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Monday, 30 May 2005


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Clark Goble

Nice use of the pragmatic maxim. I fully agree with this line of reasoning.

Clark Goble

Just to add one brief comment, I tend to think that the whole Zombie issue is just the old "problem of other minds" wrapped up so as to appear to be something difference. Dressing up a classic problem often obscures what is interesting about the original problem. I think the real issue is simply how we can tell whether other people have minds like ourselves.

Jim Ryan

Hi, Bill. Good work. Two points. Your argument that "zombie" is meaningful because you know you are not a zombie isn't sound. It would also give you that "shmungie" is meaningful since "shmungie" is defined as "bazungy and not conscious." The fact that you know you are conscious gives you no license to claim that you are not shmungy. You rather have to say, "I know I'm conscious, but "shmungie" means nothing, so I can't tell you that I'm not that. If you decide to define it as "functionally just like me but not conscious" then I don't follow the idea. If you go for "functionally just like a rock and not conscious," then okay, I'm not shmungy. It depends on what you decide "bazungy" means. The argument about consciousness being meaningful is intriguing but incomplete. At this point, I'd say that since you know you're conscious for a variety of obvious reasons (sensations, for example), you know it isn't the case that you are not conscious. You could have evidence that you were not conscious after you regain consciousness. You can have evidence that rocks and sleeping people are not conscious (behavioral and neurological evidence). As for Dennett, in the grad school I went to we were led to believe that he just wasn't serious enough, that he simply wouldn't say whether he was an eliminativist or not. ("Well, if you take an intentional stance then X. But if you take another stance, then Y.") Years later I rethink that and wish I had time to reread his books. I'm a functionalist. If Dennett is not, then he and I don't agree. Thanks for a fascinating post. I'll check back to see where your thinking develops. Clark, I'm trying to adhere to the pragmantic maxim.

Bill Vallicella

Jim, It's funny how you and I can so thoroughly agree politically while differing so wildly on questions of metaethics and metaphysics, differences which appear rooted in different views about truth and meaning. You are right that the fact that I am conscious gives me no reason to conclude that I am not schmungy. But that is only because 'schmungy' is defined in terms of 'bazungy,' a term to which no meaning has been assigned. You say the concept zombie is meaningless. I don't get it. Of course, I cannot know that my wife is not a zombie, but I do know that I am not. Therefore, the concept zombie is perfectly intelligible (understandable): I know that I do not fall under it, and I know that I cannot claim to know that my wife does not fall under it. How would that be possible if the concept zombie were meaningless? Indeed, that the concept is meaningful is proven by the fact that you claim it to be meaningless. Compare 1. Zombie is meaningless. 2. Bazungy is meaningless. (1) is false while (2) is true. If you say they are in the same logical boat, then I say you have dug your hole deeper still -- if you will forgive the mixed metaphor. Thanks for commenting, and I hope we don't lose you entirely to the business world.

Bill Vallicella

Clark, What do you take to be the pragmatic maxim? Not clear to me how I apply it. I should think that a pragmatist would be more likely to take Jim's side of the argument.

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