Zombies Explained
Polger (Thomas)
Source: Ross (Don), Brook (Andrew) & Thompson (David) - Dennett's Philosophy, 2000
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction

  1. Zombies are imaginary creatures that are stipulated to lack consciousness despite being otherwise identical in one way or another to human beings or other conscious creatures. In an essay titled "Dennett (Daniel) - The Unimagined Preposterousness of Zombies: Commentary on Moody, Flanagan, and Polger" Daniel Dennett laments the sad state of philosophy in which there is serious debate over whether or not this fictional kind of being is possible:
      Sometimes philosophers clutch an insupportable hypothesis to their bosoms and run headlong over the cliff edge. Then, like cartoon characters, they hang there in mid-air, until they notice what they have done and gravity takes over. Just such a boon is the philosophers' concept of a zombie, a strangely attractive notion that sums up, in one leaden lump, almost everything that I think is wrong with current thinking about consciousness. ("JCS - Journal of Consciousness Studies, Volume 02, Issue 4 (1995)", 1995, p. 322)
  2. The precipitant of Dennett's distress was an essay by Owen Flanagan and myself in which we critiqued a zombie thought experiment1 created by Todd Moody ("Flanagan (Owen) & Polger (Thomas) - Zombies and the Function of Consciousness", 1995; "Moody (Todd C.) - Conversations with Zombies", 1994). Moody argues that it is impossible for a planet of zombies to evolve, because zombies could never originate mentalistic vocabulary. Flanagan and I thought that Moody's analysis missed the mark (and Dennett agreed). But we tried to use the notion of a zombie world to press questions about the evolution and function of consciousness. Dennett saw us as thereby legitimizing the zombie construct. To that charge we plead 'guilty'. We do think that zombies are a useful fiction.
  3. The reprinting of Dennett's essay in his recent anthology, "Dennett (Daniel) - Brainchildren - Essays on Designing Minds" (1998), provides an occasion to revisit the question of zombies. Dennett set down a challenge: "If the philosophical concept of zombies is so important, so useful, some philosopher ought to be able to say why in nonquestion-begging terms. I'll be curious to see if anybody can mount such a defense, but I won't be holding my breath" (1995, p. 326). Here it is.

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