Realistic Monism: Why Physicalism Entails
I take physicalism¹to be the view that every real, concrete phenomenon in the uni-
verse is ...physical. It is a view about the actual universe, and I am going to assume
that it is true. For the purposes of this paper I will equate ‘concrete’ with ‘spatiotem-
porally (or at least temporally) located’, and I will use ‘phenomenon’ as a completely
general word for any sort of existent. Plainly all mental goings on are concrete phe-
What does physicalism involve? What is it, really, to be a physicalist? What is it to
be a realistic physicalist, or, more simply, a real physicalist? Well, one thing is abso-
lutely clear. You’re certainly not a realistic physicalist, you’re not a real physicalist,
if you deny the existence of the phenomenon whose existence is more certain than
the existence of anything else: experience, ‘consciousness’, conscious experience, ‘phe-
nomenology’, experiential ‘what-it’s-likeness’, feeling, sensation, explicit conscious
thought as we have it and know it at almost every waking moment. Many words are
used to denote this necessarily occurrent (essentially non-dispositional) phenomenon,
and in this paper I will use the terms ‘experience’, ‘experiential phenomena’, and
‘experientiality’ to refer to it.
Full recognition of the reality of experience, then, is the obligatory starting point
for any remotely realistic version of physicalism. This is because it is the obligatory
starting point for any remotely realistic (indeed any non-self-defeating) theory of what
there is. It is the obligatory starting point for any theory that can legitimately claim
to be ‘naturalistic’ because experience is itself the fundamental given natural fact; it is
a very old point that there is nothing more certain than the existence of experience.
This paper develops parts of ‘Agnostic materialism’ (Strawson 1994: 43 –105, especially 59 –62, 72,
75–7) and Essay 1 and inherits their debt to Nagel 1974.
¹I have replaced the word ‘materialism’ by ‘physicalism’ and speak of ‘physical stuff ’ instead
of ‘matter’ because ‘matter’ is now specially associated with mass although energy is just as much
in question, as indeed is anything else that can besaidtobephysical,e.g.spacetimeitself—or
whatever underlies the appearance of spacetime.
²More strictly, ‘concrete’ means ‘not abstract’ in the standard philosophical sense of ‘abstract’,
given which some philosophers hold that abstract objects — e.g. numbers, or concepts — exist and
are real objects in every sense in which concrete objects are. I take ‘spatiotemporal’ to be the adjective
formed from ‘spacetime’, not from the conjunction of space and time.
from Galen Strawson, Real Materialism and Other Essays (Oxford:
Clarendon Press, 2008) [first published 2006]
54 Realistic Monism
It follows that real physicalism can have nothing to do with physicsalism,the
view—the faith—that the nature or essence of all concrete reality can in principle
be fully captured in the terms of physics. Real physicalism cannot have anything to do
with physicsalism unless it is supposed— obviously falsely—that the terms of physics
can fully capture the nature or essence of experience.³It is unfortunate that ‘physical-
ism’ is today standardly used to mean physicsalism because it obliges me to speak of
‘real physicalism’ when really I only mean ‘physicalism’— realistic physicalism.
Real physicalism, then, must accept that experiential phenomena are physical phe-
nomena. But how can experiential phenomena be physical phenomena? Many take
this claim to be profoundly problematic (this is the ‘mind–body problem’). This is
usually because they think they know a lot about the nature of the physical. They take
the idea that the experiential is physical to be profoundly problematic given what we
know about the nature of the physical. But they have already made a large and fatal mis-
take. This is because we have no good reason to think that we know anything about
the physical that gives us any reason to ﬁnd any problem in the idea that experiential
phenomena are physical phenomena. If we reﬂect for a moment on the nature of our
knowledge of the physical, and of the experiential, we realize, with Eddington, that
‘no problem of irreconcilability arises’.⁴
A very large mistake. It is perhaps Descartes’s, or perhaps rather ‘Descartes’s’, great-
est mistake,⁵and it is funny that in the past ﬁfty years it has been the most fervent
revilers of the great Descartes, the true father of modern materialism, who have made
the mistake with most intensity. Some of them—Dennett is a prime example—are
so in thrall to the fundamental intuition of dualism, the intuition that the experiential
and the physical are utterly and irreconcilably different, that they are prepared to deny
the existence of experience, more or less (c)overtly, because they are committed to
‘physicalism’, that is, physicsalism.⁶
³For a standard argument that this is impossible in principle, see e.g. Strawson 1994: 62 –5.
⁴Eddington 1928: 260; the thought was not new. In the background stood Arnauld 1641;
Locke 1689; Hume 1739–40; Priestley 1777; and many others— see Essay 1: §12. Kant makes the
point very clearly, on his own special terms. See e.g. 1781 –7: A358 –60, A380, and B427– 8, where
he remarks that the ‘heterogeneity’ of mind and body is merely ‘assumed’ and not known.
⁵I think that, in his hidden philosophical heart, he did not make it (he is certainly not
a ‘substance dualist’ as this expression is currently understood; see Clarke 2003). Arnauld saw
the problem clearly, and Hume (1739– 40: 159/22.214.171.124) diagnosed the mistake deﬁnitively in
two lines, with speciﬁc reference to the Cartesians, but the twentieth century— philosophical
⁶Dennett conceals this move by looking-glassing the word ‘consciousness’ (his term for experience)
and then insisting that he does believe that consciousness exists (to looking-glass a term is to use
a term in such a way that whatever one means by it, it excludes what the term means—see
Essay 10). As far as I can understand them, Dretske, Tye, Lycan, and Rey are among those who
do the same. It seems that they still dream of giving a reductive analysis of the experiential in
non-experiential terms. This, however, amounts to denying the existence of experience, because
the nature of (real) experience can no more be speciﬁed in wholly non-experiential terms than the
nature of the (real) non-experiential can be speciﬁed in wholly experiential terms. In the normal
case, of course, reductive identiﬁcation of X with Y is not denial of the existence of X. The reductive
claim is ‘X exists, but it is really just this (Y)’. In the case of experience, however, to say that it
exists but is really just something whose nature can be fully speciﬁed in wholly non-experiential,
functional terms is to deny its existence. ‘But what is this supposed thing you say we’re denying?’
Realistic Monism 55
‘They are prepared to deny the existence of experience.’ At this we should stop and
wonder. I think we should feel very sober, and a little afraid, at the power of human
credulity, the capacity of human minds to be gripped by theory, by faith. For this
particular denial is the strangest thing that has ever happened in the whole history of
human thought, not just the whole history of philosophy. It falls, unfortunately, to
philosophy, not religion, to reveal the deepest woo-woo of the human mind. I ﬁnd
this grievous, but, next to this denial, every known religious belief is only a little less
sensible than the belief that grass is green.⁷
Realistic physicalists, then, grant that experiential phenomena are real concrete
phenomena—for nothing in life is more certain—and that experiential phenomena
are therefore physical phenomena. It can sound odd at ﬁrst to use ‘physical’ to char-
acterize mental phenomena like experiential phenomena,⁸and many philosophers
who call themselves materialists or physicalists continue to use the terms of ordin-
ary everyday language, that treat the mental and the physical as opposed categories.
say the deniers. It’s the thing to which the right reply to the question ‘What is it?’ is, as ever,
the (Louis) Armstrong–Block reply ‘If you gotta ask, you ain’t never gonna get to know’ (Block
1978). It’s the thing whose deniers say that there is no non-question-begging account of, to which
the experiential realist’s correct reply is: ‘It’s question-begging for you to say that there must be an
account of it that’s non-question-begging in your terms.’ Such an exchange shows that we have
reached the end of argument, a point further illustrated by the fact that reductive idealists can make
exactly the same ‘You have no non-question-begging account’ objection to reductive physicalists
that reductive physicalists make to realists about experience: ‘By taking it for granted that the
physical is something that can (only) be speciﬁed in non-mental terms, you (reductive physicalists)
simply beg the question against reductive idealists.’ It’s striking that the realist notion of the physical
that present-day physicalists appeal to was thought to be either without warrant or unintelligible by
many of the leading philosophers of the twentieth century. Many were in effect reductive idealists
about the physical, and Quine famously compared belief in physical objects to belief in the gods of
Homer (1951: 44).
