance in this matter (intended), but I’ve had zero philosophical training and would appreciate if you could please point out the difference between a materialist and a metaphysical materialist ?



ETA: Actually don’t worry. Ive just looked it up. You specify “metaphysical materialist” to distinguish it from someone that places value on possessions, right?

My mistake, it is supposed to be “philosophical materialist”.
I too am looking for clear distinctions between the following philosophical outlooks (if any).
Philosophical naturalism (or metaphysical naturalism)
Philosophical materialism (or metaphysical materialism)
Eliminative materialism

I think all three of them have the following things in common (as in reply 3).
1) Mechanism
At the basic levels of physics (elementary particles), there are no mental events. In other words, there are no choices to be made or thinking or reasoning done any elementary particles.

2) Causal closure of the physical
There is no external influence from an outside agent or something else at the basic levels of physics.

3) Supervenience
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

So, the thread has moved on to the following:

  1. Differentiate between Philosophical naturalism, Philosophical materialism and Eliminative materialism (if there are any differences, let’s hear them)
  2. In order to defend any of the above three philosophical outlooks, one needs to adhere to or defend at least the above three views (discuss).

Aha, so in Edward Feser’s mind (and no doubt yours too) a teleological universe – one with (ultimate) purpose – obviates the problem of induction. Sadly for Feser’s and your purposes, one cannot legitimately make such an inductive inference without bumping up against the very problem it allegedly removes unless you know (and can demonstrate) the precise nature of that purpose as well as the intricate details of how it is driven towards. I certainly don’t have that knowledge and therefore no hope of demonstrating it. I seriously doubt that Feser does. And I doubt that you or anyone else has it, too. Thus, this “refutation” looks suspiciously like a hollow and self-serving sham.

Because supposing anything more in the light of our best current knowledge requires making assumptions that cannot be defended on evidentiary grounds. See, I’m motivated to investigate and to find out more by “I don’t know” answers. That would be in stark contrast to being driven to manufacture pseudo-answers from whole cloth.


It does?

Well, science continually adds to our knowledge of how the world, the universe and we, ourselves operate. Teleology is obvious, even if you don’t accept ultimate purpose or final causality. You can look at an aeroplane, inspect it, gain mechanistic insight and after a while know exactly how it works and still don’t have a clue what its ultimate purpose or final cause is. There may none. The science trying to explain how it operates can be beautifully detailed and elegant, however, without experiencing the mind(s) that built it, you will never know the true cause for its existence.
To put it differently, look at the different levels of teleology.

  1. END of a PROCESS
    In this case the end of the process of emergence of the plane (whether it was constructed or not).
    An aeroplane has a tendency towards a certain end… flying, or moving around on its wheels. What is its goal then? To fly or move on wheels?
  3. VALUE for a SUBJECT
    If a subjects act to keep the aeroplane working, is it good or bad?
  4. PURPOSE of a PLAN
    What is the aim and purpose of the aeroplane?

From the above I think it is clear that 1 and 2 is present. Processes begin and end all the time. Organisms with brains tend to think towards certain goals. 3 and 4 is where it gets tricky though. Is it good or bad for the plane to exist? Is there some plan for its existence? Who knows. Without having first hand experience, you will tend to remain stuck on level 1 and 2. However, it seems to be no more than an argument from ignorance to speculate that there is no good or bad value or ultimate plan for the existence of the plane. Same goes for other minds (like those of humans) and their existence.

Hollow and self-serving sham? Hiding behind the inductive problem and hoping it will be solved seems a bit like a hollow and self-serving sham as well mind you…

Suppose we find this structure in the skull of a creature. We know that certain inputs lead to certain outputs. We know that it is capable of speech, drawing and writing. Yet, there is no single, solid scientific piece of evidence that it is actually a mind that is doing the thinking and doing. Our best current knowledge requires no extra explanations. Making an assumption that there is actually a mind in there doing the thinking cannot be defended on evidentiary grounds. It is just collections of matter and energy that obey well-established physical laws. However, I think it might be better to assume that there is actually a mind doing the thinking and doing. Using this assumption to investigate (using your own mind) how it does that seems to help the scientific process as well…

Hey, I am also motivated to find out and investigate how minds work you see. This is also in stark contrast to being driven to manufacture scientific-sounding and materialistic yet incoherent answers to problems we have.

Is it agreed upon then that to be a logical, coherent and reasonable philosophical materialist and/or naturalist, you need to defen all three of the following (as outlined above)?

  1. Mechanism
  2. Causal closure of the physical
  3. Supervenience

Could someone please differentiate between philosophical materialism and philosophical naturalism? If there is any?

Yes, it does. Feser devotes quite a bit of space to it. You really should read your own links sometimes.

“Hiding,” eh? Who first raised it, please? The orange-elephant-in-the-room that you aren’t seeing is that philosophical materialism, by its nature, rejects appeals to teleology as explanations for phenomena that do not obviously or demonstrably involve directed effort by an agent. The blue-brontosaurus-in-the-basin that you are missing is that for the philosophical materialist, the aforesaid summarily removes teleology as any kind of solution to, or workaround of, the problem of induction, and so induction (and causal inference) retains its problematic status. Philosophical materialism must therefore also assert, based only on induction itself, that inductive reasoning is valid.

But if you wish to keep wrestling half a straw man, be my guest.

In case you missed it, philosophers and scientists rejected Cartesian dualism wholesale quite a while ago already. From the scientific perspective, “mind” is what the brain does, at least until this conception proves false or inadequate.

You will do science, and neuroscience in particular, an enormously valuable service by providing a detailed, compelling and cogent exposition of these allegations of “incoherent” answers that you bring. I for one won’t be holding my breath that you’ll actually do so, or that you’ll succeed in it.


Stop me if I am wrong, but teleology is a philosophical study that holds that all things in the universe are designed for a specific purpose and exist with the sole purpose of achieving some pre-established final result or goal.
In light of this particular discussion, how do you negate the concept of ‘final causality’? and why would you say teleology is obvious? personally i think it is nonsene.

Furthermore, you started this discussion in raising a query about naturalism as a school of thought. There can be little doubt that this particular school of thought holds that there is no such thing as design and purpose, but that all that exists does so in a physical and not supernatural way. the philosophy is in direct contrast to idealism and spiritualism, which teleology seems to imply.

how did the term teleology even raise its ugly head in this discussion? :o please explain…

Mechanist twice asked (here and here) what premises a philosophical materialist/naturalist needs to defend in order to hold a coherent set of beliefs. He listed three and asked if there were any further ones. I brought a fourth one to his attention that he then tried to negate (goodness knows why), amusingly by pointing to an article that makes a rather feeble case that teleology presents a “solution” to, or at least a significant reduction of, the induction problem. I have shown why that approach fails and that materialism requires assenting to induction if materialists are ever to learn something new, but Mechanist apparently isn’t having any of it. Denial is king, and so, for the umpteenth time, it now looks once more as if Mechanist is following his usual approach of shimmying around issues that do not suit his views or that have the potential of thwarting them.

As for what he aims to establish with this thread, I can only speculate – perhaps to mount an, um, “devastating” critique of materialism. Given the current situation, however, I think he should simply be left to play on his own.