Acta Analytica

, Volume 33, Issue 1, pp 121–143 | Cite as

A Posteriori Physicalism and the Discrimination of Properties

  • Philip Woodward


According to a posteriori physicalism, phenomenal properties are physical properties, despite the unbridgeable cognitive gap that holds between phenomenal concepts and physical concepts. Current debates about a posteriori physicalism turn on what I call “the perspicuity principle”: it is impossible for a suitably astute cognizer to possess concepts of a certain sort—viz., narrow concepts—without being able to tell whether the referents of those concepts are the same or different. The perspicuity principle tends to strike a posteriori physicalists as implausibly rationalistic; further, a posteriori physicalists maintain that even if the principle is applicable to many narrow concepts, phenomenal concepts have unique features that render them inferentially isolated from other narrow concepts (a dialectical move known as “the phenomenal concept strategy” (PCS)). I argue, on the contrary, that the case for the perspicuity principle is quite strong. Moreover, not only have versions of the PCS repeatedly failed, likely, all versions will, given the strange combination of lucidity and opacity that the PCS has to juggle (it requires that we come up with a lucid explanation of an irremediable cognitive blindspot). I conclude that a posteriori physicalists currently lack a principled objection to classic anti-physicalist arguments.


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


  1. Balog, K. (2012). Acquaintance and the mind-body problem. In S. Gozzano & C. S. Hill (Eds.), New perspectives on type identity: The mental and the physical (pp. 16–42). New York: Cambridge UP.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Block, N. (2007). Max Black’s objection to mind-body identity. In T. Alter & S. Walter (Eds.), Phenomenal concepts and phenomenal knowledge (pp. 249–306). New York: Oxford UP.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Carey, S. (2009). The origin of concepts. New York: Oxford UP.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Chalmers, D. (2003). The content and epistemology of phenomenal belief. In Q. Smith & A. Jokic (Eds.), Consciousness: New philosophical perspectives (pp. 220–272). New York: Oxford UP.Google Scholar
  5. Chalmers, D. (2007). Phenomenal concepts and the explanatory gap. In T. Alter & S. Walter (Eds.), Phenomenal concepts and phenomenal knowledge (pp. 167–194). New York: Oxford UP.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Damnjanovic, N. (2012). Revelation and physicalism. Dialectica, 66, 69–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Demircioglu, E. (2013). Physicalism and phenomenal concepts. Philosophical Studies, 165(1), 257–277.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Diaz-Leon, E. (2014). Do a posteriori physicalists get our phenomenal concepts wrong? Ratio, 27, 1–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Diaz-Leon, E. (2016). Phenomenal concepts: neither circular nor opaque. Philosophical Psychology, 29, 1186–1199.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Frege, G. (1892/1997). “On Sinn and Bedeutung.” In M. Beaney (ed.), The Frege Reader. Blackwell. Trans. M. Black.Google Scholar
  11. Goff, P. (2011). A posteriori physicalists get our phenomenal concepts wrong. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 89, 191–209.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Goff, P. (2015). Real acquaintance and physicalism. In P. Coates & S. Coleman (Eds.), Phenomenal qualities: sense, perception, and consciousness (pp. 121–146). Oxford: Oxford UP.Google Scholar
  13. Hill, C. (1997). Imaginability, conceivability, possibility, and the mind-body problem. Philosophical Studies, 87, 61–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Hill, C., & McLaughlin, B. (1999). There are fewer things in reality than are dreamt of in Chalmers’ philosophy. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 59, 445–454.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Holman, E. (2013). Phenomenal concepts as bare recognitional concepts: harder to debunk than you thought, …but still possible. Philosophical Studies, 164(3), 807–827.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Horgan, T., & Tienson, J. (2001). Deconstructing new wave materialism. In C. Gillett & B. Loewer (Eds.), Physicalism and its discontents (pp. 307–318). Cambridge: Cambridge UP.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Kahneman, D., & Tversky, A. (1982). Judgments of and by representativeness. In D. Kahneman, P. Slovic, & A. Tversky (Eds.), Judgment under uncertainty: Heuristics and biases. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Kinzler, K., & Spelke, E. (2007). Core systems in human cognition. Progress in Brain Research, 164, 257–264.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Kripke, S. (1979). A puzzle about belief. In A. Margalit (Ed.), Meaning and use (pp. 239–283). Dordrecht: Reidel.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (1980). Metaphors we live by. University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  21. Langacker, R. (1991). Foundations of cognitive grammar, descriptive applications (Vol. 2). Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Levin, J. (2007). What is a phenomenal concept? In T. Alter & S. Walter (Eds.), Phenomenal concepts and phenomenal knowledge (pp. 87–110). New York: Oxford UP.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Loar, B. (1997). Phenomenal states. In O. Flanagan, N. Block, & G. Guzeldere (Eds.), The nature of consciousness. MIT Press.Google Scholar
  24. Lycan, W. (1990). What is the ‘subjectivity’ of the mental? Philosophical Perspectives, 11, 229–238.Google Scholar
  25. Marr, David. (1982). Vision. Freeman.Google Scholar
  26. Martin, A. (2007). The representation of object concepts in the brain. Annual Review of Psychology, 58, 25–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. McLaughlin, B. (2001). In defense of new wave materialism: a response to Horgan and Tienson. In C. Gillett & B. M. Loewer (Eds.), Physicalism and its discontents. Cambridge: Cambridge UP.Google Scholar
  28. Papineau, D. (2002). Thinking about consciousness. New York: Oxford UP.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Papineau, D. (2007). Phenomenal and perceptual concepts. In T. Alter & S. Walter (Eds.), Phenomenal concepts and phenomenal knowledge (pp. 111–144). New York: Oxford UP.Google Scholar
  30. Perry, J. (1979). The problem of the essential indexical. Noûs, 13, 3–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Perry, J. (2001). Knowledge, possibility and consciousness. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  32. Schroer, R. (2010). Where’s the beef? Phenomenal concepts as both demonstrative and substantial. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 88, 505–522.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Stoljar, D. (2006). Ignorance and imagination: the epistemic origin of the problem of consciousness. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Sturgeon, S. (1994). The epistemic basis of subjectivity. Journal of Philosophy, 91, 221–235.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Tye, M. (1999). Phenomenal consciousness: the explanatory gap as a cognitive illusion. Mind, 108, 705–725.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Tye, M. (2009). Consciousness revisited: materialism without phenomenal concepts. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyValparaiso UniversityValparaisoUSA

Personalised recommendations