The most widespread metaphysical position in academic philosophy today is apparently physicalism, the view that all phenomena, including consciousness, are reducible to physical things, states, or events. Metaphysical materialism – the more general view that the physical is ontologically primary and indeed the only thing that exists metaphysically independently – is even more widespread. Linked to physicalism is reductive naturalism, the view that any phenomenon is in principle explanatorily reducible to conditions that lie within the subject matter of the natural sciences.
However, several objections can be raised against these positions. One is that they are not themselves scientific results and cannot be verified using the methods of empirical science, and must therefore be seen as metaphysical assumptions. A second is that due to their apparent incompatibility with a view of downward causation – causal influence by the mental on the physical, that is, on neural processes – these positions do not seem compatible with genuine free will. Third, given these positions, objective ethics seems difficult to substantiate; fourth, they might be too restrictive a way of explaining the structures of reality. Finally, they show a lack of explanatory power, both when it comes to explaining the intrinsic properties of matter, and (most importantly) the nature and even the existence of consciousness.
Because the objections to physicalism and its fellows are numerous and persistent, in recent years otherwise controversial views have seen an increase in interest. Among these is panpsychism (e.g., Brüntrup & Jaskolla, Goff, Seager), the view that consciousness is ubiquitous and fundamental (or at least not reducible to the physical). Panpsychism is often explicated through the attribution of consciousness to the elementary physical entities, with macro-consciousnesses (e.g., human consciousness) constituted in these, that is, seen as combinations of these micro-consciousnesses. This is known as constitutive micropsychism. However, this view faces the difficult combination problem: how can we explain how these micro-consciousnesses are combined into one macro-consciousness, given that the discrete perspectives intrinsically linked to individual consciousnesses must be taken into account? In response to this problem, the view of cosmopsychism – the notion that the whole cosmos possesses consciousness – has been introduced and defended, often in the form of constitutive cosmopsychism (e.g., Nagasawa & Wager), according to which the individual subjects’ consciousnesses are constituted in the cosmic consciousness. However, this position is confronted with the question of how this differentiation of the one, cosmic consciousness into the individual consciousnesses is to be explained. This is the so-called decombination problem – a modern variant of absolute idealism’s traditional problem of the one and the many. Some suggestions attempting to address this problem have been put forward (Shani & Keppler, Albahari, Maharaj), but these models either have not yet been developed in full or face significant counterarguments, and the debate on the decombination problem is thus far from settled. Therefore, there is good reason to explore new alternatives in the attempt to gain new perspectives on, and develop solutions to, this difficult problem.
This is the subject of the present dissertation – here, a metaphysical model is developed which, it is argued, handles or avoids all of the problems just identified: physicalism’s problem of consciousness, constitutive micropsychism’s combination problem and – the main focus of the dissertation – constitutive cosmopsychism’s decombination problem. This is possible because this model is one of non-constitutive cosmopsychism and absolute idealism (and furthermore, it is located within a naturalistic framework, broadly understood).
The model is developed through a synthesizing approach, where key elements from existing models are combined. Methodologically, the approach is one of weighted methodological pluralism (Klausen), where all traditional philosophical methods are initially accepted, but where the actual weighted distribution is a matter of assessment based on the research goal in question and the subject of the study. Due to the transempirical nature of the subject of the present work, the scientific theories (but not their empirical bases) are thus considered less weighty than rational insight and factors such as consistency, coherence, systematization, philosophical assessment, and (not least) explanatory power.
The question of how to obtain (metaphysical) knowledge is a major theme in the debate on ‘metametaphysics.’ Another is the subject matter of metaphysics. The present work is one of metaphysics as traditionally conceived, and there are strong arguments substantiating the relevance and value of practicing metaphysics in this way (e.g., Lowe). Thus, this work subscribes to a (neo-) Aristotelian rather than a Quinean conception of metaphysics, holding, that is, that metaphysics is concerned with the fundamental nature of reality and not just existence questions – a view that has seen an increase in support in contemporary philosophy (e.g., Tahko).
