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Friday, February 14, 2014

On the problem of consciousness and the nature of philosophy

An interview with David Chalmers
By Jørgen Dyrstad and Tomas Midttun Tobiassen
Filosofisk Supplement
Originally published January 19, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

Q: Now that we have some background, could you expand on the basic argument in The Conscious Mind that made it go against much of the orthodoxy at that time?

A: The first half of the book sets out, broadly speaking, negative arguments against certain kinds of reductionist explanations of consciousness and against materialist metaphysics of consciousness. The second half of the book puts forward its own positive program in terms of seeing consciousness as fundamental properties. Studying consciousness then becomes trying to find fundamental laws involving consciousness. My impression is that the first half of the book has ended up getting more of the attention. People are particularly interested in the negative program. The basic idea there is that purely physical explanations of consciousness are not going to work.

There are several different arguments there and maybe the one that got the most attention was the conceivability argument: You could conceive of any physical process you like in the absence of consciousness. Therefore there’s a gap in reductive explanations of consciousness.

I also made arguments connecting conceivability and possibility. There are two different points related to this connection: epistemological arguments against reductive explanations of consciousness and metaphysical arguments against a materialistic metaphysics, or reduction of consciousness. These two points are quite closely linked. The first one is in the third chapter of the book and the second is in the fourth. Perhaps the connection between them was the central point of the first half of the book, although early on in the book I also spent quite a lot of work trying to clarify the relevant notions of consciousness and the different problems that they pose. I also extensively discussed the relevant issues about explanation, possibility, meaning, and so on, which was important background for the argument against materialism.

The entire interview is here.