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Cognitive Architecture and the Epistemic Gap: Defending Physicalism without Phenomenal Concepts

Abstract

The novel approach presented in this paper accounts for the occurrence of the epistemic gap and defends physicalism against anti-physicalist arguments without relying on so-called phenomenal concepts. Instead of concentrating on conceptual features, the focus is shifted to the special characteristics of experiences themselves. To this extent, the account provided is an alternative to the Phenomenal Concept Strategy. It is argued that certain sensory representations, as accessed by higher cognition, lack constituent structure. Unstructured representations could freely exchange their causal roles within a given system which entails their functional unanalysability. These features together with the encapsulated nature of low level complex processes giving rise to unstructured sensory representations readily explain those peculiarities of phenomenal consciousness which are usually taken to pose a serious problem for contemporary physicalism. I conclude that if those concepts which are related to the phenomenal character of conscious experience are special in any way, their characteristics are derivative of and can be accounted for in terms of the cognitive and representational features introduced in the present paper.

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Acknowledgement

The present paper is an outcome of a collaboration with Zoltán Jakab. I am grateful to the University of Edinburgh College of Humanities and Social Sciences Scholarship and the Eötvös Scholarship from the Hungarian State for their generous support. Thanks to Jonas Christensen, Jesper Kallestrup, Andy Clark and an anonymous referee for their helpful comments. Special thanks to the organisers of the 2010 Rudolf Carnap Lecture and Graduate Workshop.

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Correspondence to Peter Fazekas.

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Fazekas, P. Cognitive Architecture and the Epistemic Gap: Defending Physicalism without Phenomenal Concepts. Philosophia 39, 21–29 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11406-010-9274-5

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11406-010-9274-5

Keywords

  • Unstructured representations
  • Phenomenal consciousness
  • Phenomenal concepts
  • Epistemic gap