Why “no ghost, no machine”?

A very common metaphysical view of human beings is that we are part ghost and part machine.   And I mean “metaphysical” in both main senses of the word:  the part of philosophy that is about the fundamental kinds of things that exist and how they relate to each other, and also the “spooky irrational beliefs” sense of “metaphysical”.  The ghost is supposed to be immaterial, spiritual, invisible and intangible.  The machine is supposed to be, well, a machine.  I don’t believe in the ghost or the machine.

The best answer to the ghost+machine metaphysic that I’ve ever seen is Bakunin’s, which I’ll quote at length:

Idealists of all schools, aristocrats and bourgeois, theologians and physicians, politicians and moralists, religionists, philosophers, or poets, not forgetting the liberal economists – unbounded worshippers of the ideal, as we know – are much offended when told that man, with his magnificent intelligence, his sublime ideas, and his boundless aspirations, is, like all else existing in the world, nothing but matter, only a product of vile matter.

We may answer that the matter of which materialists speak, matter spontaneously and eternally mobile, active, productive, matter chemically or organically determined and manifested by the properties or forces, mechanical, physical, animal, and intelligent, which necessarily belong to it – that this matter has nothing in common with the vile matter of the idealists. The latter, a product of their false abstraction, is indeed a stupid, inanimate, immobile thing, incapable of giving birth to the smallest product, a caput mortuum, an ugly fancy in contrast to the beautiful fancy which they call God; as the opposite of this supreme being, matter, their matter, stripped by that constitutes its real nature, necessarily represents supreme nothingness.

–Mikhail Bakunin, God and the State


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