, Volume 36, Issue 1, pp 81–93 | Cite as

Access Denied to Zombies

  • Gualtiero PiccininiEmail author


I argue that metaphysicians of mind have not done justice to the notion of accessibility between possible worlds. Once accessibility is given its due, physicalism must be reformulated and conceivability arguments must be reevaluated. To reach these conclusions, I explore a novel way of assessing the zombie conceivability argument. I accept that zombies are possible and ask whether that possibility is accessible from our world in the sense of ‘accessible’ used in possible world semantics. It turns out that the question whether zombie worlds are accessible from our world is equivalent to the question whether physicalism is true at our world. By assuming that zombie worlds are accessible from our world, proponents of the zombie conceivability argument beg the question against physicalism. In other words, it is a mistake to assume that the metaphysical possibility of zombies entails that physicalism is false at our world. I will then consider what happens if a proponent of the zombie conceivability argument should insist that zombie worlds are accessible from our world. I will argue that the same ingredients used in the zombie conceivability argument—whatever exactly they might be—can be used to construct an argument to the opposite conclusion. At that point, we reach a stalemate between physicalism and property dualism: while the possibility of zombies entails property dualism, the possibility of other creatures entails physicalism. Since these two possibilities are mutually inconsistent, either one of them is not genuine or one of them is inaccessible from the actual world. To resolve this stalemate, we need more than traditional conceivability arguments.


Possible world Accessibility Metaphysical possibility Zombie Conceivability argument Physicalism Property dualism 


