The Higher-Order Response to the Zombie Argument

I have been having a very interesting discussion with Richard Chappell about his argument against physicalism and for modal rationalism which got me to thinking. If the higher-order theory is right, any version of it, then there is a very nice response to the zombie argument to be made. The zombie argument depends on there being a possible world that is exactly like the actual world except that the people and animals that inhabit this world do not have any conscious experience. As I have been arguing with Richard, one promising response to this argument is to claim that we are not really imagining a world that is exactly like ours except without consciousness we are really imagining a world which looks a lot like this one and which has no consciousness.

But what kind of world would this be? There would have to be people that looked liked us and behaved like us. They would say and do all the things we would do but the would not have consciousness. There would be nothing that it was like for them when they cried or were in “pain”. If one thinks about this from the higher-order view point this is a description of a world where there are no higher-order representations. That is, this is a world where there are only first-order states and no accompanying higher-order states. But how could that world be exactly the same as this one? In this one the presence of the first-order states leads to the arrival of higher-order representations. Something must be different about this zombie world.

2 thoughts on “The Higher-Order Response to the Zombie Argument

  1. Or it will show that epiphenomenalist can’t accept HOT, which is to be expected!

    BTW, there is something different about you, new haircut maybe? 🙂 (it is about the blog’s look, just so I don’t be misunderstood)

  2. No, nothing has changed 😉

    I am not sure about that Tanasije; why could’t the epiphenominalist accept the higher-order theory? They may think that a conscious pain is one that I am conscious of but that my being conscious of it doesn’t have any physical effects (maybe the higher-order state is a perception-like non-physical state)

    But of course epiphenominalism is self-defeating and inconsitent with the zombie hypothesis. Even Chalmers and company admit that there is a difference between our world and the zombie world (the zombies don’t have the same contents of their phenomenal beliefs) so the can’t be physical duplicates. In our world when you have that kind of belief you don’t act the same way (this is what pain asymbolia shows).

    By the way, the argument you are developing over at A Brood Comb is similar to the one that Kirk trie to develop (in terms of our epistemic access to phenomenal states).

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