David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 62 (2):393-416 (2011)
Physicalism is the claim that that there is nothing in the world but the physical. Philosophers who defend physicalism have to confront a well-known dilemma, known as Hempel’s dilemma, concerning the definition of ‘the physical’: if ‘the physical’ is whatever current physics says there is, then physicalism is most probably false; but if ‘the physical’ is whatever the true theory of physics would say that there is, we have that physicalism is vacuous and runs the risk of becoming trivial. This article has two parts. The first, negative, part is devoted to developing a criticism of the so-called via negativa response to Hempel’s dilemma. In the second, more substantial, part, I propose to take the first horn of Hempel’s dilemma. However, I argue for a broad construal of ‘current physics’ and characterize ‘the physical’ accordingly. The virtues of the broad characterization of ‘the physical’ are: first, it makes physicalism less likely to be false; and second, it ties our understanding of ‘the physical’ to the reasons we have for believing in physicalism. That is, it fulfills the desideratum of construing our theses according to the reasons we have to believe in them
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