Wednesday, October 22, 2014

[PHI 1000] Is phenomenal consciousness illusory?

In this Philosophy Bites podcast, Keith Frankish claims that phenomenal consciousness is an illusion.

More precisely, he claims that what philosophers call "qualia" (AKA the "subjective character of experience," the "what it is like," or "phenomenal properties") is an illusion. It is an illusion, according to Frankish, insofar as qualia or phenomenal properties merely seem to be non-physical but are not really non-physical.

What is Frankish's argument for the claim that qualia are illusory? Is it a good argument?


  1. He claims that behind these experiences that we undergo (like seeing a leaf), there is a physical aspect going on in the brain. This phenomena is all physical and not a disconnected mental state, thus it follows that we are only under the illusion that it is a separate mental state. I think that the argument he makes is a valid one.

    1. If this is Frankish’s argument, I am not sure it is a good one. That is, if the argument runs as follows:

      P1. Conscious experiences merely seem to have -- but do not really have -- a non-physical quality to them (qualia).
      P2. What merely seems to be the case but is not really the case is illusory.
      C. Therefore, qualia are illusory.

      This argument may be valid but a mind-body dualist would not accept P1. At one point in the podcast, Frankish says that the notion of qualia as non-physical is question-begging. But the dualist could also complain that the notion of qualia as apparently but not really non-physical is question-begging as well. The question is whether qualia are physical or not. Any argument that assumes they are physical would not convince a dualist, just as any argument that assumes they are non-physical would not convince a materialist (or physicalist).


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