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Many hear “metaphysical” and think only of new age religion or ideas. But this is wrong as I am a metaphysical naturalist and am very atheist, antitheist, and antireligionst rejecting all superstitious, supernaturalism or magic thinking. Metaphysical naturalism appears to have originated in early Greek philosophy. The earliest presocratic philosophers, such as Thales, Anaxagoras or especially the atomist Democritus, were labeled by their peers and successors “the physikoi” (from the Greek φυσικός or physikos, meaning “natural philosopher,” borrowing on the word φύσις or physis, meaning “nature”) because they investigated natural causes, often excluding any role for gods in the creation or operation of the world. This eventually led to fully developed systems such as Epicureanism, which sought to explain everything that exists as the product of atoms falling and swerving in a void. Plato’s world of eternal and unchanging Forms, imperfectly represented in matter by a divine Artisan, contrasts sharply with the various mechanistic Weltanschauungen, of which atomism was, by the fourth century at least, the most prominent… This debate was to persist throughout the ancient world. Atomistic mechanism got a shot in the arm from Epicurus… while the Stoics adopted a divine teleology… The choice seems simple: either show how a structured, regular world could arise out of undirected processes, or inject intelligence into the system. This was how Aristotle (384–322 bc), when still a young acolyte of Plato, saw matters. Cicero (On the Nature of the Gods 2. 95 = Fr. 12) preserves Aristotle’s own cave-image: if troglodytes were brought on a sudden into the upper world, they would immediately suppose it to have been intelligently arranged. But Aristotle grew to abandon this view; although he believes in a divine being, the Prime Mover is not the efficient cause of action in the Universe, and plays no part in constructing or arranging it… But, although he rejects the divine Artificer, Aristotle does not resort to a pure mechanism of random forces. Instead he seeks to find a middle way between the two positions, one which relies heavily on the notion of Nature, or phusis. — R. J. Hankinson, Cause and Explanation in Ancient Greek Thought Metaphysical naturalism is most notably a Western phenomenon, but an equivalent idea has long existed in the East. Though unnamed and never articulated into a coherent system, one tradition within Confucian philosophy embraced a form of metaphysical naturalism dating to the Wang Chong in the 1st century, if not earlier, but it arose independently and had little influence on the development of modern naturalist philosophy or on Eastern or Western culture. Metaphysical naturalism, also called ontological naturalism, philosophical naturalism, and scientific materialism is a worldview which holds that there is nothing but natural elements, principles, and relations of the kind studied by the natural sciences, i.e., those required to understand our physical environment by mathematical modeling. In contrast, methodological naturalism is an assumption of naturalism as a methodology of science, for which metaphysical naturalism provides only one possible ontological foundation. Broadly, the corresponding theological perspective is religious or spiritual naturalism actually a branch of larger supernaturalism as both think their versions of so-called “religious or spiritual naturalism” to them involves the addition to supernatural concepts as if they deserve to be classed under their pseudo naturalism. More specifically, metaphysical naturalism rejects such supernatural concepts and explanations that are part of many religions or spiritual thinking. According to Steven Schafersman, geologist and president of Texas Citizens for Science metaphysical naturalism is a philosophy that maintains that; 1. Nature encompasses all that exists throughout space and time; and 2. Nature (the universe or cosmos) consists only of natural elements, that is, of spatiotemporal physical substance—mass–energy. Non-physical or quasi-physical substance, such as information, ideas, values, logic, mathematics, intellect, and other emergent phenomena, either supervene upon the physical or can be reduced to a physical account; and 3. Nature operates by the laws of physics and in principle, can be explained and understood by science and philosophy; and 4. the supernatural does not exist, i.e., only nature is real. Naturalism is therefore a metaphysical philosophy opposed primarily by Biblical creationism”. Naturalism, in recent usage, is a species of philosophical monism according to which whatever exists or happens is natural in the sense of being susceptible to explanation through methods which, although paradigmatically exemplified in the natural sciences, are continuous from domain to domain of objects and events. Hence, naturalism is polemically defined as repudiating the view that there exists or could exist any entities which lie, in principle, beyond the scope of scientific explanation.