  1. Balog K (1999) Conceivability, Possibility, and the mind-body problem. Philos Rev 108(4):497–528Google Scholar
  2. Bealer G (1994) Mental properties. J Philos 91:185–208CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bigelow J, Pargetter R (1991) Science and necessity. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Brown R (2010) Deprioritizing the a priori arguments against physicalism. J Conscious Stud 17(3–4):47–69Google Scholar
  5. Campbell KK (1970) Body and mind. Doubleday, Garden CityCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Chalmers DJ (1995) Facing up to the Problem of Consciousness. J Conscious Stud 2:200–219Google Scholar
  7. Chalmers DJ (1996) The conscious mind: in search of a fundamental theory. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  8. Chalmers DJ (2002) Does conceivability entail possibility? In: Szabó Gendler T, Hawthorne J (eds) Conceivability and possibility. Clarendon Press, Oxford, pp 145–200Google Scholar
  9. Chalmers DJ (2003) Consciousness and Its place in nature. In: Stich SP, Warfield TA (eds) The Blackwell guide to the philosophy of mind. Blackwell, Madden, pp 102–142Google Scholar
  10. Chalmers DJ (2004) Imagination, indexicality, and intensions. Philos Phenomenol Res 58(1):182–190CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Chalmers DJ (2010) The character of consciousness. Oxford University Press, OxfordCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Frankish K (2007) The anti-zombie argument. Philos Q 57(229):650–666CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Garson J (2003) Modal logic. In: Zalta EN (ed) The stanford encyclopedia of philosophy (summer 2005 edition).
  14. Garson J (2013) Modal logic for philosophers, 2nd edn. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hawthorne JP (2002) Blocking definitions of materialism. Philos Stud 110:103–113CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hermes CM (2004) Two concepts of nomic accessibility. Southwest Philos Rev 20(2):87–94CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hintikka J (1963) The modes of modality. Acta Philos Fenn 16:65–79Google Scholar
  18. Horgan T (1982) Supervenience and microphysics. Pac Philos Q 63:29–43Google Scholar
  19. Horgan T (1993) From supervenience to superdupervenience: meeting the demands of a material world. Mind 102:555–586CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Horgan T (2006) Materialism: matters of definition, defense, and deconstruction. Philos Stud 131:157–183CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Horgan T (2010) Materialism, minimal emergentism, and the hard problem of consciousness. In: Bealer G, Koons R (eds) The waning of materialism. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 309–329CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Jackson F (1993) Armchair metaphysics. In: O'Leary-Hawthorne J, Michael M (eds) Philosophy in Mind. Dordrecht, KluwerGoogle Scholar
  23. Jackson F (1994) Finding the mind in the natural world. In: Casati R, Smith B, White G (eds) Philosophy and the Cognitive Sciences, Vienna, Holder-Pichler-TempskyGoogle Scholar
  24. Jackson F (1998) From metaphysics to ethics: a defence of conceptual analysis. Clarendon Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  25. Kim J (1993) Supervenience and mind. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Kim J (2005) Physicalism or something near enough. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  27. Kirk R (1974) Zombies vs materialists. Proc Aristot Soc (Suppl Vol) 48:135–152CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Kripke SA (1963a) Semantical analysis of modal logic i: normal modal propositional calculi. Zeitschrift für mathematische Logik und Grundlagen der Mathematik 9:67–96CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Kripke SA (1963b) Semantical considerations on modal logic. Acta Philos Fenn 16:83–94Google Scholar
  30. Kripke SA (1980) Naming and necessity. Harvard University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  31. Leuenberger S (2008) Ceteris absentibus physicalism. In: Zimmerman DW (ed) Oxford studies in metaphysics. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 145–170Google Scholar
  32. Levine J (2001) Purple haze: the puzzle of consciousness. Oxford University Press, OxfordCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Lewis DK (1983) New work for a theory of universals. Australas J Philos 61:343–377CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Linsky L (ed) (1971) Reference and modality. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  35. Loux MJ (ed) (1979) The possible and the actual. Cornell University Press, IthacaGoogle Scholar
  36. Lynch MP (2004) Zombies and the case of the phenomenal pickpocket. Synthese 149:37–58Google Scholar
  37. Marcus E (2004) Why zombies are inconceivable. Australas J Philos 82(3):477–490CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Marton P (1998) Zombies vs. materialists: the battle for conceivability. Southwest Philos Rev 14:131–138CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. McDermott M (1999) Counterfactuals and access points. Mind 108(430):291–334CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. McGinn C (2004) Consciousness and its objects. Oxford University Press, OxfordCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Melnyk A (2001) Physicalism unfalsified: chalmers’s inconclusive conceivability argument. In: Gillett C, Loewer B (eds) Physicalism and its discontents. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  42. Mitchell SD (2003) Biological complexity and integrative pluralism. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Papineau D (2002) Thinking about consciousness. Oxford University Press, OxfordCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Piccinini G (2003) Epistemic divergence and the publicity of scientific methods. Stud Hist Philos Sci 34(3):597–612CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Polger TW (2000) Zombies explained. In: Ross D, Brook A, Thompson D (eds) Dennett’s philosophy: a comprehensive assessment. MIT Press, Cambridge, pp 259–286Google Scholar
  46. Rescher N, Brandom RB (1979) The logic of inconsistency: a study in non-standard possible-world semantics and ontology. Rowman and Littlefield, TotowaGoogle Scholar
  47. Rowlands M (2001) The nature of consciousness. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Salmon N (1989) The logic of what might have been. Philos Rev 98(1):3–34CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Searle JR (1992) The rediscovery of the mind. MIT Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  50. Stalnaker R (2002) What is it like to be a Zombie? In: Szabó Gendler T, Hawthorne J (eds) Conceivability and possibility. Clarendon Press, Oxford, pp 385–400Google Scholar
  51. Stoljar D (2001) The conceivability argument and two conceptions of the physical. Philos Perspect 13:393–413Google Scholar
  52. Stoljar D (2005) Physicalism and phenomenal concepts. Mind Lang 20(5):469–494CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Stoljar D (2006) Zombies and actors. In: Byrne A, Jarvis Thomson J (eds) Content and modality: themes from the philosophy of Robert Stalnaker. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  54. Sturgeon S (2000) Matters of mind: consciousness, reason and nature. Routledge, LondonGoogle Scholar
  55. Tennant N, Jackson F (1994) Logic and physicalism. In: Casati R, Smith B, White G (eds) Philosophy and the cognitive sciences: proceedings of the 16th international wittgenstein symposium. Hölder-Pichler-Tempsky, Vienna, pp 113–126Google Scholar
  56. Wedgewood R (2000) The price of non-reductive physicalism. Nous 34(3):400–421CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Wilson J (1999) How superduper does a physicalist supervenience need to be? Philos Q 49:33–52CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Wilson J (2005) Supervenience-based formulations of physicalism. Nous 29:426–459CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Worley S (2003) Conceivability, possibility, and physicalism. Analysis 63(1):15–23CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Yablo S (1999) Concepts and consciousness. Philos Phenomenol Res 59:455–463CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Yablo S (2002) Coulda, woulda, shoulda. In: Szabó Gendler T, Hawthorne J (eds) Conceivability and possibility. Clarendon Press, Oxford, pp 441–492Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Philosophy, Center for NeurodynamicsUniversity of Missouri – St. LouisSt. LouisUSA

Personalised recommendations