, Volume 165, Issue 1, pp 257-277
Date: 12 May 2012

Physicalism and phenomenal concepts

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Frank Jackson’s famous Knowledge Argument moves from the premise that complete physical knowledge is not complete knowledge about experiences to the falsity of physicalism. In recent years, a consensus has emerged that the credibility of this and other well-known anti-physicalist arguments can be undermined by allowing that we possess a special category of concepts of experiences, phenomenal concepts, which are conceptually independent from physical/functional concepts. It is held by a large number of philosophers that since the conceptual independence of phenomenal concepts does not imply the metaphysical independence of phenomenal properties, physicalism is safe. This paper distinguishes between two versions of this novel physicalist strategy—Phenomenal Concept Strategy (PCS)—depending on how it cashes out “conceptual independence,” and argues that neither helps the physicalist cause. A dilemma for PCS arises: cashing out “conceptual independence” in a way compatible with physicalism requires abandoning some manifest phenomenological intuitions, and cashing it out in a way compatible with those intuitions requires dropping physicalism. The upshot is that contra Brian Loar and others, one cannot “have it both ways.”

An earlier version of this paper was presented at a workshop held in 2011 at the University of London, organized in conjunction with the University of Hertfordshire AHCR Phenomenal Qualities Project, where I benefited greatly from the discussion, and in particular, from the comments of Sam Coleman and David Papineau. I am grateful also to Anil Gupta, Karl Schafer, David Chalmers, and a reviewer of Philosophical Studies for comments on earlier drafts.