⁷Dennett has suggested that ‘there is no such thing [as] ...phenomenology’ and that any
appearance of phenomenology is, somehow, wholly the product of some cognitive faculty, the
‘judgment module’ or ‘semantic intent module’ that does not itself involve any phenomenology.
‘There seems to be phenomenology,’ he concedes, ‘but it does not follow from this undeniable,
universally attested fact that there really is phenomenology’ (1991b: 365– 6). It is unclear what
Dennett means by ‘phenomenology’, but whatever he means this move fails immediately if it is
taken as an objection to the present claim that we can be certain both that there is experience and
that we can’t be radically in error about its nature. It fails for the simple reason that for there to seem
to be rich phenomenology or experience just is for there to be such phenomenology or experience.
To say that its apparently sensory aspects (say) are in some sense illusory because they are not the
product of sensory mechanisms in the way we suppose, but are somehow generated by merely
cognitive processes, is just to put forward a surprising hypothesis about part of the mechanism of
this rich seeming that we call experience or consciousness. It is in no way to put in question its
existence or reality. Whatever the process by which the seeming arises, the end result of the process
is, as even Dennett agrees, at least this: that it seems as if one is having phenomenally rich experience
of Beethoven’s eighth quartet or an Indian wedding. And if there is this seeming, then, once again,
there just is phenomenology or experience (adapted from Strawson 1994: 51– 2).
In denying that experience can be physical, Dennett and his kind ﬁnd themselves at one with
many religious believers. This seems at ﬁrst ironic, but the two camps are deeply united by the fact
that both have unshakable faith in something that lacks any warrant in experience. That said, the
religious believers are in inﬁnitely better shape, epistemologically, than the Dennettians.
⁸For purposes of argument I make the standard assumption that while all experiential phenomena
are mental phenomena, the converse is not true.
56 Realistic Monism
It is, however, precisely physicalists (real physicalists) who cannot talk this way,
for it is, on their own view, exactly like talking about cows and animals as if they
were opposed categories. Why? Because every concrete phenomenon is physical,
according to them. So all mental (experiential) phenomena are physical phenom-
ena, according to them; just as all cows are animals. So when physicalists— real
ones—talk as if the mental (experiential) and the physical were entirely different
all they can really mean to be doing is to distinguish, within the realm of the phys-
ical, which is the only realm there is, according to them, between mental (exper-
iential) features of the physical, and non-mental (non-experiential) features of the
As a real physicalist, then, I hold that the mental/experiential is physical, and I
am happy to say, along with many other physicalists, that experience is ‘really just
neurons ﬁring’, at least in the case of biological organisms like ourselves. But when
I say these words I mean something completely different from what many physic-
alists have apparently meant by them. I certainly don’t mean that all characterist-
ics of what is going on, in the case of experience, can be described by physics and
neurophysiology or any non-revolutionary extensions of them. That idea is crazy. It
amounts to radical ‘eliminativism’ with respect to experience, and it is not a form of
real physicalism at all.⁹My claim is different. It is that experiential phenomena ‘just
are’ physical, so that there is a lot more to neurons than physics and neurophysiology
record (or can record). No one who disagrees with this is a real physicalist, in
In Essay 1 I considered some objections to the claim that the position I have just
outlined can really be called a physicalist position. I did my best to answer them and
ended concessively, allowing that one might better call the position ‘experiential-and-
non-experiential monism’ rather than ‘real physicalism’. It is, in any case, the position
of someone who (a) fully acknowledges the evident fact that there is experiential being
in reality, (b) takes it that there is also non-experiential being in reality, and (c) is
attached to the ‘monist’ idea that there is, in some fundamental sense, only one kind
of stuff in the universe.
The objectors then picked on the word ‘monist’, and I considered a further conces-
sion. You can call my position ‘experiential-and-non-experiential ?-ism’, if you like,
and opt out of the monism-dualism-pluralism oppositions of classical metaphysics.
Perhaps you can simply call it ‘?-ism’.¹⁰ But then you will have to allow that the exist-
ence of experiential being at least is certain, and is not put in question by the ‘?’—so
that it would be better to call it ‘experiential ?-ism’. And if you then want to insist,
in line with all standard conceptions of the physical, that non-experiential being also
exists, then you will also need to signal the fact that the non-experiential is not put
in question by the ‘?’. In which case you may as well go back to calling the position
⁹This follows from the fact that current physics contains no predicates for experiential
phenomena, and that no non-revolutionary extension of it (no currently conceivable extension of
it—see n3) could do so.
¹⁰ A suggestion made by Sebastian Gardner, nearly twenty years ago.
Realistic Monism 57
I persist in thinking that ‘physicalism’, ‘real physicalism’, is a good name for my
position in the current context of debate, but it’s time to admit that in my under-
standing real physicalism doesn’t even rule out panpsychism— which I take to be the
view that the existence of every real concrete thing involves experiential being, even if
it also involves non-experiential being. If this seems a little colourful then it’s time to
read Locke on substance again.¹¹
Surely I’ve pushed myself over the edge? How can I say that ‘physicalism’ is an
acceptable name for my position? Because I take ‘physical’ to be a natural-kind term
whose reference I can sufﬁciently indicate by drawing attention to tables and chairs
and—as a realistic physicalist —experiential phenomena.¹² The physical is whatever
general kind of thing we are considering when we consider things like tables and
chairs and experiential phenomena. It includes everything that concretely exists in
the universe. If everything that concretely exists is intrinsically experience-involving,
well, that is what the physical turns out to be; it is what energy (another name
for physical stuff) turns out to be. This view does not stand out as particularly
strange against the background of present-day science, and is in no way incompatible
Idon’tdeﬁne the physical as concrete reality, as concrete-reality-whatever-it-is;
obviously I can’t rule out the possibility that there could be other non-physical (and
indeed non-spatiotemporal) forms of concrete reality. I simply ﬁx the reference of the
term ‘physical’ by pointing at certain items and invoking the notion of a general kind
of stuff. It is true that there is a sense in which this makes my use of the term vacuous,
for, relative to our universe, ‘physical stuff’ is now equivalent to ‘real and concrete
stuff’, and cannot be anything to do with the term ‘physical’ that is used to mark out
a position in what is usually taken to be a substantive debate about the ultimate nature
of concrete reality (physicalism vs immaterialism vs dualism vs pluralism vs ...). But
that is ﬁne by me. If it’s back to Carnap, so be it.¹³
Have I gone too far? It seems to me that to go this far is exactly the right thing to
do at this point in the debate. It’s worth it if it helps us to get back to a proper (real-
istic) openmindedness. But anyone who prefers to call my position ‘realistic monism’
instead of ‘real physicalism’ should feel free to do so.¹⁴
2 ‘IT SEEMS RATHER SILLY ...’
This may all seem a little giddy, so I will now rein things in a little by making three
conventional substantive assumptions about the physical for purposes of argument,
¹¹ Locke 1689: 2.23 and 4.3.6.
¹² It’s striking that analytic philosophers and psychologists have talked so much about natural-
kind terms but have failed to see that ‘physical’ is a paradigmatic example of such a term in every
sense in which ‘gold’ is.
¹³ See Carnap 1950.
¹⁴ It is less certain that there is non-experiential stuff than that there is experiential stuff, and in
most ears ‘real physicalism’ signals commitment to the existence of non-experiential stuff in a way
that ‘realistic monism’ does not.
