Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Materialistic Spirituality

We al know what "spiritual materialism" means: using spirituality for selfish means. But there is such as thing as "materialistic spirituality" as well:

"One of the best secrets of life [is]: let your self go. If you can approach the world's complexities, both its glories and its horrors, with an attitude of humble curiosity, acknowledging that however deeply you have seen, you have only just scratched the surface, you will find worlds within worlds, beauties you could not heretofore imagine, and your own mundane preoccupations will shrink to proper size, not all that important in the greater scheme of things. Keeping that awestruck vision of the world ready to hand while dealing with the demands of daily living is no easy exercise, but it is definitely worth the effort, for if you can stay centered, and engaged, you will find the hard choices easier, the right words will come to you when you need them, and you will indeed be a better person. That, I propose, is the secret to spirituality, and it has nothing at all to do with believing in an immortal soul, or in anything supernatural." (Daniel Dennett, Breaking the Spell, 2006, p. 303).

Dennett, the arch-materialist in the current philosophy of mind, is eloquently criticizing the easy equation of spirituality with morality, and materialism with selfishness: "The misalignment of goodness with the denial of scientific materialism has a long history, but it is a misalignment. There is no reason at all why a disbelief in the immateriality or immortality of the soul should make a person less caring, less moral, less committed to the well-being of everybody on Earth than somebody who believes in 'the spirit'" (Ibid., p. 305).


Blogger Jeff Meyerhoff said...


I'm surprised by that Dennett quote. He sounds like a mystic.

In his Consciousness Explained, I gather, rather than explaining subjectivity he tries to explain away subjectivity. Do you feel comfortable with that? It's one reason I think Dennett would question Wilber's upper left quadrant.

Richard Rorty has a very nice article comparing Dennett and the philosopher Thomas Nagel on the nature of consciousness. According to Rorty, in "Daniel Dennett on Intrinsicality," Dennett explains consciousness away and calls it the "Cartesian Theatre", while Nagel thinks consciousness is a basic phenomena that we need to understand.

The nice thing about the Rorty article is that, as in all his writings, he writes in a clear and lively way, and, although he agrees with Dennett, he pursues Dennett's difference with Nagel down to what I call the point of undecidability. That's where it's just a matter of how you are existentially disposed to the issue, there is no way to rationally decide what's right once and for all.

Of course I'd be interested in the psychological reasons someone would choose one view over another.


4:16 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Sorry to comment off-topic, but it is simply time for Integral's post-Wilber period.

Wilber is grand. The father of Integral. But let us allow him to retire to Mt. Vernon or Fiji.

Please consider retooling your websites and blog to be a celebration of Integral. Certainly, criticisms of Wilber should continue, but insistance on getting affirmation from Big Daddy should end. Enough.

6:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's good to see that comments here are tailing off.

As for Ken, I personally am not looking forward to the time that he passes away, or even the time when he stops being a father to us all and does retire.

I love Ken. I'm a better person thanks to him and I'll be forever in his debt.

Sure, I want to transcend and include him, I wish to stand on the giant's massive shoulders so that I can look further than he ever did, but I can't do that if I've got some narky feeling about his time being over.

What drivel.

Zen unbound, go read some Wilber 5 and prepare yourself for Wilber 6.

Respectfully, you're an idiot.

[but i love you nonetheless]

3:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Materialistic spirituality, even in light of the Dennett Quote, seems like a paradoxical position to me. There is nothing spiritual about collapsing everything into matter, unless you first make matter much less crass -- and in doing that you have lost the physicalism that is usually associated with materialism.

Dennett's quote seems to describe the material world as being infused with spirituality. But where does this spirituality come from? Is it simply inherent in matter? And if so, are we really talking about materialism anymore, or is this more a naturalistic pantheism?

At this point, does it really make any difference whether we say that matter is spiritual or that spirit is materialistic? Does it matter whether say either emptiness is none other than form or instead form is none other than emptiness?

I think there is basically stuff, and relationships between stuff. Relationships simply don't exist in the same way that stuff does. Stuff is materialistic, relationships are organizational. Some relationships depend on certain physical alignments, but some do not. You can't have stuff without relationships, and you can't have relationships without stuff. So while they are two different things, they are nonetheless mutually co-dependent.

Some people try to explain relationships entirely in terms of stuff, and some try to explain stuff entirely in terms of relationships--but only with limited success. Why not leave to stuff what belongs to stuff and what belongs to relationships to relationships? After all, you can't rationalize whether or not you are in love, and you cannot emotionalize whether an argument is logical or not.

2:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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8:09 PM  
Blogger DGA said...

There are two kinds of materialism under consideration here. They are of different values and uses, so it is important not to confuse them (before you go calling someone an idiot under cover of anonymity, like "anonymous" here).

Scientific materialism is an objective method. It is a means of understanding or trying to understand an object under analysis. This is basic nineteenth-century science: historical materialism, ecology, and so on. All the claims Wilber makes about science, inclusive of the rather preposterous ones, are predicated on this method. This doesn't prevent Wilber from ridiculing it in SES.

The second is subjective or spiritual materialism. It is the idea that if I have the right father figure, or buy the right books and tchotchkes, if I have the Zen Alarm Clock and attend the Wakedown Shakedown, if I at least start with the Integral Life Practice Starter Kit (yours for $200!), then I can be a more realized and transcendent being. This is total horseshit, but it's how Wilber makes his money.

Problems come when you conflate the two of them, objective method and subjective hang-ups. I have written about this at length elsewhere.

Daniel Gustav Anderson

6:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'Dennett's quote seems to describe the material world as being infused with spirituality. But where does this spirituality come from? Is it simply inherent in matter?'

He's not talking about 'spirituality' in terms of some kind of force that's in nature. He's talking about spirituality in the sense of self-transcendence, which is simply a state of mind/state of being with positive links to both personal well-being and morality. Sam Harris is one atheist writer who goes further, talking about cultivating self-transcendence through meditation and feeling 'one with nature'. None of this requires any kind of supernatural 'force' to 'infuse nature', and therefore it is perfectly compatible with philosophical materialism.

What Dennett was basically getting at in the chapter from which this quote comes is that things like reason, love, music, and so on, which many people hold to be 'immaterial' faculties, are of course perfectly compatible with materialism; it's just that materialists believe those things to be matter-based faculties as much as anything else. Indeed, I've met many people who seem to think that the existence of thought somehow refutes materialism, because they believe that thought is self-evidently 'immaterial'. The simple answer to this is, of course, 'Um, and you know that how??'

8:14 PM  
Anonymous Michael said...

Thought may or may not be immaterial, the question is immaterial. More important is who or what is actually aware of the thought?

1:54 AM  

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