Sunday, 1 June 2014

'What do materialists make of love & justice?'

“How do you consider concepts (like love and justice) to be physical/material? Where do they exist? To say something like a number (which is abstract) is physical is misplaced concreteness.” - Wololo

I'm not sure that anyone who has sympathy with materialism, or physicalism, would say that love and justice were material in any strict sense. Nonetheless they may well give a physicalist or a naturalist account of such things. In depends on whether or not you have a Platonic or quasi-Platonic view on love and justice. If you do, then, by definition, they would be non-physical universals (or 'Ideas' in Plato's parlance).

However, if you aren't a Platonist of some kind, then love and justice can be given a naturalist, if not a physicalist, explanation which may or may not be successful. For example, love - rather than Love - can be explained in terms of human biology, history, human and social relationships, etc. – all of which a naturalistic in nature. It need not be the case that love and justice are 'reduced', strictly speaking, to such things. However, love and justice must be dependent on natural things and not run free, as it were, of them.

So, yes, both justice and love exist wherever there are examples or expressions of love or justice. Love can exist where acts of love occur and the same with justice. (For now we can forget the different positions people adopt on both love and justice because this question is about whether or not they are natural, or even physical, phenomena.)

No scientist today would ever say that numbers are physical or material. And only a very small numbers of philosophers would argue against numbers being abstract in nature. Despite that, these latter philosophers don't think that numbers are concrete either. Some philosophers argue that numbers, or equations, are basically invented. They are a product of conventions and symbols and the rules which are applied to those conventions and symbols. (Perhaps this does mean that numbers are concrete, in a certain sense.) In other words, there is no need for abstract numbers as such. These few philosophers, and even fewer mathematicians, argue that numbers are created, or invented, by the mathematical procedures that bring them about. That is, a new number is created when a new procedure brings that number into existence in a similar way in which a new concept or word (such as 'nerd') is brought into being. Or, if not words/concepts, numbers are created in the way that, say, a new design for a building is created. (I'm not saying I agree with any of this; only that these views exist.)

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