Without arguing specifically for pan-psychism, if I can rule out materialism I think I can show that phenomenal consciousness is eternal and written into the very fabric of reality rather than an epiphenomenal consequence of mindless brain activity. For a thing to come into existence, the potential for it’s existence must have existed prior to it’s actuality. That potential can’t exist in ‘nothingness’, the absence of anything can’t produce something because it doesn’t exist. The potential for a table exists in the elements that are rearranged to form a table, a table cannot be created out of nothing. Matter-energy has always existed in some form or another (contrary to popular belief, the Big Bang is not a theory about the origin of matter-energy, just as evolution is not a theory about the origin of life, and virtual particles do not literally pop into and out of existence. Virtual particles pop into and out of quantum ‘vacuums’ that are actually filled with fluctuating energy). If subjective experience is numerically identical to objective brain activity, phenomenal consciousness can come into and out of existence because it is only a particular arrangement of preexisting matter and there is no problem of radical emergence. The problem is that unless you deny the very existence of what ‘appears’ to be consciousness, in claiming that subjective experience is really corresponding objective brain activity in disguise materialism defies the first law of logic, the law of identity. A rock is a rock and a chair is a chair. Even an illusion would be proof of consciousness since an illusion is an experience. I agree with materialists that consciousness is a process, just not a physical one. Internal mental states are not extended in space, they have no mass and can’t be converted into anything that does, and they cannot be observed through sensory perception yet clearly they exist. Even if we define ‘physical’ in a way that includes the mental, the latter is a different ‘dimension’ of nature, or reality, than the external world of spatial objects. Since nothing comes from nothing, every moment of experience must come from a preceding moment of experience in an infinite continuum, the past became the present and the present is becoming the future. Consciousness cannot be created or destroyed, it only changes.
Pan-experientialism is the view that basic subjective experience, but not necessarily ‘self-awareness’ or higher cognition, is an inherent property of matter as opposed to non-existent (consistent/eliminative materialism), ontologically reducible to brain activity (reductive materialism), causally but not ontologically reducible to brain activity (emergent property dualism) or fundamentally unrelated to the physical world (substance dualism). Substance dualism argues that the mental and the physical are two different kinds of substances that can exist independently, pan-experientialism is the non-emergent form of property dualism which argues that the mental and the physical are two different kinds of properties of the same ‘substance’. Pan-experientialism doesn’t necessarily imply that non-motile things (plants, rocks, trees, ) have unified experience, which would explain why they don’t appear to behave spontaneously or with intention, only that they’re comprised of indivisible particles who do. Animals, as well as individual cells, molecules and atoms, are probably comprised of elementary particles who experience and act in unity. Unlike my claim that happiness and suffering have ‘objective’ (factual) intrinsic value and dis-value, I can’t empirically confirm that pan-experientialism is true but I can rule out materialism on empirical grounds and argue that an emergence of mind from mindless matter or a causal interaction between mind and matter as two independent things is logically incoherent.
