Russellian Physicalism and its Dilemma

Philosophical Studies 178:2043-2062 (2021)
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Russellian monism – an influential doctrine proposed by Russell (1927/1992) – is roughly the view that the natural sciences can only ever tell us about the causal, dispositional, and structural properties of physical entities and not about their categorical properties, and, moreover, that our qualia are constituted by categorical properties. Recently, Stoljar (2001a, 2001b), Strawson (2008), Montero (2010, 2015), Alter and Nagasawa (2012), and Chalmers (2015) have attempted to develop this doctrine into a version of physicalism. Russellian monism faces the so-called combination problem, according to which it is difficult to see how categorical properties could collectively constitute qualia. In this paper, I suggest that there is an insufficiently discussed aspect of the combination problem which I call the difference-maker problem. Taking the difference-maker problem into account, I argue that the combination problem – whether or not it can be solved – results in a dilemma for the project of developing Russellian physicalism. That is, Russellian monism is either physicalistically unacceptable or it is implausible; hence, Russellian monism and physicalism are incompatible.

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Lok-Chi Chan
National Taiwan University

Citations of this work

Russellian Physicalists get our phenomenal concepts wrong.Marcelino Botin - 2023 - Philosophical Studies 180 (7):1829-1848.
Metaphysical idealism revisited.Plato Tse - 2022 - Philosophy Compass 17 (7):e12856.
Humility Regarding Intrinsic Properties.Lok-Chi Chan - 2021 - Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

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A treatise of human nature.David Hume & A. D. Lindsay - 2003 - Mineola, N.Y.: Dover Publications. Edited by Ernest Campbell Mossner.
New work for a theory of universals.David K. Lewis - 1983 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 61 (4):343-377.
Epiphenomenal qualia.Frank Jackson - 1982 - Philosophical Quarterly 32 (April):127-136.

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