The Knowledge Argument

Dissertation, University of Stirling (2004)
Frank Jackson’s knowledge argument is a very influential piece of reasoning that seeks to show that colour experiences constitute an insoluble problem for science. This argument is based on a thought experiment concerning Mary. She is a vision scientist who has complete scientific knowledge of colours and colour vision but has never had colour experiences. According to Jackson, upon seeing coloured objects, Mary acquires new knowledge that escapes her complete scientific knowledge. He concludes that there are facts concerning colour experiences that scientific knowledge can neither describe nor explain. Specifically, these facts involve the occurrence of certain non-physical properties of experiences that he calls qualia. The present research considers whether a plausible formulation of the hypothesis that science can accommodate colour experiences is threatened by a version of the knowledge argument. The specific formulation of this problem has two motivations. Firstly, before investigating whether the knowledge argument raises a problem for the claim that science can account for colour experiences, we need a plausible formulation of this claim. I argue that the idea that science can accommodate colour experiences can be formulated as the modest reductionism hypothesis. Roughly speaking, this is the hypothesis that a science that can be explanatory interfaced with current physics of ordinary matter can account for conscious experiences. Secondly, an unintelligible premise figures in Jackson’s version the knowledge argument. Namely, it is assumed that Mary possesses a complete scientific knowledge. Nevertheless, the type of strategy involved in Jackson’s argument can be used to target modest reductionism. By considering contemporary psychophysics and neuroscience, I characterise Mary’s scientific knowledge. First, this characterisation is intelligible. In fact, it is elaborated on the basis of descriptions and explanations of colour experiences involved in current physics and neuroscience. Second, a supporter of modest reductionism can assume that the scientific knowledge ascribed to Mary might account for colour experiences. The main conclusion of the present research is that our version of the knowledge argument fails to threaten the modest reductionism hypothesis. In fact, I endorse what can be called the “two ways of thinking” reply to the knowledge argument. According to this response, the knowledge argument shows that there are different ways of thinking about colour experiences. One way of thinking is provided by scientific knowledge. The other way of thinking is provided by our ordinary conception of colour experiences. However, the existence of these two ways of thinking does not imply the existence of facts and properties that escape scientific knowledge. It might be the case that the ordinary way of thinking about colour experience concerns facts and properties described and explained by science. The principal conclusion of the research results from two investigations. The first line of research aims to reveal and evaluate the implicit assumptions that figure in the knowledge argument. The main body of the research is dedicated to this task. The principal result of this investigation is that the knowledge argument must rely on an account of introspective knowledge of colour experiences. I argue that an inferential model of introspection provides such account. On this model, Mary’s capacity to hold beliefs about her colour experiences when she sees coloured objects requires her mastery of colour concepts. The second main investigation seeks to justify the two ways of thinking strategy. As many opponents and supporters have recently started to realise, this strategy might be charged with being ad hoc. I offer a distinctive justification of this reply to the knowledge argument. Assuming the account of introspection mentioned above, the existence of visual recognitional colour concepts might justify this strategy. A person possesses these concepts when she is able to determine the colours of objects simply by having visual experiences
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