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Contents

  1. David Chalmers, Does conceivability entail possibility - PhilPapers
  2. 1. The idea of zombies
  3. Passar bra ihop
  4. Conceivability and Possibility*

As a possible basis for attacking the zombie idea, behaviorism is in a similar situation to verificationism and the private language argument. Zombies would satisfy all behavioral conditions for full consciousness, so that if we could know a priori that behaviorism was correct, zombie worlds would be inconceivable for that reason. It seems unlikely, though, that behaviorism can be shown to be correct.

Dennett defends a position with strong affinities to behaviorism, though it might be better classified as a variety of functionalism. Functionalism is a much more widely supported approach to the mental.


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According to it, mental states are not just a matter of behavior and dispositions, but of causal or other functional relations among sensory inputs, internal states, and behavioral outputs. Now, since zombies would satisfy all the functional conditions for full consciousness, functionalism entails that zombies are impossible, although it would obviously be question-begging simply to presuppose functionalism when attacking the zombie idea. However, increasingly sophisticated versions of functionalism are being developed, and any arguments for functionalism are a fortiori arguments against the possibility of zombies.

Apart from broad-front functionalist theories of the mental, there are more narrowly focused attacks on the conceivability of zombies, some of which are noted below. Can we really imagine zombies? Marcus makes a related point; see also Woodling See also his ; Cottrell supports this approach. I love that smell! Everyone would rightly assume I was talking about my experience. But now suppose my zombie twin produces the same utterance. Is he mistaken? Is he lying? Could his utterance somehow be interpreted as true, or is it totally without truth value? Knowing about and referring to qualia.

Recall that by definition a zombie world is just like our world as physicalists suppose it to be, but without consciousness. Since this implies that consciousness depends on something nonphysical, it follows that zombies assuming they are possible in the first place could be made conscious by the addition of something nonphysical, which might as well be qualia. And given that a zombie world would be causally closed, these qualia would have to be causally inert: either epiphenomenal or parallel to the correlated physical processes.

It therefore seems that if a zombie world is conceivable then so is epiphenomenalism. Note that this does not require epiphenomenalism to be actually true as well as conceivable. If that is correct, objections to the conceivability of epiphenomenalism are also objections to the conceivability of zombies.

The most obvious is the familiar and powerful claim that experiences have effects on behavior Perry A less obvious objection to epiphenomenalism starts from the fact that we refer to and know about our conscious experiences — which can hardly be denied, since otherwise we could not be discussing these ideas in the first place. On that basis, our counterparts in epiphenomenalistic worlds could not know about or refer to their qualia.

David Chalmers, Does conceivability entail possibility - PhilPapers

If that is right, epiphenomenalistic worlds are not conceivable, in which case neither are zombies. Since, in contrast, our zombie twins have no experiences, what appear to be their judgments about experience are unjustified. Chalmers suggests that even if qualia have no causal influence on our judgments, their mere presence in the appropriate physical context ensures that our thoughts are about those qualia. He thinks it also constitutes justification for our knowledge claims even if experiences are not explanatorily relevant to making the judgments in question Chalmers , —; , f; see also his , The problem of epistemic contact.

Just now it seemed that if zombies are conceivable, then epiphenomenalist and parallelist worlds are also conceivable. Such activities involve cognitive processing, which in turn involves changes causing other changes. Since epiphenomenal qualia are causally inert, they themselves could not do that processing; so if they actually constitute our experiences as epiphenomenalism and parallelism imply then the necessary processing must be done by the body. The trouble is that the zombie story makes it impossible for such processing to put us into epistemic contact with epiphenomenal qualia.

This is because the only resources it can appeal to for that purpose are the assumed causation of qualia by neural processes and their isomorphism with them: factors which Kirk argues cannot do the necessary cognitive work. If that is right, the notions of epiphenomenal qualia and zombies lead to a contradiction. They imply a conception of consciousness which requires people to be in epistemic contact with their qualia, while at the same time ruling out the possibility of such contact.

Alexander Carruth , for example, argues that the conceivability argument presupposes that while physical properties are dispositional, phenomenal ones are qualitative. The powerful qualities view rules that out a priori , making it not even conceivable. Countering this line of argument, Henry Taylor claims it depends on an implausible account of the distinction between the physical and the phenomenal, arguing in particular that the physical cannot be confined to the dispositional.

