The knowledge argument is an argument against physicalism that was first formulated by Frank Jackson in 1982. While Jackson no longer endorses it, it is still regarded as one of the most important arguments in the philosophy of mind. Physicalism is the metaphysical thesis that, basically, everything in this world-including cars, humans, animals, research papers, even our sensations-are ultimately physical.
The knowledge argument attempts to refute this thesis by appealing to the following made-up scenario known as “Mary’s Room”: Mary is confined to a black-and-white room, is educated through black-and-white books and through lectures relayed on black-and white television.
In this way she learns everything there is to know about the physical nature of the world.
She knows all the physical facts about us and our environment, in a wide sense of ‘physical’ which includes everything in completed physics, chemistry, and Neurophysiology and all there is to know about the causal and relational facts consequent upon all this, including of course functional roles.
(Jackson 1986, p. 291) What the knowledge argument also basically states is that if physicalism is in fact true, Mary would know everything in this world. Obviously though, Mary cannot have learned absolutely everything from this experience.
Once Mary is released into the real world, with color, she is then experiencing, and learning something new: what it is to see color. Although she learns everything physical in her black and white environment, and still learns something new when she is exposed to color once she is released, it only seems reasonable that we are able to conclude that physicalism is false. In a simpler form, Jackson presents the Knowledge Argument like such: 1. While in the black-and-white room, Mary knows all of the physical facts about color experience. 2.
Mary learns something about color experience upon her release. 3. If Mary learns something about color experience upon her release, she does not know all of the facts about color experience while in the room. 4. Mary does not know all of the facts about color experience while in the room. (from 2 and 3) 5. There are facts about color experience that are not physical facts. (from 1 and 4) 6. If physicalism is true, then all facts are physical facts. Therefore, 7. Physicalism is false. (from 5 and 6) Just as there are objections to nearly every argument in philosophy, here are objections to Jackson’s. I will discuss what I feel are the four most influential objections to this argument. The first objection is basically to deny the conjunctions of the first and second premises. In regards to this view, Mary does not know every physical fact unless she actually knows what it’s like to see the color red. This is basically stating the limitation as to why Mary learns something upon her release. Daniel Dennet argued that we can’t actually know all of the relevant physical facts, stating that if premise #1 is true, then premise #2 must be false.
Defenders of the knowledge argument refute Dennet’s claims by stating that the argument only requires that we can comprehend the basic type of knowledge that Mary holds while inside her black and white world. Since we do have a grasp of the sort of physical facts she knows, our powers of conceiving are strong enough to evaluate the possibility that (1) and (2) are true simultaneously. The next two objections to the knowledge argument deal with refuting premise #3. Churchland (1985) expresses the gains Mary has after her release from the room as a “knowledge by acquaintance” of what it’s like to actually see and experience the color red.
Using this analysis, Churchland argues an argument which is parallel would also denounce dualism, because of the fact Mary would not hold sufficient “knowledge by acquaintance” even if she had extensive propositional knowledge concerning the nonphysical. Jackson responded to Churchland’s refutes in 1986 saying that one may actually know all of the physical facts about what it is like to see the color red without actually knowing what it’s like, but that one could not know all of the facts (physical and nonphysical) about seeing red without knowing what it is like.
A third objection to the argument, which also denies the third premise claims that the gains Mary receives by leaving the room is not a knowledge of the fact, but it is actually an ability. This objection first came about by Laurence Nemirow’s review of Nagel’s argument (1980). David Lewis (1988) also defended this objection. When discussing this “ability” that Mary has gained, it is said that Mary learns how to recognize, as well as remember a “seeing red” experience.
Because of the fact experience is a requirement for these abilities, it also means that it carries no anti-physicalist consequences. Furthermore extensive propositional knowledge doesn’t actually guarantee that a person possesses the significant ability. If this were true, masters of craft such as engineers would be able to hold any profession such as a basketball player, simply because of the fact the engineer could master all the significant facts about how one would be able to throw a basketball into a hoop.
The most commonly accepted type of objection to Jackson’s Knowledge Argument is that which rejects premise #6. This objection of premise #6 claims that what Mary gains is simply only a new way to represent a part of reality that she had actually already knew, and that our ways of representing reality may be more fine-grained than the reality we represent. This objection more basically claims that Mary did not in fact learn any new facts but only came across old facts, just presented in a new different fashion.
In the year 1993, Jackson actually accepted the idea of epiphenomenalism. He claimed that the Knowledge Argument contained no obvious fallacy, but yet, its conclusion: that physicalism is false, must be mistaken. Since Jackson claims his conclusion to be false, this must mean there is even something wrong with the argument itself. What this basically means is that since physicalism is claimed to be false in the conclusion of the Knowledge Argument, and it is not actually false, for whatever reason the Knowledge Argument is not sound!
So now we must discuss the benefits of becoming a physicalist, such as the fact that modern science has within it a certain picture of the world, best distilled as the thesis of physicalism, and it is a methodological mistake to suppose that philosophy itself should revise science. But with the acceptance of physicalism, there also comes costs as opposed to the benefits: Physicalism apparently is counter to our intuitions about values, free-will, experience and a variety of other issues.
In conclusion what I have claimed is that The Knowledge Argument is an argument against physicalism. Yet its importance stems as much from the richness and variety of the responses inspired by its aggressive reasoning as from its anti-physicalist conclusion. Discussion of the argument has undoubtedly affected debate on a wide range of issues, including: differences between propositional knowledge and ability, the relation between identity and deducibility, and the special features of phenomenal knowledge.
While the majority of philosophers ultimately reject the argument, a strong minority accepts it as sound. References Churchland, Paul. “Reduction, Qualia, and the Direct Introspection of Brain States. ” Journal of Philosophy 82(1985):8-28. Dennett, Daniel. Consciousness Explained. Boston: Little Brown and Company, 1991. Jackson, Frank. “Epiphenomenal Qualia. ” The Philosophical Quarterly 32(1982):127-136. Jackson, Frank. “What Mary Didn’t Know. ” The Journal of Philosophy 83(1986):291-295. Nemirow, Laurence. Review of Mortal Questions Thomas Nagel. Philosophical Review 89(1980):473-477.
Cite this Frank Jackson’s Knowledge Argument
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