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Summary Absent qualia arguments seek to refute physicalism or functionalism about qualia by showing that, even when all the relevant physical (or functional) facts are fixed, qualia can still be absent, and hence that the phenomenal is not fixed by the physical (/functional). The basic intution is that the wholly causal, structural  and relational resources of physics and functionalism are incapable, in principle, of capturing the intrinsic qualitative character of mental states like tasting coffee, seeing yellow or suffering a toothache. This inituition is often supported, in arguments against functionalism, by constructing cases where a functionalist account of the mind is implemented in a non-standard way, such as by the population of China connected together by two-way radios.
Key works Block 1978 introduced the 'Blockhead' argument against functionalism (and see also Block & Fodor 1972). This argument is responded to in Dennett 1978, van Gulick 1989, Lycan 1987, Shoemaker 1994, Tye 2006. The 'zombie argument' against physicalism (Chalmers 1996) is often thought of as a variant of the absent qualia argument, and the 'Chinese Room' argument (Searle 1980) is closely related, although targeted at intentional rather than phenomenal aspects of mind.
Introductions Block 1978; Block 1980Shoemaker 1975Chalmers 1995
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  1. Functionalism, the Absent Qualia Objection, and Eliminativism.Edward W. Averill - 1990 - Southern Journal of Philosophy 28 (4):449-67.
  2. Visual Information Processing and Phenomenal Consciousness.Ansgar Beckermann - 1995 - In Thomas Metzinger (ed.), Conscious Experience. Ferdinand Schoningh.
    As far as an adequate understanding of phenomenal consciousness is concerned, representationalist theories of mind which are modelled on the information processing paradigm, are, as much as corresponding neurobiological or functionalist theories, confronted with a series of arguments based on inverted or absent qualia considerations. These considerations display the following pattern: assuming we had complete knowledge about the neural and functional states which subserve the occurrence of phenomenal consciousness, would it not still be conceivable that these neural states (or states (...)
  3. Are Absent Qualia Impossible?Ned Block - 1980 - Philosophical Review 89 (2):257-74.
  4. Troubles with Functionalism.Ned Block - 1978 - Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science 9:261-325.
    The functionalist view of the nature of the mind is now widely accepted. Like behaviorism and physicalism, functionalism seeks to answer the question "What are mental states?" I shall be concerned with identity thesis formulations of functionalism. They say, for example, that pain is a functional state, just as identity thesis formulations of physicalism say that pain is a physical state.
  5. What Psychological States Are Not.Ned Block & Jerry A. Fodor - 1972 - Philosophical Review 81 (April):159-81.
  6. Agony in the Schools.J. Bogen - 1981 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy 11 (March):1-21.
  7. Qualia and Analytical Conditionals.David Braddon-Mitchell - 2003 - Journal of Philosophy 100 (3):111-135.
  8. Phenomenal Consciousness Disembodied.Wesley Buckwalter & Mark Phelan - 2014 - In Justin Sytsma (ed.), Advances in Experimental Philosophy of Mind. Bloomsbury Academic. pp. 45-74.
    We evaluate the role of embodiment in ordinary mental state ascriptions. Presented are five experiments on phenomenal state ascriptions to disembodied entities such as ghosts and spirits. Results suggest that biological embodiment is not a central principle of folk psychology guiding ascriptions of phenomenal consciousness. By contrast, results continue to support the important role of functional considerations in theory of mind judgments.
  9. Philosophy of Mind.Stephen Burwood - 1999 - Mcgill-Queen's University Press.
    Machine generated contents note: 1 The Cartesian legacy -- The dominant paradigm -- Cartesian dualism -- The secret life of the body -- The Cartesian theatre -- The domain of reason -- The causal relevance of the mind -- Conclusion -- Further reading --2 Reductionism and the road to functionalism -- Causation, scientific realism, and physicalism -- Reductionism and central state materialism -- Problems with central state materialism -- Modified ontological physicalism: supervenience -- Modified explanatory physicalism: the disunity of -- (...)
