Posted by: dacalu | 3 October 2013

Naturalism IV (Physical Naturalism)

This post is one in a series about naturalism.  I have not found a common consistent definition of naturalism.  Having covered what I think are the foundations of naturalism, historically, I shall try to propose a coherent modern naturalism that makes sense.  From “Naturalism I”:

Naturalism is a universal claim that we can only meaningfully talk about.

Physical Naturalism

I think there is a good consistent definition of naturalism, one which makes sense to me as a scientist.  My own definition of naturalism, should I make one, works along these lines.

We may only meaningfully talk about physical entities, which are limited to:

A) fundamental particles.  These currently include fermions (leptons and quarks that make up matter) and bosons (photons and other force carriers).  At some point in the future these may be reduced to still smaller fundamental units of matter and force, but they will still be discrete and have properties that map to such sensible qualities as mass and charge.

B) Universal forces.  These currently include gravity, the electroweak force, and the strong force.  At some point in the future these may be consolidated.  At some point in the future these may be added to, but new forces will always be universal.  They will always apply equally everywhere and not be time dependent.

C) Arrangements of A through interactions based on B.  Higher level descriptions can and should be used, with the understanding that in theory, and given sufficient time, they will be reducible to summed and relational properties of large numbers of A.

The universe is a closed system.  Physical causes result in physical effects.

Physical entities can only have physical properties, which are at least in theory, consistent in the effects they have on other entities.  These properties include, but may not limited to mass/energy, charge, spin, lifetime (for a given reference frame), and location (for a given reference frame).  Potential entities (which might or might not come into being) are not allowed, because they do not have consistent events.  All things are actual things.

Values relate to a preference for one possible outcome over another.  As possible outcomes are not allowed, so values are not allowed.  Even if we consider the possible outcomes illusory, the preference for one over the other could in no way change the outcome, making such illusory preferences impossible to detect.

Agency relates to some local or external force selecting between two possible outcomes.  As possible outcomes are not allowed, so agency is not allowed.  Note, the outcome is effected by the process.  I am not claiming that the intermediate interactions have no impact on the final outcome, only that all intermediate interactions were solely caused by previous physical interactions.  Nowhere does mysterious interaction with an outside realm appear (as in Descartes).



  1. […] the strongest argument against naturalism has to do with a question of values.    I noted in installment IV that I see no way for physical naturalism to speak of values.  It may be easy to think that by […]

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