An empirical case against materialism

Clifton, Andrew (2004) An empirical case against materialism. [Preprint]

This is the latest version of this eprint.

Full text available as:



Empirical arguments for materialism are highly circumstantial—based, as they are, upon inductions from our knowledge of the physical and upon the fact that mental phenomena have physical correlates, causes and effects. However, the qualitative characteristics of first-person conscious experience are empirically distinct from uncontroversially physical phenomena in being—at least on our present knowledge—thoroughly resistant to the kind of abstract, formal description to which the latter are always, to some degree, readily amenable. The prima facie inference that phenomenal qualities are, most probably, non-physical may be resisted either by denying their existence altogether or by proposing that they are properties of some peculiar sort of mysterious physical complexity, located, for example, within the functioning of the brain. It is argued here, however, that the first, eliminative hypothesis is empirically absurd—while the second is extravagant, vague, ad hoc and (for various additional reasons) profoundly implausible. Taken together, these considerations provide a compelling empirical case against materialism—yet its converse, mentalism, is usually regarded as subject to serious difficulties of its own. I conclude by suggesting empirical and theoretical desiderata, respectively, for the vindication of materialism and alternatively, for the development and defense of a potentially robust and viable mentalist theory of consciousness.

Item Type:Preprint
Keywords:materialism, dualism, mentalism, consciousness, phenomenal qualities, qualia, description argument, illusion reductio, crytic complexity
Subjects:Philosophy > Philosophy of Mind
ID Code:3481
Deposited By: Clifton, Mr Andrew
Deposited On:07 Mar 2004
Last Modified:11 Mar 2011 08:55

Available Versions of this Item

References in Article

Select the SEEK icon to attempt to find the referenced article. If it does not appear to be in cogprints you will be forwarded to the paracite service. Poorly formated references will probably not work.

Alter, T. (1998) ‘A Limited Defense of the Knowledge Argument.’ Philosophical Studies, 90: 35-56

Alter, T. (2001) ‘Know-how, Ability, and the Ability Hypothesis’, Theoria 67: 229-239.

Ayer, A. (1968) ‘Can there be a private language?’ Concept of a Person and Other Essays, London: Macmillan.

Bailey, A. (1998) Phenomenal Properties: The Epistemology and Metaphysics of Qualia. Doctoral dissertation (unpublished), Department of Philosophy, University of Calgary, Canada

Bailey, A. (2003) Qualia and the argument from illusion. Unpublished MS, Department of Philosophy, University of Guelph, Canada [Email:]

Bartoshuk, L. (1978) ‘Gustatory system.’ In: Masterson, R. B. (ed.) Handbook of Behavioral Neurobiology, Vol 1, Sensory Integration, New York: Plenum Press.

Bealer, G. (1978) An inconsistency in functionalism. Synthese 38: 333-372

Bealer, G. (1985) Mind and anti-mind: Why thinking has no functional definition. Midwest Studies in Philosophy 9: 283-328

Bindra, D. (1969) A unified interpretation of emotion and motivation. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 159: 1071-1083

Block, N. & Fodor, J. (1972) ‘What psychological states are not.’ Philosophical Review 81: 159-81

Block, N. (1978) Troubles with functionalism. Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science 9: 261-325

Block, N. (1980) ‘Are absent qualia impossible?’ Philosophical Review 89: 257-74

Block, N. (1990) ‘Inverted earth.’ Philosophical Perspectives 4: 53-79

Block, N. (1995) ‘On a Confusion about the Function of Consciousness.’ Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 18: 227-247

Block, N. (2003) ‘Qualia’ In Gregory, R (ed.) Oxford Companion to the Mind, New York: Oxford University Press (revised edition, forthcoming)

Bozarth, M. (1994) ‘Pleasure systems in the brain.’ In D.M. Warburton (ed.), Pleasure: The politics and the reality. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Brandom, R. (1994) Making it Explicit. Reasoning, Representing and Discursive Commitment. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Byrne, A & Hilbert D. (1997) ‘Colors and Reflectances.’ In Byrne, A & Hilbert D. (ed.), Readings on Color, Volume 1: the philosophy of color, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Caruso, G. (1999) ‘A Defense of the Adverbial Theory.’ Philosophical Writings, 10: 51-65

Chalmers, D. (1996) The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory. New York: Oxford University Press.

