The evolutionary argument is an argument against epiphenomenalism, designed to show that some mind-body theory that allows for the efficacy of qualia is true. First developed by Herbert Spencer and William James, the argument has gone through numerous incarnations and it has been criticized in a number of different ways. Yet many have found the criticisms of the argument in the literature unconvincing. Bearing this in mind, I examine two primary issues: first, whether the alleged insights employed in traditional versions of the argument have been correctly and consistently applied, and second, whether the alleged insights can withstand critical scrutiny. With respect to the first issue, I conclude that the proponents of the argument have tended to grossly oversimplify the considerations involved, incorrectly supposing that the evolutionary argument is properly conceived as a non-specific argument for the disjunction of physicalism and interactionist dualism and against epiphenomenalism. With respect to the second issue, I offer a new criticism that decisively refutes all arguments along the lines of the one I present. Finally, I draw positive lessons about the use of empirical considerations in debates over the mind-body problem.
Several alternatives vie today for recognition as the most plausible ontology, from physicalism to panpsychism. By and large, these ontologies entail that physical structures circumscribe consciousness by bearing phenomenal properties within their physical boundaries. The ontology of idealism, on the other hand, entails that all physical structures are circumscribed by consciousness in that they exist solely as phenomenality in the first place. Unlike the other alternatives, however, idealism is often considered implausible today, particularly by analytic philosophers. A reason for this is the strong intuition that an objective world transcending phenomenality is a self-evident fact. Other arguments—such as the dependency of phenomenal experience on brain function, the evidence for the existence of the universe before the origin of conscious life, etc.—are also often cited. In this essay, I will argue that these objections against the plausibility of idealism are false. As such, this essay seeks to show that idealism is an entirely plausible ontology.
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in 2000 by Richard Jeffrey, from Princeton University,
and were organized by the Portuguese Philosophy Society.
Organized by the Philosophy Centre and Disputatio, the 2003 Petrus
Hispanus Lectures were delivered on 22 and 23 May by Ned Block,
Professor of Philosophy and Psychology at New York University and a
towering figure in the philosophies of mind, cognition and conscious-
ness. The titles of Ned Block’s lectures were ‘The Mind-BodyProblem
from a Neuroscientific Point of View’ and ‘Other Minds and Vagueness’
Ned Block (Ph
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