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Monday, September 21, 2015


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Thanks for your series of posts on this topic. I agree with you that (a) consciousness is not an illusion, (b) we know what consciousness is in a direct and unmistakable way, and (c) consciousness does not supervene on the physical.

Regarding the passage from Strawson, it appears he is avoiding the heart of the problem with something like a definist fallacy. He seems to define the term 'physical' such that everything is physical, including what many consider themselves to reasonably take to be mental. But this move misses the main point. This move also stretches the extension of 'physical' so far that the term loses its meaning.

Thanks for reading, Elliot.

I am still trying to figure out what game Strawson is playing.

>>and since we know that there is much that we do not know about the nature of the physical, we cannot claim to know that an experienceless PPD of a currently experiencing human being is conceivable ...<<

In this line of reasoning, he seems to assume the following: "If we know we lack knowledge about the physical, then we can't claim to know that a zombie is conceivable."

In other words, the assertion "we can't claim knowledge that zombies are conceivable" is taken as a necessary condition of our lack of knowledge about the physical. But this point apparently presupposes physicalism, or at least it presupposes that ignorance of certain relevant physical facts is sufficient to prevent us from claiming knowledge that a zombie is conceivable.

But, it seems, this point begs the question against an ontological idealist who holds that zombies are conceivable. If everything were mental, as an ontological idealist would hold, then zombies would be mental items too, and our ability to conceive of them would correspond to the metaphysics and epistemology of idealism.

The point also begs the question against a substance dualist who holds that zombies are presently conceivable despite the physical-fact knowledge gap.

If this is his assumption, consider its contrapositive equivalent: "If we can claim to know that a zombie is conceivable, then it's not the case that we know we lack knowledge about the physical." This doesn't make much sense. If one can claim to know that a zombie is conceivable, why would it follow that we are ignorant of our ignorance of the physical?

It seems to me another problem with Strawson's approach is that (a) he assumes we're wholly physical beings -- as if we've discovered some evidence that shows this to be true, but (b) he claims we face this large gap in knowledge of the physical world so that we just don't know how it is the case we are wholly physical beings.

Curiously, however, he doesn't appear to say exactly what it is we know regarding (a) and (b). He merely asserts that we know.


I've been interested in physicalism conceived more strongly, i.e. as consisting just in the inventory thesis. Not as consisting in the inventory plus the determination theses. So I don't have much to say to this discussion.

Does Strawson say how he uses 'conceivable'? Perhaps his usage is more loaded than yours.

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