- In his new book Robert Kirk returns to two themes that have occupied him throughout his career.
I shall confine myself here to the first theme.
- The first is the conceivability and possibility of zombies, an issue which he himself did much to put on the map in the 1970s.
- The second, a development of themes in his earlier Raw Feelings, is the idea that we can explain phenomenal consciousness in terms of a 'basic package' of cognitive capacities that process 'directly active' perceptual information.
- Kirk began his philosophical career as what he calls a 'zombist' - a believer in the possibility of philosophical zombies. A philosophical zombie is a close physical duplicate in another possible world of a creature that is conscious in this world. The only difference between me and my hypothetical zombie counterpart is that my zombie counterpart is utterly devoid of conscious experience. Kirk had already rejected the possibility of zombies by the time of Raw Feelings, but the first four chapters of the current book represent his most sustained argument against what he and others have taken to be a serious threat to physicalism. The problem for physicalism is that the possibility of zombies refutes the strict implication thesis that a complete statement of all the physical truths about the world strictly implies all the psychological truths (Kirk understands strict implication so that it is incompatible with zombies' being possible in even the most etiolated conceptual sense).
- Kirk remarks, with some justification, that existing arguments in this area are at best inconclusive, and proposes to sidestep most of them (particularly those having to do with the relation between conceivability and possibility) by attacking the most fundamental premise of the zombist position, accepted by the majority of participants in the debate, that zombies are conceivable. His own argument takes the form of an ingenious and original reductio. Anyone committed to the conceivability of zombies is, he argues, committed to the conceivability of what he calls e-qualia (essentially, epiphenomenal qualia). But the idea of e-qualia can, he claims, be seen to be incoherent.
Review of "Zombies and Consciousness" by Robert Kirk. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2005. Pp. xii + 235. Price £30).
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