Papineau on Phenomenal Concepts [Book Review]

Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 71 (1):155-162 (2005)
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Over the past decade or so, David Papineau has given an account of the content and motivation of a physicalist conception of the world with more thoroughness and argumentative defence than many physicalists have thought necessary. In doing this, he has substantially advanced the debate on physicalism, and physicalists and non-physicalists alike should be grateful to him.1 At the heart of Papineau’s defence of physicalism in his recent book (2002) is his theory of phenomenal concepts. Like many physicalists, Papineau diagnoses the apparent threats to physicalism posed by the phenomena of consciousness by locating the source of anti-physicalist intuitions in features of our thinking rather than in non-physical features of reality. But what is new in Thinking About Consciousness is his detailed account of which features of our thinking it is that generate these supposedly confused anti-physicalist arguments. Hence the bulk of the book is an attempt to show that the most famous ‘consciousness-based’ anti-physicalist arguments—the knowledge argument, the zombie argument and the explanatory gap argument—rest on a mistaken understanding of certain kinds of concepts: phenomenal concepts. I agree with Papineau that physicalism (properly understood) should not be troubled by the knowledge argument and the explanatory gap argument, and that some other anti-physicalist arguments seem to move from assumptions about ways of thinking to conclusions about reality. But I doubt whether his theory of phenomenal concepts can help his defence of physicalism and his diagnosis of the errors of dualism. My reason for saying this is that I do not think there are any such concepts. In saying this I do not mean to deny that there is a useful distinction to be made between scientific concepts, the mastery of which requires knowledge of a certain amount of theory, and concepts which are acquired on the basis of experience, which can be called ‘phenomenal’ concepts.


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Tim Crane
Central European University

References found in this work

Thinking About Consciousness.David Papineau - 2002 - Oxford, GB: Oxford University Press UK.

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