Argumenta – Journal of Analytic Philosophy

Conscious Experiences as Ultimate Seemings: Renewing the Phenomenal Concept Strategy [Special Issue]

Topics: Epistemology, Philosophy of mind
Keywords: cognitive phenomenology, conscious experience, dualism, hard problem of consciousness, phenomenal concept, phenomenal consciousness, physicalism


The Phenomenal Concept Strategy is a popular strategy used to support physicalism in the realm of conscious experience. This Strategy accounts for dualist intuitions but uses the ways in which we think about our experiences to explain these intuitions in a physicalist framework, without any appeal to ontological dualism. In this paper, I will raise two issues related to the currently available versions of the Phenomenal Concept Strategy. First, most of the theories belonging to the Phenomenal Concept Strategy posit that phenomenal concepts are exceptional and sui generis concepts, and these theories can be shown to be largely ad hoc. Second, these theories may explain the existence of anti-physicalist intuitions, but they do not explain their persistence. My aim is to put forward a new theory of phenomenal concepts that can rise up to these challenges to the Phenomenal Concept Strategy. In my view, phenomenal concepts are not independent and sui generis concepts. On the contrary, they are closely related to our other epistemic concepts, especially our concepts of “justification”. Thinking about an experience means thinking about a specific kind of justification – an unjustified justification, or, in other words, an “ultimate seeming”. I will show why this explains the existence and the persistence of antiphysicalist intuitions in a non-ad hoc way.

Some philosophers have tried to show that conscious experience does not threaten ontological physicalism, by arguing that anti-physicalist intuitions concerning consciousness (and notably the intuition of conceivability), which sustain the well-known anti-physicalist arguments (Chalmers 1996; Chalmers 2010; Jackson 1982; Kripke 1980), are nothing but a by-product of certain epistemological features of phenomenal concepts (the concepts we use to think about phenomenal experiences notably, but not only, through introspection). In contemporary philosophy, this line of thought has been labelled “the Phenomenal Concept Strategy” (Loar 1997; Papineau 2002; Tye 2003). The Strategy has been the subject of numerous objections (Ball 2009; Chalmers 2007; Goff 2011; Levine 2007); it constitutes nevertheless one of the most accepted physicalist answers to the anti-physicalist arguments concerning consciousness.


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