Physicalism, Conceptual Analysis and Acts of Faith
Hornsby (Jennifer)
Source: Birkbeck Website
Paper - Abstract

Paper StatisticsBooks / Papers Citing this PaperNotes Citing this PaperColour-ConventionsDisclaimer

Author’s Introduction

  1. Frank Jackson and I each take the other to hold a position in philosophy of mind which is extremely difficult to sustain. Here I shall confine myself to trying to say something about how that can be.
  2. My objective is more to demonstrate the sanity of Jackson’s opponents and the fragility of his own position than the truth of any particular doctrine. I want to bring to the surface an assumption in ontology which I see as a crucial part of the grounding of Jackson’s particular version of physicalism. I think that when it is appreciated that this assumption may be rejected, Jackson’s opponents are seen in a different light from the one in which they appear in his writings. (More generally, a connection is made between the vast literature on physicalism as a topic in philosophy of mind and the equally vast literature on material constitution as a topic in metaphysics.)
  3. I should start by setting up the difference of opinion in broad outline. I can use Jackson’s own words to characterize both what he and opponents may agree about and what they certainly disagree about. What (at least for present purposes) everyone may agree about is (P).
      (P) Any world which is a minimal physical duplicate of our world is a psychological duplicate of our world (p.14).
  4. What us anti-reductionists dissent from is the thesis that ‘Everyday psychological explanations are understandable in terms of, or are reducible to, physical ones’ (2000, p.188). The assumption which I want to suggest separates physicalists of Jackson’s stripe from many of those who reject this reductionist thesis is, as I said, an assumption in ontology. I start by drawing attention to what Jackson takes (P) to import, which, thanks to the assumption, goes well beyond what I think (P) actually implies (§1). Then I look at the claims about conceptual analysis which Jackson uses to secure the commitments he takes (P) to incur (§2). Jackson says that those of us who aren’t willing to undertake these commitments have to engage in ‘an act of faith’. I shall suggest that physicalists who reject the reductionist thesis can make a virtue of faithlessness as much as anyone else (§3).

Author’s Conclusion
  1. I may have managed to make it look very hard to defend physicalism of Jackson’s sort and very easy to defend physicalism of a different sort. But if I have made anything look hard or easy, then that is because I have trodden a path so much of my own choosing. I have relied on Jackson’s bold and lucid statement of his version of physicalism in order to pit it against another. I have relied upon setting things up so as to avoid assessing certain claims which Jackson uses in support of his own position. And I have only gestured towards arguments for the claim on which I am suggesting a defence of PHYSICALISM of an anti-reductionist sort might rest — arguments for rejecting Jackson’s assumption in ontology. Perhaps, however, there is a general lesson here. Physicalists need not subscribe to the idea that ‘the world’ or ‘reality’ is something of which accounts are given.
  2. Accounts are accounts of things; and there can be more to the things of which some accounts are given than the material stuff which constitutes them.


Draft for a Festschrift on Frank Jackson's work.

Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)

  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2021
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)

© Theo Todman, June 2007 - Jan 2021. Please address any comments on this page to File output:
Website Maintenance Dashboard
Return to Top of this Page Return to Theo Todman's Philosophy Page Return to Theo Todman's Home Page