A posteriori physicalists get our phenomenal concepts wrong

Philip Goff

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    47 Citations (Scopus)


    Dualists say plausible things about our mental concepts: there is a way of thinking of pain, in terms of how it feels, which is independent of causal role. Physicalists make attractive ontological claims: the world is wholly physical. The attraction of a posteriori physicalism is that it has seemed to do both: to agree with the dualist about our mental concepts, whilst retaining a physicalist ontology. In this paper I argue that, in fact, a posteriori physicalism departs from the dualist's intuitive picture of our phenomenal concepts in just as radical a manner as more traditional forms of physicalism. Whereas the physicalism of David Lewis and David Armstrong is counterintuitive in holding that our only way of thinking about pain is in terms of its causal role, the physicalism of David Papineau and Brian Loar departs from common sense in holding that our phenomenal concept of pain is opaque: thinking of pain in terms of how it feels reveals nothing of what it is for something to feel pain. The arguments of David Chalmers and Frank Jackson against a posteriori physicalism involve general claims about all concepts. In contrast, my argument makes a claim only about phenomenal concepts: phenomenal concepts are not opaque.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)191-209
    Number of pages19
    JournalAustralasian Journal of Philosophy
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2011


    • explanatory gap
    • qualia
    • mind


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