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On Epistemic and Ontological Aspects of Consciousness: Modal Arguments and Their Possible Implications

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Anti-materialist thought experiments as, e.g., zombie arguments, have posed some of the most vexing problems for materialist accounts of phenomenal consciousness. I doubt, however, that arguments of this kind can refute the core thesis of materialism. Although I do not question that there is something very special about an adequate explanation of phenomenal consciousness, and although I accept the epistemic irreducibility of phenomenal consciousness, I deny that modal arguments reach far enough to establish essentialism about consciousness. I will draw upon a relativistic conception of modal space and suggest to strictly separate between varieties of metaphysical possibility - depending on which world is considered as actual, and depending on accessibility relations. It is shown that the modal argument cannot endanger the reductive explanation of the mind-brain relation if one distinguishes carefully between possibility according to primary intensions (epistemic possibility) and possibility according to secondary intensions (meta-physical possibility). Modal arguments are strong enough to make an epistemological point but not an ontological one.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Philosophy Johannes Gutenberg- University at Mainz, Germany

Publication date: January 1, 2005


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