Contemporary philosophy draws from both the reality or the physical world and the perspective of knowledge. Different philosophers have shown the difference between the two, with those biased to consciousness claiming that knowledge makes physicality obsolete. This paper seeks to dissect this claim through the available evidence in an attempt to establish its validity.
Knowledge and Reality
There exists a heated debate between physicality and consciousness, with the latter branding the former as unreal. To bring a greater understanding to the matter, philosophers have come up with theories to determine the relationship between the two. Some claim that physicality and consciousness are related while others believe that the two are totally different entities. This essay takes the stand that the existence of consciousness does not refute physicalism. Rather, the two are interrelated. To support this argument, evidence the essay will make use of Frank Jackson’s experiment (Alter and Walter, 2009).
In this experiment, Jackson portrays the picture of Mary, a color scientist who has been born, raised and educated in a monochrome environment. Finally, she is released from the room and encounters a red object for the first time. She therefore learns something new through a new experience. In his conclusion, Jack comes up with three major divisions of the knowledge intuition; first, there is the complete knowledge claim which claims that before leaving the room, Mary knew everything there was to learn about the physical world. It then claims that she learnt something new upon leaving the room. Lastly, Jack gives the non-deducibility claim which has it that if the first two claims are true, then whatever Mary learns after leaving the room cannot be deduced by reason alone -with no empirical analysis- from total physical truth (Alter, 2005). The conclusions drawn from this experiment prove that the world is not wholly physical. However, this is highly disputed as explained below.
Alter (2005) notes that this experiment seeks to show that there are some realities about the consciousness that cannot be deduced from the fullness of physical truth. Through an analysis of the experiment, he identifies some controversial assumptions that led Jack to his wrong conclusion. First, Alter (2005) notes that Jackson had a misconception of physicalism. He notes that the physical is not well defined; hence there is no way to determine whether it is right or wrong. Secondly, it claims that before leaving the room, Mary knows everything. However, this is not true since she was kept in a restrained environment. Therefore, she was not exposed to the whole truth. The experiment then goes on to assume that after leaving the room, Mary learns something new. This learning claim is unfounded since it springs from the failing to acknowledge that during the confinement period, there are some truths that she didn’t learn about physicalism. Therefore, she definitely had to learn them once released. This claim also fails to recognize that the phenomenal properties are just representational and Mary learns only unjustified beliefs.
The non-deducibility claim has it that Mary learns phenomenal truths after leaving the house, meaning that those truths cannot be deduced from the physical truth. What this claim fails to acknowledge is that the truths lack in the physical only because she had been kept from the relevant concepts. Therefore, she cannot learn from what is not availed. Alter (2005) also notes that the propositional –knowledge claim is refuted because after leaving the room, Mary only gains ability and acquaintance knowledge, which are non propositional. On the claim that Mary gained new information, it can be concluded that she comes to understand what she already knew as new. That is, the old fact, new representative view.
The experiment further claims that knowledge gain entails non-necessitation. This can however be countered by the understanding that physicalism is a posteriori necessity, agreeable with the claim that phenomenal truths cannot be explained from complete physical truth. Lastly, there is the assumption that both knowledge gain and non-physicalism are consistent. However, this assumption is inconsistent with epiphenomenalism, as explained by Alter (2005).
Stoljar (2009) also cites Jackson’s knowledge argument regarding knowledge. However, just like Alter (2005), he acknowledges that the knowledge argument against physicalism is believed to harbor a notion of qualia, based on qualities of experience. He also admits that this qualia notion raises concerns and confusions in relation to introspection, acquaintance, epistemic access, consciousness and the first person perspective among others. On the onset, this statement shows that there is doubt over the validity of the claims against physicalism. Nevertheless, Stoljar (2009) goes on to dissect Jack’s experiment, citing the three arguments about Mary: before her release, she knew everything physical about other people. However, she does not know everything there is to know about other since she learns more after being released. This clearly illustrates that some of the truths about herself and other people are not found in the physical understanding. Stoljar (2005) therefore concludes that the physicalism theory is untrue.
However, Stoljar cites other views disputing this conclusion. He first draws from the ability hypothesis as developed by Lawrence Nemerow and supported by David Lewis. This hypothesis draws the difference between propositional knowledge-that and knowledge-how. The conclusion that Mary did not know all there was to know about others could only be justified if she gained the propositional knowledge. However, she just gains the knowledge-how (Stoljar, 2009). Therefore, this claim does not hold.
Secondly, Stoljar (2009) differentiates between a priori and a posteriori physicalism. The a posteriori argument claims that prior experience with something is needed in order to understand it well. However, through the confinement, Mary had no opportunity at all to learn to get experience with the outside environment. However, this does not wholly discredit the a posteriori physicalism and this could be true. Therefore, if the a posteriori is physical, then it disputes the argument that Mary knew everything physical about others and herself.
In conclusion, this paper has dissected the issues of physicalism and knowledge, based on the need to determine whether knowledge or consciousness refutes physicalism. The paper has based its argument on the experiment by Jackson on Mary, a color scientist. The main aim was to determine whether the knowledge actually replaces or compliments physicalism. Mary is assumed to be in the physical when she is kept under confinement, and then conscious when released. Her learning experiences, as analyzed by various philosophers, help to compare physicalism and consciousness. As clearly indicated above, it became clear that there are some things that can be learnt in the physical and others cannot. On the other hand, to learn in the conscious, someone needs something in the physical. Therefore, this paper comes to the conclusion that the existence of the conscious does not refute the physical. On the contrary, the two seem to complement each other in the learning process.
Stoljar, D. (2009). Physicalism. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved on 8th Nov. 2011 from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/physicalism/#13
Alter, T. & Walter, S. (2009). Phenomenal Concepts and Phenomenal Knowledge: New Essays on Consciousness and Physicalism. Retrieved on 8th Nov. 2011 from http://ndpr.nd.edu/news/23511-phenomenal-concepts-and-phenomenal-knowledge-new-essays-on-consciousness-and-physicalism/
Alter, T. (2005). The Knowledge Argument Against Physicalism. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved on 8th Nov. 2011 from http://www.iep.utm.edu/know-arg/#H9