  10. The Population of China as One Mind.Lawrence Richard Carleton - 1983 - Philosophy Research Archives 9:665-74.
    A chronic difficulty for functionalism is the problem of instantiations of a functionalist theory of mind which seem to lack some or all of the mental states--especially qualitative--we want to attribute to minds the theory describes. Here I discuss one such counterexample, Block’s system S, consisting of the population of China organized to simulate a single mind as described by some true, adequate, psychofunctionalist theory. I then defend a version of functionalism against this example, in part by an adaptation of (...)
  11. Absent Qualia, Fading Qualia, Dancing Qualia.David J. Chalmers - 1995 - In Thomas Metzinger (ed.), Conscious Experience. Ferdinand Schoningh. pp. 309--328.
    It is widely accepted that conscious experience has a physical basis. That is, the properties of experience (phenomenal properties, or qualia) systematically depend on physical properties according to some lawful relation. There are two key questions about this relation. The first concerns the strength of the laws: are they logically or metaphysically necessary, so that consciousness is nothing "over and above" the underlying physical process, or are they merely contingent laws like the law of gravity? This question about the strength (...)
  12. Functionalism, Qualia and Intentionality.Paul M. Churchland & Patricia S. Churchland - 1981 - Philosophical Topics 12 (1):121-32.
  13. The Possibility of Absent Qualia.Earl Conee - 1985 - Philosophical Review 94 (July):345-66.
  14. Against Neural Chauvinism.T. Cuda - 1985 - Philosophical Studies 48 (July):111-27.
  15. Functionalism and Absent Qualia.Lawrence H. Davis - 1982 - Philosophical Studies 41 (March):231-49.
  16. Chalmers's Fading and Dancing Qualia: Consciousness and the "Hard Problem".L. Dempsey - 2002 - Southwest Philosophy Review 18 (2):65-80.
  17. Functionalism and Absent Qualia.G. Doore - 1981 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 59 (4):387-402.
  18. Absent Qualia.Fred Dretske - 1996 - Mind and Language 11 (1):78-85.
  19. Functionalism, Homunculi-Heads, and Absent Qualia.Ray Elugardo - 1983 - Dialogue 22 (1):47.
  20. Functionalism and the Absent Qualia Argument.Reinaldo Elugardo - 1983 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy 13 (June):161-80.
  21. Functionalism, Homunculi-Heads and Absent Qualia.Reinaldo Elugardo - 1983 - Dialogue 22 (1):47-56.
  22. Functionalism's Response to the Problem of Absent Qualia.Valerie Gray Hardcastle - 1996 - Journal of Consciousness Studies 3 (4):357-73.
    It seems that we could be physically the same as we are now, only we would lack conscious awareness. If so, then nothing about our physical world is necessary for qualitative experience. However, a proper analysis of psychological functionalism eliminates this problem concerning the possibility of zombies. ‘Friends of absent qualia’ rely on an overly simple view of what counts as a functional analysis and of the function/structure distinction. The level of thought is not the only level at which one (...)
  23. A Note on the Possibility of Silicon Brains and Fading Qualia.Jeffrey Hershfield - 2002 - Journal of Consciousness Studies 9 (7):25-31.
    John Searle and David Chalmers have each invoked the silicon-brain thought experiment, though to very different effect. Searle uses the possibility of silicon brains to argue that there is no ontological connection between consciousness and causal/functional role. Chalmers, on the other hand, thinks the possibility of silicon brains is grounds for positing a nomological connection between functional structure and consciousness . In this article I attempt to explain how they manage to draw such divergent conclusions from the very same thought (...)
  24. Sensations: A Defense of Type Materialism.Christopher S. Hill - 2012 - Cambridge University Press.
    This is a book about sensory states and their apparent characteristics. It confronts a whole series of metaphysical and epistemological questions and presents an argument for type materialism: the view that sensory states are identical with the neural states with which they are correlated. According to type materialism, sensations are only possessed by human beings and members of related biological species; silicon-based androids cannot have sensations. The author rebuts several other rival theories, and explores a number of important issues: the (...)
  25. The Failings of Functionalism.Christopher S. Hill - 1991 - In Sensations: A Defense of Type Materialism. Cambridge University Press.
  26. Introspection and the Skeptic.Christopher S. Hill - 1991 - In Sensations: A Defense of Type Materialism. Cambridge University Press.
