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When Frank jilted Mary

If you’re in the mood for some philosophy of mind: Some reflections on Frank Jackson’s famous “knowledge argument” against materialism, and his second thoughts about it.

Comments (6)

Very interesting and excellent post, Ed, though I don't of course agree with the call for a return to full-blooded hylomorphism at the end. :-)

I'm not sure I'm understanding this part:

Moreover, to deny the existence of the qualitative features themselves – as some eliminative materialists have suggested doing as a way of “solving,” by brute force, the problem qualia pose for physicalism – would in effect be to cut off the scientific redefinition of nature from any empirical support at all. We would be denying, in the name of science, the very existence of the conscious experience from which scientific inquiry proceeds

Would this be a correct further explication: The way that we know that it is the average speed of molecules in physical stuff that generates the sensation of heat is by experiment. We find that greater average speed is correlated with the ability to cause burns as well as with the sensation of warmth experienced upon touching a substance the molecules of which have been excited. If we simply say that the aspect of this that is a mental sensation--the experience of warmth--does not exist, we can no longer say that we have come to understand as a scientific fact that the sensation of warmth is caused by greater average molecular speed, because we no longer acknowledge that there is any such thing as a sensation of warmth.

If that's a correct instance of what you are saying, it makes sense to me. But can it be generalized to all the empirical content of science? Perhaps, if we think of empirical content in terms of the kinds of experiences/observations on the part of the experimenter that empirically based scientific theories predict.

Is this what you (and Robinson) are getting at?

From Robinson, framing the difficulty posed by the knowledge argument as, I presume, a physicalist would see it:

These latter [qualia or conscious experience] constitute “the hard problem” for physicalism. The fact that they also constitute such a tiny part of the world is presented as a reason for thinking that they cannot plausibly be held to refute a unified physicalist account.

Doesn't the "tiny part" present a question-begging problem with the physicalist premise, which treats qualia as things of measureable size, as quantities rather than qualities? (As if size were everything.) The thing to be proven is assumed. I'd think that a single demonstrable instance of an immaterial substance would be of far greater significance than the entire physical universe. A human mind is a greater thing than a galaxy.

That's a good point, Bill. How in the world does one quantify a mind or the experiences thereof?

Lydia, I'd like to take Bill's point and your assent as a thin excuse to quote Chesterton, if I may. According to the materialist, "Nothing really interesting had happened since existence happened." By something really interesting, he appears to mean the mind, the will, intentionality, experience, knowledge, etc.

It does seem that the role of phenomena processed or received and immediately shuttled off to the the sub-conscious gets lost in discussions of what is plainly put, perception. Much of this passing experience though is hard wired into the brain and affective, either recalled consciously or not.

The reality of qualia is related to this, at times attentional, more often not. To say it's physical is trivial, no iMRI could accurately place it, though it can be experienced through some minimally active sensory activity, the smell of a flower, a sunset, such as pulls the mind to an external data, if you'll forgive the word.

No human sense, or combination of senses, is capable of consciously processing a totality of the external. That world is held as best it can be, within a physical entity, but the physical actions, or lack, within that entity elude us.

Thought I'd give it a shot, forgive the clumsiness. Now back to reading Mr. Feser's work.

Hi Lydia,

Yes, something like that. Even if someone wanted to quibble about whether "sensations of warmth" really exist -- arguing that such talk is really just a loose way of describing what can be described instead in some more penetrating way -- there is always going to be some phenomenological residue or other that serves as the experiential basis of the scientific claim. So, just as it does not help eliminative materialists vis-a-vis the propositional attitudes to avoid using the word belief -- they can avoid it all they like, but they're always going to end up using some intentionalistic language or other, which is enough to land them in the same problem they sought to avoid by eschewing belief-talk -- so too it will not help the eliminativist vis-a-vis qualia to suggest that our introspective reports are not immune to revision. They may well not be, but they are nevertheless always going to involve some phenomenological content or other which (a) serves as the empirical basis of scientific theorizing and (b) cannot be assimilated to physicalistically "respectable" properties.

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