The term materialism (derived from matter) referred to three different positions:

  • The epistemological or ontological materialism is a philosophical position, which returns all the processes and phenomena of the world to matter and its laws and conditions. To the question "What is " replies the materialism: Only matter. Materialism thus assumes that even thoughts and ideas are forms of matter and can be attributed to such. He explained to the people the world around him and the processes occurring in their processes without intellectual or intangible elements, such as God, whose existence with the methodology of natural science, in particular the experiment does not evaluate ( verify or falsify ) leaves. In contemporary philosophy, the term " physicalism " is often used synonymously with " materialism ". Antonym is the epistemological (also: ontological ) idealism, for the truly real are the ideas; what we perceive, only images are of it. See also: neutral monism.
  • The " dialectical materialism " (sometimes also: economic materialism ), which goes back to Karl Marx, overlaps with the epistemological materialism, but is not identical with it. As a " Historical Materialism " applied to human history he sees this not moved by ideas or a " world spirit ", which were realized in history, but. By economic interests and conflicts of interest Accordingly, companies do not walk by ideals, but due to constant class struggles in which these economic interest conflicts are carried out collectively. Also, conflicts between societies could be explained by, for example, in wars that are carried out for economic reasons. Historical materialism is derived from this and a number of other assumptions from a complex social and historical model. Antonym is the epistemological idealism that looks depending on the variant ideas or ideals, either as the only ( Hegel ) or at least as an independent (of material interests ) factor in human history.
  • The ethical materialism, in everyday language the most common term that denotes (usually derogatory ) a way of life that seeks mainly for material possessions and wealth. See also: consumer society consumerism.


The origins of materialism are in the Greek natural philosophy. Important thinkers are, inter alia, Thales, Anaximander, Epicurus, Leucippus and Democritus, and especially, the founders of physical atomism. The natural philosophers investigated natural explanations of reality instead of the mythological. The natural philosophy thus is also considered the forerunner of modern science.

In the scholastic matter was regarded as purely passive. Influenced by the Arab peripatetic school of Aristotelian Avicenna ( Ibn Sina), Avicebron ( Ibn Gabirol ) and Averroes ( Averroes ) said to active capabilities in the late Renaissance Giordano Bruno of matter.

As a representative of materialism in the Age of Enlightenment 1750 La Mettrie, followed by d' Holbach, Helvetius and Diderot mentioned. For quite a stir in both the Enlightenment and in their opponents, made ​​in 1770, the pseudonymous publication of Holbach's Système de la nature. This two-volume work sets forth a mechanistic worldview in which nature works by itself and run all processes deterministic. The work calls explicitly for atheism, which it attests the moral high ground, and argues against various proofs of God.

A strictly mechanistic, deterministic view of the world designed for them, the French mathematician, physicist and philosopher Laplace. He claimed that the knowledge of the current state of each particle in the universe might allow to determine, based on the laws of nature the state of the universe at any time in the future ( cf. Laplace demon). Against the idea of ​​Laplace's demon, various objections can collect, based on recognized by the physics Laplace laws. The Laplace's demon is now used only to illustrate a strictly deterministic world view.

In Germany joined materialism, which was not based on the French predecessor, only about 1840 in the battle of materialism in which Carl Vogt, Jakob Ludwig Büchner Moleschott and represented the materialist position. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels were initially followers of Feuerbach, expanded its concept but first (1846 ) to ( social theory ) Historical Materialism and Dialectical later supplemented this by the ( natural philosophical ) materialism.

Next here is the anarchist Mikhail Bakunin noted, the attempt in his book " God and the State" to answer the question of whether idealists or materialists are right. Ernst Bloch differentiated the history of philosophy in a right- Aristotelianism and a left - Aristotelianism, depending on whether spirit, form and idea or matter as the creativity in the world might be seen. Materialists of the present are about David Armstrong, Richard Boyd, Paul Churchland and Daniel Dennett.

Mechanistic materialism and today's science

The mechanistic view of the world as it found expression in the Laplace determinism, has been replaced in the 20th century by quantum mechanics, which was accompanied by a move away from deterministic materialism. General quantum mechanics is interpreted non- deterministic today. However, there are also attempts to develop a deterministic interpretation of quantum mechanics. The best known example is developed by David Bohm Bohmian mechanics as a deterministic interpretation of the phenomena of quantum mechanics. His interpretation of quantum mechanics assumes that the non-deterministic interpretation of quantum mechanics is not complete and therefore extra hidden parameters are necessary for a complete description. However, this interpretation leads to contradictions with experiments, see Bell's inequality. Among other things, therefore non-deterministic interpretations are prevalent today, in which the chance factor exists as an objective part of reality. Due to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle position and momentum of a particle can never be adequately defined at the same time exactly in the classical quantum mechanics. Since, therefore, the exact state of the system can never be known, the extrapolation of the current state of each system is possible only in a statistical manner, particularly on a microscopic scale. This also applies to some deterministic interpretations of quantum mechanics, such as the already mentioned Bohmian mechanics, where the state of the hidden parameters, although they evolve deterministically, in principle, is unknown.

