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What it's like and what's really wrong with physicalism: a Wittgensteinean perspective

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It is often argued that the existence of qualia -- private mental objects -- shows that physicalism is false. In this paper, I argue that to think in terms of qualia is a misleading way to develop what is in itself a valid intuition about the inability of physicalism to do justice to our conscious experience. I consider arguments by Dennett and Wittgenstein which indicate what is wrong with the notion of qualia, but which by so doing, help us to locate the real problem for physicalism. This is not that there may be mental as well as physical objects of which we are aware, but that the very notion of awareness is itself resistant to physicalist treatment. In the concluding sections, I draw on Wittgenstein's positive account of sensations, to suggest a way in which the apparent chasm separating objective and subjective viewpoints might be bridged in a non-reductive fashion.
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Keywords: Dennett; Wittgenstein; other minds problem; qualia; second-person perspective

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Dept. of Philosophy, Bristol University, Bristol BS8 1TB, UK.

Publication date: 1998-04-01

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