Philosophical Studies

, Volume 154, Issue 1, pp 125-147

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Conceptual mastery and the knowledge argument


According to Frank Jackson’s famous knowledge argument, Mary, a brilliant neuroscientist raised in a black and white room and bestowed with complete physical knowledge, cannot know certain truths about phenomenal experience. This claim about knowledge, in turn, implies that physicalism is false. I argue that the knowledge argument founders on a dilemma. Either (i) Mary cannot know the relevant experiential truths because of trivial obstacles that have no bearing on the truth of physicalism or (ii) once the obstacles have been removed, Mary can know the relevant truths. If we give Mary the epistemological capabilities necessary to draw metaphysical conclusions about physicalism, she will, while trapped in the black and white room, be able to know every truth about phenomenal experience.


Concepts Concept possession Conceptual mastery Knowledge argument Phenomenal concept Physicalism Phenomenal concept strategy Dualism Modal rationalism Consciousness Phenomenal experience