Review of Perry's Knowledge, Possibility, and Consciousness [Book Review]

Psyche 10 (2004)
John Perry’s Knowledge, Possibility, and Consciousness is based on the Jean Nicod Lectures, which he gave in Paris in 1999. The main goal of this book is to defend what he calls ‘antecedent physicalism’ from various common objections to physicalism. The book is organised as follows. In Chapter 1 Perry reviews a number of antiphysicalist arguments, which have been intensively discussed in the last few years among philosophers of mind. In Chapters 2 and 3 he formulates antecedent physicalism. Unlike eliminativism, antecedent physicalism grants the subjective character of phenomenal experiences. It then tries to construct the best possible account of them on the assumption that they are physical (p. 27). However, according to Perry, it is a mistake to think that the antecedent physicalist is ‘a complete dogmatist for whom physicalism is a religious principle’. The antecedent physicalist is rather one ‘who is committed to physicalism in the sense that she or he sees some compelling reasons for it and will not give it up without seeing some clear reason to do so’ (p. 27). In the rest of the book Perry attempts to show how his antecedent physicalism can block existing antiphysicalist arguments. In PSYCHE: Chapter 4 he discusses the zombie argument, according to which physicalism is false because the existence of a zombie—someone physically identical to a human being but lacking conscious experience altogether—is a logical possibility. In Chapters 5, 6 and 7 Perry discusses the knowledge argument, according to which physicalism is false because there could be a scientist—call her Mary—who knows all the physical facts but does not know what it is like to see colour. In Chapter 8 Perry discusses the modal argument, according to which physicalism, the identity theory in particular, is false because psychophysical identity statements such as ‘pain=c-fibre stimulation’ cannot be true, even if we regard them as necessary and a posteriori..
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