Materialism vs Idealism


History tells us very little of Titus Lucretius Carus, but one can see
from reading his work that he has a strong dislike towards religious superstition,
which he claims is the root of human fear and in turn the cause of impious
acts. Although he does not deny the existence of a god, his work is aimed
at proving that the world is not guided or controlled by a divinity. Lucretius
asserts that matter exists in the form of atoms, which move around the
universe in an empty space. This empty space, or vacuity, allows for the
movement of the atoms and without it everything would be one mass. He explains
that matter and vacuity can not occupy the same space, "...where there
is empty space, there matter is not...", and these two things make
up the entire universe. These invisible particles come together to form
material objects, you and I are made of the same atoms as a chair or a
tree. When the tree dies or the chair is thrown into a fire the atoms do
not burn up or die, but are dispersed back into the vacuity. The atoms
alone are without mind or secondary qualities, but they can combine to
form living and thinking objects, along with sound, color, taste, etc...
Atoms form life, consciousness, and the soul, and when our body dies there
is nothing left of the latter except for its parts, which randomly become
parts of other forms. Matter is never ending reality, only changing in
its form. In the philosophical system developed by Irish philosopher George
Berkeley, Idealism, Berkeley states that physical objects, matter, do not
exist independent of the mind. The pencil that I am writing this essay
with would not exist if I were not perceiving it with my senses, but in
the dialogue between Hylus and Philonous Berkeley attempts to show things
can and do exist apart from the human mind and our perception, but only
because there is a mind in which all ideas are perceived or a deity that
creates perception in the human mind, either way its God. He says that
the external world can not be understood by thought, but "sensible
things", objects that we perceive, can be reduced to ideas in the
mind. These ideas, or "objects before the mind", possess primary
qualities, the main structure, and secondary qualities, what we derive
from our senses, which are inseparable. I'm confused about this, if I'm
thinking about a star in a different galaxy, which makes the star an "object"
before my mind, then where are the secondary qualities? Over all, idealism
appears to be the antithesis of materialism in its approach to discovering
the nature of the universe. Kant would say that both views are based on
speculation and can not be proven, but I prefer Lucretius' views over Berkeleys'
simply because he tries to keep a deity out of the picture. He claims that
the gods are not concerned with the affairs of mortals, where as it seems
that Berkeley uses god as an answer when he is unable to explain something.
Although, Lucretius says that nature is responsible for the arrangement
and combination of atoms. Wouldn't this suggest that nature is similar
to a divinity? or is nature, which is only matter and space, the wall that
separates the gods from mortals. Motivated by an animosity towards theological
belief, Lucretius seems to take a much more scientific approach. One can
not completely dismiss Berkeleys' views for, as Montague would say, there
is obviously more going on than meets the eye.


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