I really should be thinking about the excellent comments made on some of my other posts but for some reason I am stuck on the zombie stuff right now. I promise I will get back to Berkeley and the analyticity of moral truths soon!
During our fast and furious discussion of my reverse-zombie argument yesterday RC invited me to look at a recent post of his where he discusses when it is appropriate to call an argument question begging. He there argues that begging the question should be reserved for cases where ‘the argument does not advance the dialectic’, or alternatively where the argument is not ‘rationally persuasive to anyone who does not already accept the conclusion’. This is contrasted with the typical view that begging the question is employing one’s conclusion as a premise. So, according to RC it is fine to simply assume without argument that there could be a complete microphysical duplicate of me which lacked consciousness because doing so makes the issue ‘vivid’ and ‘draws out our implicit commitments’ which in turn can serve to rationally persuade. This is partially right and partially wrong. Let me take a minute to explain.
Consider the following argument.
All men are mortal
Socrates is a man
therefore, Socrates is mortal
As everyone knows, this is a valid categorical syllogism. Does it beg the question? Well, in a technical sense one might think that it does, since the conclusion is contained in in the premises. But this argument is question begging in another sense as well. To beg the question in this sense is to beg it against someone. So, this argument begs the question against someone who does not believe that all men are mortal, and against someone who does not believe that Socrates was a man (if there are any such people, that is). Typically no one in a logic class challenges these premises and we all go about our merry business but should someone challenge our claim that all men are mortal we would have to provide a seperate argument to establish that premise. Of course this is nothing new, it is simply soundness under another name. That is why we say a rationally compelling argument is one that is both valid and sound. So to beg the question in this sense is to employ premises in your argument which your opponent does not accept.
So I agree that to call an argument question begging is to complain that the argument is not rationally compelling but not in the sense that RC points out; it is to complain that there is a premise in the argument that one does not accept and which has not been argued for. This RC admits to doing and so he admits to begging the question against the materialist. But what of his counter suggestion? Isn’t the zombie argument rationally persuasive to some and therefore doesn’t it advance the dialectic and so not beg the question in RC’s sense. No. As he himself points out, what the zombie argument does is to draw out one’s implicit assumptions and commitments. But if it only serves to draw out one’s implicit assumptions and commitments then it should be obvious that the argument will only be rationally persuasive to someone who already has implict dualist commitments and so the zombie argument is question begging in RC’s sense as well. It does not serve to advance the dialectic between the materialist and the dualist; what it serves to do is to alert one to which side of the debate one has allegience to but it cannot, and does not, rationally persuade someone who is not already implicitly harboring dualist commitments.
So what we need is an actual argument that the zombie world is conceivable …just as I have said all along. Notice, though, that I have never denied, and have no quarrel with, the claim that the zombie argument is useful for making a certain issue very vivid. What I deny is that it is anything like an argument against materialism.
Notice also that RC’s preffered way of characterizing the zombie argument not only begs the question against a materialist of my ilk who thinks that the microphysical facts do entail the qualitative facts (since qualitative facts just are physical facts), but also against someone, like Davidson, who endorses anomalous monism. This is because the anomalous monist denies that the microphysical facts entail any mental facts at all (yet the mental and the physical are identical nonetheless). This is why the debate between the materialist and the dualist is not a debate about reduction and why RC’s way of framing the zombie argument is bad. The better way to do it is in terms of conceiving of a creature physically identical to me which lacks consciousness. But then, as acknowledged by RC, the dualist is in danger from the reverse-zombie argument…that is unless it is question begging in some way…