Contemporary Conceivability Arguments in the Philosophy of Mind: A Critique

Dissertation, University of Arkansas (2001)

Don A. Merrell
Northwest Arkansas Community College
This dissertation assesses the value of Cartesian conceivability arguments, with particular attention given to three contemporary debates surrounding the mind-body problem. Saul Kripke's separability argument utilized new developments surrounding the nature of necessity and the reference of proper names. For all its merit, the Kripkean separability argument is open to serious criticisms. I examine several standard objections to Kripke's arguments and maintain that none are successful. I also maintain, however, that it is possible to show, contrary to what Kripke presupposes, that conceivability is not a reliable guide to possibility. I develop a new form of one of the standard objections, specifically, the objection that Kripke is mistaken in presupposing that conceivability is a reliable guide to possibility. I maintain that this objection is ultimately defensible. Next I examine the Cartesian arguments developed by David Chalmers in his The Conscious Mind. Chalmers relies heavily on conceivability arguments and has made the notion of a "philosophical zombie" something of a commonplace in attacks on physicalism. It is Chalmers's view that physicalism requires a strong supervenience thesis to the effect that all facts are dependent on or determined by physical facts. But according to Chalmers, this thesis is false because zombies are conceivable. It will be shown that Chalmers's arguments are vulnerable to the same types of criticisms that befall Kripke. Finally, I will examine a cluster of arguments conveniently called "Mode of Presentation" arguments. Advocates of this type of argument attempt to exploit the fact that if physicalism is true, we still cannot see a priori that phenomenal concepts and physical concepts refer to the same object or state of affairs. They then draw the conclusion that there must be special nonphysical properties associated with our phenomenal concepts which are responsible for the a posteriori nature of the mind-body relation. I will give two arguments showing where the MOP argument goes wrong.
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