Zombie Kant critiques pure brains.
I’m working on a new paper, “Transcending Zombies,” and will be serializing it here over the next several weeks. Here’s the first of twelve posts.
Any physicalism worthy of the name, that is, any not so thin as to be indistinguishable from dualism (e.g. non-reductive physicalism) or idealism (e.g. neo-panpsychism), faces a choice on the topic of phenomenal consciousness between reductionism (whereby consciousness is physical) or eliminativism (whereby consciousness is nothing at all). I favor reductive physicalism and this series of posts constitutes advice for the reductive physicalist on how best to win arguments against anti-reductionists about phenomenal consciousness. The advice will take the length of the series to develop, but the gist of it will involve strategies for supporting reductionism based on premises concerning certain kinds of knowledge that even the anti-reductionist will be eager to grant. Such pieces of knowledge will include my knowledge that I am not a zombie, that is, my knowledge that I am currently undergoing mental states with phenomenal character.
In the first two posts of the series, I will further set up the relevant issues by reviewing two familiar dialectics. The first, to be introduced in the current post, concerns the reductionist about consciousness and her opponent, the anti-reductionist. The second, to come in second post, concerns the skeptic about the external world and her opponent, the anti-skeptic.
In the familiar dialectic concerning phenomenal consciousness, the first move is the reductionist’s move, and it involves advancing a reductive theory of consciousness. There are many such theories, and it is of course only scratching the surface to mention the following: global workspace theories (Baars, 2006), first-order representational theories (Fred Dretske, 1995; Tye, 1995), higher-order representational theories (Carruthers, 2000; Rosenthal, 2005), Dennettian “cerebral celebrity” theories (D. Dennett, 1998; D. C. Dennett, 1996, 2001),and intermediate-level theories (Jackendoff, 1987; Mandik, 2005; Prinz, 2000).
For present purposes, we may characterize a reductive theory of consciousness in the following manner. Being a theory of consciousness it must have outlines discernible from the first person point of view. Being reductive, it must have outlines discernable from the third person point of view. Let us say then, the a reductive theory of consciousness entails that what it’s like to be my physical doppelganger is just like what it’s like to be me.
The second move in the dialectic, the anti-reductionist’s move, advances an objection to the reductive theory, or perhaps, reductive theories in general. The anti-reductionist has several arguments to choose from. Prominent examples include the knowledge argument (Jackson, 1982), the explanatory gap argument (Levine, 1983), and the conceivability or zombie argument (Chalmers, 1996). Chalmers (D. J. Chalmers, 2003) illuminatingly describes these three arguments as instances of a general form of what he calls the epistemic gap argument, for all three involve inferring from an epistemic gap (a gap concerning what we can know, conceive, or explain about consciousness on the one hand and physical things and processes on the other) to an ontological gap between consciousness and the physical.
The gap pointed out by the anti-reductionist may be regarded as a question raised for reductive theories of consciousness—the question of what, if anything, attaches the outlines discerned from the first-person point of view to the outlines discerned from the third-person point of view. After the reductive theory has been described the worry arises that the separate portions may be implemented separately. This worry can, of course, be expressed in terms zombies: creatures that constitute implementations of the aspects of the third person portions of a theory without simultaneously constituting implementations of the first person portions of the theory.
Now, what should the third move in the dialectic be? What move is best for the reductionist at this point? My advice, which will be developed further later in the series, is for the reductionist to attempt to bridge the gap from the first-person to the third-person by discerning epistemic features accessible from the first-person point of view that necessitate certain elements accessible from the third-person point of view.
In the next post, I will begin to develop this epistemic strategy for the reductionist by drawing an analogy to certain moves made in the debate between external world skeptics and their opponents.
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