Chisholm, R. (1957) Perceiving: A Philosophical Study. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Churchland, P. M. (1996) ‘The rediscovery of light.’ Journal of Philosophy 93: 211-28

Churchland, P. S. (1983) ‘Consciousness: The transmutation of a concept.’ Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 64: 80-95.

Churchland, P. S. (1996) ‘The hornswoggle problem.’ Journal of Consciousness Studies 3: 402-8

Churchland, P. S. (1996) ‘Brainshy: Nonneural Theories of Conscious Experience’ In: S. Hameroff, A. Kaszniak, A. Scott (eds.) Toward a Science of Consciousness II: The 1996 Tucson Discussions and Debates Cambridge MA: MIT Press.

Clark, A. (1993) Sensory Qualities. New York: Oxford University Press.

Clark, A. (2000) A theory of sentience. New York: Oxford University Press.

Clifton, A. (2004) [a] ‘Res cogitans.’ Unpublished MS.

Clifton, A. (2004) [b] ‘The introspection game – or, does the Tin Man have a heart.’ Unpublished MS.

Clifton, A. (2004) [c] ‘Blind man’s bluff and the Turing test.’ Unpublished MS.

Clifton, A. (2004) [d] ‘The hazards of silicon heaven.’ Unpublished MS.

Clifton, A. (2004) [e] ‘The trouble with zombies.’ Unpublished MS.

Conee, E. (1994) ‘Phenomenal Knowledge.’ Australasian Journal of Philosophy 72: 136-150

Cytowic, R. (1989) Synesthesia: A Union of the Senses. New York: Springer Verlag.

Cytowic, R. (1993) The Man Who Tasted Shapes. New York: Putnam.

Cytowic, R. (1995) ‘Synesthesia: phenomenology and neuropsychology – a review of current knowledge.’ Psyche 2:10 []

Dennett, D. (1988) ‘Quining Qualia.’ In A Marcel and E. Bisiach, eds., Consciousness in Contemporary Science. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Dennett, D. (1991) Consciousness Explained. New York: Penguin

Dennett, D. (1996) ‘Facing Backwards on the Problem of Consciousness.’ Journal of Consciousness Studies, 3 (1): 4-6

Douglas, G. (1998) ‘Why Pains Are Not Mental Objects.’ Philosophical Studies, 91(2): 127-148

Dretske, F. (1995) Naturalizing the Mind. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Dretske, F. (1996) ‘Phenomenal Externalism, or If Meanings Ain’t in the Head, Where Are Qualia?’ In Villanueva, E., ed. (1996). Perception. Atascadero, CA: Ridgeview.

Ducasse, C. (1942) ‘Moore’s “The Refutation of Idealism.”’ In Schilpp P.A., ed. (1968) The Philosophy of G.E. Moore. Third edition. La Salle, IL: Open Court.

Edelman, G. & Tononi, G (2000) Consciousness: How Matter Becomes Imagination. London: Allen Lane.

Fodor, J. (1975) The Language of Thought. New York: Crowell.

Fodor, J. (1981) ‘The Mind Body Problem.’ Scientific American 244 (1): 114-123

Fodor, J. (1990) A Theory of Content and Other Essays. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Gertler, B. (1999) ‘A Defense of the Knowledge Argument.’ Philosophical Studies, 93: 317-36

Gescheider, G. (1997) Psychophysics: The Fundamentals. New York: Erlbaum.

Gould, S. and Lewontin, R. (1979) ‘The spandrels of San Marco and the panglossian paradigm: a critique of the adaptationist programme.’ Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B., 205: 581-598

Hardcastle, V. (1999) The Myth of Pain. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Hardin, C. (1993) Color for Philosophers, Indianapolis, IA.: Hackett.

Harman, G. (1990) ‘The Intrinsic Quality of Experience.’ in Tomberlin, J. ed., Action Theory and Philosophy of Mind (Philosophical Perspectives, Vol. 4). Atascadero, CA: Ridgeview Publishing.

