Mind Philosophy of Mind Knowledge Essay

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Philosophy of Mind


(1) Does the Knowledge Argument establish that physicalism is false?

In the modern age of materialism the phsyicalist view of the acquisition of mind, knowledge and experience has become a dominant epistemological view. However this materialist view of reality has been contested in numerous arguments. The Knowledge Argument aims to refute physicalism, which is essentially the doctrine that the world is entirely physical. As one critic notes, while physicalism is widely accepted in contemporary philosophy"… some doubt that phenomenal consciousness -- experience, the subjective aspect of the mind -- is physical. The Knowledge Argument articulates one of the main forms this doubt has taken"(Knowledge Argument Against Physicalism).

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In essence, the aim of the Knowledge Argument is to establish the fact that conscious experience as such also involves non-physical aspects. In this sense, it will be argued in this paper that the Knowledge Argument does not necessarily invalidate that all physicals experience as false. However, the Knowledge Argument strongly, and successfully, invalidates the argument that all knowledge and perception is physically based. What the Knowledge Argument attempts to do is to show that conscious experience of the world also must take into account non-physical aspects and properties. In other words, the central thesis that will be explored in the following discussion is that a view of consciousness and conscious experience as being exclusively determined by physical experience as the sole conduit of epistemological learning is false. This view suggests that a duality should be suggested in which physicality is combined with other non-physical experiences of consciousness in the determination of human experience. The paper will consist of an exploration of physicalism and the Knowledge Argument and an assessment of the way in which this argument impacts physicalism.

2. Physicalism

Essay on Mind Philosophy of Mind Knowledge (1) Does Assignment

Physicalism refers to the doctrine that "…the world is entirely physical" (Knowledge Argument Against Physicalism). In terms of the philosophy of mind the following definition sums up some of the main aspects of the doctrine of physicalism:

Every human mind, every instance of a human mental property, and every human mental process is either (1) an item of a kind that can in principle be defined in the distinctive vocabulary of fundamental physics or (2) a physically realized item of some functional kind" (a Case for Physicalism about the Human Mind (the Great Debate)).

In terms of the philosophy of science, physicalism is the view that all "…factual knowledge can be formulated as a statement about physical objects and activities" (Mandik, 2004). Physicalism is also related to the materialist stance that views human beings and human being as completely physical in nature. In other words, the only things that truly exist in reality are physical substances, processes and properties, as well as physical events. While events can be considered to be external occurrences they in fact occur within the physical brain: "So when someone has an occasion of pain or an occurrence of a thought, physicalists hold that these are merely physical events & #8230;" ( Pratt, 2012). In essence therefore, the physicalist viewpoint is that there is no such thing as an immaterial aspect to mind and that all perception and knowledge must be explained in terms of material or physical substances and processes.

3. Knowledge Argument

Frank Jackson's Knowledge Argument (1982, 1986) puts forward the view that "…there can be no physicalist account of phenomenal consciousness" (Nagasawa). This stance is also described as being "…one of the most famous and provocative thought experiments in the philosophy of mind" (Nagasawa).

This classic modern reappraisal of the physicalism or materialism takes the form of a hypothetical argument. Jackson suggests the figure of Mary who is a scientist in the future. The hypothetical environment in which she lives is one where all physical facts have been discovered. This includes "everything in completed physics, chemistry, and neurophysiology, and all there is to know about the causal and relational facts consequent upon all this, including of course functional roles" (Jackson 1982, p. 51).

However, this hypothetical scientist spends her life in a room which is black and white and she has no experience of color. She sees and experiences color for the first time when she leaves the room.

From this scenario Jackson puts forward the argument that if the theory of physicalism were true and the physical alone could account for all knowledge and experience, then Mary should know all about color before she leaves the room and therefore should not be surprised by her encounter with color outside the room. But only when she leaves the room does she first learn about color. She sees a red tomato for the first time. As one commentator notes; "She learns what it's like to see colors, that is, she learns about qualia, the properties that characterize what it's like. Her new phenomenal knowledge includes knowledge of truths. Therefore, physicalism is false" (Knowledge Argument Against Physicalism).

Therefore, from this example we cash deduce that the central foundation of the Knowledge Argument is that "….someone who has complete physical knowledge about another conscious being might yet lack knowledge about how it feels to have the experiences of that being" (Qualia: The Knowledge Argument, 2002). In essence this point-of-view is that there are conscious truths in reality and human experience that cannot be deduced from the physical.

The argument begins with the claim that there are truths about consciousness that cannot be deduced from the complete physical truth. This contradicts the central tenet of physicalism, which is that the entire and complete physical truth is not necessarily the whole truth in terms of human mind and consciousness. Put in another way, if physicalism is in fact true then Mary's complete knowledge of the physical means that she "….must have complete knowledge simpliciter" (Nagasawa). However, it is clear that when she leaves the black and white physical space she will encounter new experiences, such as the visual experience of the red tomato; which in turn means that the basic assumption of physicalism is false.

This argument can be summarized as follows:

(a) Mary (before her release) knows everything physical there is to know about other people. Mary (before her release) does not know everything there is to know about other people (because she learns something about them on her release).

(b) Therefore, there are truths about other people (and herself) that escape the physicalist story. (Jackson 1986, p. 293)

Following from the above, the Knowledge Argument can be divided into two different but related statements. The one is that, "… physical knowledge is not sufficient for phenomenal knowledge" and the other is that, "… knowledge intuition entails the falsity of physicalism" (Knowledge Argument Against Physicalism). It should also be noted that the Knowledge Argument against the materialist worldview if not really new in the history of philosophy. Knowledge intuition or the view that knowledge could be immaterial was discussed by the 18th Century British empiricists, such as Locke (Knowledge Argument Against Physicalism).

4. Summation and Conclusion

The above discussion has been intended to provide an answer to the central question of this paper; which is, does the Knowledge Argument establish that physicalism is false? If one accepts the argument behind physicalism that all knowledge and experience is physically based and explainable, then the Knowledge Argument does prove this assertion to be false. The Knowledge Argument posits the view that there are areas of knowledge and understanding of reality that are essentially outside the parameters of the physical. This refers to the hypothetical scenario suggested by Jackson, where there are conceivable areas of experience and understanding that cannot be determined by the physical alone.

Consequently, this suggests the view that there should be a duality of understanding and perception. This refers to the view that both arguments -- the physicalism or materialist view and the Knowledge Argument- are both only partially true. In other words, one could argue that from this point-of-view physicalism false if it assert that it is the only measure of truth. However, if a duality of understanding is achieved and the view is accepted that physicality is only partially true and that there are other avenues to truth that are immaterial, then one could assert that physicality is an acceptable point-of-view. What becomes clear from the above arguments and discussion is that one cannot be exclusive or too dogmatic about the immense and complex possibilities of human experience and knowledge.

In the final analysis the following comment about this issue should be made. The debate and in particular the opposition to the point-of-view of physicalism is seen by many critics and commentators as being extremely important and relevant in our contemporary world. The growth of scientific and other forms of materialism has resulted in a form of reductionism or the restrictive world view that is suggested by materialism. Some commentators suggest that there is a danger that physicalism will result in a failure to perceive the full potential of human understanding and knowledge (Sperring, 2004). This also refers to aspects such… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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