Materialism is often associated with the methodological principle of reductionism, according to which the objects or phenomena individuated at one level of description, if they are genuine, must be explicable in terms of the objects or phenomena at some other level of description -- typically, a more general level than the reduced one. Non-reductive materialism explicitly rejects this notion, however, taking the material constitution of all particulars to be consistent with the existence of real objects, properties, or phenomena not explicable in the terms canonically used for the basic material constituents. Jerry Fodor influentially argues this view, according to which empirical laws and explanations in "special sciences" like psychology or geology are invisible from the perspective of basic physics. A vigorous literature has grown up around the relation between these views.
Modern philosophical materialists extend the definition of matter to include other scientifically observable entities such as energy, forces, and the curvature of space. However philosophers such as Mary Midgley suggest that the concept of "matter" is elusive and poorly defined.
Materialism typically contrasts with dualism, phenomenalism, idealism, vitalism and dual-aspect monism. Its materiality can in some ways be linked to the concept of Determinism, as espoused by Enlightenment thinkers.
Materialism has been criticised by religious thinkers opposed to it, who regard it as a spiritually empty philosophy. Marxism also uses materialism to refer to a "materialist conception of history", which is not concerned with metaphysics but centers on the roughly empirical world of human activity (practice, including labor) and the institutions created, reproduced, or destroyed by that activity (see materialist conception of history).
In Ancient Indian philosophy, materialism developed around 600 BCE with the works of Ajita Kesakambali, Payasi, Kanada, and the proponents of the Cārvāka school of philosophy. Kanada was one of the early proponents of atomism. The Nyaya-Vaisesika school (600 BCE - 100 BCE) developed one of the earliest forms of atomism. The tradition was carried forward by Buddhist atomism and the Jaina school.
Ancient Greek philosophers like Thales, Parmenides, Anaxagoras, Democritus, Epicurus, and even Aristotle prefigure later materialists. The poem De Rerum Natura by Lucretius recounts the mechanistic philosophy of Democritus and Epicurus. According to this view, all that exists is matter and void, and all phenomena are the result of different motions and conglomerations of base material particles called "atoms." De Rerum Natura provides mechanistic explanations for phenomena, like erosion, evaporation, wind, and sound, that would not become accepted for more than 1500 years. Famous principles like "nothing can come from nothing" and "nothing can touch body but body" first appeared in the works of Lucretius.
In early 12th-century al-Andalus, the Arabian philosopher, Ibn Tufail (Abubacer), wrote discussions on materialism in his philosophical novel, Hayy ibn Yaqdhan (Philosophus Autodidactus), while vaguely foreshadowing the idea of a historical materialism.
Schopenhauer wrote that "...materialism is the philosophy of the subject who forgets to take account of himself." (The World as Will and Representation, II, Ch. 1). He claimed that an observing subject can only know material objects through the mediation of the brain and its particular organization. The way that the brain knows determines the way that material objects are experienced. "Everything objective, extended, active, and hence everything material, is regarded by materialism as so solid a basis for its explanations that a reduction to this (especially if it should ultimately result in thrust and counter-thrust) can leave nothing to be desired. But all this is something that is given only very indirectly and conditionally, and is therefore only relatively present, for it has passed through the machinery and fabrication of the brain, and hence has entered the forms of time, space, and causality, by virtue of which it is first of all presented as extended in space and operating in time." (ibid., I, §7)
In recent years, Paul and Patricia Churchland have advocated a more extreme position, eliminativist materialism, which holds that mental phenomena simply do not exist at all -- that talk of the mental reflects a totally spurious "folk psychology" that simply has no basis in fact, something like the way that folk science speaks of demon-caused illness.
The nature and definition of matter have been subject to much debate, as have other key concepts in science and philosophy. Is there a single kind of matter which everything is made of (hyle), or multiple kinds? Is matter a continuous substance capable of expressing multiple forms (hylomorphism), or a number of discrete, unchanging constituents (atomism)? Does it have intrinsic properties (substance theory), or is it lacking them (prima materia)?
Without question science has made unexpected discoveries about matter. Some paraphrase departures from traditional or common-sense concepts of matter as "disproving the existence of matter". However, most physical scientists take the view that the concept of matter has merely changed, rather than being eliminated.