From direct experience, I know that consciousness is not brain activity. Neurons firing electrical and chemical signals, forming synapses and behaving the way that they do is not the subjective feeling of love, the perception of color or the sensation of heat. Experience is non-spatial and cannot be described or understood in a materialistic context. I can’t rule out, from direct experience, the possibility that brain activity causes mental experience, but experience is not an external, inter-subjectively observable physical process. The materialist position isn’t just that experience is caused by neurological activity, which emergent property dualism claims, but that it can be reduced to it. This leaves me with either 1) mental and physical entities are fundamentally unrelated to each other, 2) phenomenonal consciousness is an inherent property of matter or 3) mental experience is all that exists. Substance dualists have to account for how minds can temporarily animate bodies and interact with the physical world and both emergent property dualists and materialists have the same problem of having to account for how external, physical processes, a particular arrangement of sub-atomic particles, can bring about mental experience where there was none before. I can understand the concept of my knocking over one domino which knocks over another which knocks over another, it makes sense to explain external, inter-subjectively observable events in relation to other external events but how external, physical events in the brain, no matter how complicated, can lead to internal subjective experience is incomprehensible because it requires the emergence of a qualitatively new kind of reality (I could also argue that even weak emergence is illusory, it only appears as though complex systems have fundamentally novel properties that are irreducible to the properties of the parts they’re made up of because of our perceptual limitations. Individual sub-atomic particles don’t become water in forming H2O molecules, the property of wetness is just a combination of already existing properties, and a whole isn’t anything above and beyond the sum of it’s parts). Materialists might maintain that neurons don’t experience, experience itself is nothing more than neurological activity, but it’s a direct contradiction to say that external, inter-subjectively observable activity is internal subjectivity and activity can’t experience, only actors can. I’m not denying that the arrangement of matter corresponds with the content of subjective experience, and states of mind change with the rearrangement of matter just as the physical properties of an object do. For one thing to cause another isn’t just to precede it but to have a relationship with it that necessitates it’s existence, for two things to have a relationship or interact they have to share some commonality, to be the same in some respect which brings me back to my argument against materialism. Cartesian interaction is also unintelligible because minds aren’t spatial objects that the physical world can exchange energy with and they would have to be located in space in order to enter or leave bodies. Some pan-experientialists reject the concept of free will or the mental having any causal influence in the physical world based on the causal closure principle but I would counter that mind isn’t something external to matter that causally influences it, mind (desire or will) is an essential trait of matter that enables it’s self-motion or agency. Every event that happens in the universe is driven by feeling.
The simplest explanation, one without the problem of emergence or causal interaction, seems to be that mental experience is a fundamental attribute of matter and that what we call ‘physical’ (external) and ‘mental’ (internal) are two different aspects of the same thing ( “For every inside there is an outside, and for every outside there is an inside; though they are different, they go together.” - Alan Watts). I can conceive of soul and matter existing without the other (although without a body a mind could have no sensory perception of anything real and couldn’t travel through space) and my problem with how independent minds can causally interact with spatial entities is logical and not empirical. Materialism, on the other hand, defies empiricism in addition to being incoherent. Consciousness cannot be an illusion because it would have to exist in order to appear as though it did (our sensory perception of the external world, although mentally real, may misrepresent the external world but consciousness is as exactly as it appears). With metaphysical idealism, the idea that consciousness is all that exists and the polar opposite of materialism, my problem is also not empirical. Sensory perception is mental but the objects of sensory perception are not. Something must cause sensory perception so where did the mind get the idea of inventing something fundamentally different from itself? Everything we can imagine comes from what we what we’ve already perceived or experienced, the ancient Greeks could imagine centaurs only because they’d seen humans and horses and combined the two in a novel way but ideas don’t come entirely from scratch. If the external world is real, there’s no reason to assume that I would be the only outside with an inside.
Morality, or ethics, is the branch of philosophy that deals with ‘proper behavior, manners, character’. Hedonism as a meta-ethical theory of value implies that hedonistic utilitarianism (which doesn’t require the former) is the desirable normative ethical theory of decision making but good behavior and good character are two separate but related moral concerns. If happiness is inherently good, then morally good behavior is behavior that helps to maximize the greatest possible ratio of happiness to suffering in the world, morally good character is an unconditional concern for the experience of pleasure and pain itself regardless of whose pleasure or pain is in question. It would not necessarily be harmful (to anyone other than the sadist, considering the connection between stable, long-term mental health and compassion/love) to take pleasure in or even just consciously disregard the pain and misfortune of others but it would show morally bad character. A common charge against hedonistic utilitarianism is that it views persons as ‘vessels’ for pleasure and pain but this seems meaningless to me if an experience necessarily involves an experiencer and vice versa and it’s the experiencer who benefits from or is harmed by their happiness or suffering. Happiness is a mental state of being and a being can’t be a ‘vessel’ for their own internal state. I think that (affective) empathy/sympathy/compassion (which I distinguish from emotional attachment) necessarily involves a basic respect for others as equals, at least in terms of viewing them as being equally ‘deserving’ of happiness, which I think value hedonism implies, not in the sense that anyone has rightfully earned happiness or is entitled to it but in the sense that their felt well-being is worth promoting which makes them worthy of unconditional moral concern. If compassion being a form of love and necessarily involving respect is just one interpretation (experience only tells me that pleasure and pain are intrinsically good and bad) and you can genuinely want someone you seriously dislike or not respect to experience happiness and to be free from pain, I wouldn’t see anything morally wrong with disliking them, I just think a person would necessarily be happier if they loved and respected all beings. Either way, I don’t think compassion/sympathy can be impersonal. Utilitarians are no more ‘obligated’ to desire or pursue the happiness of others than they are their own, ‘duty’ would not be someone’s basis for doing so if they recognized the objective value of all pleasurable and painful states of mind, which would require their using their own personal experience of happiness or suffering as a reference.
