In this paper I begin to develop an account of the acquaintance that each of us has with our own conscious states and processes. The account is a speculative proposal about human mental architecture and specifically about the nature of the concepts via which we think in first personish ways about our qualia. In a certain sense my account is neutral between physicalist and dualist accounts of consciousness. As will be clear, a dualist could adopt the account I will offer (...) while maintaining that qualia themselves are non-physical properties. In this case the non-physical nature of qualia may play no role in accounting for the features of acquaintance. But although the account could be used by a dualist, its existence provides support for physicalism. (shrink)
During the last two decades, several different anti-physicalist arguments based on an epistemic or conceptual gap between the phenomenal and the physical have been proposed. The most promising physicalist line of defense in the face of these arguments – the Phenomenal Concept Strategy – is based on the idea that these epistemic and conceptual gaps can be explained by appeal to the nature of phenomenal concepts rather than the nature of non-physical phenomenal properties. Phenomenal concepts, on this proposal, involve unique (...) cognitive mechanisms, but none that could not be fully physically implemented. David Chalmers has recently presented a Master Argument to show that the Phenomenal Concept Strategy – not just this or that version of it, but any version of it – fails. Chalmers argues that the phenomenal concepts posited by such theories are either not physicalistically explicable, or they cannot explain our epistemic situation with regard to qualia. I argue that it is his Master Argument that fails. My claim is his argument does not provide any new reasons to reject the Phenomenal Concept Strategy. I also argue that, although the Phenomenal Concept Strategy is successful in showing that the physicalist is not rationally compelled to give up physicalism in the light of the anti-physicalist arguments, the anti-physicalist is not rationally compelled to give up the anti-physicalist argument in the light of the Phenomenal Concept Strategy either. (shrink)
This paper was chosen by The Philosopher’s Annual as one of the ten best articles appearing in print in 2000. Reprinted in Volume XXIII of The Philosopher’s Annual. In his very influential book David Chalmers argues that if physicalism is true then every positive truth is a priori entailed by the full physical description – this is called “the a priori entailment thesis – but ascriptions of phenomenal consciousness are not so entailed and he concludes that Physicalism is false. As (...) he puts it, “zombies” are metaphysically possible. I attempt to show that this argument is refuted by considering an analogous argument in the mouth of a zombie. The conclusion of this argument is false so one of the premises is false. I argue at length that this shows that the original conceivability argument also has a false premise and so is invalid. (shrink)
Hornsby is a defender of a position in the philosophy of mind she calls “naïve naturalism”. She argues that current discussions of the mind-body problem have been informed by an overly scientistic view of nature and a futile attempt by scientific naturalists to see mental processes as part of the physical universe. In her view, if naïve naturalism were adopted, the mind-body problem would disappear. I argue that her brand of anti-physicalist naturalism runs into difficulties with the problem of mental (...) causation and the completeness of physics. (shrink)
This article is about the special, subjective concepts we apply to experience, called “phenomenal concepts”. They are of special interest in a number of ways. First, they refer to phenomenal experiences, and the qualitative character of those experiences whose metaphysical status is hotly debated. Conscious experience strike many philosophers as philosophically problematic and difficult to accommodate within a physicalistic metaphysics. Second, PCs are widely thought to be special and unique among concepts. The sense that there is something special about PCs (...) is very closely tied up with features of the epistemic access they afford to qualia. When we deploy phenomenal concepts introspectively to some phenomenally conscious experience as it occurs, we are said to be acquainted with our own conscious experiences. Accounts of PCs either have to explain the acquaintance relation, or acquaintance with our phenomenal experiences has to be denied. PCs have received much attention in recent philosophy of mind mainly because they figure in arguments for dualism and in physicalist responses to these arguments. The main topic of this article is to explore different accounts of phenomenal concepts and their role in recent debates over the metaphysical status of phenomenal consciousness. (shrink)
In “The Meta-Problem of Consciousness”, David Chalmers draws a new framework in which to consider the mind-body problem. In addition to trying to solve the hard problem of consciousness – the problem of why and how brain processes give rise to conscious experience –, he thinks that philosophy, psychology, neuro-science and the other cognitive sciences should also pursue a solution to what he calls the “meta-problem” of consciousness – i.e., the problem of why we think there is a problem with (...) consciousness. My claim is that, while Chalmers’s project is generously ecumenical as well as beautiful in its meticulous detail, it is mistaken in its core assumption that the meta-problem can be formulated as an “easy problem” for science to solve. Furthermore, the project tilts the field toward illusionism against Type-B materialism, as far as physicalist solutions to the hard problem and the meta-problem are concerned. I will argue that Type-B materialism emerges unscathed from this dialectic. (shrink)