For other attacks on the conceivability of zombies see Balog ; Cottrell ; Harnad ; Marcus ; Shoemaker ; Stoljar ; Tye Premise 2 of the conceivability argument is: whatever is conceivable is possible. Although this appears to be a defensible claim, it has been attacked from several angles. They urge that even if a zombie world is conceivable, that does not establish that it is possible in the way that matters.

1. The idea of zombies

Some philosophers reject even the assumption that conceivability is a guide to possibility, challenging the view that the burden of proof is on those who deny the zombie possibility Block and Stalnaker ; Hill and McLaughlin ; Yablo Chalmers has responded in several places , —; , —7; , — His most detailed version of the conceivability argument uses the framework of two-dimensional semantics. This enables him to distinguish two kinds of possibility and two corresponding kinds of conceivability.

The difficulty for the conceivability argument can be expressed by saying that even if zombie worlds are primarily conceivable and therefore primarily possible, it does not follow that they are also secondarily possible. And a posteriori physicalists will typically deny that it follows, on the ground that only the secondary possibility of zombie worlds would entail the falsity of physicalism. Thus it is argued that even if a zombie world is indeed conceivable, it does not follow that there are nonphysical properties in our world.

If that is right, physicalists can concede the conceivability of zombies while insisting that the properties we pick out in terms of phenomenal concepts are physical. He thinks these points explain the conceivability of a zombie world, while maintaining that there is no possible world in which the relevant physical properties are distinct from consciousness.

He argues further that exponents of this approach face a dilemma. Then if it is conceivable that the purely physical facts about us should have held without C, then C is not physicalistically explicable. On the other hand, if that is not conceivable, then in his view C cannot explain our epistemic situation as contrasted with that of zombies.

So either C is not physicalistically explicable, or it cannot explain our epistemic situation. Thus Daniel Stoljar argues that there are two distinct notions of the physical and correspondingly of physicalism, depending on whether one appeals only to what is provided for by physics or also to the intrinsic properties of physical objects.

Passar bra ihop

At the same time they can concede the possibility of zombies which duplicate us only in their structural properties. One obstacle to counting it as physicalism is that it seems unable to explain why the special intrinsic properties in our world should provide for consciousness, while those which perform the same functions in those other worlds do not: this has to be accepted as a brute fact.

Philip Goff suggests that this loophole for Russellian versions of physicalism weakens the zombie argument. He recommends instead an argument from ghosts: pure subjects of experience without any physical nature. He argues that such ghosts are conceivable and possible, and that they provide an argument against physicalism which leaves no loophole for Russellian monism.

Physicalists are likely to object that arguments against the conceivability of zombies can also be mobilized against ghosts.

Conceivability and Possibility*

Special factors. It has been suggested that there are special factors at work in the psychophysical case which have a strong tendency to mislead us. See also Hill The suggestion is that these differences help to explain the ease with which we seem able to conceive of zombies, and the difficulty we have in understanding the claim that they are nevertheless impossible.

Conditional analysis. Another line of objection rests on conditional analyses of the concept of qualia. Roughly, the idea is that if there actually are certain nonphysical properties which fit our conception of qualia, then that is what qualia are, in which case zombies are conceivable; but if there are no such nonphysical properties, then qualia are whichever physical properties perform the appropriate functions, and zombies are not conceivable. It is argued that this approach enables physicalists to accept that the possibility of zombies is conceivable, while denying that zombies are conceivable Hawthorne a; Braddon-Mitchell See Stalnaker for a related point, and for criticism, Alter ; Chalmers , pp.

Causal essentialism. According to the theory of causal essentialism, the causal properties of physical properties are essential to them.

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Brian Garrett exploits this theory to argue that the zombie argument against physicalism depends on broadly Humean assumptions about the laws of nature and property identity which presuppose the falsity of causal essentialism. Consider a zombie world that is an exact physical duplicate of our world and contains zombie twins of all philosophers, including some who appeal to the conceivability argument. Katalin Balog argues that while their utterances would be meaningful, their sentences would not always mean what they do in our mouths. But since by hypothesis physicalism is true in their world, their argument is not sound.

Therefore the conceivability argument used by actual philosophers is not sound either. Chalmers offers brief replies in his ; , pp. The anti-zombie argument for physicalism.


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The conceivability argument — which assumes physicalism entails that zombies are impossible — purports to refute it by showing they are possible. As we saw, the simplest version of this argument goes: 1 zombies are conceivable; 2 whatever is conceivable is possible; 3 therefore zombies are possible. One moral is that we should reject the inference from conceivability to possibility. Brown argues that if anti-zombies are conceivable, then zombies are inconceivable.