58 Realistic Monism
using the term ‘ultimate’ to denote a fundamental physical entity, an ultimate con-
stituent of reality, a particle, ﬁeld, string, brane, simple, whatever:
 there is a plurality of ultimates (whether or not there is a plurality of types of ultimates)¹⁵
 everything physical (everything physical that there is or could be) is constituted out of
ultimates of the sort we actually have in our universe
 the universe is spatiotemporal in its fundamental nature.¹⁶
I do not, however, think that I need these assumptions in order to show that some-
thing akin to panpsychism is not merely one possible form of realistic physicalism,
real physicalism, but the only possible form, and, hence, the only possible form of
physicalism tout court. Eddington is one of those who saw this clearly, and I am now
going to join forces with him and ask you to be as tolerant of his terminological loose-
nesses and oddities as I hope you will be of my appeals to intuition.¹⁷
One thing we know about physical stuff, given that (real) physicalism is true, is
that when you put it together in the way in which it is put together in brains like
ours, it regularly constitutes—is, literally is — experience like ours. Another thing
we know about it, let us grant, is everything (true) that physics tells us. But what is
this second kind of knowledge like? Well, there is a fundamental sense in which it is
‘abstract’, ‘purely formal’, merely a matter of ‘structure’, in Russell’s words.¹⁸ This is a
well established but often overlooked point.¹⁹ ‘Physics is mathematical’, Russell says,
‘not because we know so much about the physical world’—and here he means the
non-mental, non-experiential world, in my terms, because he is using ‘mental’ and
‘physical’ conventionally as opposed terms—
but because we know so little: it is only its mathematical properties that we can discover. For
the rest, our knowledge is negative .... The physical world is only known as regards certain
abstract features of its space-time structure—features which, because of their abstractness, do
not sufﬁce to show whether the physical world is, or is not, different in intrinsic character from
the world of mind.²⁰
¹⁵ I believe that cosmology raises serious doubts about (Leibnizian) . A powerful rival
(Spinozistic) view is that there is at bottom just one thing or substance, e.g. spacetime, or whatever
underlies all spacetime appearances. But  does not beg any important questions. If anything, it
¹⁶ This is in doubt in present-day physics and cosmology, for ‘rumors of spacetime’s impend-
ing departure from deep physical law are not born of zany theorizing. Instead, this idea is
strongly suggested by a number of well-reasoned considerations’ (Greene 2004: 472; see also
473–91). Note that if temporality goes, i.e. not just spacetime as we currently understand it
but temporality in any form, then experience also goes, given that experience requires time.
One of the ﬁne consequences of this is that there has never been any suffering. But no
theory of reality can be right that has the consequence that there has never been any suf-
¹⁷ I came upon Eddington’s book TheNatureofthePhysicalWorldin a holiday house in Scotland
¹⁸ 1927a: 392, 382; 1956: 153; 1927b: 125.
¹⁹ It takes time to assimilate it fully. It cannot be simply read off the page.
²⁰ 1948: 240; see also 247. Russell’s overall view is that ‘we know nothing about the intrinsic
quality of physical events except when these are mental events that we directly experience’ (1956:
153), and that ‘as regards the world in general, both physical and mental, everything that we know
Realistic Monism 59
Eddington puts it as follows. ‘Our knowledge of the nature of the objects treated in
physics consists solely of readings of pointers [on instrument dials] and other indic-
ators’. This being so, he asks, ‘what knowledge have we of the nature of atoms that
renders it at all incongruous that they should constitute a thinking object?’ Absolutely
none, he rightly replies: ‘science has nothing to say as to the intrinsic nature of the
atom’. The atom, so far as physics tells us anything about it,
is, like everything else in physics, a schedule of pointer readings [on instrument dials]. The
schedule is, we agree, attached to some unknown background. Why not then attach it to
something of a spiritual [i.e. mental] nature of which a prominent characteristic is thought
[=experience, consciousness]. It seems rather silly to prefer to attach it to something of a
so-called ‘concrete’ nature inconsistent with thought, and then to wonder where the thought
comes from. We have dismissed all preconception as to the backgroundof our pointer readings,
and for the most part can discover nothing as to its nature. But in one case—namely, for the
pointer readings of my own brain— I have an insight which is not limited to the evidence of the
pointer readings. That insight shows that they are attached to a background of consciousness
in which case
I may expect that the background of other pointer readings in physics is of a nature continuous
with that revealed to me in this way,
I do not suppose that it always has the more specialized attributes of consciousness.
What is certain is that
in regard to my one piece of insight into the background no problem of irreconcilability arises;
I have no other knowledge of the background with which to reconcile it ....There is nothing
to prevent the assemblage of atoms constituting a brain from being of itself a thinking [conscious,
experiencing]object in virtue of that nature which physics leaves undetermined and undetermin-
able. If we must embed our schedule of indicator readings in some kind of background, at least
let us accept the only hint we have received as to the signiﬁcance of the background — namely,
that it has a nature capable of manifesting itself as mental activity.²¹
This all seems intensely sensible and Occamical. Eddington’s notion of silliness is
extremely powerful. Why then—on what conceivable grounds — do so many phys-
icalists simply assume that the physical, in itself, is an essentially and wholly non-
of its intrinsic character is derived from the mental side’ (1927a: 402). See Lockwood 1981, 1989,
and Essay 1.
²¹ Eddington 1928: 258– 60; my emphasis on ‘silly’. It is remarkable that this line of thought
(so well understood by Russell, Whitehead, Eddington, Broad, Feigl, and many others, and equally,
in a number of slightly different guises, by Spinoza, Locke, Hume, Kant, Priestley, and many
others) disappeared almost completely from the philosophical mainstream in the wake of Smart’s
1959 paper ‘Sensations and brain processes’, although it was well represented by Chomsky (see e.g.
Chomsky 1968, 1995). At this point analytical philosophy acquired hyperdualist intuitions even
as it proclaimed its monism. With a few honourable exceptions it out-Descartesed Descartes (or
‘Descartes’) in its certainty that we know enough about the physical to know that the experiential
cannot be physical.
60 Realistic Monism
I write this and think ‘Do they really?’, and this rapid inner question is not rhet-
orical or aggressive, meaning ‘They must be pretty stupid if they really think, and
think they know, that physical stuff is, in itself, and through and through, an essen-
tially non-experiential phenomenon.’ It is, rather, part of a feeling that I must be
wrong. I must be doing what philosophers are famous for doing— setting up straw-
man opponents who do not really exist while erasing awareness of my real audience,
who will protest that of course they aren’t so foolish as to claim to know that physical
stuff is, in itself, in its root nature, a wholly non-experiential phenomenon.
My next thought, however, is that I am not wrong. It looks as if many—perhaps
most—of those who call themselves physicalists or materialists really are committed
to the thesis that
[NE] physical stuff is, in itself, in its fundamental nature, something wholly and utterly non-
I think they take it, for a start, that ultimates are in themselves wholly and essentially
non-experiential phenomena. And they are hardly going out on a limb in endors-
ing NE, for it seems to be accepted by the vast majority of human beings. I do not,
however, see how physicalists can leave this commitment unquestioned, if they are
remotely realistic in their physicalism, if, that is, they really do subscribe to the deﬁn-
ing thesis of real physicalism that
[RP] experience is a real concrete phenomenon and every real concrete phenomenon is
For if they are real physicalists they cannot deny that when you put physical
stuff together in the way in which it is put together in brains like ours it consti-
tutes—is—experience like ours; all by itself. All by itself: there is on their own phys-
icalist view nothing else, nothing non-physical, involved.
The puzzle, for me, is that I’m sure that some at least of those who call themselves
physicalists are realistic physicalists— real realists about experiential phenomena. And
yet they do I think subscribe to NE— even when they are prepared to admit with
Eddington that physical stuff has, in itself, ‘a nature capable of manifesting itself as
mental activity’, that is, as experience or consciousness.
Is this a possible position? Can one hold RP and NE together? I don’t think so, but
one defence goes like this:
Experiential phenomena are emergent phenomena. Consciousness properties, experience
properties, are emergent properties of wholly and utterly non-conscious, non-experiential
phenomena. Physical stuff in itself, in its basic nature, is indeed a wholly non-conscious, non-
experiential phenomenon. Nevertheless when parts of it combine in certain ways, experien-
tial phenomena ‘emerge’. Ultimates in themselves are wholly non-conscious, non-experiential
phenomena. Nevertheless, when they combine in certain ways, experiential phenomena
Realistic Monism 61
Does this conception of emergence make sense? I think that it is very, very hard to
understand what it is supposed to involve. I think that it is incoherent, in fact, and
that this general way of talking of emergence has acquired an air of plausibility (or
at least possibility) for some simply because it has been appealed to many times in
the face of a seeming mystery.²² In order to discuss it I am going to take it that any
position that combines RP with NE must invoke some notion of emergence, whether
Liquidity is often proposed as a translucent example of an emergent phenomenon,
and the facts seem straightforward. Liquidity is not a characteristic of individual H2O
molecules. Nor is it a characteristic of the ultimates of which H2O molecules are com-
posed. And yet when you put many H2O molecules together they constitute a liquid
(at certain temperatures, at least), they constitute something liquid. So liquidity is a
truly emergent property of certain groups of H2O molecules. It is not there at the
bottom of things, and then it is there.
