Reductive explanation, concepts, and a priori entailment
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- Diaz-Leon, E. Philos Stud (2011) 155: 99. doi:10.1007/s11098-010-9560-x
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In this paper I examine Chalmers and Jackson’s defence of the a priori entailment thesis, that is, the claim that microphysical truths a priori entail ordinary non-phenomenal truths such as ‘water covers 60% of the Earth surface’, which they use as a premise for an argument against the possibility of a reductive explanation of consciousness. Their argument relies on a certain view about the possession conditions of macroscopic concepts such as WATER, known as ascriptivism. In the paper I distinguish two versions of ascriptivism: reductive versus non-reductive ascriptivism. According to reductive ascriptivism, competent users of a concept have the ability to infer truths involving such concept from lower-level truths, whereas according to non-reductive ascriptivism, all that is required in order to be a competent user of a concept is to be able to infer truths involving that concept from other truths, which need not be lower-level truths. I argue, first, that the a priori entailment thesis is committed to reductive ascriptivism, and secondly, that reductive ascriptivism is problematic because it trivializes the notion of a priori knowledge. Therefore, I conclude that Chalmers and Jackson have not presented a convincing case for the claim that microphysical truths entail ordinary non-phenomenal truths a priori, especially when we understand this claim in the sense that is relevant for their argument against the possibility of a reductive explanation of consciousness.