Reverse-Zombies, Dualism, and Reduction

In some earlier posts (Non-Physical Zombies, How Not to Imagine Zombies, Beating an Undead Horse) I introduced and defended a parody zombie argument designed to highlight the incredible question-begging nature of the original zombie argument. Richard Chappell has not been impressed, calling it a “terrible argument” and saying that it “falls flat (to put it mildly)” . I find this amusing, since the purpose of the argument was to highlight how much question begging is going on around here, and never one to disappoint, RC eagerly begs the question exclaiming “Dualists will complain: you left out the qualia!” . Yes, they will complain; because they think that qualia are non-physical to begin with, just like the materialist complains that there is nothing more to qualia than the physical when he hears the zombie argument for the first time. This is even clearer when RC restates his objection over at Philosophy, etc. He says,

(i) Either ‘NP’ explicitly states the qualia facts Q, or it does not. (ii) If it does, then (NP & ~Q) is straightforwardly contradictory, so the first premise fails. (iii) Otherwise, the third premise fails.

NP is here the complete non-physical description of the world in question. So, if NP explicitly states facts about qualia, then either the question about the nature of qualia has been resolved and we know that they are non-physical and so belong in NP, or we don’t have this issue resolved and we are just begging the question against the materialist. Now, I don’t know about you, but I think it is obvious that we do not have this issue resolved and so (i) is question begging (to put it mildly).

The third premise of the argument was

3. If (NP & ~Q) is possible then Dualism is false

RC says that if we do not state the qualia facts in NP then (3) will be false. Why will (3) be false? The only way that this could be the case would be if it were true that (NP & ~ Q) were possible (that is, it would be possible that there could be non-physical creatures identical to me in every non-physical way, which lack qualia) and Dualism were not false (i.e. it was true). That would have to mean that there were non-physical qualia that were not included in NP, and this is what RC keeps saying. But why should we think that there are non-physical qualia not included in NP? No reason for that is ever given. It is just assumed that qualia are non-physical and so that NP must be incomplete.

RC then goes on to accuse me of missing the point. “The substantive question,” he says,

is whether qualia are irreducible. The conceivability argument works to show that qualia are not reducible to any P (nor NP) which does not explicitly build in qualia. But the NP-based argument is no argument against dualism, because dualists never claimed that qualia were reducible to some OTHER non-physical stuff (whatever you build into NP). Physicalists, on the other hand, doclaim that qualia are reducible to some other physical stuff P.

I, of course, disagreed that this was the substantive issue and argued that the issue of reduction is itself a question begging way of putting the dispute (Reduction, Identity, and Explanation). RC ignores the argument that I gave and instead says that I

simply insist, “the debate between the dualist and the materialist is in no way a debate about reduction“, and so ignore [his] underlying idea concerning what the debate is about.

The quoted line is supposed to be the conclusion of an argument not me simply insisting anything, but let’s let that go. What does RC think that the debate is about?

Once you’ve included the microphysical facts in your base facts, you do not need to add any further ‘table facts’ in addition. Those are already covered. It is in this sensethat table facts are reducible to physical facts. And it is in this sense that the question of physicalism comes down to the question whether qualia are reducible. It is simply the question whether we need to add phenomenal facts to our fundamental base facts, or whether they “come along for free” (like tables do) given the physical facts P.

Now, I am happy to agree that this is what the dispute is about, though as I argued this isn’t really a reductive claim (ontologically). In fact, I have never denied this! The materialist says that we don’t need to add anything, the dualist denies this. What I have denied is that this is really an issue of reduction in anything other than a verbal sense, but as RC points out, that doesn’t really matter…as long as everyone involved agrees on what the issue is.

But now that we all agree on what the issue is, it should be even more obvious that the zombie argument begs the question against the materialist. They tell us to conceive of a world where there are physical duplicates of us that lack consciousness and that doing so shows that the qualitative facts do not  ‘”come along for free” (like tables do) given the physical facts P’. But how do you know that you are really conceiving that world without contradiction? If materialism is true then you are not really conceiving what you think that you are. Since we do not know if materialism is true or not we do not know if we are really conceiving the zombie world without contradiction or not. And that is the point. Without knowing whether or not materialism is true we cannot know if the zombie argument is a good argument or a question begging argument.