  27. Philosophy and the Cognitive Sciences.Christopher Hookway (ed.) - 1993 - Cambridge University Press.
  28. Empirical Functionalism and Conceivability Arguments.H. Jacoby - 1989 - Philosophical Psychology 2 (3):271-82.
    Functionalism, the philosophical theory that defines mental states in terms of their causal relations to stimuli, overt behaviour, and other inner mental states, has often been accused of being unable to account for the qualitative character of our experimential states. Many times such objections to functionalism take the form of conceivability arguments. One is asked to imagine situations where organisms who are in a functional state that is claimed to be a particular experience either have the qualitative character of that (...)
  29. Conscious Experience and the Nontrivality Principle.Cory F. Juhl - 1998 - Philosophical Studies 91 (1):91-101.
  30. Functionalism and the Argument From Conceivability.Janet Levin - 1985 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy 11:85-104.
  31. Absent and Inverted Qualia Revisited.Joseph Levine - 1988 - Mind and Language 3 (4):271-87.
  32. Homunctionalism and Qualia.William G. Lycan - 1987 - In Consciousness. MIT Press.
  33. Consciousness.William G. Lycan - 1987 - MIT Press.
    In this book, William Lycan reviews the diverse philosophical views on consciousness--including those of Kripke, Block, Campbell, Sellars, and Casteneda--and ..
  34. The Partial Brain Thought Experiment: Partial Consciousness and its Implications.Jacques Mallah - manuscript
    The ‘Fading Qualia’ thought experiment of Chalmers purports to show that computationalism is very probably true even if dualism is true by considering a series of brains, with biological parts increasingly substituted for by artificial but functionally analagous parts in small steps, and arguing that consciousness would not plausibly vanish in either a gradual or sudden way. This defense of computationalism inspired an attack on computationalism by Bishop, who argued that a similar series of substitutions by parts that have the (...)
  35. Materialism, Functionalism, and Supervenient Qualia.Ausonio Marras - 1993 - Dialogue 32 (3):475-92.
    Qualia are phenomenal properties of sensations and perceptual states: they are whatever it is that gives such states their “felt,” qualitative character. (In speaking of sensations, I speak of course not of mental objects or mental contents, but of mental events—of sensings, not sensa.).
  36. Another Look at Functionalism and the Emotions.Charles Nussbaum - 2003 - Brain and Mind 4 (3):353-383.
    Two chronic problems have plagued functionalism in the philosophy of mind. The first is the chauvinism/liberalism dilemma, the second the absent qualia problem. The first problem is addressed by blocking excessively liberal counterexamples at a level of functional abstraction that is high enough to avoid chauvinism. This argument introduces the notion of emotional functional organization (EFO). The second problem is addressed by granting Block's skeptical conclusions with respect to mentality as such, while arguing that qualitative experience is a concomitant of (...)
  37. There is Nothing It is Like to See Red: Holism and Subjective Experience.Anthony F. Peressini - forthcoming - Synthese:1-30.
    The Nagel inspired “something-it-is-like” conception of conscious experience remains a dominant approach in philosophy. In this paper I criticize a prevalent philosophical construal of SIL consciousness, one that understands SIL as a property of mental states rather than entities as a whole. I argue against thinking of SIL as a property of states, showing how such a view is in fact prevalent, under-warranted, and philosophically pernicious in that it often leads to an implausible reduction of conscious experience to qualia. I (...)
  38. Direct Assessment of Qualia in a Blindsight Participant.N. Persaud & H. Lau - 2008 - Consciousness and Cognition 17 (3):1046-1049.
    Experimenters generally infer whether participants have visual experiences based on metacognitive responses. We showed a well-studied blindsight participant, GY, several definitions of the term “qualia” and then questioned him about whether he felt or he experienced qualia in his normal and blind fields. We found, contrary to others who have used different methods for measuring qualia, that GY does not have qualia for stationary stimuli in his blind field. This novel method for directly assessing qualia embraces the idea that experiences (...)
  39. Functionalism and Nonreductive Physicalism.David Pineda - 2001 - Theoria 16 (40):43-63.
    Most philosophers of mind nowadays espouse two metaphysical views: Nonreductive Physicalism and the causal efficacy of the mental. Throughout this work I will refer to the conjunction of both claims as the Causal Autonomy of the Mental. Nevertheless, this position is threatened by a number of difficulties which are far more serious than one would imagine given the broad consensus that it has generated during the last decades. This paper purports to offer a careful examination of some of these difficulties (...)
