Does the Zombie Argument Rest on a Category Mistake?

re-reading Ryle’s “Descartes’ Myth” I was struck by the following passage

…the Dogma of the Ghost in the Machine does just this. It maintains that there exist both bodies and minds; that there occur physical process and mental process; that there are mechanical causes of coporeal movement and mental causes of coporeal movement. I shall argue that these and other analogous conjunctions are absurd…the phrase ‘there occur mental process’ does not mean the same sort of thing as ‘there occur physical process,’ and, therefore, that it makes no sense to conjoin or disjoin the two. (this is from page 37 in the Chalmers anthology)

I have always been sympathetic to the category mistake move and have viewed it as a precursor to the claim that it is simply question begging to treat mental terms as synonymous for ‘non-physical’. I also think that a lot of my complaints about the intelligibility of substance dualism originate in Ryle’s discussion of the origin of the category mistake.

Re-reading this today I started thinking that maybe one could use this kind of claim to cause problems for the Zombie argument. The first premise of the zombie argument employs the conjunction (P & ~Q) where P are all of the physical facts and process and Q is some qualitative fact like that I feel pain. If it is really logically  illegitimate to conjoin these terms then the zombie argument cannot even get off the ground. So what is the response that the dualist will make here? It seems to me that all of the examples of category mistakes involve concepts that have fairly straightforward conceptual entailment relations between them. So, a pair of gloves just is a left glove and a right glove and we can tell this just by analyzing the concept of PAIR OF GLOVES. The same can be said for teh University, and the battalion. But if course it is not obvious, to say the least, that the same is true for PAIN or SEEING BLUE. To many, myself included, it seems as though there are no conceptual entailment relations between my “pure” phenomenal concept of pain and physical processes (for me the ‘seems as though’ part is especially important).  But maybe it is at just this point that I myself, as well as the dualist, commit the category mistake!

Whoa…I’ll have to come back to that because now I’m off to Miguel’s CogSci talk

5 thoughts on “Does the Zombie Argument Rest on a Category Mistake?

  1. hmm I’m seeing the “precursor to the claim that it is simply question begging ” argument pretty clearly but after that I don’t see much else to say…

  2. This is very interesting to me. What Ryle says about this, as I recall, is that statements about perceptual experiences are in a mongrel category, and niether simply occasional nor simply dispositional (See Chapter 7 of The Concept of Mind). But I’m not sure about how you are applying this to the knowledge argument.

    If we say that physical facts and qualitative facts are of logically distinct kinds, then there are some facts which cannot be known with science, and this would be a problem for physicalism.

    I think it is better to say that scientific knowledge and perceptual knowledge are of logically distinct kinds. Scientific knowledge is intrinsically propositional/factual; perceptual knowledge is not. This, I take it, is the point of the ability hypothesis.

    So, perhaps reports of perceptions are not wholly factual, but combine factual with non-factual (perhaps normative) elements.

  3. Nice post, Richard. I’ve always seen Dennett as an heir to Ryle in this regard (and in many other regards, of course!), and when Dennett charges that friends of qualia make counting mistakes, I think he means the kind of category mistake illustrated in the University example (when you subtract out the buildings, departments, administration, etc., there is nothing–the University–left over). Of course, as you say, it isn’t obvious that qualia concepts work like this. But I also think you may be overstating matters when you write “It seems to me that all of the examples of category mistakes involve concepts that have fairly straightforward conceptual entailment relations between them.” I take Ryle (and Dennett) to be pointing out that some category mistakes can be hard to spot and that it might take a lot of work to convince someone that he or she is making such a mistake. In this vein, it is worth noting that Dennett himself thinks that the kinds of analyses philosophers have traditionally sought may not be forthcoming (see his “Philosophy as Naive Anthropology,” where he says that Ryle’s assertion that he (Ryle) had unearthed the “logic” of existence claims was a “bluff”). Dennett does not see this as a knock on Ryle, however, and he is clearly sympathetic to the tactics Ryle used in setting up the category mistake charge (e.g., that the “official doctrine” leads to absurdities, but that there were no empirical propositions to blame for this). Dennett is also following the lead of Quine here, of course, and does not want to put a lot of weight on the conceptual/empirical distinction. In this way, there may be an element of scientific discovery when it comes to figuring out the “logic” of qualia concepts.

    Rorty’s “Holism, Intrinsicality, Transcendence” has a nice discussion of some of this stuff (though it is a bit outdated).

    Again, nice post!

  4. I’m upset because as soon as I searched category mistake, to ensure my use of it was correct, this post popped up on google. I too, (too late), thought I had finely spelled out what had always seemed wrong with the zombie argument. However, “category mistake” does not capture all of what is going on. Contact me if you so chose and I’ll forward you the short piece I’m writing on the subject.

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