Inference, Thought Experiments, And Physicalism
This dissertation addresses and connects three issues. First, I seek to better understand philosophers' use of thought experiments. In particular, I seek to better understand the origin and epistemic status of the conclusions we glean from such experiments. To do that, I address the questions: How do we even form these conclusions? And are they generally reliable and well justified? If so, why and how? In response, I develop a new theory of how we form our conclusions. The core idea is that we infer them from the suppositions we make to create the imaginary cases in our thought experiments. This theory entails that our conclusions about thought experiments are reliable and typically bear a priori justification. Another key issue is this: if we know all of the fundamental truths of reality, and thus know not only the fundamental laws of nature but also the location, interrelations, and intrinsic properties of every fundamental entity, can we (assuming we're ideally smart and energetic) then infer every other truth of reality? The nub of this issue is that the fundamental truth metaphysically explains all other truths. So what's really at stake is whether metaphysical explanations are transparent: viz., open for us to see how explananda follow from explanans, and so determine the former from the latter. I argue that we cannot infer all non-fundamental truths from the fundamental truth-and, so, that metaphysical explanations sometimes are not transparent. To argue for this conclusion, I work with the standard assumption that the fundamental truth concerns microphysical reality. I then argue that there are many non-fundamental macrophysical truths that even idealized agents cannot infer from the fundamental microphysical truth. The final issue I address is the nature and origin of phenomenal consciousness-i.e., the subjective character of our experiences that we try to describe with statements about what our experiences are like for us. On this topic, I defend physicalism about phenomenal consciousness against several recent and influential objections. This means, for one thing, that I defend the view that a person's conscious experience at any given time is determined by her neurobiological state at that moment.
physicalism; abduction; thought experiments
Silins, Nicholas; Bennett, Karen
Ph. D., Philosophy
Doctor of Philosophy
dissertation or thesis