When heat is applied evenly to the bottom of a tray ﬁlled with a thin sheet of vis-
cous oil, it transforms the smooth surface of the oil into an array of hexagonal cells
of moving ﬂuid called B´
enard convection cells.²³ This is another popular example of
an emergent phenomenon. There are many chemical and physical systems in which
patterns of this sort arise simply from the routine workings of basic physical laws, and
such patterns are called ‘emergent’.
This is all delightful and true. But can we hope to understand the alleged emer-
gence of experiential phenomena from non-experiential phenomena by reference to
such models? I don’t think so. The emergent character of liquidity relative to its non-
liquid constituents does indeed seem shiningly easy to grasp. We can easily make
intuitive sense of the idea that certain sorts of molecules are so constituted that they
don’t bind together in a tight lattice but slide past or off each other (in accordance
with van de Waals molecular interaction laws) in a way that gives rise to—is—the
phenomenon of liquidity. So too, with B´
enard convection cells we can easily make
sense of the idea that physical laws relating to surface tension, viscosity, and other
forces governing the motion of molecules give rise to hexagonal patterns on the sur-
face of a ﬂuid-like oil when it is heated. In both these cases we move in a small
set of conceptually homogeneous shape-size-mass-charge-number-position-motion-
involving physics notions with no sense of puzzlement. Using the notion of reduction
in a familiar loose way, we can say that the phenomena of liquidity reduce without
remainder to shape-size-mass-charge-etc. phenomena—I’ll call these ‘P’ phenomena
for short, and assume for now that they are, in themselves, utterly non-experiential
phenomena. We can see that the phenomenon of liquidity arises naturally out of, is
wholly dependent on, phenomena that do not in themselves involve liquidity at all.
We can with only a little work suppress our initial tendency to confuse liquidity as
it appears to sensory experience (how, we may think, could this arise from individual
²² Compare the way in which the word ‘immaterial’ comes to seem to have some positive
descriptive meaning although it quite explicitly has none. For a recent helpful taxonomy of types of
emergence, see van Gulick 2001; see also Broad 1925 and McLaughlin 1992.
²³ Velarde and Normand 1980.
62 Realistic Monism
non-liquid molecules?) with the physical phenomenon of liquidity considered just as
such, and see clearly that it is just and wholly a matter of P phenomena.
This notion of total dependence looks useful. It seems plain that there must be a
fundamental sense in which any emergent phenomenon, say Y, is wholly dependent
on that which it emerges from, say X. It seems, in fact, that this must be true by deﬁni-
tion of ‘emergent’; for if there is not this total dependence then it will not be true after
all, not true without qualiﬁcation, to say that Y is emergent from X. For in this case at
least some part or aspect of Y will have to hail from somewhere else and will therefore
not be emergent from X. Plainly this is not how it is with liquidity.²⁴
It is the dependence requirement that causes the problem when it comes to relating
the supposedly emergent phenomena of experience to the supposedly wholly non-
experiential phenomena from which they supposedly emerge. For it now seems that
if experiential phenomena—colour-experiences, for example— really are somehow
(wholly) dependent on non-experiential phenomena, as they must be if they are to be
truly emergent from them, that is, emergent from them and from them alone, then
there must (to quote myself in a former century) be
a correct way of describing things ...given which one can relate [the experiential phenomenon
of] color-experience, considered just as such, to the non-experiential phenomena on which it
is supposed to depend, in such a way that the dependenceisasintelligibleasthedependence
of the liquidity of water on the interaction properties of individual molecules. The alternative,
after all, is that there should be total dependence that is not intelligible or explicable in any
possible physics, dependence that must be unintelligible and inexplicable even to God, as it
I wouldn’t put it this way now. The notions of explicability and intelligibility are
in origin epistemological, and are potentially misleading because the present claim
is not epistemological. It is not, for example, touched by the reply that there is a sense
in which all causal dependence relations, at least, are ultimately unintelligible to us,
even those that seem most intuitively understandable. For although there is a sense
in which this is true, in as much all our explanations of concrete phenomena come
to an end in things that are simply given, contingent, not further explicable, it has
no bearing here. ‘Intelligible to God’ isn’t really an epistemological notion at all, it’s
²⁴ Here, then, I reject the commonly embraced but little examined and seemingly wholly mystical
notion of emergence that van Gulick (2001) calls ‘Radical Kind Emergence’ and deﬁnes as follows:
‘the whole has features that are both [a] different in kind from those had by the parts, and [b] of a
kind whose nature is not necessitated by the features of its parts, their mode of combination and
the law-like regularities governing the features of its parts.’ (Liquidity, in van Gulick’s scheme, is
by contrast a case of ‘Modest Kind Emergence’: it is simply that ‘the whole has features that are
different in kind from those of its parts (or alternatively that could be had by its parts). For example,
a piece of cloth might be purple in hue even though none of the molecules that make up its surface
Some hold out for mystico-magical emergence by saying that liquidity is only a resultant
phenomenon, not truly emergent, a truly emergent phenomenon being precisely one that does not
perspicuously ‘reduce’ to what it emerges from in the way that the liquid phenomena reduce to
non-liquid phenomena. Mystery, however, should be used sparingly. It should not be used to try to
solve a problem of reconcilability that turns out on close examination not to exist.
²⁵ 1994: 69.
Realistic Monism 63
just a way of expressing the idea that there must be something about the nature of the
emerged-from (and nothing else) in virtue of which the emerger emerges as it does
You can get liquidity from non-liquid molecules as easily as you can get a cricket
team from eleven things that are not cricket teams. In God’s physics, it would have
to be just as plain how you get experiential phenomena from wholly non-experiential
phenomena. But this is what boggles the human mind. We have, once again, no dif-
ﬁculty with the idea that liquid phenomena (which are wholly P phenomena) are
emergent properties of wholly non-liquid phenomena (which are wholly P phenom-
ena). But when we return to the case of experience, and look for an analogy of the
right size or momentousness, as it were, it seems that we can’t make do with things
like liquidity, where we move wholly within a completely conceptually homogeneous
(non-heterogeneous) set of notions. We need an analogy on a wholly different scale
if we are to get any imaginative grip on the supposed move from the non-experiential
to the experiential.
What might be an analogy of the right size? Suppose someone—I will call him
pseudo-Boscovich, at the risk of offending historians of science—proposes that all
ultimates, all real, concrete ultimates, are, in truth, wholly unextended entities: that
this is the truth about their being; that there is no sense in which they themselves are
extended; that they are real concrete entities, but are nonetheless true-mathematical-
point entities. And suppose pseudo-Boscovich goes on to say that when collections
of these entities stand in certain (real, concrete, natural) relations, they give rise to or
constitute truly, genuinely extended concrete entities; real, concrete extension being
in this sense an emergent property of phenomena that are, although by hypothesis real
and concrete, wholly unextended.
Well, I think this suggestion should be rejected as absurd. But the suggestion
that when non-experiential phenomena stand in certain (real, natural, concrete non-
experiential) relations they ipso facto instantiate or constitute experiential phenomena,
experience being an emergent property of wholly and utterly non-experiential phe-
nomena, seems exactly on a par. That’s why I offer unextended-to-extended emer-
gence as an analogy, a destructive analogy that proposes something impossible and
thereby challenges the possibility of the thing it is offered as an analogy for. You can
(to use the letter favoured by the German idealists when either stating or rejecting
the law of non-contradiction) get A from non-A for some substitutions for A, such as
liquidity, but not all.
—My poor friend. The idea that collections of concrete entities that are truly, genuinely
unextended can give rise to or constitute concrete entities that are truly, genuinely
extended is actually scientiﬁc orthodoxy, on one widely received view of what ulti-
mates are. It’s an excellent candidate for being an analogy of the right size.