About these ads

21 thoughts on “Reverse-Zombies, Dualism, and Reduction

  1. You seem to misunderstand my complaint with your NP-zombie analogy. I’m not just saying it’s a question-begging argument (and so, if the analogy holds, the original zombie argument will be question-begging too). I understand that that’s what YOU were trying to use the argument for. My complaint was that the analogy falls flat. Once you see that the issue at stake is whether qualia are to be included in the base facts (and that this is the focus of the original zombie argument) you should be able to see why your NP-zombie argument does not stand in the same relation to dualism that the original zombie argument stands in to physicalism. I’m not sure how I can say this any more clearly.

    Now, it’s a broader question whether the zombie argument is question begging nonetheless. (I happen to think not, and may expand on this further back on my blog.) But for now I just want to emphasize my objection to the NP analogy, which even materialists should acknowledge is a non-starter, and based on a misunderstanding of the original zombie argument.

  2. Hey Richard, thanks for the (very quick) reply!

    No, no, I get that that is your complaint. The issue isn’t one of making yourself any clearer. The issue is your seeing MY point. The very fact that you do not see that the analogy holds is evidence of the massive question begging that is going on (on your part).

    Look, you say the issue is one of whether qualitative facts are included in the base facts or not. I say, yes of course they are because qualitative facts are physical facts. You say no they are not because qualitative facts are non-physical. Why should I believe you? Well, you say, because I can conceive of a world that has all of the very same physical facts and none of the qualitative facts. But if the qualitative facts are in fact physical (in the base facts as physical facts) then you cannot really conceive of that. So until we resolve the issue of whether or not qualitative facts are physical facts the zombie argument is at best question begging. I don’t know how to make THAT any clearer…

  3. That’s not what I say at all. Your comment completely misrepresents my concern, which is the issue whether qualia are primitive, i.e. must be added to the base facts explicitly, rather than coming along for free (implicitly in P, NP, or whatever) like tables do (given P).

    But since you still misunderstand what I’m saying, and moreover you insist that you “do understand” even when I tell you that your every paraphrase of my argument is wrong, I can’t see further conversation being productive.

  4. I think this is a interesting line of debate – so its a pity the two of you can’t engage minds on it. I have opinions on the wider debate but reading this I swung from one side to the other (and back) on who’s position was more ‘on the mark’.

    I have two thoughts maybe only one you can answer.

    1) the materialists is (generally? always?) making a statement about physicalism being necessary (across worlds) then he is making a stronger claim than a dualist who (I presume) claim that ‘dualism’ is not “necessary” for each world (e.g. zombie world).

    2) Does the argument still rest in some part on the two beliefs – “(NP & ~Q) is not likely (maybe even ‘not conceivable’) IN THIS WORLD since experience is too rich for a P explanation” and “I experience Q and Q have not yet been explained in any way by ‘physics’, so I don’t expect them to ever be”. I.e. if those two were not true it would collapse?

  5. The crux of the present issue is my following explanation of why the NP parody argument fails:

    (i) Either ‘NP’ explicitly states the qualia facts Q, or it does not. (ii) If it does, then (NP & ~Q) is straightforwardly contradictory, so the first premise fails. (iii) Otherwise, the third premise fails.

    RB’s response, bizarrely, is that my (i) is “question begging”. Note that in fact it is axiomatically true, as an instance of the law of excluded middle: “X or not-X”, i.e. “either X, or not.” This is so trivially true as to be beyond sensible dispute. (RB’s mistake here is due to his misinterpreting ‘either X or not-X’ as “either we know that X, or we know that not-X”.)

    Further, in response to my (iii), RB writes: “That would have to mean that there were non-physical qualia that were not included in NP, and this is what RC keeps saying. But why should we think that there are non-physical qualia not included in NP? No reason for that is ever given. It is just assumed that qualia are non-physical and so that NP must be incomplete.

    But my point is simply that dualists are not committed to Q being reducible to any NP which fails to explicitly mention Q. (Physicalists, by contrast, are committed to some P which only implicitly contains Q.) So whereas the possibility of (P & ~Q) violates a commitment of physicalists, and hence would establish that physicalism is false, the analogy simply doesn’t carry over to the dualists in the NP case. That is: the possibility of (NP & ~Q) does not suffice to establish that dualism is false. It doesn’t show anything at all, because – as RB effectively admits – it doesn’t settle the question whether “there are non-physical qualia not included in NP”.

