Abstract: In Defense of Property Dualism

In my honors thesis I defend David Chalmers’ argument for property dualism.

Thos topic concerns the renowned “mind-body problem,” which has been hotly debated for hundreds of years. The problem concerns the relation between mind (or the mental) and body (or the physical), i.e. whether they exist independently of one another or whether the existence of one depends on the other. Ever since Descartes, philosophers have wondered whether there is anything non-physical that exists in the world. Descartes believed that non-physical souls exist. Many contemporary philosophers believe that there is only physical substance in this world and that all fundamental properties are also physical. Property dualism is the claim that there is no mental, soul-like substance, but there are fundamental mental properties, like our conscious experience, along with physical properties like shapes and mass. Chalmers tries to prove that there are fundamental mental properties by appealing to the possibility of philosophical zombies, which share exactly the same physical properties with humans but which do not have any mental, conscious experience.

Chalmers’ main argument (sometimes called “the zombie argument”) has two premises: 1) that philosophical zombies are conceivable, and 2) that whatever is conceivable is also possible. The conclusion is that zombies are possible. If zombies are possible, then it shows that mental properties do not necessarily (across possible worlds) depend on physical properties, and thus physical properties and mental properties are both fundamental.

This research project, like most work in philosophy, does not involve laboratory time or fieldwork but rather attempts to develop compelling (logically valid and sound) arguments that engage with the existing literature. During the summer, I will try to achieve a deeper understanding of the two key concepts in the zombie argument for property dualism, i.e. the concept of conceivability and that of possibility. Substantial reading will be on David Chalmers’ and Saul Kripke’s works, such as Chalmers’ The Conscious Mind and Kripke’s Naming and Necessity. Kripke is one of the best contemporary philosophers, and people often draw on his view about the relation between conceivability and possibility to refute Chalmers’ argument. The written portion of my research will focus on and argue against Kripke’s view. Other reading materials will include works by David Lewis, Alvin Plantinga, and Daniel Stoljar. My main goals are 1) to clarify the concept of conceivability and conception, distinguishing between different types of conceivability, and 2) to explicate the concept of possibility, trying to explain what we mean by saying something is possible and what kinds of possibility there are.