To appear in the Journal of Consciousness Studies

There is at least one element in Strawson’s extremely rich paper that seems to me be correct and important, and Strawson is absolutely right to bring it out. This is the point that people in philosophy of mind go around assuming that they know what the physical facts are, if not in detail then in outline: “…they think they know a lot about the nature of the physical” (p.2). This assumption is false, or at any rate implausible, or at any rate un-argued for. To make the assumption, Strawson says, is a “very large mistake. It is perhaps Descartes’s, or perhaps rather ‘Descartes’s’, greatest mistake, and it is funny that in the past fifty years it has been the most fervent revilers of the great Descartes, the true father of modern materialism, who have made the mistake with most intensity” (p.2; footnote omitted.) Strawson says that the mistake is not only large: it is fatal. Here too I agree, though I think I would express the fatality somewhat differently from him. In my view, the mistake is fatal because, on the assumption that we are ignorant of some of the crucial facts, the central pieces of reasoning in philosophy of mind collapse. For example, consider the zombie argument against materialism, or, as Strawson would say for reasons a bit opaque to me, the Australian (p. 16, fn 37) zombie argument. Its first premise is that it is conceivable that I have a zombie duplicate; that is, there is someone identical to me in respect of every physical fact, but different from me in respect of some experiential fact. Its second premise is that if this is conceivable it is possible. Its conclusion is that physicalism is false, for physicalism (setting aside some technicalia) entails that zombies so described are impossible. This argument is unpersuasive if we take seriously the hypothesis that we are ignorant of some of the physical facts. For suppose that the hypothesis is true, and there are some physical facts of which we are ignorant but which are relevant to the nature of experience..
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