— Arthur C. Danto, The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Naturalism Regarding the vagueness of the general term “naturalism”, David Papineau traces the current usage to philosophers in early 20th century America such as John Dewey, Ernest Nagel, Sidney Hook, and Roy Wood Sellars: “So understood, ‘naturalism’ is not a particularly informative term as applied to contemporary philosophers. The great majority of contemporary philosophers would happily accept naturalism as just characterized—that is, they would both reject ‘supernatural’ entities, and allow that science is a possible route (if not necessarily the only one) to important truths about the ‘human spirit'”. Papineau remarks that philosophers widely regard naturalism as a “positive” term, and “few active philosophers nowadays are happy to announce themselves as ‘non-naturalists'”, while noting that “philosophers concerned with religion tend to be less enthusiastic about ‘naturalism'” and that despite an “inevitable” divergence due to its popularity, if more narrowly construed, (to the chagrin of John McDowell, David Chalmers and Jennifer Hornsby, for example), those not so disqualified remain nonetheless content “to set the bar for ‘naturalism’ higher”. Philosopher and theologian Alvin Plantinga, a well-known critic of naturalism in general, comments: “Naturalism is presumably not a religion. In one very important respect, however, it resembles religion: it can be said to perform the cognitive function of a religion. There is that range of deep human questions to which a religion typically provides an answer … Like a typical religion, naturalism gives a set of answers to these and similar questions”. Metaphysical naturalism is an approach to metaphysics or ontology, which deals with existence per se. It should not be confused with methodological naturalism, which sees empiricism as the basis for the scientific method. Regarding science and evolution, Eugenie C. Scott, a notable opponent of teaching creationism or intelligent design in US public schools, stresses the importance of separating metaphysical from methodological naturalism: If it is important for Americans to learn about science and evolution, decoupling the two forms of naturalism is essential strategy. … I suggest that scientists can defuse some of the opposition to evolution by first recognizing that the vast majority of Americans are believers, and that most Americans want to retain their faith. It is demonstrable that individuals can retain religious beliefs and still accept evolution as science. Scientists should avoid confusing the methodological naturalism of science with metaphysical naturalism. — Eugenie C. Scott, Creationism, Ideology, and Science The historian Richard Carrier, in his book Sense and Goodness without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism, describes metaphysical naturalism thus: as a philosophy “wherein worship is replaced with curiosity, devotion with diligence, holiness with sincerity, ritual with study, and scripture with the whole world and the whole of human learning”. Carrier wrote that it is the naturalist’s duty “to question all things and have a well-grounded faith in what is well-investigated and well-proved, rather than what is merely well-asserted or well-liked”. Science and naturalism: Uniformitarianism? While not metaphysical naturalism per se, in the more general sense of naturalism and philosophy expressed by Kate and Vitaly (2000) “there are certain philosophical assumptions made at the base of the scientific method – namely, that reality is objective and consistent, that humans have the capacity to perceive reality accurately, and that rational explanations exist for elements of the real world. These assumptions are the basis of naturalism, the philosophy on which science is grounded.” As noted by Steven Schafersman, methodological naturalism is “the adoption or assumption of philosophical naturalism within scientific method with or without fully accepting or believing it … science is not metaphysical and does not depend on the ultimate truth of any metaphysics for its success (although science does have metaphysical implications), but methodological naturalism must be adopted as a strategy or working hypothesis for science to succeed. We may therefore be agnostic about the ultimate truth of naturalism, but must nevertheless adopt it and investigate nature as if nature is all that there is.” Contrary to other notable opponents of teaching Creationism or Intelligent Design in US public schools such as Eugenie Scott, Schafersman asserts that “while science as a process only requires methodological naturalism, I think that the assumption of methodological naturalism by scientists and others logically and morally entails ontological naturalism.” as well as the similarly controversial assertion: “I maintain that the practice or adoption of methodological naturalism entails a logical and moral belief in ontological naturalism, so they are not logically decoupled.” On the other hand, Scott argues: that a clear distinction must be drawn between science as a way of knowing about the natural world and science as a foundation for philosophical views. One should be taught to our children in school, and the other can optionally be taught to our children at home. Once this view is explained, I have found far more support than disagreement among my university colleagues. Even someone who may disagree with my logic or understanding of philosophy of science often understands the strategic reasons for separating methodological from philosophical materialism — if we want more Americans to understand evolution. — Eugenie C. Scott, Science and Religion, Methodology