Is ‘the conceivability argument’ a proof of dualism


Is ‘the conceivability argument’ a proof of dualism

        In this paper I intend to discuss how the conceivability argument helps to prove dualism. Dualism over the years has been the subject of many papers and studies. One of the most well known names linked to dualism is Rene Descartes who was arguably the first to formulate the ‘mind-body’ problem as it is known today. However, I intend to look closely at the more modern form of the conceivability argument as put forward by David Chalmers.  I will look at his arguments premise and in this paper and consider is they are true.

        The Conceivability Argument, also known as the modal argument or the Zombie argument, uses a theory which using David Chalmers modern explanation can be explained as 1) A ‘philosophical zombie’ is someone who appears outwardly as a normal human but does not have conscious experience or sense experience. 2) This ‘zombie’ would have all physical states but none of the mental states that of a human would. David Chalmers states that “according to this argument it is conceivable that there be a system that is physically identical to a conscious being but that lacks at least some of that being’s conscious states” (2010)  If this is conceivable, then it is metaphysically possible there are zombies. Chalmers is not the only philosopher to support the conceivability argument, Descartes is a supporter as is Saul Kripke though that have their own ways of explaining the argument.

There are various forms of dualism. Mind-Body dualism suggests that mind and body are capable of being separated and are distinct. Substance Dualism suggests that the mind is a different substance from the brain which leads to the thought that the mind can exist apart from the brain. Property Dualism states that mental states are nor physical states. That Mind cannot exist apart from body because mind and body are two aspects of the same substance. Though there are different forms of dualism all agree on one core theory. That physicalism is false.

Looking further in depth at the ‘Zombie Argument’ as put forward by Chalmers in his many papers and books he offers a strong case. It is important though for such philosophical claims to be considered sound. To be sound, an argument must be both valid and the premises must be true. Chalmers’s argument I and many others consider to be valid, the next questioned I intent to look further into through this paper is whether his premises are true.

Chalmers (2010) sets out his argument are follows:

1)      It is conceivable that there are zombies.

2)     If it is conceivable that there are zombies, it is metaphysically possible that there are zombies.

3)     If it is metaphysically possible that there are zombies, then consciousness is non-physical.

4)     Consciousness is non-physical.

        So if we consider Chalmers first premises, is it conceivable that there are zombies? This subject has been a popular topic over many years. Daniel Dennett (1995) argues that we cannot ‘clearly and coherently’ conceive or ‘imagine’ normal human beings without conciseness while leaving their behaviour unaffected. His argument goes further in his paper  ‘The unimagined preposterousness of zombies’ Where he appears to take a very strong stance against Chalmers Zombie argument arguing what that the use of the zombie argument is ‘misleading’ and he goes on to argue that it is not possible for us to imagine such things as zombies. Further to this he suggests an alternative that he calls ‘zimboes’. His argument could be considered similar to that of Kripes which I will further discuss in a moment. Initially though I want to consider what is needed for something to be conceivable. For something to be considered conceivable it needs to be coherently imaginable and free from contradiction.

Joseph Almog in his paper ‘What am I?’ raises an argument brought forward by Kripe “When we say that we seem to imagine water without oxygen, we mean that we have really imagined another substance that is qualitatively indiscernible from real water. Thus, he who says, that for example, he seems to imagine that this wooden table is made of ice is really asserting that another object, looking like this table, is really imaginable (and indeed is really possibly) made of ice.” (2002) Here it is being suggested that when we imagine something we know as one way to be another we are in fact imagining a whole other ‘thing’. Lloyd Reinhardt in his article Metaphysical Possibility argues  “that all Kripke has given us is either an overdressing of natural necessity as metaphysical necessity or a misperception of something like rules for the use of natural-kind terms” Kripe’s argument does raise questions. hough I would argue that the ability of something to be imaginable depends very much on the individual.

Some may consider something is imaginable whereas others may consider it not to be. This can be different for a number of reasons such as different ages, those who have had different experiences, different educations and upbringings. Some may consider themselves closed minded whereas others are more open to considering things to be conceivable. Interestingly things through history that at first seem unimaginable and in no way conceivable have gone on to be not only conceivable or metaphysically possible but possible in our world. Flight could be considered an example of this, as could water. We did not always know that water was H2O, at one point in time scientists discovered it to be so. Scientific and technological advances open our eyes to new facts daily that at one point would be considered inconceivable. I would be lead to believe therefore that Chalmers first premises is true, it is conceivable that there are zombie.