One challenge to the traditional concept of matter as tangible "stuff" is the rise of field physics in the 19th century. However the conclusion that materialism is false may be premature. Relativity shows that matter and energy (including the spatially distributed energy of fields) are interchangeable. This enables the ontological view that energy is prima materia and matter is one of its forms. On the other hand, quantum field theory models fields as exchanges of particles — photons for electromagnetic fields and so on. On this view it could be said that fields are "really matter".
All known solid, liquid, and gaseous substances are composed of protons, neutrons and electrons. All three are fermions or spin-half particles, whereas the particles that mediate fields in quantum field theory are bosons. Thus matter can be said to divide into a more tangible fermionic kind and a less tangible bosonic kind. However it is now known that less than 5% of the physical composition of the universe is made up of such "matter", and the majority of the universe is composed of Dark Matter and Dark Energy - with no agreement amongst scientists about what these are made of. This obviously refutes the traditional materialism that held that the only things that exist are things composed of the kind of matter with which we are broadly familiar ("traditional matter") - which was anyway under great strain as noted above from Relativity and quantum field theory. But if the definition of "matter" is extended to "anything whose existence can be inferred from the observed behaviour of traditional matter" then there is no reason in principle why entities whose existence materialists normally deny should not be considered as "matter
Some philosophers feel that these dichotomies necessitate a switch from materialism to physicalism. Others use materialism and physicalism interchangeably.
Theologian-philosopher Alvin Plantinga criticises it, and Theologian-philosopher Keith Ward suggests that materialism is rare amongst contemporary UK philosophers: "Looking around my philosopher colleagues in Britain, virtually all of whom I know at least from their published work, I would say that very few of them are materialists..
In most of Hinduism, Buddhism, & Transcendentalism, all matter is believed to be an illusion called Maya, blinding us from knowing the truth. Maya is the limited, purely physical and mental reality in which our everyday consciousness has become entangled. Maya gets destroyed for a person when they perceive Brahma with transcendental knowledge.
Kant argued against all three of materialism, normal idealism (which he contrasts with his "transcendental idealism) and dualism. However, Kant also argues that change and time require an enduring substrate., and does so in connection with his Refutation of Idealism
Philosopher Mary Midgley, among others , argues that materialism is a self-refuting idea, at least in its eliminative form. While some critics hold that matter is an ill-defined concept, it is not clear that substitutes, such as Spirit, or Hegelian Geist fare any better.
Bundle Theory. It can be argued that it is the properties of material bodies, such as size and shape, which are perceived, and not the material substrate itself. Locke said we "know not what" the basic substance is.As Berkeley wrote "I acknowledge it is possible we might perceive all things just as we do now, though there was no Matter in the world; neither can I conceive, if there be Matter, how it should produce any idea in our minds". If mind-independent properties (properly speaking property-instances or tropes) are held to exist in association with each other but without a material substrate, bundle theory results. If bundle theory is shown to be illogical or inconceivable, the existence of a substrate is thereby demonstrated conceptually, despite the unpercievability of matter per se.
Idealism. An argument for idealism, such as those of Hegel and Berkeley is ipso facto an argument against materialism. Matter can be argued to be redundant, as in bundle theory, and mind-independent properties can in turn be reduced to subjective percepts.
Dualism. If matter is seen as necessary to explain the physical world, but incapable of explaining mind, dualism results.
Emergence, Holism and Process philosophy are some of the approaches that seek to ameliorate the perceived shortcomings of traditional (especially mechanistic) materialism without abandoning materialism entirely.
Some critics object to materialism as part of an overly skeptical, narrow or reductivist approach to theorizing, rather than to the ontological claim that matter is the only substance. Particle physicist and theologian John Polkinghorne objects to what he calls promissory materialism — claims that materialistic science will eventually be able to explain phenomena it has not so far been able to explain. He prefers dual-aspect monism to materialism.
The psychologist Imants Barušs suggests that "materialists tend to indiscriminately apply a 'pebbles in a box' schema to explanations of reality even though such a schema is known to be incorrect in general for physical phenomena. Thus, materialism cannot explain matter, let alone anomalous phenomena or subjective experience , but remains entrenched in academia largely for political reasons. (Compare with Charles Fort)
Science has provided substantial evidence against the existence of a physical flow of time (see special relativity). However, humans possess a subjective sense of the flow of time. Critics of materialism could argue that it's impossible for a subjective sense of time to arise from something that doesn't flow in time, that is if they were to ignore the Second law of thermodynamics.