and Humanism However, there are other controversies, Arthur Newell Strahler embeds peculiar anthropic distinctions in the name of naturalism: “The naturalistic view is that the particular universe we observe came into existence and has operated through all time and in all its parts without the impetus or guidance of any supernatural agency. The naturalistic view is espoused by science as its fundamental assumption.” Variously known as background independence, the cosmological principle, the principle of universality, the principle of uniformity, or uniformitarianism, there are important philosophical assumptions that cannot be derived from nature. As noted by Stephen Jay Gould: “You cannot go to a rocky outcrop and observe either the constancy of nature’s laws or the working of unknown processes. It works the other way around.” You first assume these propositions and “then you go to the out crop of rock.” “The assumption of spatial and temporal invariance of natural laws is by no means unique to geology since it amounts to a warrant for inductive inference which, as Bacon showed nearly four hundred years ago, is the basic mode of reasoning in empirical science. Without assuming this spatial and temporal invariance, we have no basis for extrapolating from the known to the unknown and, therefore, no way of reaching general conclusions from a finite number of observations. (Since the assumption is itself vindicated by induction, it can in no way “prove” the validity of induction – an endeavor virtually abandoned after Hume demonstrated its futility two centuries ago).” Gould also notes that natural processes such as Lyell’s “uniformity of process” are an assumption: “As such, it is another a priori assumption shared by all scientists and not a statement about the empirical world.” Such assumptions across time and space are needed for scientists to extrapolate into the unobservable past, according to G.G. Simpson: “Uniformity is an unprovable postulate justified, or indeed required, on two grounds. First, nothing in our incomplete but extensive knowledge of history disagrees with it. Second, only with this postulate is a rational interpretation of history possible, and we are justified in seeking—as scientists we must seek—such a rational interpretation.” and according to R. Hooykaas: “The principle of uniformity is not a law, not a rule established after comparison of facts, but a principle, preceding the observation of facts . . . It is the logical principle of parsimony of causes and of economy of scientific notions. By explaining past changes by analogy with present phenomena, a limit is set to conjecture, for there is only one way in which two things are equal, but there are an infinity of ways in which they could be supposed different.” Contemporary naturalists possess a wide diversity of beliefs within metaphysical naturalism. Most metaphysical naturalists have adopted some form of materialism or physicalism. Undesigned universe? Metaphysical naturalists argue that the scientific facts and theories that we have to explain the origins of the universe provide no evidence for supernatural beings or deities. As Richard Carrier explains: …no other worldview is directly and substantially supported by any scientific evidence, whereas all scientific evidence so far does support Metaphysical Naturalism, often directly, sometimes substantially. Though naturalism has not yet been proved, it is the best bet going. One might say that either it has always existed or it had a purely natural origin, being neither created nor designed. Abiogenesis and evolution? Since nature is all there is, and there was once no life, abiogenesis is implied: that life arose spontaneously from natural causes. Naturalists reason about how, not if evolution happened. They maintain that humanity’s existence is not by intelligent design but rather a natural process of emergence. Ethics and meta-ethics? Some embrace virtue ethics and many see no compelling argument against ethical naturalism. Some may advocate for a Science of morality. One example of an attempt to ground a naturalist Meta-Ethical system is Richard Carrier’s chapter “Moral Facts Naturally Exist (and Science Could Find Them)” which was peer reviewed by four philosophers. It sets out to prove a Moral realism centered around human satisfaction. Alexander Rosenberg has expressed a contrary position that naturalists, in general, have to accept moral nihilism. The mind is a natural phenomenon? If any variety of metaphysical naturalism is true, any mental properties that exist are caused by and ontologically dependent upon nature. However, some metaphysical naturalists consider the mental to be out-of-bounds, just like the supernatural. Metaphysical naturalists do not believe in a soul or spirit, nor in ghosts, and when explaining what constitutes the mind they rarely appeal to substance dualism. If one’s mind, or rather one’s identity and existence as a person, is entirely the product of natural processes, three conclusions follow according to W.T. Stace. First, all mental contents (such as ideas, theories, emotions, moral and personal values, or aesthetic response) exist solely as computational constructions of one’s brain and genetics, not as things that exist independently of these. Second, damage to the brain (regardless of how) should be of great concern. Third, death or destruction of one’s