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The zombie's cogito: Meditations on type-Q materialism

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Most materialist responses to the zombie argument against materialism take either a “type-A” or “type-B” approach: they either deny the conceivability of zombies or accept their conceivability while denying their possibility. However, a “type-Q” materialist approach, inspired by Quinean suspicions about a priority and modal entailment, rejects the sharp line between empirical and conceptual truths needed for the traditional responses. In this paper, I develop a type-Q response to the zombie argument, one stressing the theory-laden nature of our conceivability and possibility intuitions. I argue that our first-person access to the conscious mind systematically misleads us into thinking that the distinctive qualities of conscious experience—qualia—are nonfunctional. Qualia, I contend, are functional, even though they do not seem to be. To support my claim, I introduce the “meditations” of Rene Descartes’ zombie twin. This establishes the plausibility of an appearance/reality distinction for consciousness and it undermines various anti-materialist objections based on privileged first-person access. I conclude that the best overall theory posits an appearance/reality distinction for qualia, and this, for the type-Q materialist, is decisive.

Keywords: Consciousness; Qualia; Quine; Zombies

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: October 1, 2011

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