But this won’t do. It won’t do when one is being metaphysically straight, not
metaphysically instrumentalist, or positivist, or operationalist, or phenomenalist, or
radical-empiricist, or veriﬁcationist, or neo-veriﬁcationist or otherwise anti-realist or
Protagorean (alas for the twentieth century, in which all these epistemological notions
somehow got metaphysicalized). If one is being metaphysically straight, the intuition
64 Realistic Monism
that nothing (concrete, spatiotemporal) can exist at a mathematical point, because
there just isn’t any room, is rock solid.²⁶ It may be added that anything that has, or
is well understood as, a ﬁeld, or that has any sort of attractive or repulsive being or
energy, or any area of inﬂuence or inﬂuencability, ipso facto has extension—extension
is part of its being—and that although there are plenty of ultimates that have no
charge in what physicists call ‘the standard model’, there are I believe none that are
not associated with a ﬁeld.²⁷ So if the idea of unextended-to-extended emergence is
offered as an analogy for non-experiential-to-experiential emergence, I don’t think it
I’ll take this a little further. Suppose someone proposes that there are real, concrete,
intrinsically, irreducibly and wholly non-spatial phenomena (‘wholly non-S phenom-
ena’), and that when they stand in certain wholly non-spatial relations they give rise to
or constitute real, concrete, intrinsically and irreducibly spatial phenomena, (‘S phe-
nomena’), these being emergent features of wholly non-S phenomena. Those who
claim to ﬁnd no difﬁculty in the idea that genuinely unextended concrete entities can
give rise to or constitute genuinely extended concrete entities may like to consider
this case separately, because they presumably take it that their putative mathematical-
point entities are at least spatial entities, at least in the sense of being spatially located.
My hope is that even if they think they can make sense of the emergence of the exten-
ded from the unextended, they won’t think this about the more radical case of the
emergence of the spatial from the non-spatial.
But what do I know about this? Almost nothing. With this kind of speculation ‘we
are got into fairy land’, as Hume says, or rather I am, and any impossibility claim on
my part, or indeed anyone else’s, may seem rash.²⁸ And some may now propose that
the ‘Big Bang’ is precisely a case in which S phenomena are indeed emergent features
of wholly non-S phenomena.
Don’t believe it, I say, falling back on the argumentum a visceris. S phenomena,
real, concrete, intrinsically and irreducibly spatial phenomena (bear in mind that we
are seeking an analogy for experiential phenomena that we know to be real, con-
crete, intrinsically and irreducibly experiential) can’t be emergent properties of wholly
non-S phenomena. This is a case where you can’t get A from non-A. The spatial/non-
spatial case may look like an analogy of the right size for the experiential/non-
experiential case, but all it turns up, I suggest, is impossibility. If there is any sense in
which S phenomena can be said to emerge from wholly non-S phenomena, then they
must fall back into the category of mere appearance, and they are then (by deﬁnition,
²⁶ Do not be cowed by physicists or philosophers of physics. (It seems intuitively obvious, by the
grace of mathematics, that to introduce real, concrete entities that are inﬁnitely small and therefore
metaphysically impossible into one’s theory will lead to inﬁnite largenesses popping up in protest
elsewhere in one’s equations. And so it came to pass.)
²⁷ As I understand it, every particle in the standard model feels a force, even the photon (i.e.
photon-photon forces, mediated by—virtual—pair creation/annihilation processes for the sources
of the photon). This sort of point no longer seems required, however, in string theory (M-theory or
brane theory), given that all the ultimates of M-theory have extension.
²⁸ 1748: 72. It is quite plain, in any case, that people can think (or think they think) anything.
Realistic Monism 65
see above) not S phenomena at all. Experiential phenomena, however,cannot do this.
They cannot be mere appearance, if only because all appearance depends on their
existence.²⁹ If it were to turn out that real S-phenomena can after all emerge from
wholly non-S phenomena, all that would follow would be that the spatial case did
not after all constitute an analogy of the right size. The experiential/non-experiential
divide, assuming that it exists at all, is the most fundamental divide in nature (the
only way it can fail to exist is for there to be nothing non-experiential in nature).³⁰
The claim, at least, is plain, and I’ll repeat it. If it really is true that Y is emergent
from X then it must be the case that Y is in some sense wholly dependent on X and
X alone, so that all features of Y trace intelligibly back to X (where ‘intelligible’ is
a metaphysical rather than an epistemic notion). Emergence can’t be brute. It is built
into the heart of the notion of emergence that emergence cannot be brute in the sense
of there being absolutely no reason in the nature of things why the emerging thing is
as it is (so that it is unintelligible even to God). For any feature Y of anything that is
correctly considered to be emergent from X, there must be something about X and X
alone in virtue of which Y emerges, and which is sufﬁcient for Y.
I’m prepared to allow for argument that an ultimate’s possession of its fundamental
properties could be brute in the sense of there being no reason for it in the nature of
things,solongasitisagreedthatemergence cannot be brute. One problem is that
brute emergence is by deﬁnition a miracle every time it occurs, for it is true by hypo-
thesis that in brute emergence there is absolutely nothing about X, the emerged-from,
in virtue of which Y, the emerger, emerges from it. And this means that it is also a
contradiction in terms, given the standard assumption that the emergence of Y from
X entails the ‘supervenience’ of Y on X,³¹ because it then turns out to be a strictly law-
like miracle. But a miracle is by deﬁnition a violation of a law of nature!³² If someone
says he chooses to use the word ‘emergence’ in such a way that the notion of brute
emergence is not incoherent, I will know that he is a member of the Humpty Dumpty
army and be very careful with him.
How did the notion of brute emergence ever gain currency? By one of the most
lethal processes of theory formation, or term formation, that there is. The notion of
brute emergence marks a position that seemingly has to exist if one accepts both RP
(or, more simply, the reality of experience) and NE. And since many are irredeemably
committed to both RP and NE, the notion of brute emergence comes to feel substan-
tial to them by a kind of reﬂected, holographical energy. It has to be there, given these
²⁹ See n7. One current view of the ‘Big Bang’ is that it occurred everywhere in an already existing
³⁰ The viscera are not unsophisticated organs. They can refuse the getting of A from non-A for
some substitutions for A even while they have no difﬁculty with the strangest quantum strangenesses
(see e.g. Essay 1: 38 – 9).
³¹ The supervenience thesis states that if Y is supervenient on X then whenever you have an
X-type phenomenon you must also have a Y-type phenomenon.
³² This is Hume’s deﬁnition of a miracle (I’m assuming that there is no deus ex machina). It is
often said that this deﬁnition requires an absolute, non-statistical notion of a law of nature, but this
is not so (see Mackie 1982: ch. 4).
66 Realistic Monism
unquestioned premisses, so it is felt to be real. The whole process is underwritten by
the wild radical-empiricism-inspired metaphysical irresponsibilities of the twentieth
century that still linger on (to put it mildly) today and have led many, via a gross mis-
understanding of Hume, to think that there is nothing intrinsic to a cause in virtue
I’ll say it again. For Y truly to emerge from X is for Y to arise from or out of X
or be given in or with Y given how X is. Y must arise out of or be given in X in
some essentially non-arbitrary and indeed wholly non-arbitrary way. X has to have
something—indeed everything—to do with it. That’s what emerging is (that’s how
liquidity arises out of non-liquid phenomena). It is essentially an in-virtue-of rela-
tion. It cannot be brute. Otherwise it will be intelligible to suppose that existence
can emerge from (come out of, develop out of) non-existence, or even that con-
crete phenomena can emerge from wholly abstract phenomena. Brutality rules out
nothing.³⁴ If emergence can be brute, then it is fully intelligible to suppose that non-
physical soul-stuff can arise out of physical stuff—in which case we can’t rule out
the possibility of Cartesian egos even if we are physicalists. I’m not even sure we can
rule out the possibility of a negative number emerging from the addition of certain
positive numbers. We will certainly have to view with equanimity all violations of
existing laws of (non-experiential) physics, dross turning adventitiously into gold,
particles decaying into other particles whose joint charge differs from that of the ori-
Returning to the case of experience, Occam cuts in again, with truly devastating
effect. Given the undeniable reality of experience, he says, why on earth (our current
location) commit oneself to NE? Why insist that physical stuff in itself, in its basic
nature, is essentially non-experiential, thereby taking on
[a] a commitment to something — wholly and essentially non-experiential stuff— for which
there is absolutely no evidence whatever
[b] the wholly unnecessary (and incoherent) burden of brute emergence
otherwise known as magic? That, in Eddington’s terms, is silly.