brain cannot be survived, which is to say, all humans are mortal. Stace, however, believes that ecstatic mysticism calls into question the assumption that awareness is impossible without data processing. Utility of reason? Metaphysical naturalists hold that reason is the refinement and improvement of naturally evolved faculties. The certitude of deductive logic remains unexplained by this essentially probabilistic view. Nevertheless, naturalists believe anyone who wishes to have more beliefs that are true than are false should seek to perfect and consistently employ their reason in testing and forming beliefs. Empirical methods (especially those of proven use in the sciences) are unsurpassed for discovering the facts of reality, while methods of pure reason alone can securely discover logical errors. Value of society? Humans are social animals, which is why humanity developed culture and civilization. In terms of evolution, this means that differential reproductive success somehow depended on traits that permit the development and maintenance of a healthy and productive culture and civilization. Ref
Moreover, meta-physical, the prefix meta- is used to mean about (a category that comes after) such as concepts like “meta-cognition” (i.e. cognition about cognition), “meta-emotion” (i.e. emotion about emotion), “meta-discussion” (i.e. discussion about discussion), “meta-joke” (i.e. joke about jokes), and “metaprogramming” (i.e. writing programs that manipulate programs). So metaphysical is physical about physical or what is or can be classed or understood as physical. It is wrongly used as magical thinking which is demonstrating philosophy misunderstanding.
Much of contemporary metaphysical work is motivated in some way by the desire to accommodate what the natural sciences, especially physics, have taught us about the world. This motivation has drawn many philosophers to endorse doctrines variously described as physicalism, materialism, or naturalism. “Physicalism” and “materialism” are often treated as interchangeable names for a single doctrine that may be crudely expressed as the claim that everything that exists is physical. By contrast, “naturalism” is widely acknowledged to be ambiguous between at least two sorts of positions. Epistemological naturalism is the view that knowledge is best gained (perhaps: can only be gained) via the methods of science (perhaps: the methods of natural science). Metaphysical naturalism is often thought of as making a global ontological claim akin to physicalism—perhaps the claim that everything that exists is natural, where some explication of “natural” is evidently crucial. (“Naturalism” without qualification shall here be understood as referring to the metaphysical doctrine.) It is often suspected on the part of non-naturalists that a self-declared naturalist is really just a physicalist under a different label. Both doctrines are thought to have significant consequences for our understanding of the world, especially human aspects of the world and the nature of mentality. They may also have implications for our understanding of moral properties, abstract objects, the possibility of knowledge, and other familiar items of philosophical investigation. A global metaphysical theory of this sort induces what are known (following Frank Jackson in From Metaphysics to Ethics; see Jackson 1998, cited under Central Monographs) as “placement location problems”: the problem of locating in a wholly physical or natural world those things that seem not to be wholly physical or natural. Debates about these metaphysical doctrines often focus on the prospects for solving such placement problems, where a failure may justify an elimination of the thing in question or a rejection of the global doctrine. Other debates focus on the proper formulation and understanding of the doctrines (e.g., what is meant by calling an entity physical?), whether and how it might be justified (e.g., what in the development of natural science could justify the claim that everything is natural?), and its implications for science and the proper treatment of placement problems (e.g., does physicalism require all sciences to reduce to physics?). While physicalism and naturalism influence an enormous amount of philosophical work, general overviews are mostly confined either to portions of larger works where the main focus lies elsewhere or entries in philosophical companions or guides. There are many of the latter to be found in the recent proliferation of handbooks, companions and similar volumes, especially those focusing on mind, metaphysics, or philosophy of science. Three of those may be spotlighted here. Stoljar’s “Physicalism” (Stoljar 2009) and David Papineau’s “Naturalism” (Papineau 2009) both appear as entries in the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and the Continuum Companion to Metaphysics includes Witmer 2012 as a guide to both. By way of books, Stoljar 2010 is a less ecumenical monograph that provides an excellent introduction and overview, and Ritchie 2008 serves as a textbook addressing both epistemic and metaphysical varieties of naturalism. It is also advisable to get a partial overview of the issues surrounding physicalism by surveying the development of the mind-body problem since the middle of the 20th century, as that discussion has done much to influence the more general metaphysical discussions. Ref