Significantly for materialism is the development of a scientific conception of matter. Especially the physics plays an important role here, as there are often physical quantities such as elementary particles or fields are considered basic, matter constituent entities. In particular, the question of whether the present as fundamentally considered constituents of matter ( leptons, quarks, gauge bosons ) are really elementary or whether these are in turn composed as early as elementary prestigious particles (atoms, protons, neutrons) of elementary particles, it has repercussions on the philosophical discourse. Significant for the conception of matter is also described in quantum mechanics, wave -particle duality.

Critique of materialism and idealism confrontation with the

Materialism has been criticized since its inception. In addition to clashes of different currents of materialism driven mainly by the struggle between materialism and idealism plays a role.

Basic positions, epistemology and materialism

One of the main arguments of idealistic side against materialism is that you understand human mental abilities such as self-confidence not ( pure) material and can not be fully attributed to matter. In contrast, one of the main arguments against idealism or materialism for that idealism could not explain the autonomy of the sensible world and their observed independence of mental processes. It is, however, disregarded that any form of sensory perception and observation beyond mental processes is impossible.

It is further argued against materialism, that materialism is being able to explain himself since he does not appear as a theory and as matter. In addition, the concept of truth ( or the entire epistemology ) is purely material not to be understood. The epistemology 'll shortened by materialism to an empirical science. Cultural, ideas and all intangible forms have no independent existence of its own. A critique of knowledge or an independent reflection of knowledge are no longer or only a very limited extent in a materialism. A review of scientific hypotheses is possible only within certain metaphysical preconditions.

Against this criticism is argued that the matter itself may very well explain itself, by means of their " most advanced " form of appearance of the human brain. So the man in the course of thousands of years have been in the practical struggle in and with nature (ie through labor ) acquired the ability to summarize his over his sense-perception mediation of knowledge in thought and in language. The results of thought itself, the ideas are not material, but based on the activity of the brain and are thus the product of matter. The most complicated results of human thought, that scientific theories would have to prove their truth always in the specific activity (eg, experiment, production, etc. ). This is called the criterion of practice (see VI Lenin, Materialism and Empiriocriticism, Berlin 1962).

A major criticism takes the products of human mind as a starting point for their argument. Even under the assumption that ideas, theories, (building) plans, technical know- how etc. from the brain (and not from consciousness ) produced and required to be kept in mind that these could independently by their authors ( re-) exist. In this respect, man is surrounded by a spiritual world, the making up its cultural heritage, without which he would have to start each at the level of a pre- Stone Age people.

A formal approach would also revealed that the contents of the spiritual world cause of changes ( effects ) may be in the material world. (Example: the construction of a building according to a plan, the intellectual product of an architect, represents a change in the material world ). This would often put forward an argument against a dualistic conception refute, it is not known how the mind can act on matter (alleged causal unity of the physical / material world ). Therefore also the information of neurophysiologists were to be regarded as irrelevant, in the study of the human brain with imaging techniques never was a action of spirit have been observed.

Materialism and the perception of space and time

The criticism of Biologism was however built on eliminative materialism (see Churchland ) and would therefore not contribute to the self-declaration. Materialism is based on the fundamental assumption that we experience the world as it is that we directly perceive the thing in itself, or to our knowledge, at any rate in the sense of Popper's falsification, could come closer to the world itself continuously by means of empirical methods. However, the fact will always remember that we all just so perceive how it allow us the a priori anchored in the spirit forms of space and time. We would take things just as true as they provide the senses and the mind us. The idealistic point of view is perhaps with the following ( free ) quotation from the Buddhist Dhammapada summarized: " The things precedes the spirit; the mind decides ... "

In contrast, however, again argues in the sense of evolutionary epistemology that this alleged mental Apriori ultimately was but a posteriori, namely the extent to experience - that is due to an interaction with reality - based, as our cognitive apparatus in the course of evolution in space and time to just existing structure of its environment have adapted this and therefore from birth, without this having to be learned, its payment.

Ethics and materialism

Furthermore, the consequences of materialism for the ethics and anthropology, in the opinion of his critics were devastating. Thus, an ontology will stated that wants to control the people by its very nature. This was at all times an object of theology and philosophy, which would be considered as originating in natural science. So going by many bourgeois philosophers of materialism than in the natural sciences considered predominant, which is perceived as arrogant border and the limits of science.