Why the Ability Hypothesis is best forgotten

Journal of Consciousness Studies 16 (2-3):74-97 (2009)
According to the knowledge argument, physicalism fails because when physically omniscient Mary first sees red, her gain in phenomenal knowledge involves a gain in factual knowledge. Thus not all facts are physical facts. According to the ability hypothesis, the knowledge argument fails because Mary only acquires abilities to imagine, remember and recognise redness, and not new factual knowledge. I argue that reducing Mary’s new knowledge to abilities does not affect the issue of whether she also learns factually: I show that gaining specific new phenomenal knowledge is required for acquiring abilities of the relevant kind. Phenomenal knowledge being basic to abilities, and not vice versa, it is left an open question whether someone who acquires such abilities also learns something factual. The answer depends on whether the new phenomenal knowledge involved is factual. But this is the same question we wanted to settle when first considering the knowledge argument. The ability hypothesis, therefore, has offered us no dialectical progress with the knowledge argument, and is best forgotten.
Keywords consciousness  knowledge argument  ability hypothesis  Lewis  Nemirow  Mary  Jackson
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I would like to challenge the premise motivating this criticism of the ability hypothesis.

Sometimes philosophical analyses fail to recognize a crucial distinction.  In the case of this paper, the problem is that a distinction is made where none is justified.  The distinction drawn is between phenomenal knowledge on the one hand and abilities on the other.  Generally regarded as "knowledge of what it is like to experience something," phenomenal knowledge is the very thing that Hypothesists (to use Mr. Coleman's term) would classify as a set of abilities.

Mr. Coleman says:  "it is because acquiring the relevant abilities involves knowing what certain experiences are like that the abilities elude the classroom—these inherit their elusiveness from the elusiveness of the phenomenal knowledge they depend upon."

I would rather say that acquiring the relevant abilities is learning what certain experiences are like.

My take on the ability hypothesis may be in some ways novel (I am not aware of ... (read more)
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