Phenomenal Properties: The Epistemology and Metaphysics of Qualia

Dissertation, University of Calgary (1998)

This dissertation develops and defends a detailed realist, internalist account of qualia which is consistent with physicalism and which does not resurrect the epistemological 'myth of the Given.' In doing so it stakes out a position in the sparsely populated middle ground between the two major opposing factions on the problem of phenomenal consciousness: between those who think we have a priori reasons to believe that qualia are irreducible to the physical , and those who implicitly or explicitly treat qualia as contentful but non-phenomenal physical properties . ;I present a minimal, non-question-begging definition of "qualia" and then use this definition in a reformulation of the argument from perceiver relativity which shows that qualia must, at least in humans, be properties of states of the central nervous system. That is, brain states do not simply indicate the colours of external objects---they instantiate phenomenal colours. Since brain states are not coloured in the same way as are external objects, I argue that to token phenomenal property F must be to be the first-person phenomenal sensation of F. I build on this position to argue that the phenomenal apprehension of qualia, is "given"---immediate, certain and private---but that qualia nevertheless do not provide an absolutely certain epistemological foundation since they do not constitute a set of indisputable propositions about facts. I then define what it would be for physicalism to be true of qualia, but argue that the main a priori arguments for and against qualia physicalism---including the logical possibility of zombies and the impossibility of epiphenomenalism---fail. Whether qualia are consistent with physicalism, I claim, is still an open question, answerable only when we discover in more detail how qualia depend upon the brain. ;Although strongly in sympathy with many commonsensical intuitions about qualia, this account stands in contrast to most influential extant theories of qualia, such as eliminativism , externalism , or property-dualism : I conclude the dissertation by using its results to argue explicitly against these three positions
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