  40. A Closer Look at the Chinese Nation Argument.E. Sayan - 1988 - Philosophy Research Archives 13:129-36.
    Ned Block’s Chinese Nation Argument is offered as a counterexample to Turing-machine functionalism. According to that argument, one billion Chinese could be organized to instantiate Turing-machine descriptions of mental states. Since we wouldn’t want to impute qualia to such an organized population, functionalism cannot account for the qualitative character of mental states like pain. Paul Churchland and Patricia Churchland have challenged that argument by trying to show that an adequate representation of the complexity of mind requires at least 10 30,000,000 (...)
  41. A Closer Look at the Chinese Nation Argument.Erdinç Sayan - 1987 - Philosophy Research Archives 13:129-136.
    Ned Block’s Chinese Nation Argument is offered as a counterexample to Turing-machine functionalism. According to that argument, one billion Chinese could be organized to instantiate Turing-machine descriptions of mental states. Since we wouldn’t want to impute qualia to such an organized population, functionalism cannot account for the qualitative character of mental states like pain. Paul Churchland and Patricia Churchland have challenged that argument by trying to show that an adequate representation of the complexity of mind requires at least 10 30,000,000 (...)
  42. Absent Qualia Are Impossible -- A Reply to Block.Sydney Shoemaker - 1981 - Philosophical Review 90 (October):581-99.
  43. Functionalism and Qualia.Sydney Shoemaker - 1975 - Philosophical Studies 27 (May):291-315.
  44. Sensory Holism and Functionalism.Joseph Thomas Tolliver - 1999 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 22 (6):972-973.
    I defend the possibility of a functional account of the intrinsic qualities of sensory experience against the claim that functional characterization can only describe such qualities to the level of isomorphism of relational structures on those qualities. A form sensory holism might be true concerning the phenomenal, and this holism would account for some antifunctionalist intuition evoked by inverted spectrum and absent qualia arguments. Sensory holism is compatible with the correctness of functionalism about the phenomenal.
  45. Absent Qualia and the Mind-Body Problem.Michael Tye - 2006 - Philosophical Review 115 (2):139-168.
    At the very heart of the mind-body problem is the question of the nature of consciousness. It is consciousness, and in particular _phenomenal_ consciousness, that makes the mind-body relation so deeply perplexing. Many philosophers hold that no defi nition of phenomenal consciousness is possible: any such putative defi nition would automatically use the concept of phenomenal consciousness and thus render the defi nition circular. The usual view is that the concept of phenomenal consciousness is one that must be explained by (...)
  46. Blindsight, the Absent Qualia Hypothesis, and the Mystery of Consciousness.Michael Tye - 1993 - In Christopher Hookway (ed.), Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement. Cambridge University Press. pp. 19-40.
    One standard objection to the view that phenomenal experience is functionally determined is based upon what has come to be called ‘The Absent Qualia Hypothesis’, the idea that there could be a person or a machine that was functionally exactly like us but that felt or consciously experienced nothing at all . Advocates of this hypothesis typically maintain that we can easily imagine possible systems that meet the appropriate functional specifications but that intuitively lack any phenomenal consciousness. Ned Block , (...)
  47. The Subjective Qualities of Experience.Michael Tye - 1986 - Mind 95 (January):1-17.
  48. Out of Sight but Not Out of Mind: Isomorphism and Absent Qualia.Robert Van Gulick - 1999 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 22 (6):974-974.
    The isomorphism constraint places plausible limits on the use of third-person evidence to explain color experience but poses no difficulty for functionalists; they themselves argue for just such limits. Palmer's absent qualia claim is supported by neither the Color Machine nor Color Room examples. The nature of color experience depends on relations external to the color space, as well as internal to it.
  49. Understanding the Phenomenal Mind: Are We All Just Armadillos?Robert van Gulick - 1993 - In Martin Davies & Glyn W. Humphreys (eds.), Consciousness: Psychological and Philosophical Essays. Blackwell.
  50. What Difference Does Consciousness Make?Robert van Gulick - 1989 - Philosophical Topics 17 (1):211-30.
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