In this paper I discuss three problems of consciousness. The first two have been dubbed the “Hard Problem” and the “Harder Problem”. The third problem has received less attention and I will call it the “Hardest Problem”. The Hard Problem is a metaphysical and explanatory problem concerning the nature of conscious states. The Harder Problem is epistemological, and it concerns whether we can know, given physicalism, whether some creature physically different from us is conscious. The Hardest Problem is a problem (...) about reference. Recently some philosophers – among them David Papineau – who advocate a physicalist approach to both the Hard and the Harder problem have called into question the common sense assumption that phenomenal concepts – subjective concepts that we apply directly to experience – refer determinately (modulo vagueness) to real properties that can be instantiated in minds other than my own. The Hardest Problem is the problem of explaining how, given physicalism, this assumption could be true. In this paper I explore how these three problems appear from the perspective of a physicalist approach to consciousness based on Brian Loar’s account of phenomenal concepts, recently dubbed the “phenomenal concept strategy”. My contention is that this approach can go quite far in handling not just the first two problems but the Hardest Problem as well. (shrink)
This paper is primarily about metaphysics; specifically, about a Cartesian view of the self, according to which it is a simple, enduring, non-material entity.I take a critical look at Nida-Rümelin’s novel conceptual arguments for this view and argue that they don’t give us decisive reasons to uphold the Cartesian view. But in Nida-Rümelin’s view, what is at stake in these arguments is not merely theoretical: the truth – and our beliefs about it – has practical consequences as well. In her (...) view, if the Cartesian simple view of the self were false, we would have no reason to love and care for family and friends, and our special interest in our own future would be pointless. In the last section of this paper, I will say something about the sense in which it is right and the sense in which it is wrong to think that the metaphysics of the self has broader relevance for our lives. (shrink)
Papineau in his book provides a detailed defense of physicalism via what has recently been dubbed the “phenomenal concept strategy”. I share his enthusiasm for this approach. But I disagree with his account of how a physicalist should respond to the conceivability arguments. Also I argue that his appeal to teleosemantics in explaining mental quotation is more like a promissory note than an actual theory.
Frankish positions his view, illusionism about qualia (a.k.a. eliminativist physicalism), in opposition to what he calls radical realism (dualism and neutral monism) and conservative realism (a.k.a. non-eliminativist physicalism). Against radical realism, he upholds physicalism. But he goes along with key premises of the Gap Arguments for radical realism, namely, 1) that epistemic/explanatory gaps exist between the physical and the phenomenal, and 2) that every truth should be perspicuously explicable from the fundamental truth about the world; and he concludes that because (...) physicalism is true, there could be no phenomenal truths, and no qualia. I think he is wrong to accept 2); and even if he was right to accept it, the more plausible response would be not to deny the existence of qualia but to deny physicalism. In either case, denying the existence of qualia is the wrong answer. I present a physicalist realist alterative that refutes premise 2 of the Gap Argument; I also make a general case against the scientism that accompanies Frankish’s metaphysics. (shrink)
My concern in this paper is the role of subjectivity in the pursuit of the good. I propose that subjective thought as well as a subjective mental process underappreciated in philosophical psychology – contemplation – are instrumental for discovering and apprehending a whole range of value. In fact, I will argue that our primary contact with these values is through experience and that they could not be properly understood in any other way. This means that subjectivity is central to our (...) evaluative lives. (shrink)
Illusionism claims that we are not conscious, that there is nothing it is like, in the usual sense of the word, to feel sad, or to smell lavender. According to Illusionists, we are, in a technical sense, zombies. Instead of arguing for the falsity of Illusionism directly, I will explain why the main philosophical motivations for it are mistaken – and I trust the rest will be taken care of by the extreme implausibility of the view. I want to spread (...) the good news to Illusionists that they don’t need to resort to this highly counterintuitive, strange, and as I will argue later, morally corrosive idea. One can be a physicalist and phenomenal realist since neither of the two types of arguments Illusionists rely on – the conceivability arguments, and the debunking arguments against physicalist phenomenal realism – work. In the last part of the paper, I will say something about the corrosive effect this metaphysics has on our moral and evaluative outlook. (shrink)
