Physicalism and the phenomenal-physical gap : can a posteriori necessary physicalism adequately respond to the problem of phenomenal subjecthood?

Arıcı, Murat
Phenomenal consciousness presents a recalcitrant problem for the scientific conception of the world and the physicalist thesis that claims that everything that exists (including whatever is involved in any mental phenomena) is physical and physically explainable. Thus, on this view, every truth is a physical truth. By Putnam-Kripkean considerations and for several other reasons, I defend the claim that any version of such a physicalist thesis must be a necessary thesis, which ultimately means that contingent physicalism is not tenable. Against this thesis, philosophers have put forward several anti-physicalist arguments including the knowledge argument, the conceivability/modal argument, the explanatory gap argument, and the property dualism argument. All these arguments rest on the assumption of an epistemic/explanatory gap, which I call the “phenomenal-physical gap,” between the phenomenal and the physical. I claim that the phenomenal-physical gap (the PP-gap) is unbridgeable, from which it can be concluded that a priori physicalism is not tenable. The phenomenal concept strategy (PCS), which is a specific strategy within a posteriori necessary physicalism, aims at offering an explanation in physical terms of why we have such an unbridgeable gap by differentiating between phenomenal and physical concepts in a fundamental way. Nevertheless, proponents of PCS—the most promising version of a posteriori necessary physicalism—face a severe problem that I call “the problem of phenomenal subjecthood” in explaining in physical terms why we have the PP-gap. The phenomenon of “experiencing” consists of three substantially existing elements: the phenomenal subject (the experiencer), the experiential item (what is experienced by the subject), and the phenomenal s-v-o relation (the experiential relation) between the first two. I argue for the substantial existence of phenomenal subjects based on an argument I provide, the reality of some mental phenomena such as phenomenal unity and continuity, and the mental facts concerning phenomenal peculiarity, phenomenal agency, and the sense of phenomenal I-ness, the reality of all of which one cannot deny. Since PCS accounts are mostly qualia-centered accounts that ignore the reality of phenomenal subjects and the phenomenal s-v-o relation, they cannot account for the PP-gap in physical terms without first offering substantial theories of phenomenal subjecthood. But once they grant the substantiality of phenomenal subjects, they face severe difficulties in establishing their accounts of the nature of phenomenal concept, and thus the PP-gap in physical terms.


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Citation Formats
M. Arıcı, “ Physicalism and the phenomenal-physical gap : can a posteriori necessary physicalism adequately respond to the problem of phenomenal subjecthood?,” Ph.D. - Doctoral Program, Middle East Technical University, 2011.