³³ Here I make the common assumption that it is legitimate to segment the world into causes
and effects. Hume’s wholly correct, strictly epistemological claim— that so far as we consider
things a priori ‘any thing may produce any thing’—came to be read as the metaphysical claim
that anything may produce anything. For a discussion of this error see e.g. Craig 1987: ch. 2 and
Essay 18 below. It is worth noting that the epistemological restriction is usually explicitly stated in
Hume’s Treatise, in spite of his youthful liking for dramatic abbreviation: ‘I have inferr’d from these
principles, that to consider the matter a priori, any thing may produce any thing, and that we shall
never discover a reason, why any object may or may not be the cause of any other, however great,
or however little the resemblance may be betwixt them’ (T247); ‘for ought we can determine by the
mere ideas, any thing may be the cause or effect of any thing’ (T249–50; my emphasis). Brute
emergence does indeed license the non-Humean, ontological version of ‘any thing may produce any
³⁴ Even if a universe could just come into existence when nothing existed, it certainly couldn’t
emerge from non-existence in the relevant sense of ‘emerge’. Ex nihilo nihil ﬁt,whateveranyone
says (Nobel Prize winners included).
Realistic Monism 67
—What about the emergence of life? A hundred years ago it seemed obvious to many
so-called ‘vitalists’ that life could not emerge from utterly lifeless matter (from P phe-
nomena), just as it seems obvious to you now that experience could not emerge from
utterly non-experiential matter (from P phenomena). Today, however, no one seriously
doubts that life emerged from matter that involved no life at all. The problem of life,
that seemed insuperable, simply dissolved. Why should it not be the same with con-
sciousness, a hundred years from now?
This very tired objection is always made in discussions of this sort, and the ﬁrst thing
to note is that one cannot draw a parallel between the perceived problem of life and
the perceived problem of experience in this way, arguing that the second problem will
dissolve just as the ﬁrst did, unless one considers life completely apart from experi-
ence. So let us call life considered completely apart from experience ‘life*’. My reply
is then brief. Life* reduces, experience doesn’t.Takeawayexperiencefromlifeandit
(life*) reduces smoothly to P phenomena. Our theory of the basic mechanisms of life
reduces to physics via chemistry. Suppose we have a machine that can duplicate any
object by a process of rapid atom-by-atom assembly, and we duplicate a child. We can
explain its life* functions in exquisite detail in the terms of current sciences of physics,
chemistry, and biology. We cannot explain its experience at all in these terms.
One of the odd things about the supposed problem of life* is that although it
was popular at the end of the nineteenth century it would not have been thought
very impressive in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The problem of exper-
ience seemed as acute then as it does today, but many found little difﬁculty in
the idea that animals including human beings were—except in so far as they had
experience—simply physical machines.³⁵ It should be added that many were quite
unmoved by the problem of life* even when it was at the height of its popularity,
but found the problem of experience as acute as their seventeenth- and eighteenth-
century predecessors and twentieth and twenty-ﬁrst century successors.³⁶
Some may insist again that they ﬁnd nothing intolerable in the idea that (spatial) S-
phenomena can be emergent properties of something wholly non-S, and they may
add that they feel the same about the experiential emerging from the wholly non-
What should one do? Encourage them, ﬁrst, to see—to allow — that if S phenom-
ena can be emergent properties of wholly non-S phenomena then the stuff emerged-
from, the non-spatial whatever-it-is, must at the very least be somehow intrinsically
suited to constituting spatial phenomena, on their view; it must be ‘proto-spatial’ in
³⁵ Many also took it that experience, too, was just a physical phenomenon, although we could
not understand how. Joseph Priestley made the point that we know nothing about the physical that
gives us reason to think that the experiential is not physical with its full force in 1777; Locke had
already made it, somewhat circumspectly, in the 1690s, as had the ‘a-posteriori physicalist’ Regius,
forty years earlier (1647: 294–5).
³⁶ See e.g. James 1890, and references there.
68 Realistic Monism
—Quite so. And exactly the same may be true of experiential phenomena. Experi-
ential phenomena can indeed emerge from wholly and utterly non-experiential phe-
nomena. This is possible because these non-experiential phenomena are intrinsically
suited to constituting experiential phenomena in certain circumstances, and are ‘proto-
experiential’ in that sense, although ultimately non-experiential in themselves.
This doesn’t escape the problem, it merely changes the terms. ‘Proto-experiential’
now means ‘intrinsically suited to constituting certain sorts of experiential phenom-
ena in certain circumstances’, and clearly—necessarily—for X to be intrinsically
suited to or for constituting Y in certain circumstances is for there to be something
about X’s nature in virtue of which Xissosuited.³⁷ If there is no such in-virtue-of-
ness, no such intrinsic suitability, then any supposed emergence is left brute, in which
case it is not emergence at all, it is magic, and everything is permitted, including, pre-
sumably, the emergence of the (ontological) concrete from the (ontological) abstract.
If on the other hand there is such intrinsic suitability, as there must be if there is to
be emergence, how can this be possessed by wholly, utterly, through-and-through
non-experiential phenomena? (This is the unargued intuition again. Bear in mind
that the intuition that the non-experiential could not emerge from the wholly exper-
iential is exactly parallel and unargued.) If you take the word ‘proto-experiential’ to
mean ‘not actually experiential, but just what is needed for experience’, then the gap
is unbridged.³⁸ If you take it to mean ‘already intrinsically (occurrently) experiential,
although very different, qualitatively, from the experience whose realizing ground we
are supposing it be’, you have conceded the fundamental point.
—You’re waving your arms around. H2O molecules are, precisely, ‘proto-liquid’, and
are at the same time, in themselves, wholly and utterly non-liquid.
To offer the liquidity analogy is to see its inadequacy. Liquidity is a P phenomenon
that reduces without remainder to other P phenomena. Analysed in terms of P prop-
erties, liquid bodies of water and H2Omoleculeshaveexactlythesamesortsof
properties, and they are made of exactly the same stuff (ultimates). This is not the
case when it comes to experiential phenomena and non-experiential phenomena, for
it is built into our starting point, set by NE, that they do not have the same sorts of
³⁷ It’s not clear what the import of the phrase ‘in certain circumstances’ is, but the circumstances
must presumably themselves be wholly non-spatial and non-experiential, and they cannot in any
case make any contribution to the spatiality or the experientiality if it is to emerge wholly and only
from the wholly non-spatial and non-experiential phenomena that are being taken to be distinct
from the circumstances in which they ﬁnd themselves.
³⁸ Compare Chalmers’s (1997) use of ‘protophenomenal’. Chalmers is a realist about experience
but he gives central place to an idea that rules out real physicalism: the idea that there could
be creatures that have no experiential properties although they are ‘perfect physical duplicates’ of
experiencing human beings. These creatures, Australian zombies, have done a lot of damage in
recent discussion, blotting out classical philosophical zombies, who are outwardly and behaviourally
indistinguishable from human beings but with unknown and possibly non-biological insides.
Chalmers holds that Australian zombies are a real possibility, but this is not something that can be
shown, if only because there is a great deal we do not know about the physical, and it is fabulously
implausible to suppose that an atom-for-atom, state-for-state duplicate of an experiencing human
being could be produced and not have experience (note that one cannot produce an atom-for-atom,
state-for-state duplicate of one of us while varying the laws of nature).
Realistic Monism 69
properties at all in this sense. The analogy is not of the right size or kind. What we
need, to put it now in terms of P properties, is, precisely, an analogy that could give
us some idea of how (natural, intrinsic, non-conventional) non-P properties could
emerge from P properties—and of how things with only P properties could be proto-
It may be said that the analogy can still help indirectly, by pointing to a version of
‘neutral monism’. The central idea of neutral monism is that there is a fundamental,
correct way of conceiving things—let us say that it involves conceiving of them in
terms of ‘Z’ properties— given which all concrete phenomena, experiential and non-
experiential, are on a par in all being equally Z phenomena. They are on a par in just
the same way as the way in which, according to NE physicalism, all concrete phenom-
ena are on a par in being P phenomena. The claim is then that if one duly conceives
all concrete phenomena as Z phenomena, thereby acknowledging their fundamental
uniformity, [i] the emergence of experiential phenomena from non-experiential phe-
nomena is as unsurprising as [ii] the emergence of liquid phenomena from non-liquid
phenomena is when one conceives things in terms of P phenomena. For both non-
experiential P phenomena and experiential phenomena are Z phenomena, so really
all we ﬁnd is the emergence of Z phenomena from Z phenomena.