The model developed in the present dissertation is one of metaphysical idealism. This is a rarely defended position in contemporary philosophy, but the position possesses significant potential in terms of explanatory power, especially in the case of absolute idealism. The starting point in this work is Timothy Sprigge's absolute idealistic metaphysical system, with further development through the inclusion of elements from the metaphysics of Danish thinker and mystic Martinus. This may seem to be a controversial choice, but it is not unfounded: Martinus justifies his views through rational and not transcendent arguments, and the views of mystics have been included in the cosmopsychism debate (Albahari, Maharaj) in the last few years. Furthermore, Martinus' metaphysics has a significant number of features in common with Sprigge's system, which, seen in the synthesizing context of the present work, makes this particular metaphysics a natural choice: to wit, this metaphysics contains elements that strengthen that system precisely with regard to the decombination problem. In addition, a review of the relevant research history shows that Martinus' work – which, taken as a whole, constitutes a very comprehensive and consistent metaphysics – has so far received almost no treatment in academic philosophy (standing completely unexamined in international debates), and this despite its fresh perspective on a wide range of philosophical questions.
The present dissertation is anthological and includes four articles. The first of these, Toward a Broader Conception of “Liberal Naturalism”: Widening the Perspective (forthcoming, 2021), argues for a conception of naturalism that is not only broader than reductive naturalism, but also broader than regular, liberal naturalism (e.g., De Caro, Macarthur). A key point in this article is the detachment of the concept of naturalism from any particular metaphysics. Usually, naturalism is understood as linked to physicalism, or at least to metaphysical materialism, but detachment from these positions is not unheard of in contemporary philosophy (e.g., Chalmers, Rosenberg, Hutto), yielding a naturalism that emphasizes the existence of laws of nature. The article follows this line of thought, arguing, based on the notion of nature as a concept of ontological totality, that the basic criterion of being “naturalistic” is not a matter of attachment to any particular metaphysics, but is instead a matter of the presence of fundamental principles and laws or regularities that govern or describe the concrete behavior of the world. This concept of naturalism allows for variants of (for example) idealism, including absolute idealism, to be categorized as naturalistic in so far as this criterion is met (though it does not allow for metaphysical views that include entities that are autonomous with respect to these principles or laws, such as a theistic god). Given the positive connotations of ‘naturalistic’, this concept of naturalism is of value with regard to legitimizing philosophical inquiry into unconventional alternatives to physicalism and materialism – exactly the sort of project in which this dissertation is engaged.
The second article, Absolut idealisme – et glemt potentiale? (‘Absolute idealism – a forgotten potential?’) (2018), advocates the view that absolute idealism (referring not just to Hegel, but more precisely to variants along the lines of Bradley and Sprigge) remains relevant and is of value, not only in the context of the history of ideas, but also when it comes to developing theses and contributions to contemporary academic debates in philosophy. Moore’s and Russell's influential rejections of idealism in the early 20th century seem to be significantly less well-founded than is usually assumed (Mander), especially regarding absolute idealism. John Foster and Timothy Sprigge have presented the most significant contemporary contributions when it comes to comprehensive idealistic metaphysical theses, with Sprigge's panpsychistic absolute idealistic metaphysical system arguably occupying a stronger position than Foster's “canonical phenomenalism.” In this article, Sprigge’s system is developed further by incorporating elements from Foster’s thesis (and from Martinus' metaphysics), and the key features of the resulting metaphysical model are outlined – this model shows, at least prima facie, improved explanatory power regarding key criticisms of Sprigge's original metaphysics, including the question of personal identity and the problem of the one and the many. In addition, the model can be characterized as naturalistic (in the above sense).