I disagree with virtue ethics as a theory of decision making (intellectually, I don’t consider myself to be an ethical person) because I view it as egocentric, in considering the rightness or wrongness of a decision to be based on the agent’s motives or intentions, you disregard the needs of the patient which, in my view, is paradoxically not virtuous (sympathetic). Compassionate people aren’t concerned with their being compassionate, what makes them compassionate is their relating to and wanting to alleviate the suffering of *other* people. Nobody would want credit for caring about their own welfare, they do so because they regard it as desirable, I don’t think there is any more moral value in caring about anyone else than there is in caring about yourself. I don’t think harming anyone else is morally worse than harming yourself.
I think that empiricism (the epistemological position that knowledge is acquired through experience alone) implies agnosticism if for no other reason than that it also implies epistemological solipsism (the view that the non-mental is inherently unknowable and one’s own conscious experience is all that one can be certain of) but I think evidence justifies our believing something to be probable or improbable even if we can’t be absolutely certain of it. I think the way nature appears to behave is evidence for the probable non-existence of a conscious, thinking deity who interferes with human affairs but I don’t think I have any basis for assuming that some kind of supernatural, deistic ‘force’ is impossible or even improbable, I just have no specific reason to believe in it.
The only a priori ‘truths’ I think we can know of in the absence of actual experience are concepts that we define in a way that necessarily justify our assumptions about them, this is how I can ‘know’ that all bachelors are unmarried without having met all unmarried men. Logic is a language that we use to organize ideas and concepts but it doesn’t tell us anything about objective reality, we can’t logically deduce that something as inconceivable as a ‘square triangle’ can’t exist even though it would be inappropriate to define anything as a ‘square triangle’ (because it’s a self-conflicting definition). With the possible exception of conscious experience itself, which may be an emergent property of the inter-subjectively observable brain activity it appears to correspond with, an inherent property of all matter, fundamentally non-physical or some other possibility (we don’t experience whatever it is that causes subjective experience, only subjective experience itself), I literally cannot imagine a non-physical entity or non-physical phenomenon, I have no point of reference as to what the ‘supernatural’ could be, but maybe it would be possible to come across what appears to be a physical being or physical phenomenon that is in some way a manifestation of something beyond the natural world (or physical phenomenon that doesn’t adhere to the normal laws of physics). I don’t think that a/gnosticism and a/theism deal with separate concerns, as is often claimed, if knowledge about X is just a belief about X that is accurate and acquired legitimately. I also think it’s a mistake to contrast theism (a belief that at least one god exists) with a-theism (just lacking a belief in a god, the default position) as opposed to it’s polar opposite : strong atheism (a belief that no god exists).
Marx criticized religion as the opiate of the masses but I don’t see anything wrong with a belief in a compassionate, loving god, who for whatever mysterious reasons allows the suffering it does, being a source of comfort or support. I think basing moral decisions on a god’s authority is wrong. I don’t see what it is about a god’s opinion that would legitimize it’s commandments or why being all powerful would validate it’s authority. An argument for objective moral truths can’t be based on a god’s demands or personal desires anymore than on a parent’s, government’s or any other authority figure’s. If there is a god, or gods, I don’t think that humans are morally obligated to obey them.
