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Schermann, S.L.

This thesis discusses what we can and cannot conclude from the Knowledge Argument, a well known thought experiment put forward by Frank Jackson. It involves Mary the color scientist, who learns everything that a future completed science could establish about color and the physiology involved. Yet in the process she never sees any colors herself, by which it seems that she would still learn something new from her first actual experience of color. This intends to conclude the falsity of physicalism, because physicalism implies that all the physical knowledge is all the knowledge there is, while Mary learns something new despite her perfect mastery of this knowledge.

We will discuss three prominent arguments against the intuition that Mary gains new knowledge. Dennett argues that Mary can still figure out what colors are like, as long as she puts her perfect physical knowledge to good use. We will see that this is only plausible on a functionalist account that reduces color experiences to behavioral dispositions. Yet this is unsatisfactory because Mary seems unable to figure out all the correct behaviors without unjustified superhuman powers. The Ability Hypothesis from Nemirow and Lewis argues that she only gains new abilities. But while there is little doubt that Mary gains new abilities, it seems that she always gains new knowledge as well. The third objection argues that Mary gains no new facts but a representational perspective on her old facts. This argument is shown as insufficient by Chalmers' observation that learning how old facts are represented in consciousness is a new fact by itself.

A better way to resist the Knowledge Argument is therefore to accept that Mary does gain new knowledge, while explaining this from a physicalist perspective. The Phenomenal Concepts Strategy is a prominent argument of this kind, which claims that phenomenal concepts are cognitively independent from physical concepts. Yet this conceptual dualism seems self defeating because the resulting notion of phenomenal concepts can hardly be called concepts anymore. Nonetheless, as long as such incoherent notions are avoided, this general approach does seem the way to go. It is hard to see how a common sense acceptance of the fact that humans need to use their own eyes to know what colors are like can be incompatible with physicalism as such. The conclusion is therefore that the Knowledge Argument cannot refute physicalism, but it does show some limitations on the claims that a physicalist theory can coherently make.

Last modified:30 August 2016 2.56 p.m.