This proposal, however, merely conﬁrms the current position. For what we do,
when we give a satisfactory account of how liquidity emerges from non-liquidity,
is show that there aren’t really any new properties involved at all. Carrying this
over to the experiential case, we get the claim that what happens, when experien-
tiality emerges from non-experientiality, is that there aren’t really any new prop-
erties involved at all. This, however, means that there were experiential properties
all along; which is precisely the present claim. One cannot oppose it by appeal-
ing to ‘neutral monism’ in any version that holds that really only the Z properties
are ultimately real, if this involves the view that experiential and non-experiential
properties are at bottom only appearances or seemings. Such a view is incoherent,
because experience—appearance, if you like — cannot itself be only appearance, that
is, not really real, because there must be experience for there to be appearance (see
Some may reject ‘intrinsically suited to constituting Y’ as a gloss on ‘proto-X’. In
place of ‘constituting’ they may want to substitute ‘giving rise to’ or ‘producing’, and
this may for a moment seem to open up some great new leeway for the idea of rad-
ical emergence. The idea will be that X remains in itself wholly and utterly non-
experiential, but gives rise to something wholly ontologically distinct from itself, i.e.
Y. But real physicalists can’t make this substitution. For everything real and concrete
is physical, on their view, and experiential phenomena are real and concrete, on their
³⁹ Objections to [a] standard physicalism and [b] the rejection of radical emergence sometimes
advert to the fact that conventional phenomena—phenomena essentially involving conven-
tions—may plausibly be said to arise from wholly and utterly non-conventional phenomena.
There is, however, no difﬁculty in the idea that all concretely existing conventional phenomena are
wholly physical phenomena, and the emergence of conventional phenomena from non-conventional
phenomena is easily explicable in general terms by real physicalism, which acknowledges, of course,
the existence of experiential phenomena.
70 Realistic Monism
view, and none of them will I think want to throw away the conservation principles
and say that brand new physical stuff (mass/energy) is produced or given rise to when
experiences are emergent from the non-experiential, i.e. all the time, as we and other
animals live our lives. That is magic again, and I am assured that nothing like this
happens with liquidity and B´
enard convection cells.
Quite independently of these examples, and the laws of physics, the relevant meta-
physical notion of emergence is I think essentially conservative in the sense of the
I have been trying to see what can be done for those who want to combine NE and
RP and (therefore) hold that the experiential may emerge from the wholly and utterly
non-experiential. I looked for other examples of emergence, in case they could help us
understand the possibility, at least, of such a thing, but examples like liquidity seemed
wholly inadequate, not the right size. I then looked for cases of emergence that prom-
ised to be of the right size, but they seemed to describe impossibilities and so backﬁre,
suggesting that there really could not be any such thing as radical non-experiential-to-
That is what I believe: experiential phenomena cannot be emergent from wholly
non-experiential phenomena. The intuition that drives people to dualism (and
eliminativism, and all other crazy attempts at wholesale mental-to-non-mental
reduction) is correct in holding that you can’t get experiential phenomena from
P phenomena, that is, shape-size-mass-charge-etc. phenomena, or, more carefully
now—for we can no longer assume that P phenomena as deﬁned really are wholly
non-experiential phenomena—from non-experiential features of shape-size-mass-
charge-etc. phenomena. So if experience like ours (or mouse experience, or sea snail
experience) emerges from something that is not experience like ours (or mouse exper-
ience, or sea snail experience), then that something must already be experiential in
some sense or other. It must already be somehow experiential in its essential and
fundamental nature, however primitively or strangely or (to us) incomprehensibly;
whether or not it is also non-experiential in its essential nature, as conventional phys-
Assuming, then, that there is a plurality of physical ultimates, some of them at least
must be intrinsically experiential, intrinsically experience-involving. Otherwise we’re
back at brutality, magic passage across the experiential/non-experiential divide, some-
thing that, ex hypothesi, not even God can understand, something for which there is
no reason at all as a matter of ultimate metaphysical fact, something that is, therefore,
objectively a matter of pure chance every time it occurs, although it is at the same time
⁴⁰ Note again that this is not a version of the merely epistemological point that all concrete
connection (e.g. causal connection) is ultimately unintelligible to us (ultimately ‘epistemologically
brute’ for us).
Realistic Monism 71
I conclude that real physicalists must give up NE.⁴¹ Real physicalists must accept
that at least some ultimates are intrinsically experience-involving.⁴² They must at least
embrace micropsychism. Given that everything concrete is physical, and that every-
thing physical is constituted out of physical ultimates, and that experience is part of
concrete reality, it seems the only reasonable position, more than just an ‘inference
to the best explanation’. Which is not to say that it is easy to accept in the current
Micropsychism is not yet panpsychism, for as things stand realistic physicalists can
conjecture that only some types of ultimates are intrinsically experiential.⁴³ But they
must allow that panpsychism may be true, and the big step has already been taken
with micropsychism, the admission that at least some ultimates must be experien-
tial. ‘And were the inmost essence of things laid open to us’⁴⁴ I think that the idea
that some but not all physical ultimates are experiential might look like the idea that
some but not all physical ultimates are spatiotemporal (on the assumption that space-
time is indeed a fundamental feature of reality). I would bet a lot against there being
such radical heterogeneity at the very bottom of things. In fact (to disagree with my
earlier self) it is hard to see why this view would not count as a form of dualism.⁴⁵ So
I’m going to assume, for the rest of this paper at least, that micropsychism is panpsy-
So now I can say that physicalism, that is, real physicalism, entails panexperiential-
ism or panpsychism. It entails panpsychism given the impossibility of ‘radical’ emer-
gence. All physical stuff is energy, in one form or another, and all energy, I trow, is
an experience-involving phenomenon. This sounded crazy to me for a long time, but
I am quite used to it, now that I know that there is no alternative short of ‘substance
dualism’, a view for which (as Arnauld saw) there has never been any good argument.
Real physicalism, realistic physicalism, entails panpsychism, and whatever problems
are raised by this fact are problems a real physicalist must face.
They seem very large, these problems (so long as we hold on to the view that there
is indeed non-experiential reality). To begin with, ‘experience is impossible without
an experiencer’, a subject of experience.⁴⁶ So we have, with Leibniz, and right at the
start, a rather large number of subjects of experience on our hands — if, that is, there
are as many ultimates as we ordinarily suppose. I believe that this is not, in fact, a
serious problem, however many ultimates there are,⁴⁷ but we will also need to apply
⁴¹ Part of being realistic, evidently, is that one does not treat experience as objectively miraculous
every time it occurs.
⁴² The most ingenious attempt to get round this that I know of is Broad’s— see Broad 1925:
ch. 14 and McLaughlin 1992— but it does not, in the end, work.
⁴³ They may for example propose (after assuming that the notion of charge has application to
ultimates) that only those with electric charge are intrinsically experiential.
⁴⁴ Echoing Philo, who speaks for Hume in his Dialogues: ‘And were the inmost essence of things
laid open to us, we should then discover a scene, of which, at present, we can have no idea. Instead
of admiring the order of natural beings, we should clearly see, that it was absolutely impossible for
them, in the smallest article, ever to admit of any other disposition’ (1779: 174 –5).
⁴⁵ 1994: 77.
⁴⁶ Frege 1918: 27. No sensible Buddhist rejects such a claim, properly understood.
⁴⁷ For reasons I lay out in Strawson 2003b.
72 Realistic Monism
our minds to the question whether the class of subjects of experience contains only
ultimates, on the one hand, and things like ourselves and other whole animals, on the
other hand, or whether there are other subjects in between, such as living cells. Pan-
psychism certainly does not require one to hold the view that things like stones and
tables are subjects of experience— this receives no support from the current line of
thought—but we will need to address James’s objection to the idea that many sub-
jects of experience can somehow constitute a single ‘larger’ subject of experience.⁴⁸ In
general, we will have to wonder how macroexperientiality arises from microexperien-
tiality, where by microexperientiality I mean the experientiality of ultimates relative
to which all evolved experientiality is macroexperientiality.⁴⁹
We also have to wonder how the solution to the ‘problem of mental causation’
is going to drop out of all this. We know, though, that different arrangements of
a few types of fundamental ultimates give rise to entities (everything in the uni-
verse) whose non-experiential properties seem remarkably different from the non-
experiential properties of those fundamental ultimates, and we have no good reason
not to expect the same to hold true on the experiential side. It may be added that there
is no more difﬁculty in the idea that the experiential quality of microexperientiality is
unimaginable by us than there is in the idea that there may exist sensory modalities
(qualitatively) unimaginable by us.
