Philosophy Word of the Day – The Knowledge Argument Against Physicalism

The knowledge argument is one of the main challenges to physicalism, the doctrine that the world is entirely physical. The argument begins with the claim that there are truths about consciousness that cannot be deduced from the complete physical truth [i.e., a complete physical description of the world]. For example, Frank Jackson’s Mary, learns all the physical truths from within a black-and-white room. Then she leaves the room, sees a red tomato for the first time, and learns new truths—new phenomenal truths about what it’s like to see red. The argument then infers that, contrary to physicalism, the complete physical truth is not the whole truth. The physical truth does not determine or metaphysically necessitate the whole truth about the world.

(Via Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Yes, I’d wager there’s more going on inside of us than “accidental collocations of atoms.”


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3 thoughts on “Philosophy Word of the Day – The Knowledge Argument Against Physicalism

  1. Physicalism holds that there are only physical PROPERTIES. Most modern positions agree that there is no non-physical SUBSTANCE (ie. mental substance).

    Moreover – with Mary – why can’t it be that the phenomenal experience has a physical basis? Knowing what that basis is need not necessitate knowledge of the phenomenal experience of red any more than understanding how c-fibers generate pain need not entail a phenomenal experience of pain.

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