, Volume 78, Issue 3, pp 647–663 | Cite as

Natural Concepts, Phenomenal Concepts, and the Conceivability Argument

Original Paper


The conceivability argument against materialism, originally raised by Saul Kripke and then reformulated, among others, by David Chalmers holds that we can conceive of the distinctness of a phenomenal state and its neural realiser, or, in Chalmers’ variation of the argument, a zombie world. Here I argue that both phenomenal and natural kind terms are ambiguous between two senses, phenomenal and natural, and that the conceivability argument goes through only on one reading of a term. Thus, the antimaterialist has to provide some reasons independent of anti-materialism itself to favour that reading of a term that supports his or her argument. Given that there are no such independent reasons, I conclude that we should put more weight on empirical considerations than on a priori discussion in resolving the question concerning the identity between a phenomenal state and its neural realiser.


  1. Botvinick, M., & Cohen, J. (1998). Rubber hands ‘feel’ touch that eyes see. Nature, 391, 756.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Braddon-Mitchell, D., & Jackson, F. (1996). Philosophy of mind and cognition. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  3. Brown, J. (1998). Natural kind terms and recognitional capacities. Mind, 107, 275–304.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Chalmers, D. J. (1996). Conscious mind. In Search of a fundamental theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Chalmers, D. J. (2002). Does conceivability entail possibility? In T. Gendler & J. Hawthorne (Eds.), Conceivability and possibility. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Chalmers, D. J. (2003). Consciousness and its place in nature. In S. Stich & F. Warfield (Eds.), The Blackwell guide to philosophy of mind. Malden, MA: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  7. Chalmers, D. J. (2004). The foundations of two-dimensional semantics. In M. Garcia-Carpintero & J. Macia (Eds.), Two-dimensional semantics: Foundations and applications. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Chalmers, D. J. (2009). The two-dimensional argument against materialism. In B. McLaughlin (Ed.), Oxford handbook of the philosophy of mind. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Davies, M. (2004). Reference, contingency, and the two-dimensional framework. Philosophical Studies, 118, 83–731.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Husserl, E. (1913/1983). Ideas pertaining to a pure phenomenology and to a phenomenological philosophy. Dordrecht: Kluwer.Google Scholar
  11. Jylkkä, J. (2008). Theories of natural kind term reference and empirical psychology. Philosophical Studies, 139, 153–169.Google Scholar
  12. Kripke, S. (1972/1980). Naming and necessity. Cambridge, MA: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Monti, M. M., Vanhaudenhuyse, A., Coleman, M. R., Boly, M., Pickard, J. D., Tshibanda, L., et al. (2010). Willful modulation of brain activity in disorders of consciousness. The New England Journal of Medicine, 362, 579–589.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Russell, B. (1912/1998). The problems of philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Behavioural Sciences and PhilosophyUniversity of TurkuTurkuFinland

Personalised recommendations