Adam I. Gerard

Arguments against Materialism

Concise formulations of several arguments against metaphysical materialism.

Matter is taken to be equivalent (or primarily identified with) physical Mass. Material entities generally exist in one of three states (solid, gas, liquid). Matter is commonly defined as a substance which occupies space that has mass.

General Argument by Ladyman and Ross

  1. Metaphysical Materialism is inconsistent with our best, current, scientific theories.
  2. Methodological Naturalism entails consistency with our best, current, scientific theories.

Therefore, Metaphysical Materialism is not consistent with natural science.

Premise 1, above, is supported by the argument below.

Quantum Non-locality

(Partly reprised from Ladyman and Ross)

  1. Metaphysical Materialism entails that the world is made up of tiny material atoms that interact with each other through local kinetic collisions (billiard balls).
  2. Quantum non-locality entails that both sub-atomic and atomic particles can interact with each other non-locally through quantum entanglement.

Therefore, Metaphysical Materialism is false.

Metaphysical Materialism is typically couched in reductive terms - that is, as inter-level explanations understood through direct (local), kinetic, and causal interactions. If the natural world is thoroughly material, then all-natural interactions must be caused by material things, events, or processes.

Causal interactions have been defined and articulated using familiar concepts like elastic collisions from Physics 101! And, no alternative formulations have been offered to better articulate the thesis of Metaphysical Materialism or causal interaction!

Higgs Boson

  1. Metaphysical Materialism entails that everything is material (made of matter).
  2. The existence of the Higgs Boson entails that matter emerges from the interactions of non-matter-based physical systems.

Therefore, Metaphysical Materialism is false.

This is an argument I've never seen anyone bring against Metaphysical Materialism in academic philosophy.


  1. Metaphysical Materialism entails the existence of substances, essences, quiddities, or haecceities.
  2. But, substances, essences, quiddities, and haecceities are not empirically observable.

Therefore, Metaphysical Materialism either contradicts (strong claim) or is incompatible with (weak claim) Methodological Naturalism.

Methodological Naturalism is an epistemic stance requiring all knowledge of the natural world be supported by our five senses. If you can't see it, hear it, touch it, feel it, smell it, or taste it we have no reason to believe it exists (beliefs constrained by empiricism).

If however, Metaphysical Materialism requires the existence of empirically unobservable things like substances, essences, quiddities, or haecceities to even get started, then it's a non-starter right from the get-go.

Dark Matter

  1. Metaphysical Materialism entails a world in which only ordinary matter (one substance, one kind of substance) exists.
  2. The existence of Dark Matter entails that Metaphysical Materialism is false.

Metaphysical Materialism insists that only ordinary matter exists and that all objects are either atomic material objects or some combination thereof. If there are two primary kinds of one substance (not to be confused with states of a single substance), the view likely collapses into dualism (a critique that's been made throughout history).

Metaphysical Materialism is emphatically false.

Metaphysical Materialism has traditionally been couched in monistic terms (e.g. - all things are made of or are a single kind of matter). In fact, Metaphysical Materialism has traditionally been argued against metaphysical dualism. E.g. - that all interactions that occur in the natural world can be explained by this singular kind of stuff.

The natural world presently appears to be divided into at least two kinds of matter.

The way that these two kinds currently interact is unknown and mysterious. (Although some future mechanics probably could entirely describe their interactions.)

Time and Spacetime

  1. Metaphysical Materialism entails a world in which there is only matter.
  2. But Time, itself, may lack any material component.

Matter appears to be situated in space-time - that is, as an emergent physical property arising from interactions with the Higgs Field.

Spacetime presently appears to be prior to matter (since fields are themselves spatial entities).

Also read: Time Crystals for even more exotic treatments of time.


Apparently, there's growing empirical evidence that Quantum Entanglement can affect past events.

  1. Metaphysical Materialism entails a world with one-directional causality.
  2. Metaphysical Materialism entails a world in which there is only matter.


  1. Quantum mechanics suggests that retro-causality (of some variety) may very well exist.
  2. Ordinary material interactions appear to align with our standard intuitions about one-directional causality.

But, the existence of reversible quantum states, time itself, or other phenomena from which physical phenomena emerges suggests these intuitions about causality are also false.

As such, we have several additional reasons to consider rejecting Metaphysical Materialism in a principled way.

Note that Russell's vehement denial of causality as a modern scientific notion likely would also entail the falsity of Metaphysical Materialism if true.

Read: QM retrocausality

Read: SEP