Wittgenstein versus Zombies: An Investigation of Our Mental Concepts

  • Edward WitherspoonEmail author
Part of the The Frontiers Collection book series (FRONTCOLL)


Many philosophers think that there could be a creature that looks, talks, and acts just like a human being but that has no inner awareness, no feelings, no qualia. These philosophers call such a hypothetical being a ‘zombie’, and they use the possibility of zombies to defend central claims in the philosophy of mind. In this essay, I use Wittgensteinian ideas to argue, against such philosophers, that the notion of a zombie is incoherent. I argue first that the possibility of zombies would entail a radical form of skepticism about other minds. I then use that result to argue that philosophers who believe zombies are possible cannot account for the meaningfulness of terms like ‘pain’, ‘qualia’, and ‘phenomenal consciousness’.  Since philosophers who think zombies are possible require such terms to define their position, I conclude that such philosophers employ words to which they have given no meaning. I close the essay by reflecting on the nature of these arguments and by drawing some Wittgensteinian lessons about the character of our mental concepts.

Works Cited

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyColgate UniversityHamiltonUSA

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