Philosophy Research Seminar - Dr Donnchadh O'Conaill

13 February 2020, 2.00 PM - 13 February 2020, 3.30 PM

Dr Donnchadh O'Conaill, University of Fribourg

G2, Cotham House

The Argument from Revelation: Metaphilosophical Issues

A powerful argument against physicalist identity theories of consciousness appeals to a special knowledge of phenomenal properties which one can have on the basis of having experiences (Nida-Rümelin 2007; Goff 2011, 2015, 2017).
In a nutshell, the argument is that by having an experience one can come to know the nature or essence of certain phenomenal properties, and thereby learn that they are not physical. As Philip Goff summarises the basic line of thought, “we know what pain is through feeling pain, and hence if pain were c-fibers firing, we’d know about it. But we don’t, so it isn’t” (2017, 125).

The strength of this argument lies in its intuitive appeal. It appears obvious to many of us that a subject can enjoy special knowledge of her own experiences, including knowledge of their essence (e.g., to which phenomenal type they belong – that they are painful, pleasurable, visual or auditory, etc.).
But the argument relies on substantive metaphilosophical assumptions, concerning how we discover which properties exist, how we determine the essence of a property, and the criteria of identity governing properties. And many of the critical responses to the argument involve questioning or denying some of these assumptions.
By spelling out these assumptions and showing how they relate both to the argument from revelation and to criticisms of it, I hope to clarify the deepest disagreements between proponents of the argument and their critics.



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