Volume 39, Issue 2, Fall/Winter 2010
Materialist vs. Panexperientialist Physicalism
Where Do We Stand?
This paper provides a brief critique of Jaegwon Kim’s evaluation of the achievements of materialist physicalism and then goes on to examine the case for panpsychism and the main objection that has been raised against it, i.e., the composition problem. The object of this examination is to lay bare the fundamental assumptions underlying both the main argument in support of the theory and the objection against it. Whitehead’s panexperientialism has a fair claim to be regarded as the most elaborate version of the theory ever produced. Once the logical structure of the composition problem has been clarified, however, it becomes possible to see that—contrary to what has been argued by David Ray Griffin in his important book, Unsnarling the World-Knot—even Whitehead’s
version of the doctrine fails to provide a satisfactory solution. The paper is brought to an end with a general reflection on the shortcomings of current critiques of panpsychism. Whitehead’s panexperientialism cannot be accepted as it stands and panpsychism as a general philosophical position is not supported by a conclusive proof; nevertheless, the notion that experience is a pervasive feature of reality has the unquestionable merit of being a wholly adequate response to a real philosophical perplexity.