Another path to immaterialism
It was the actress Madonna who came to mind when I recently reread Peter van Inwagen metaphysical tome Material Beings. If Peter is right then Madonna is real and the Toshiba computer I am typing this on is not. I have to agree. This is so because we can tell a computer to get a life, but we cannot tell that to Madonna or to most other persons. Having a life is the only guarantor of ontological substantiality, on this thesis. Let us see if I can do justice to this seemingly far-fetched thesis.
The point is that the Toshiba is an abstraction in a way that Madonna or any other living organism is not. She has an internal cohesion that the Toshiba does not. I can completely describe my Toshiba without ever actually identifying it, and in fact it has no innate identity. The same holds even for Mt. Everest.
But is this ontology or just semantics? Is there truly a difference? How can a microbe be more real than a mountain? In my personalistic form of immaterialism I would have to ascribe an ontological priority to humans and to other spirits. Microbes and mountains are near the bottom of the ladder.
In western philosophy we have made at least two critical misidentifications. We have misidentified substance with matter and matter with reality. This was partly the fault of our early theories of physics. The more recent theories of physics go some way toward undermining these naïve identifications.
In a relational world, to exist is to relate, and there is nothing more relationally coherent than a human life. My Toshiba suffers from an excessive externality of its relations in a way that Madonna definitely does not. The Toshiba is rendered insubstantial by its vulnerability to real and abstract dissection.
There is an implied prejudice here against some unforeseeable future form of computer life. The lively discussions over the nature of consciousness are currently examining the validity of this prejudice.