Pleading ignorance in response to experiential primitivism


Modal arguments like the Knowledge Argument, the Conceivability Argument and the Inverted Spectrum Argument could be used to argue for experiential primitivism; the view that experiential truths aren’t entailed from nonexperiential truths. A way to resist these arguments is to follow Stoljar (Ignorance and imagination. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2006) and plead ignorance of a type of experience-relevant nonexperiential truth. If we are ignorant of such a truth, we can’t imagine or conceive of the various sorts of scenarios that are required to make these arguments sound. While I am sympathetic to this response, in this article I will argue that we have good reason to believe that this particular ignorance hypothesis is false.

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  1. 1.

    Paul Churchland (1985) and David Lewis (1988) make a similar point regarding Jackson’s (1982) knowledge argument. They argue that we would still have the intuition that Mary learns something new when she sees red for the first time, even if we supposed that she already knew all the truths about ectoplasm in her black and white room.

  2. 2.

    Note that my wording of (E1) differs from Stoljar’s due to a difference in the way we explicitly cash out the problem. Nonetheless, the difference is merely terminological.

  3. 3.

    Stoljar claims that the notion of relevance here is similar to J. L Mackie’s (1974) notion of an INUS condition.

  4. 4.

    Some take Broad to have also gone on to argue for an ontological gap, but this is again to digress into what exactly emergentism is; whether it is an epistemic or ontological doctrine. We needn’t be concerned with this debate here.

  5. 5.

    Stoljar, personal communication.

  6. 6.

    The proponent of the ignorance hypothesis doesn’t specify what demarcates types of truths. Therefore, the notion of truth type-hood here will be understood as the intuitive one; whatever that may be.

  7. 7.

    One might, for instance, argue that we can know about these intrinsic properties directly, or one might simply deny humility by denying the existence of intrinsic properties. In the latter case, one has to suppose that there can be ungrounded causes or that the chain of grounding goes down infinitely.

  8. 8.

    Stoljar, for instance, provides us with examples where we can deduce intrinsic truths from extrinsic ones. He argues that “being a husband is a relational property of Jack Spratt, and being a wife is a relational property of his wife. But being married is an intrinsic property of the pair (or the sum) of Jack Spratt and his wife”. (Stoljar 2006, p.152).

  9. 9.

    See Robert Francescotti (1999).

  10. 10.

    This is a simplified version of the argument for Ramseyan humility. See Lewis (2009) for a more detailed way of arriving at the view.

  11. 11.

    There is a slight disparity between the humility view Maxwell appears to have in mind and the Lewisian one we have been assuming so far. Maxwell thinks that we can someday empirically come to discover what these intrinsic properties are, whereas the Lewisian humility thesis implies that we can never come to discover what these properties actually are. The difference might be due to a difference in taking these intrinsic properties to be basic or phenomenal.

  12. 12.

    Stoljar (personal communication) points out that the atomistic properties posited by early physicalists could count as being protophenomenal on Chalmers’s account because they too instantiate phenomenal properties when jointly instantiated. Therefore, it isn’t clear how panprotopsychism differs from physicalism. I take it that a panprotopsychist could respond by claiming that the phenomenal grounds the physical and the protophenomenal are what in fact grounds the phenomenal.

  13. 13.

    Many thanks to Daniel Stoljar, David Braddon-Mitchell, Kristie Miller, Ben Blumson and audience members at the ANU Philosophy Society Seminar (2010) and the Australasian Association of Philosophy Conference (2008).


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Correspondence to Raamy Majeed.

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Majeed, R. Pleading ignorance in response to experiential primitivism. Philos Stud 163, 251–269 (2013).

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  • Ignorance hypothesis
  • Qualia
  • Zombies
  • Conceivability
  • Consciousness
  • Panpsychism
  • Ramseyan humility
  • Epistemic gap
  • Physicalism