I have been hearing various and sundry rumors about my being a type-q materialist or perhaps even a type-z materialist and I want to set the record straight. In this post I will talk about some of the things that Dave Bieseker says in his recent Zombies and the Paradox of Phenomenal Consciousness (JSC 17(3-4)).
Bieseker’s claim is that we are zombies. When Chalmers and others conceive of creatures physically just like us but which lack consciousness they actually end up conceiving of the actual world! Zombies would be just as convinced that they were not zombies as Chalmers and I are convinced that we are not zombies but they would be wrong. That, according to Beiseker, is our actual position. On his view what is conceivable but not possible is the ‘supermaterialist’ qualia that Chalmers thinks he has.
One thing to note is that Beiseker denies that the mind-brain identities of his materialism are necessary. He claims that the identities are true here but not in all possible worlds. We disagree about this. As I have previously said I accept that identities are necessary are that we are justified in believing this.
It also seems to me that type-z materialism is really just eliminativism about consciousness of the type-a variety. I am aquatinted with my qualia in a way that makes me all but certain that I have them. I agree that if zombies were conceivable they would think that they had qualia like I do and would be wrong and also that they would not know that they were wrong. I think I know I am not wrong and so know that I am not a zombie. This is important because in the shombie argument I conceive of merely physical creatures that nonetheless have the same conscious experience that I do and I mean by that not what Beiseker means but the kind of consciousness that Chalmers means to be talking about. That’s what I can conceive of as being physical: real consciousness! Not zombie consciousness! Of course that’s physical.
Beiseker warns against this strategy saying,
The overall lesson for materialists is that they must be careful not to engage the argument in the supermaterialist’s own preferred parlance, for when they do, a smart opponent like Chalmers (or Alter) is able to paint them into uncomfortable corners. Consider, for instance, my earlier suggestion that the problem with the conceivability argument lies in the vicinity of (P3)[If P & ~Q is possible, then materialism is false]. That is true, but only if we are prepared to adopt a zombie’s perspective or way of talking. Things look otherwise if we use terms in the way that Chalmers would prefer. For according to his manner of speaking, when type-Z materialists suggest that our own epistemic and conceptual perspective is no different from that of zombies, it looks instead like they are ‘really’ committed to the idea that P & ~Q is true of our own world. Thus it would seem that type-Z materialism must really be committed to…an implausible (‘Churchlandish’) type-E eliminativism about consciousness. But that of course isn’t quite right, for zombies (and their type-Z advocates), as opposed to eliminativists, do not and need not eschew everyday, ordinary talk about consciousness. Their project instead is to reconceive it in an appropriately materialist fashion.
Here Beiseker is making his complaint that people like Chalmers have tacitly assumed that our world (aka the actual world) is a world where qualia are superphysical. I agree with the complaint but not for the reasons here. First note that Beiseker says he is not an eliminativist because he doesn’t advocate getting rid of common sense folk psychological concepts in favor of neuroscience concepts. His talk of ‘re conceiving’ qualia talk in a materialist fashion sounds like the type-a move of defining consciousness to be physical without the elimination of folk-psychological concepts.The problem with type-z materialism is not that zombies beg the question it is that it fails to take account of the first-person data that I and many others have. True a zombie would say just that but I, and not he, know that I am right because I have the relevant experiences (and my zombie wouldn’t which is why it wouldn’t know and would be wrong).
Once we have the shombie case in hand and see that it is not a type-z world that is being conceived then we can see why the zombie argument tacitly assumes that consciousness is nonphysical at the outset. Just as in the physicalist case we can divide responses to the shombie argument into type-a, -b, and -c. The type-a response will be to deny the conceivability of shombies, the type-b response will be to admit their conceivability but deny their possibility, the type-c response will admit that they seem conceivable but deny that they are ideally conceivable. Chalmers will not opt for teh type-b response because of his views about the link between conceivability and possibility so that leaves type-a and type-c. Type-c will more than likely seem dubious to him n the dualism case since he thinks it is dubious in the physicalist case. That leaves type-a. But the type-a dualist just defines qualia as nonphysical. There is no other reason, for all that can be known a priori, for thinking that shombies are inconceivable.
Beiseker goes on to say,
Something similar is going on with various ‘reverse-zombie’ arguments (see Brown 2010, Frankish 2007, Stalnaker 2002, Balog 1999). Such reverse-zombie exercises strongly suggest the unsoundness of the conceivability argument, without specifying exactly where the original argument goes wrong. In that respect, they resemble Gaunilo’s rejection of the ontological argument. Following Stalnaker, Brown suggests that the weakness in the conceivability argument lies with (P1); zombies only seem to be conceivable. Balog suggests instead that the culprit is (P2), while by way of reply, Chalmers maintains that reverse-zombie arguments are not parallel to the original conceivability argument after all. They present us with scenarios that, according to Chalmers, are not directly conceivable but rather conceivable only ‘at arms length’ or in some attenuated ‘meta’ sense.
Here Beiseker presents Chalmers as a type-a dualist (which I suspect is probably right) and it is true that Kati and I disagree on where the problem is in the argument. But that is because the response to the type-b physicalist works, or so it seems to me. But at any rate my overall argumentative strategy was to try to engage the dualist as much as possible and so I wanted to grant Chalmers the connection between conceivability and possibility. Given that and the intuitive claim that zombies and shombies are equally prima facie conceivable it follows that only one of them is ideally conceivable and the other one just seems to be conceivable to us now. Chalmers thinks that it is shombies that have this status, I think that it is zombies that have this status…who’s right? At this point we need more than a priori arguments which is why I think they should be deprioritized. If dualism turns out to be actually true then of course zombies are the ones that are ideally conceivable while if physicalism turns out to be true then it is shombies that turn out to be ideally conceivable. Since we can’t tell right now we must wait for further evidence. Just as type-a physicalism must be set aside so to must type-a dualism. That leaves us with type-c.
However, this reply [by Chalmers to the reverse-zombie arguments] has a vague whiff of the paradoxical to it, for the reverse perspective from which things are only conceivable in this attenuated ‘meta’ sense is at the same time the very materialistic scenario that the original zombie argument so stridently insists is conceivable in a much stronger sense. Once again, we come face-to-face with the remarkably ambivalent attitude proponents of the original conceivability argument adopt towards zombies. While they are conceivable, they aren’t conceivably actual.
Now to this I object! When Chalmers (there really are too many ‘David’s out there!) says that Shombies may be negatively conceivable but are not positively conceivable he does not think of shombies as zombies! That would indeed be strange. He would then in effect be saying that zombies were not really conceivable. That is not what he is saying. He is saying that he can’t see how merely physical creatures could have consciousness like ours. Shombies are not merely zombies stipulated to have consciousness like our!
Beiseker goes on to say something that I do agree with very much right after this,
One might well take the whole point of reverse-zombie considerations to be that of showing that the notions of direct and meta-conceivability are themselves up for grabs. For whether or not one takes some situation to be directly conceivable or conceivable only ‘at arms length’ depends upon one’s presuppositions about the nature of the actual world.
This is for the most part exactly what I think. Whether one finds zombies or shombies to be ‘really’ conceivable or not depends on how you think the actual world is but since we do not know how the actual world is yet the a priori arguments do nothing but reveal where our intuitions lies (which in turn reflect theories that we accept).