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Why the Ability Hypothesis Is Best Forgotten

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According to the knowledge argument, physicalism fails because when physically omniscient Mary first sees red, her gain in phenomenal knowledge involves a gain in factual knowledge. Thus not all facts are physical facts. According to the ability hypothesis, the knowledge argument fails because Mary only acquires abilities to imagine, remember and recognise redness, and not new factual knowledge. I argue that reducing Mary's new knowledge to abilities does not affect the issue of whether she also learns factually: I show that gaining specific new phenomenal knowledge is required for acquiring abilities of the relevant kind. Phenomenal knowledge being basic to abilities, and not vice versa, it is left an open question whether someone who acquires such abilities also learns something factual. The answer depends on whether the new phenomenal knowledge involved is factual. But this is the same question we wanted to settle when first considering the knowledge argument. The ability hypothesis, therefore, has offered us no dialectical progress with the knowledge argument, and is best forgotten.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Dept. of Philosophy, de Havilland Campus, University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield AL10 9AB, U.K., Email:

Publication date: January 1, 2009


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