         We can look now at Chalmers second premise, ‘if it is conceivable that there are zombies, it is metaphysically possible that there are zombies.’ This raises a question that asks ‘if something is conceivable does that always make it metaphysically possible?’ Swinburne (2016) states that “A proposition is metaphysically necessary, possible, or impossible if it becomes logically necessary, possible, or impossible when informative designators of substances or properties are substituted for uninformative ones.” So for something to be considered metaphysically possible is must be ‘capable of occurring’ this is not to say that it needs to be capable of happening in the world as we know it, it can be considered so if it is possible in a world where the laws of nature were different. Does this not mean then that anything is metaphysically possible?? How are we to know what could be possible in another world or on another planet without knowing for a fact all the details of said planet or world. Technological and scientific advances are made daily and this changes our view of our planet and others and leads us to new thoughts and new theories. I would argue then that we cannot truly say something is not metaphysically possible as we do not yet hold all the facts. Having considered this it would leave me to believe that Chalmers second premise is true, it is metaphysically possible that there are zombies and therefore his third premise is also true conciseness is non-physical.

          Lets first look further into Chalmers third premise, If it is metaphysically possible that there are zombies, then consciousness is non-physical. Physicalist would argue that everything is physical and that nothing can been seen as over and above the physical. Physicalism is thought to have grown from materialism with the terms often used interchangeably. Physicalists argue that phenomenal properties are not separate from physical properties, so the former could not change without a change in the latter. There are many arguments against physicalism, one of the core arguments being thought to concern the notion of qualia, the felt qualities of experience. Further to this well discussed argument though is a thought by Ted Honderich who states in his paper “Descartes believed not only that I think therefore I am but also that consciousness is not physical, unlike the brain. That makes consciousness different, which evidently it is”. So Honderich too believes that consciousness is not physical but he had a slightly different view to that of dualists as he refers to actualism. Christopher Menzel explains actualism in his article “Actualism is a widely-held view in the metaphysics of modality. To understand the thesis of actualism, consider the following example. Imagine a race of beings — call them ‘Aliens’ — that is very different from any life-form that exists anywhere in the universe; different enough, in fact, that no actually existing thing could have been an Alien, any more than a given gorilla could have been a fruitfly. Now, even though there are no Aliens, it seems intuitively the case that there could have been such things. After all, life might have evolved very differently than the way it did in fact. For example, if the fundamental physical constants or the laws of evolution had been slightly different, very different kinds of things might have existed. So in virtue of what is it true that there could have been Aliens when in fact there are none, and when, moreover, nothing that exists in fact could have been an Alien?” (2018) Though this trail of thought is different to dualism it further supports the view that physicalism is false. It also adds strength to the term of metaphysical possibility. This gives way then that Chalmers third premise is true.

Chalmers further argues that “the failure of logical supervenience directly implies that materialism is false: there are features of the world over and above physical features” (1996) a theory and thought also supported by Descartes who believes that the mind is non physical and non-spatial. This though is also shared by the building blocks of many religions. We could look deeper into how religion helps to prove how physicalism is false but that I will do in another paper.

Metaphysical possibility of zombies means that physical properties do not determine all mental properties. As Chalmers states “consciousness must be nonphysical. If there is a metaphysically possible universe that is physically identical to ours but that lacks consciousness, then consciousness must be a further nonphysical component of our universe” (2010) and Ted Honderich (who supports Actualism) states that consciousness is “something's being actual. What that comes to on further reflection is that it has characteristics that add up to its being subjectively physical – and partly outside a brain and partly inside.” (2015) So whether we consider Honderich or Chalmers to be correct both argue here against physicalism being correct, making it false. Which leads us then to consider that Chalmers final premise is true, Physicalism is false and if physicalism is false then a form of dualism must exist. This leads us then back to our original question, is the conceivability argument is proof of dualism? Yes. The conceivability argument is a proof of dualism as is helps to make clear that physicalism is false.

*Essay written by me in 2019/2020 for my MA studies 


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