The third article, The Metaphysics of Martinus: Exploring New Territory (unpublished at the time of this writing), presents the main features of Martinus' metaphysical system. This system is extraordinarily comprehensive, covering a range of topics − from the nature of consciousness to the principles of an objective ethics to the nature of a good and just society. A key feature is a triadic conception of the subject and, due to the panpsychistic nature of Martinus’ metaphysics, of the whole of reality. This is the triune principle. Analytically conceived, the subject, or living being, as well as the whole of reality itself, consist of three parts: that which experiences (called the 'I' or 'X1'), the faculty of creating and experiencing ('X2'), and that which is experienced ('matter' or 'X3'). Martinus' system can be interpreted as a form of absolute idealism, with everything in existence being part of the one underlying, transempirical something that is, and with our entire world of experience being the appearance for us of this something in the form of the manifestation of living beings. Reality in its entirety consists of the Godhead, and every living being thus forms part of it. The individual being has eternal existence, and through innumerable incarnations it gradually develops intellectually and ethically. Ethics thus plays an existentially crucial role as it is the only way through which to end suffering and achieve an existence of bliss and unconditional happiness – this is achieved by every being eventually, and thus, ultimately, “all is very good.” Even though Martinus explicitly refers to transcendent experiences as the epistemic foundation of his views, he justifies the views solely by rational arguments, that is, philosophically (in a broad sense). His views stand unexamined in academic philosophy, but, the article argues, they are worth further investigation, not merely in the context of the history of ideas, but also for their potential contribution to the debates of contemporary philosophy. For example, the cosmopsychism debate, where Martinus' particular triadic conception of the subject provides the contours of a solution to the decombination problem.
The fourth and final article, Non-Constitutive Cosmopsychism: Countering the Decombination Problem (2021), unfolds the theoretical metaphysical model toward which the previous articles have paved the way. Due to its idealistic and non-constitutive cosmopsychistic form, this model, it is argued, is able to avoid or deal with key problems that plague materialism, panpsychism, and constitutive cosmopsychism (that is, the problem of consciousness, the combination problem, and the decombination problem, respectively). Martinus’ triune principle is presented both metaphorically and conceptually, and this triadic conception of the subject forms a cornerstone of the model. Analytically, the subject is perceived as consisting of three components: an experiencing, substantive component; an experience- and interaction-constituting and -organizing metaphysical structure (the EICO structure); and a sphere of experience, holding the concrete content of experience. The model is one of quantitative substance monism, that is, it posits a single, undivided (and noumenal or transempirical) substance (which does experience, but, unlike many other cosmopsychistic models, does not consist of consciousness per se). But due to the presence of the metaphysical EICO structure, the model includes the existence of individual perspectives or spheres of experience − and thus individual subjects − as well as an absolute subject. This is illustrated by the following image, which is intended as a metaphor: a bright light shines in the center of a sphere that is opaque but evenly perforated all over with small holes; the central light thus streams through the holes. In this metaphor, the light represents the one, noumenal substance; the perforated sphere the EICO structure; and the light rays the individual subjects. As unity is found at the substantive level and the actual differentiation is at the level of perspective or experience, the model avoids the decombination problem. In other words: the model is non-constitutive in the specific sense that individual consciousnesses are not constituted in a cosmic consciousness, as is the case in the constitutive cosmopsychistic models. Even though the metaphysical EICO structure is merely postulated, the model is arguably better off than emergent panpsychism (where consciousness is postulated to emerge from the physical), as the present model is not faced with the problem of downward causation. Thus, the model arguably shows greater explanatory power than the metaphysics with which it is compared.
The aims of the present dissertation are thus threefold: to defend a broad liberal naturalism which is compatible with (e.g.) metaphysical idealism; to introduce Martinus’ metaphysics into (international) academic philosophy; and, in order to deal with the problem of decombination, to develop the main features of an absolute idealistic and cosmopsychistic theoretical model – a model that also constitutes a theoretical metaphysical model for the fundamental nature of reality as such.
As for the implications of the dissertation’s results, they can be assessed on three levels: the strength of the arguments themselves, the de facto position of the results given the philosophical climate of today, and the philosophical implications under the hypothetical premise that the results are accepted. The mainstream currents in contemporary academic philosophy being what they are, a model of an absolute idealistic and cosmopsychistic nature must be seen as quite controversial and unlikely to gain any significant support. The main argument for the model is a strengthened explanatory power, and the assessment of the strength of this argument depends on how explanatory power is weighted against postulating empirically unsupported premises such as the EICO structure. If the model is accepted, however, the implications are significant − for theoretical questions, such as the nature of consciousness; ethical questions; and existential questions, for instance, those relating to continued existence after death and the meaning of life itself.