    That’s the disanalogy which RB fails to grasp. Physicalists think there is some P which doesn’t explicitly mention Q, and this leaves them susceptible to conceivability arguments regarding (P & ~Q). Dualists have no analogous susceptibility, because there is no analogous NP, which doesn’t explicitly mention Q, which they think suffices for Q.

    Really, this should be obvious.

  6. RC, thanks for the follow up. A quick note though, that’s supposed to be your (ii) which I characterized as question beggining, not (i)…sorry that was a typo…I mean, really, principle of charity anyone?

    You say “Physicalists think there is some P which doesn’t explicitly mention Q, and this leaves them susceptible to conceivability arguments regarding (P & ~Q). “. But, I reiterate: no they aren’t. Unless you are ALREADY assuming that qualia are non-physical, which you are. If qualitative facts are physical facts then they are in P already, just like the table facts. I mean you don’t think that the table facts are ‘explicitly mentioned’ in P but yet you seem to realize that that doesn’t raise ‘table zombie’ world worries. So again, I repeat: by putting the issue in the way that you have you have already begged the question against the physicalist. If the conceivability argument does anything at all what is does is to make very vivid the intuition that you have, nothing more. It certanly CANNOT disprove materialism.

  7. Hi GNZ

    1) the materialists is (generally? always?) making a statement about physicalism being necessary (across worlds) then he is making a stronger claim than a dualist who (I presume) claim that ‘dualism’ is not “necessary” for each world (e.g. zombie world).

    I certainly take materialism in this way…but I am not sure about ‘generally’…I suppose it depends on the individiual philosophers’ take on modality and identity. There are some (Place for instance and Smart, I think) who do not hold that identities are necessary, so they would not think that qualia are necessarily physical.

    I suppose the same is true of the other side. If qualia are necessarily identical to some non-physical property then they will be making just as strong a claim as the physicalist who thinks that physical identities are necessary. Notice though that the dualist is making a much stronger claim in the sense that they posit something for which there is ABSOLUTELY no evidence for.

  8. in a world where NP is identical, If Q and not NP Q is “not not physical” therefore Q is physical and thus reducible to P? correct?

  9. GNZ – that depends on whether ‘NP’, which is supposed to stand for a particular specification, is really a complete description of the non-physical. This is not guaranteed by any means.

    RB – I’m not sure how the response in your post makes any more sense in relation to (ii) than it did to (i). Clearly if NP explicitly includes Q, i.e. is simply the conjunction “X and Q” for some X, then NP & ~Q is straightforwardly logically inconsistent. There’s nothing question-begging about this. I’m stating a logical truth: that ((X & Q) & ~Q) is inconsistent.

    If qualitative facts are physical facts then they are in P already, just like the table facts. I mean you don’t think that the table facts are ‘explicitly mentioned’ in P but yet you seem to realize that that doesn’t raise ‘table zombie’ world worries.

    Sure, but that’s for a different reason. I claim that the implicit nature of table facts would render them susceptible to attempts at conceivability arguments, in a way that the dualist is obviously immune to right from the start. (And that’s why your attempt at constructing a conceivability argument against their view is so daft.) It’s just that, in case of tables, those arguments would ultimately fail because we can all see that in fact the table facts are implied by P.

    Now, you can try to argue that eventually we will see that the qualia facts are likewise implied by P. Indeed, that’s where the broader argument must go to be settled. But that’s a further issue. For now I’m just wanting to make clear why your NP analogy fails. Maybe there are other counterarguments to be made to the zombie argument. But the NP parody sure doesn’t work.

    P.S. See my post on Thought Experiments and Begging Questions, since I think you are misusing the latter accusation. Perhaps you could write a new post clarifying your general principles concerning when you think an accusation of ‘begging the question’ is dialectically appropriate, and explaining why you disagree (if you do) with the general principles I suggest.

