Physicalism and Phenomenal Consciousness
Reid, Adam Curran
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The following thesis is concerned with the contemporary debate in the philosophy of mind surrounding the nature of phenomenal consciousness (viz. subjective experience, or qualia). My primary aim is to adjudicate the ongoing dialectic between dualists and physicalists regarding the ontological status of phenomenal consciousness — physical or nonphysical — by examining the two major arguments most commonly deployed against physicalism: namely, the zombie argument (Chalmers), and the knowledge argument (Jackson). I conclude by showing that once physicalism has been shorn of the various doctrines that it need not and ought not accept — that is, once we are clear about what, precisely, the fundamental doctrine of physicalism actually is — it becomes clear that these arguments do not go through, and that the case for dualism has not been made. I also argue that the task of actually disarming these arguments (in the right way) is potentially critically instructive to contemporary physicalists, as this helps to nourish a clearer overall understanding of what physicalism (properly understood) is, and is not, committed to. In Chapter One I lay the groundwork for the aforementioned anti-physicalist arguments by explaining precisely what is meant by the phrase “phenomenal consciousness” and its various synonyms. I then briefly summarize the mind-body problem and articulate the so-called “explanatory gap” therein. Chapter Two looks at the zombie argument (as articulated by David Chalmers, 1996) and finds that the argument itself, as stated, actually has very little to do with defending dualism against physicalism, but rather is ultimately an argument for epiphenomenalism — which, I argue, is untenable. Chapter Three examines Frank Jackson’s knowledge argument against physicalism (1982). Here I show why the argument itself fails to support property dualism, but also why the standard physicalist objections to it fail. I argue that Mary does indeed learn facts about the world upon her release, and that physicalists must face up to this squarely. I then suggest that physicalism (properly understood) is entirely compatible with this admission. Chapter Four examines a kind of rehabilitated version of the zombie argument in the context of a larger discussion about the relation between conceivability and possibility.