Proponents of non-conceptual content have recruited it for various philosophical jobs. Some epistemologists have suggested that it may play the role of “the given” that Sellars is supposed to have exorcised from philosophy. Some philosophers of mind (e.g., Dretske) have suggested that it plays an important role in the project of naturalizing semantics as a kind of halfway between merely information bearing and possessing conceptual content. Here I will focus on a recent proposal by Jerry Fodor. In a recent paper (...) he characterizes non-conceptual content in a particular way and argues that it is plausible that it plays an explanatory role in accounting for certain auditory and visual phenomena. So he thinks that there is reason to believe that there is non-conceptual content. On the other hand, Fodor thinks that non-conceptual content has a limited role. It occurs only in the very early stages of perceptual processing prior to conscious awareness. My paper is examines Fodor’s characterization of non-conceptual content and his claims for its explanatory importance. I also discuss if Fodor has made a case for limiting non-conceptual content to non-conscious, sub-personal mental states. (shrink)
Jennifer Hornsby’s Simple Mindedness consists of twelve essays organized into sections focusing on three issues: the ontology of persons and mental events, how actions fit into a world of natural law, and the nature of intentional explanations. Most of the essays have been previously published but many of these are revised and include addenda. The collection is unified by its defending a position in the philosophy of mind Hornsby calls “naive naturalism.” She advertises naive naturalism as neither physicalist nor Cartesian. (...) Hornsby claims that the mind-body problem as currently discussed, that is, the question of how the mind fits into nature, arises because contemporary analytic philosophers have an overly scientistic view of nature restricting their concept of nature to whatever can be the proper subject matter of science. In her view, if naive naturalism were adopted, the mind-body problem, as it is currently discussed, would disappear. Hornsby is thus a member of that venerable tradition of English philosophers who see the mind-body problem as arising through an excessive fascination with science. (shrink)
This paper is an exposition and comparison between two views concerning fundamental ontology in the context of the Mind-Body Problem: physicalism and emergent property dualism. I assess the pros and cons of each position and argue that physicalism provides an overall more plausible metaphysics.
In this commentary I criticize David Rosenthal’s higher order thought theory of consciousness . This is one of the best articulated philosophical accounts of consciousness available. The theory is, roughly, that a mental state is conscious in virtue of there being another mental state, namely, a thought to the effect that one is in the first state. I argue that this account is open to the objection that it makes “HOT-zombies” possible, i.e., creatures that token higher order mental states, but (...) not the states that the higher order states are about. I discuss why none of the ways to accommodate this problem within HOT leads to viable positions. (shrink)
Phenomenality and accessibility are two aspects of conscious experience. “Phenomenality” refers to the felt, experiential aspect of experience, and “accessibility” to a cognitive aspect of it: its availability in general to thought processes, reasoning, decision making, etc. In this paper, I present a dilemma for theorizing about the connection between them. Either there is a conceptual connection linking phenomenality and accessibility (i.e., it is not possible to conceive of a phenomenal experience that is not cognitively accessible for the subject) or (...) there is none but then the empirical evidence will – for principled reasons – be unable to decide the exact nature of the relationship between the two. (shrink)
Art often is the subject of philosophy; it is more rare that a work of art becomes philosophy, pursued by means other than language. In its cinematic way, Son of Saul, a Hungarian film by László Nemes about the Holocaust, engages with the same set of problems that the nineteenth century Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard wrote about.
Block argues that relevant data in psychology and neuroscience shows that access consciousness is not constitutively necessary for phenomenality. However, a phenomenal state can be access conscious in two radically different ways. Its content can be access conscious, or its phenomenality can be access conscious. I’ll argue that while Block’s thesis is right when it is formulated in terms of the first notion of access consciousness, there is an alternative hypothesis about the relationship between phenomenality and access in terms of (...) the second notion that is not touched by Block’s argument. (shrink)
Frank Jackson uses the a priori entailment thesis to connect metaphysics and conceptual analysis. In the book he develops this thesis within the two-dimensional framework and also proposes a formal argument for it. I argue that the two-dimensional framework doesn’t provide independent support for the a priori entailment thesis since one has to build into the framework assumptions as strong as the thesis itself.
