Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Inconceivable Minds
by Ross, Amber, Ph.D., The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2013, 246; 3562947
Abstract (Summary)

The current debate over the metaphysical nature of the mind is dominated by two major philosophical views: property dualism and physicalism. According to property dualism, mental properties are of metaphysically distinct types. There are "phenomenal properties", or "qualia", the properties that constitute conscious experience, and there are the cognitive or functional properties of the mind. According to physicalism, there is one metaphysical type of mental property, though there may be a deep conceptual divide between experience and cognition.

I challenge both these assumptions. Focusing on two of the most popular anti-physicalist arguments—the Conceivability Argument and the Knowledge Argument—I argue that the property dualist's account of the relationship between consciousness and behavior—the "explanatory irrelevance" of consciousness to sufficient explanations our behavior and how we make judgment about our conscious experience—make the first argument untenable and the second irrelevant to the metaphysical debate.

I also present a case against a physicalist conceptual separation between cognition and consciousness by challenging the "Phenomenal Concept Strategy", the most popular argument supporting such a separation. This conceptual separation supposedly allows us to conceive of "philosophical zombies", creature physically identical to human beings but who lack conscious experience. The phenomenal concept strategy aims to explain how we can conceive of zombies while maintaining a physicalist account of the metaphysics of mind.

For this strategy to succeed, the physicalist must show that we share our epistemic situation regarding consciousness with our "zombie-twins". Zombies make claims about their own phenomenal experience, just as we do, but by definition they have none. I examine the most common physicalist interpretation of the zombies' beliefs about their own conscious experiences and show that this leads to the creation of "inconceivable minds"—creatures whose mental features would be incompatible with the very interpretation of zombie "phenomenal" belief on which this strategy is based.

My dissertation has two overarching goals. First, to undermine the plausibility of the two most popular arguments for property dualism, and second, to force physicalists to reconsider both the phenomenal concept strategy and their commitment to the genuine conceivability of zombies.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Lycan, William G., Dennett, Daniel C.
Commitee: Bar-On, Dorit, Huebner, Bryce, Neta, Ram
School: The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Department: Philosophy
School Location: United States -- North Carolina
Source: DAI-A 74/09(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Metaphysics, Philosophy
Keywords: Conceivabiltiy, Consciousness, Metaphysics, Mind, Phenomenal
Publication Number: 3562947
ISBN: 9781303108600
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