Some comments on Stoljar’s case for a new physicalism


Recently Daniel Stoljar posted a short piece on consciousness in which he provides a brief explanation of his novel variety of physicalism, which departs from traditional physicalism while maintaining a position distinct from dualism.

Like panpsychists, Stoljar appeals to intrinsic or constitutive properties of the physical to explain how complex consciousness can be produced by certain physical processes. Unlike panpsychists, he denies that these constitutive properties include consciousness (or any other mental property). But he gives no real argument against the intrinsicality of consciousness; he just says it’s not consistent with his new model (which to me sounds an awful lot like another variety of neutral monism anyway). The perceived need for a new model seems to follow from denial of the intrinsicality of consciousness though, so the demands of the new model can’t provide a reason to deny the intrinsicality of consciousness.

Later he addresses the objection that explanations based on any unknown (but definitely non-mental) constitutive properties of matter postulated by the new model will run into the same problems (knowledge arguments, conceivability arguments, inverted spectra etc.) as explanations based on familiar features of the physical. But his response is apparently just to stipulate that the unknown constitutive physical properties are sufficiently dissimilar from known physical properties that these familiar arguments against physicalism will fail. Not very satisfying! Not very likely either, I think, because the familiar arguments do not cite any specific features of known physical properties except for the fact that none of those properties include consciousness. So Stoljar’s stipulation that his unknown non-conscious constitutive properties of the physical will be sufficiently dissimilar from known properties of the physical seems to involve a paradox — those non-conscious properties would only be sufficiently dissimilar from known properties if they included consciousness! If this stipulation really is paradoxical, clearly it cannot save his new physicalism from the standard arguments against the old physicalism.


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