I believe that moral propositions are statements about reality that are objectively true or false rather than just being expressions of personal sentiment or cultural norms. I also think it’s wrongly assumed that moral realism requires a theistic basis. I don’t think the intrinsic value of happiness can be logically demonstrated anymore than the intrinsic wetness of water can, I think this can only be realized empirically, through direct experience. If happiness is intrinsically good, I think it can be logically demonstrated to be the only intrinsic good since two or more separate things can’t both or all be good by their very natures if their natures are fundamentally different. Knowledge is acquired through experience, any claim or denial about the inherent value of pleasure must be based on our actual experience of pleasure itself. Subjective experience is objectively real, it’s ‘there’ whether anyone considers it to exist or not. We can know empirically (through experience), about the value of emotional states in the same way that we can learn through experience (sight, smell, touch, taste, hearing) about other phenomenon ( our perception of the external world may not correspond with the external world as it actually is, since we only experience our perception of the external world and not the external world itself, but experience itself is objectively real and exactly the way that it appears), and we know that we can quantify (and thus aggregate) pleasurable and painful states of mind in terms of intensity and duration. Sentient beings experience pleasure and pain (which I define as any emotional state that is inherently likeable or dis-likeable) as inherently good and bad regardless of whether or not they rationally believe it to be or mistakenly associate the value of these emotional states with their objects. Torture is morally bad because the pain it causes is intrinsically bad and while the victim alone experiences their pain, it doesn’t exist ‘for them’, it is objectively real and exists simpliciter. It isn’t just bad ‘for them’ (which would imply that it’s only instrumentally bad and not bad by it’s very nature), it’s bad simpliciter. It should also be noted that empiricism can’t be reconciled with the intuitive assumption of a static, persisting ego that exists apart from moment to moment experience, no one has any more of a reason to care about the well-being of ‘their’ future self than they do anyone else’s.
Hedonism as a theory of value (not to be confused with psychological hedonism or layman ‘hedonism’) is a moral realist position and it’s more central to my understanding of ethics and my ‘philosophical identity’ than utilitarianism as a normative ethical theory is. Value hedonism necessarily implies that (total) hedonistic (act) utilitarianism is the desirable basis for moral decision making but hedonistic utilitarians don’t have to identify as moral realists, they may ascribe to error theory (moral nihilism) or non-cognitivism and simply view hedonistic utilitarianism as appealing. I’d have to worry about misrepresenting myself as a utilitarian but value hedonism is only a meta-ethical claim about what is descriptively true. Whether or not a value hedonist can bring themselves to do the ‘right’ (best) thing, (s)he would have to concede that the emotional well-being of all (potential and actual) sentient beings is worth caring about equally, it’s not ‘logical’ to care about anyone’s welfare but it is arbitrary and inconsistent to distinguish between the value of one person’s happiness or suffering and anyone else’s since the basic experience itself is qualitatively the same regardless of who has it.
This is not an argument for moral realism actually being true but I think it’s a stronger basis for compassion and altruism than moral nihilism can be. A moral nihilist cannot legitimately criticize whatever behavior they consider to be undesirable if they believe that ethical judgments are a matter of personal taste. I don’t think moral nihilism can justify a commitment to unconditional, universal compassion since a moral nihilist has to maintain that their concern for others is a completely arbitrary personal preference which isn’t an adaptation to a realized objective truth but dependent on a current, possibly transient mindset, and a more sadistic or cruel ethos would be just as legitimate, objectively speaking. Enlightened self-interest can only justify so much ‘altruism’, the standard for how altruistic the actor should be is determined by the actor’s needs and not the needs of everyone affected by his or her behavior, the level of concern required to produce the best overall consequences and that required for the actor’s satisfaction aren’t necessarily equivalent . Anti-realism doesn’t allow for any realization that the interests of other people really would warrant consideration even if it wasn’t given.