In furious response to the alleged irrefutability of Berkeleyâ€™s idealism, Samuel Johnson kicked a rock and declared â€œI refute it thusâ€?. As long as rocks can be Johnsoned, idealism about them is not forthcoming. What else admits of Johnsoning? In particular, are qualia easily Johnsoned?
One might think that they clearly are, for whatever surety we gain from rocks by kicking them will be matched by a painful quale if the rocks are kicked with improper footwear.
However, one thing to be concerned about here is that the Johnson maneuver is too swift and violent to avoid conflating issues of existence and concept-independence. An idealist unmoved by the kick may grant that rocks exist while continuing to deny their existing independently of our rock conceptualizations. And one may grant realism about rocks while maintaining the concept-dependence of various non-rocks. The question of what non-rocks may admit of Johnsoning is best discussed by keeping distinct existence and independence.
Postponing qualia for a moment, letâ€™s adopt or adapt some examples of Dennettâ€™s: being famous and being a suspect. While having star-power is one thing, fame is another and no one is actually famous without the actual conceptualizations of others. Similarly, while being guilty of a murder is one thing, being a murder suspect is another and no one is actually a suspect without the actual conceptualizations of others. Perhaps in the case of being a suspect, others are not required insofar as an amnesiac may suspect themselves of having committed a murder. Nonetheless, being a suspect, like being famous, exhibits concept-dependence.
A sophisticated contemporary idealist about fame is denying the concept-independence, not but not the existence of, famous people quafamous. And so, whatâ€™s a sophisticated contemporary Johnsonian supposed to do? Itâ€™s not clear that going around kicking famous people is going to prove much of interest to the current question.
A similar lack of clarity attaches to the postponed question of qualia. Whatever painful qualia set in as a result, either directly or indirectly, from a bout of star kicking, the qualia arenâ€™t obviously independent of oneâ€™s conceptualizations. Indeed, insofar as it will be obvious to one that one has painful qualia, one will have concepts adequate to forming the thought that one has painful qualia. (This latter point is further developed in the discussion of the first premise of my Transcending Zombies argument [link].)
Fig. 1. …and Johnson’s all, like, WTF!?!?