It is at this point, when we consider the difference between macroexperiential and
microexperiential phenomena, that the notion of emergence begins to recover some
respectability in its application to the case of experience. For it seems that we can now
embrace the analogy with liquidity after all, whose pedagogic value previously seemed
to lie precisely in its inadequacy. For we can take it that human or sea snail experienti-
ality emerges from experientiality that is not of the human or sea snail type, just as the
shape-size-mass-charge-etc. phenomenon of liquidity emerges from shape-size-mass-
charge-etc. phenomena that do not involve liquidity. Human experience or sea snail
⁴⁸ James 1890: vol. 1, ch. 6. The following ﬁne passage precedes his statement of the objection:
‘We need to try every possible mode of conceiving the dawn of consciousness so that it may not
appear equivalent to the irruption into the universe of a new nature, non-existent until then. Merely
to call the consciousness ‘nascent’ will not serve our turn. It is true that the word signiﬁes not yet
quite born, and so seems to form a sort of bridge between existence and nonentity. But that is a
verbal quibble. The fact is that discontinuity comes in if a new nature comes in at all. The quantity
of the latter is quite immaterial. The girl in ‘Midshipman Easy’ could not excuse the illegitimacy of
her child by saying, ‘it was a very small one’. And Consciousness, however small, is an illegitimate
birth in any philosophy that starts without it, and yet professes to explain all facts by continuous
evolution. If evolution is to work smoothly, consciousness in some shape must have been present at
the very origin of things. Accordingly we ﬁnd that the more clear-sighted evolutionary philosophers
are beginning to posit it there. Each atom of the nebula, they suppose, must have had an aboriginal
atom of consciousness linked with it; and, just as the material atoms have formed bodies and brains
by massing themselves together, so the mental atoms, by an analogous process of aggregation, have
fused into those larger consciousnesses which we know in ourselves and suppose to exist in our
fellow-animals’ (1890: 1.148–9).
⁴⁹ As Nick White reminded me, we certainly don’t have to suppose that microexperientiality
is somehow weak or thin or blurry (this is perhaps how some people imagine the most primitive
Leibnizian monads). It can be as vivid as an experience of bright red or an electric shock (both of
which are ‘confused’ and ‘indistinct’ in Leibniz’s terms). Compare Rosenberg 2005: ch. 5.
Realistic Monism 73
experience (if any) is an emergent property of structures of ultimates whose individual
experientiality no more resembles human or sea snail experientiality than an electron
resembles a molecule, a neuron, a brain, or a human being. Once upon a time there
was relatively unorganized matter, with both experiential and non-experiential funda-
mental features. It organized into increasingly complex forms, both experiential and
non-experiential, by many processes including evolution by natural selection. And
just as there was spectacular enlargement and ﬁne-tuning of non-experiential forms
(the bodies of living things), so too there was spectacular enlargement and ﬁne-tuning
of experiential forms.⁵⁰
This is not to advance our detailed understanding in any way. Nor is it to say that
we can ever hope to achieve, in the experiential case, the sort of feeling of understand-
ing that we achieve in the liquid case.⁵¹ The present proposal is made at a very high
level of generality (which is not a virtue); it merely recommends a general framework
of thought in which there need be no more sense of a radically unintelligible trans-
ition in the case of experientiality than there is in the case of liquidity. It has nothing
to offer to scientiﬁc test.
One can I think do further work on this general framework, by working on one’s
general metaphysics. The object/process/property/state/event cluster of distinctions
is unexceptionable in everyday life but it is hopelessly superﬁcial from the point of
view of science and metaphysics, and one needs to acquire a vivid sense that this is so.
One needs a vivid sense of the respect in which (given the spatiotemporal framework)
every object is a process; one needs to abandon the idea that there is any sharp or
categorial distinction between an object and its propertiedness.⁵² One needs to grasp
fully the point that ‘property dualism’, applied to intrinsic, non-relational properties,
is strictly incoherent (or just a way of saying that there are two very different kinds
of properties) in so far as it purports to be genuinely distinct from substance dual-
ism, because there is nothing more to a thing’s being than its intrinsic, non-relational
We are as inescapably committed to the discursive, subject-predicate form of exper-
ience as we are to the spatiotemporal form of experience, but the principal and unmis-
takable lesson of the endlessness of the debate about the relation between objects and
their propertiedness is that discursive thought is not adequate to the nature of reality:
we can see that it doesn’t get things right although we can’t help persisting with it.
There is in the nature of the case a limited amount that we can do with such insights,
for they are, precisely, insights into how our understanding falls short of reality, but
their general lesson—that the nature of reality is in fundamental respects beyond dis-
cursive grasp—needs always to be borne in mind.
⁵⁰ The heart of experience, perhaps, is electromagnetism in some or all its forms; electromag-
netism being just one expression of some single force whose being is intrinsically experiential,
whatever else it is or is not. (I do not, unfortunately, foresee any kind of scientiﬁc research pro-
⁵¹ Feelings of understanding are just that; they are essentially subjective things with no metaphys-
⁵² See e.g. Essay 6: following Nagarjuna, Nietzsche, James, Ramsey, and many others.
74 Realistic Monism
I have argued that there are limits on how different X and Y can be (can be
intelligibly supposed to be) if it is true that Y emerges from X. You can get A from
non-A for some substitutions for A but not all. The extended, I have proposed, can’t
emerge from the intrinsically wholly non-extended (except on pain of being a mere
appearance and so not really real). The spatial can’t emerge from the intrinsically
wholly non-spatial (except on the same pain). The experiential can’t emerge from
the intrinsically wholly non-experiential, and it doesn’t have the option of being a
mere appearance. You can make chalk from cheese, or water from wine, because if
you go down to the subatomic level they are both the same stuff, but you can’t make
experience from something wholly non-experiential. You might as well suppose—to
say it once again—that the (ontologically) concrete can emerge from the (ontologic-
ally) abstract.⁵³ I admit I have nothing more to say if you question this ‘can’t’, but I
have some extremely powerful indirect support from Occam’s razor and Eddington’s
notion of silliness.
I ﬁnish up, indeed, in the same position as Eddington. ‘To put the conclusion
crudely’, he says, ‘the stuff of the world is mind-stuff’— something whose nature is
‘not altogether foreign to the feelings in our consciousness’. ‘Having granted this’, he
the mental activity of the part of the world constituting ourselves occasions no surprise;itis
known to us by direct self-knowledge, and we do not explain it away as something other than
we know it to be—or, rather, it knows itself to be. It is the physical aspects [i.e. non-mental
aspects] of the world that we have to explain.⁵⁴
Something along these general panpsychist— or at least micropsychist —lines seems
to me to be the most parsimonious, plausible and indeed ‘hard-nosed’ position that
any physicalist who is remotely realistic about the nature of reality can take up in the
present state of our knowledge.⁵⁵
⁵³ Objection: the comparison is false because the experiential and the non-experiential are two
categories within the concrete. Reply: the concrete and the abstract are two categories within the
⁵⁴ 1928: 276– 7. ‘Mind-stuff’ is William James’s term: ‘The theory of ‘‘mind-stuff ’’ is the theory
that our mental states ...are composite in structure, made up of smaller [mental] states conjoined.
This hypothesis has outward advantages which make it almost irresistibly attractive to the intellect,
and yet it is inwardly quite unintelligible’ (1890: 1.145).
⁵⁵ I am grateful to participants in the 2002 University of London one-day conference on con-
sciousness, and, since then, to audiences at the University of Reading, Copenhagen University,
University of California at Irvine, Trinity College Dublin, and Columbia University, including in
particular Nick White, Alva No¨
e, Bill Lyons and David Albert. I am especially grateful to mem-
bers of the 2002 Konstanz Workshop on ‘Real materialism’ for their constructive scepticism. ( This
paper ﬁrst appeared in the Journal of Consciousness Studies 13, 2006, with replies by Carruthers
and Schecter, Coleman, Goff, Jackson, Lycan, Macpherson, McGinn, Papineau, Rey, Rosenthal,
Seager, Simons, Skrbina, Smart, Stapp, Stoljar, and C. Wilson, and a reply to the replies.)
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