Can Physicalism Account For Qualia?

3467 words - 14 pages

Can physicalism account for qualia? Physicalist theories of mind presented a new alternative for those who rejected dualism yet could not bring themselves to endorse behaviourism. Proposing that that mental events are physical ones, physicalist theories lack the mystical quality of dualist explanations of mind, and avoid behaviourism's greatest flaw: the complete denial (or glossing over) of inner mental life. Simple introspection seems to make the denial of this inner mental life quite ridiculous - all philosophers are familiar with Descartes' Cogito Ergo Sum (2006). However, as with behaviourism, this inner mental life creates a difficult obstacle for physicalism to surmount. ...view middle of the document...

756). There are also other possible reasons that the two may be impossible to reconcile - not because physicalism is false, but rather because there is something wrong about our notion of qualia. Before the compatibility of physicalism and qualia can be considered, first we must make sure that we have clear ideas of each concept. There are many forms of physicalism. Physicalist theories all share one thing in common: they all make the claim that there is only one type of "stuff" - the physical - and that the mind is therefore a physical entity. This is usually taken to mean that our mental lives should be describable in physical terms, though it is important to note that this is not logically necessary: it is not a contradiction to hold that our mental lives are physical, yet indescribable (possibly because we lack the linguistic sophistication to do so). However, the ability to describe the mental in terms of the physical is usually held by physicalists, and accordingly many arguments focus on this. The motivation behind this assertion of the describability of the mental in terms of the physical is clear: without it, a physicalist conception of mind would be scientifically useless, a conclusion unpalatable to physicalists - especially given the close ties between physicalism and neuroscience. For the purpose of this paper, we may consider an attack on describability an attack on physicalism in general. The basic expression of physicalism is that of mind-brain identity, which suggests that a mental event is identical with a brain state. For example, being in pain would be identified with the brain being in a certain state, thinking about tennis with another, and so on. This position has evolved into more sophisticated forms in response to various objections. Most notably "token identity" was developed in response to objections about the necessary nature of identification of a mental event "X" with a brain state "Y". Token identity allows that my brain state for pain may be different from another person's (or even my own at another time): it merely states that any given mental event will be identified with a token (particular instance of a) brain state. Functionalism is a type of physicalism which holds that the mind, while still physical, is defined by the causal and functional relations that it consists of, and it only happens that, in the case of humans, these relations are seated in the brain. It is equally possible, under a functionalist understanding of mind, that minds may appear in other physical systems. This view is not incompatible with token identity theory (Fodor, 1981, p.174), and as such functionalism may be considered a more sophisticated expression of this. Qualia are an aspect of conscious experience. The term is closely linked with the idea of a phenomenology: that there is something which it is like to be something. It is like something to be a human, but there is not something which it is like to be a rock. Thus humans hav...


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