  10. Thanks RC, that’s a helpful suggestion and a good idea. I’ll have a look at that post and draw something up.

    But in the meantime, I think I see where we’re crossing wires. You take me to be offering an argument that goes something like this. We start with NP and then ask whether or not it follows from NP that there are qualia. This is why you think there is no analogy. You think that I am confused because the dualist doesn’t think that qualitative facts follow from any other kind of facts; they are primitive and need to be explicity mentioned. I get that…

    But this wasn’t really the argument that I was giving, or the analogy that I had in mind. The key issue is the conceivability claim. The dualist claims that he can conceive of a world that is physically identical to the one we live in and which lacks qualitative properties. Because of this physicalism is false. I argue that we can’t really conceive of this world unless it is in fact the case that physicalism is false and so the conceivability argument begs the question. To illustrate this I proposed the reverse-zombie argument. I claim that I can conceive of a world that is non-physically identical to the world that we live in and which lacks qualitative properties. In that world there is a creature that is non-physically identical to me in every way and which lacks qualitative properties, so therefore dualism is false. Then I ask, ‘see how question begging that is?’ The analogy is not supposed to be to what follows from what; it is supposed to be to what kind of world I can conceive of. I say it is conceivable, and so logically possible, that there is this Reverse-Zombie world. There is no contradiction in my conceiving it unless it really is in fact the case that qualia are non-physical.

    Now, I agree with you (I think) that if we were completely rational beings who knew which possible world in fact described the actual world (or if you prefer, which was the actual world) we would be in a position to judge a priori on this, and then it would be the case that we could conceive one or the other of these worlds and thereby know that the other was false. Of course this would be trivial knowledge since our knowing which world were actual would already solve the problem. But this, sadly, doesn’t even come close to being true. This is why I have said a all along that zombies seam conceivable (they are prima facie conceivable) but may not be REALLY conceivable (ideally conceivable).

  11. The dualist claims that he can conceive of a world that is physically identical to the one we live in and which lacks qualitative properties.

    The problem is, this is not the best way to read the dualist argument at all. Remember my old post ‘How To Imagine Zombies‘? The version of the zombie argument I favour is precisely about what follows from what, and is specially designed to avoid unnecessary worries about what we are “really conceiving” of.

    In short, your parody is not analogous to my argument. That is why I keep insisting that you have misunderstood my argument, and are not properly engaging with it. You’ve gone and constructed an analogy to some other argument instead, not mine.

  12. Fair enough; but that’s not very interesting, is it? I mean, if you jump up and down and insist that the only way to get qualia is by adding some primitive qualitative properties to a complete physical account of the world, then it is not very suprising that qualia turn out to be primitive and supraphysical, is it?

    In fact, it is even easier to show that your preffered version of the argument begs the question; I don’t need the reverse-zombie parody to do it. You do it for me, in that old post, when you say There’s nothing in the microphysics that entails the presence of such subjectivity. So we’ve successfully imagined the zombie world.” Wrong. More accurately it should say: It seems to YOU that there is nothing in the microphysics that entails the presence of qualia so it SEEMS to you as though you have succsessfully imagined the zombie world. What is suprising to me is that you say as much yourself but then go on and pretend like the conceivability argument actually shows something. It shows nothing but your own prejudices.

    So, whether you do it my way or yours the zombie argument is simply a rotten argument.

  13. Well, on that matter I await your response to my post on the nature of begging questions and dialectical progress. I’m glad at any rate we have settled the matter of the NP non-analogy.

  14. RC,

    I expect one might accuse your model of how to imagine zombies as also being ‘question begging’. Which I imagine would could cause further frustration.

    I note your begging questions post has some responses in the comments already which sound interesting.

    RB,
    > There are some … who do not hold that identities are necessary

    One of RCs previous posts was that he believes that it is good to have less necessary assumptions. So he would oppose necessary physicalism (which he use synonymously with physicalism) and ‘necessary’ dualism.

    As Richard says Dualists are “not committed to Q being reducible to any NP which fails to explicitly mention Q”. As Eliezer might complain, they haven’t defined what they are talking about* so you have far less reason to expect it can be disproven. I think one can elaborate on qualia (which surely is valuable) but I’ve tried to get some discussion and have had no response.

    As a meta comment – I’m trying to aim for enabling here as opposed to pushing a case.

    * in the sense that matters here. yes I accept ‘the thing you feel’ is a sort of definition.

  15. Anyway good that we worked past the initial aspect of arguing at cross purposes. Although in regard to that RC – are you claiming that Chalmers agrees it is primarily “about what follows from what” as opposed to anything else? If so maybe there is a communication issue*, if not then isn’t that generally recognized as the strongest proponent of ‘zombieism’?

    *I see in almost every debate almost everyone misunderstanding what is not that complex a position.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s