Saturday, September 30, 2006

Zombie Theory

This is possibly the most bizarre piece of analytical philosophy I have ever seen - "Zombies versus Materialists: The Battle for Conceivability". I can't help thinking that I've missed something - maybe it's an eminently sensible piece of work.

The author analyses the 'zombist' position (I don't know, perhaps this is a famous philosophical position - someone please enlighten me if so). Zombists argue the following:

'(1) Zombies are possible.
(2) If zombies are possible then materialism fails.
(C0) Therefore, materialism fails.'

The most obvious course of action for the materialist, I should imagine, is to dispute the first proposition - ie to say that the existence of zombies isn't possible you absolute fucking nutcase. Ahhh! Well, the zombist has this objection covered, as the author goes on to point out. You see the first proposition above is supported by the following line of reasoning:

'(1a) The zombie hypothesis contains no explicit contradiction.
(presumption, burden of proof on the materialist).
(1b) Theories containing no explicit contradiction are conceivable. (PNC)
(1c) Conceivable theories are possible. (CT).
(1) Therefore, zombies are possible. (1a-1c)'

Ah yes, now I get you. I think. What's that (1a) thing all about though? The author goes on to say, for the Zombist 'There is nothing explicitly contradictory in the idea that zombies might exist.' This reasoning is supported by David Chalmer's claims that:

'In general, a certain burden of proof lies on those who claim that a given description is logically impossible. If someone truly believes that a mile-high unicycle is logically impossible, she must give us some idea of where a contradiction lies, whether explicit or implicit. ... If no reasonable analysis of the terms in question points toward a contradiction, or even makes the existence of a contradiction plausible, then there is a natural assumption in favor of logical possibility.'

The burden of proof, in the case of the possibility of the existence of zombies, then, is on the materialist, who must demonstrate why, in fact, the zombie hypothesis is inconsistent/logically contradictory. The materialist can only do this by reference to his or her own materialist philosophical foundations - a circularity of argument. Therefore, zombies are possible and materialism is false. Or something.

The zombist argument is completely nuts. It's not just me is it?

Thankfully, the author comes to the conclusion that the zombist argument fails to prove that materialism is untenable. I can hear those deep sighs of relief.

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