In this paper, I examine the relationship between physicalism and property dualism in the light of the dialectic between anti-physicalist arguments and physicalist responses. Upon rehearsing the moves of each side, it is hard not to notice that there is a puzzling symmetry between dualist attacks on physicalism and physicalist replies. Each position can be developed in a way to defend itself from attacks from the other position, and it seems that there are neither a priori nor a posteriori grounds (...) to choose between the two. I suggest that the reason for the intractability of the disagreement, perhaps surprisingly, is they are both true: physicalism and dualism are formulated in terms of different conceptual schemes, each involving basic metaphysical concepts such as possibility, necessity, law and property. My proposal is that this means that there is no real disagreement in fact; both schemes get at the same reality, in different ways. -/- . (shrink)
The dissertation addresses the mind-body problem, and in particular, the problem of how to fit phenomenal consciousness into the rest of reality. Phenomenal consciousness - the what it’s like feature of experience - can appear to the scientifically inclined philosopher to be deeply mysterious. It is difficult to understand how the swirl of atoms in the void, the oscillation of field values, the firing of synapses, or anything physical can add up to the smells, tastes, feelings, moods, and so forth (...) that comprise our phenomenal experience. There is a series of arguments - the so-called “Conceivability Arguments” - that spells out this puzzlement. If this arguments are successful then there is no place for phenomenal consciousness in a completely physical reality. The main conclusion of this dissertation is that the Conceivability Arguments are all dependent on a flawed premiss, and that therefore these arguments - perhaps the most powerful among anti-physicalist arguments - all fail. Conceivability Arguments begin with the premiss that we can conceive of any physical or functional facts obtaining without there being any phenomenal experience at all. This is sometimes expressed by saying that zombies (i.e., beings that are our physical and functional duplicates, but possess no phenomenal experiences) are conceivable. The claim that zombies are conceivable does not have to do with our powers of imagination, or our psychological abilities, but rather with the nature of physical and phenomenal concepts. The reason that zombies are claimed to be conceivable is that each person’s thinking about phenomenal properties is completely dependent on her first person acquaintance with her own experience. From this assertion of conceivability it is inferred that zombies are genuinely possible. And this conclusion is incompatible with physicalism as that doctrine is usually understood. I argue that these arguments all fail; they are refuted by a master argument that I call “the Zombie Refutation.” The reason they fail has to do with the very nature of phenomenal concepts that gives rise to the conceivability of zombies. Because of the special nature of these concepts, the principle underlying the Conceivability Arguments - that principle that links conceivability and possibility - turns out to be self-refuting. Thus, the zombies that the Conceivability Arguments supposedly demonstrate to be possible, return to undermine those very arguments; a fitting revenge. (shrink)
The book under review is a collection of thirteen essays on the nature phenomenal concepts and the ways in which phenomenal concepts figure in debates over physicalism. Phenomenal concepts are of special interest in a number of ways. First, they refer to phenomenal experiences, and the qualitative character of those experiences whose metaphysical status is hotly debated. There are recent arguments, originating in Descartes’ famous conceivability argument, that purport to show that phenomenal experience is irreducibly non-physical. Second, phenomenal concepts are (...) widely thought to be special and unique among concepts. Both the anti-physicalist arguments and physicalist replies to these arguments turn on views about the nature of phenomenal concepts. In this review I survey the many ways in which the essays in this volume are engaged with anti-physicalist arguments and the role phenomenal concepts play in these arguments. (shrink)
One of the most important problems of twentieth century analytic philosophy concern the place of the mind – and in particular, of consciousness and intentionality – in a physical universe. Brian Loar’s essays in the philosophy of mind in this volume include his major contributions in this area. His central concern was how to understand consciousness and intentionality from the subjective perspective, and especially, how to understand subjectivity in a physical universe. He was committed to the reality and reliability of (...) the subjective perspective; and he found that subjective phenomena like intentionality and consciousness are, in a certain sense, ineliminable and irreducible to objective ones. At the same time he believed that intentionality and consciousness are grounded in the physical. One of his great contributions was showing how to reconcile these two positions by being a conceptual and explanatory anti-reductionist about both consciousness and intentionality but a metaphysical reductionist nonetheless. He had a deep commitment to both physicalism and to the reality and significance of the subjective point of view. (shrink)
One of the most important problems of modern philosophy concerns the place of subjectivity in a purely physical universe. Brian Loar was a major contributor to the discussion of this problem for over four decades. This volume brings together his most important and influential essays in the philosophy of language and of mind.
There is a tradition, going back at least to Descartes, of arguing against physicalism on the basis of claims about conceivability. Philosophers in this tradition claim that we can conceive of any physical facts obtaining without there being any phenomenal experience. From this conceptual claim it is further argued that it is metaphysically possible for any physical fact to obtain without the occurrence of any phenomenal experience. If this is correct, then physicalism as it is usually construed is false. In (...) this paper I examine and refute the new conceivability arguments due to Frank Jackson and David Chalmers. I will argue, namely, that the crucial premiss of the arguments, the one that links conceivability with metaphysical possibility, is self-undermining. I proceed in two steps. First, I lay out the two arguments, and show that the crucial premiss in Jackson's argument, and so Chalmers' corresponding premiss as well, is self-undermining, and so that the alleged link between conceivability and metaphysical possibility does not exist. This does not amount to an argument for physicalism, except indirectly; what I show is that the argument on which non-physicalists most rely is ineffective. (shrink)