Been There/ Done That

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Explaining what?

I have almost finished the final version of my paper "Can phenomenal concepts explain the explanatory gap?". As I have said before, it is a reply to Chalmers' "Phenomenal Concepts and the Explanatory Gap", which poses a big dilemma for the phenomenal concept strategy. In my paper I try to find a way out of the dilemma.

The PC strategy aims to offer an alternative explanation of the explanatory gap in terms of the features of phenomenal concepts. A key issue is how to characterize the explanatory/ epistemic gap to be explained. Chalmers says that what has to be explained is our epistemic situation with regards to consciousness. But this seems too much: what poses the problem for physicalism is the fact that we can conceive of zombies, or more in general, P&~Q (where P is a physical description and Q is a phenomenal description of the world). So, what the PC strategy aims to explain is precisely this conceivability.

However, Chalmers insists that we should understand the epistemic gap between P and Q as involving beliefs about Q that are true and justified. Why? Well, the answer seems to be that the conceivability argument against physicalism requires Q to be true, because only then can the possibility of P&~Q be a problem for physicalism. But, why does this entail that the epistemic gap involves the truth and justification of our beliefs about Q? I don't see why.

Chalmers said (in response to my talk in Milan) that he understands the epistemic gap to be explained, in a topic-neutral way, that is, it does not involve phenomenal states. However, it does seem to involve phenomenal knowledge. There are different options here. One could say that if you characterise this "phenomenal" knowledge topic-neutrally, even a zombie could have that kind of knowledge. Another option is to say that that notion of phenomenal knowledge involves phenomenal states, by definition, otherwise it would not be phenomenal knowledge. What Chalmers wants is a third option: phenomenal knowledge is characterised topic-neutrally but zombies cannot have it, because they are not conscious. I tend to believe this is not plausible.
To sum up, there are two problems with Chalmers' argument. 1) It is not clear why the epistemic gap involves the truth and justification of Q, in addition to the inferential disconnection between P and Q. And 2), it is not clear that Chalmers can have the cake and eat it: he needs a notion of "phenomenal" knowledge that is topic-neutral but that zombies cannot have, but this seems dubious.


Blogger Dan López de Sa said...

Hi Esa! Glad to hear the paper is finished, well done! Is it available somewhere?

2:39 PM  
Blogger Esa said...

Well, the paper is almost finished. ;-) Thanks, though. The final draft is not available online, but it's available (from me) at request.

2:46 PM  
Blogger Dan López de Sa said...

I was (re-)reading Chalmers' piece, and found it (again) quite convincing—except, or course, for the conceivability of zombies ;-). (But, as you both emphasize, this seems to be common ground between dualists and defenders of the so-called ‘phenomenal concept strategy.’ (BTW, is there any alternative label for the view? I found this potentially misleading.))

I was not entirely sure about following your concerns against his argument. Just stipulate that ‘epistemic situation’ is to be understood in “topic-neutral” terms. Is it your view that then it is no longer clear that zombies do not share our epistemic situation? Or you refuse to acknowledge a physicalist obligation to explain it? Or none of these?

Maybe I should read the almost-final version of your paper, could you please send it to me? Cheers!

11:27 PM  
Blogger Sistemas Complejos said...

I do follow your criticism against Chalmers. I agree specially with the first point of your criticism (It is not clear why the epistemic gap involves the truth and justification of Q).

Dan, JOint us against Chalmers! (you will always be at Esa's opposite side, won't be?

Congratulations for your work with that paper. It is a JOyfuI new, you have to celebrate it! Feel JOyous, dear Esa!
JOlly good!!

8:18 AM  
Blogger Esa said...

Dan and Sistemas, thanks a lot for your comments and encouragement.

Dan, I do hold those two views: In my paper I offer a clear topic--neutral characterization of the epistemic gap (E), and I argue that zombies do satisfy it. Chalmers offers another characterization of the epistemic gap. It is not completely clear to me what his characterization is. I offer one interpretation of it, and I argue that it is not topic-neutral. Chalmers would say that I didn't get him right and that his E is topic-neutral indeed, but zombies cannot have it though. I argue in my paper that his E is not well motivated anyway, and I now think that this applies to his preferred (but obscure) reading of E.

(I spend one section on the second point that you mention. I think that those two points are complementary.)

10:05 PM  
Blogger Dan López de Sa said...

Cool, looking forward to reading your paper, if you send it to me!

10:07 PM  

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