Harman, G (1999) ‘Wide Functionalism’ in: Reasoning, Meaning, and Mind. Clarendon Press.

Jackson, F. (1975) ‘On the Adverbial Analysis of Visual Experience.’ Metaphilosophy 6: 127-135.

Jackson, F. (1976) ‘The Existence of Mental Objects.’ In Rosenthal, D.M., ed., (1991) The Nature of Mind. New York: Oxford University Press.

Jackson, F. (1977) Perception: A Representative Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Jackson, F. (1982) ‘Epiphenomenal qualia.’ Philosophical Quarterly 32: 127-136

James, W. (1890) The Principles of Psychology. New York: John Holt.

Johnsen, B. (1993) ‘The intelligibility of spectrum inversion.’ Canadian Journal of Philosophy 23: 631-6

Kirk, R. (1974) ‘Zombies vs. materialists.’ Aristotelian Society Supplement 48: 135-52

Kraut, R. (1982) ‘Sensory States and Sensory Objects’ Nous, 16(2): 277-293

Land, E. (1977) ‘The Retinex theory of color vision.’ Scientific American, 237: 108-128

Land, E. (1986) ‘Recent advances in Retinex theory.’ Vision Research 26: 7-21.

Larmer, R. (1986) ‘Mind-body interaction and the conservation of energy.’ International Philosophical Quarterly, 103: 277-285.

Lemos, N. (1995) Intrinsic Value: Concept and Warrant. Cambridge University Press

Levine, J. (1991) ‘Cool red.’ Philosophical Psychology 4: 27-40.

Lewis, D. (1980) ‘Mad Pain and Martian Pain.’ in N. Block, ed., Readings in the Philosophy of Psychology, Vol. I. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press

Loar, B. (1990) ‘Phenomenal States (Revised Version)’ In Block, N, Flanagan, O. and Güzeldere, G (eds.) The Nature of Consciousness. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Lycan, W. (1973) ‘Inverted spectrum.’ Ratio 15: 315-9.

Lycan, W. (1995) ‘A Limited Defense of Phenomenal Information’, in Metzinger, T. ed., Conscious Experience. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.

Lycan, W. (1996) Consciousness and Experience. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Lycan, W. (2001) ‘The case for phenomenal externalism.’ Philosophical Perspectives 15: 17-35

McDowell, J. (1994) Mind and World. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Moore, G. (1903/1993) Principia Ethica. Revised edition: Cambridge University Press

Nagel, T. (1974) ‘What is it like to be a bat?’ Philosophical Review, 79: 394-403

Nemirov, L. (1990) ‘Physicalism and the Cognitive Role of Acquaintance.’ in Lycan, W. G. ed., Mind and Cognition: A Reader. Cambridge, MIT: Blackwell.

Papineau, D. (1993) ‘Physicalism, Consciousness and the Antipathetic Fallacy.’ Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 71: 169-183

Papineau, D. (1995) ‘The Antipathetic Fallacy and the Boundaries of Consciousness’, in Metzinger, T., (ed.) Conscious Experience. Paderborn: Schoningh.

Papineau, D. (2002) Thinking about consciousness. Oxford University Press.

Pereboom, D. (1991) ‘Why a scientific realist cannot be a functionalist.’ Synthese 88:341-58.

Rey, G. (1996) ‘Towards a Projectivist Account of Conscious Experience.’ in T. Metzinger, ed., Conscious Experience. Paderhorn: Schoningh.

Rey, G. (1997) ‘A question about consciousness.’ In Block, N, Flanagan, O. and Güzeldere, G (eds.) The Nature of Consciousness. Cambridge, MA, MIT Press.

Rey, G. (1980) ‘Functionalism and the Emotions.’ in A. Rorty, ed., Explaining Emotions Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

Robinson, H. (1976) ‘The mind-body problem in contemporary philosophy.’ Zygon 11: 346-360

Robinson, H. (1994) Perception. Routledge.

Robinson, H. (2003) ‘Empiricism and the philosophy of mind: has Sellars refuted “the given”?’ Unpublished MS, Department of Philosophy, Central European University, Budapest. [Email:]

Rorty, R. (1970) ‘In defense of eliminative materialism.’ Review of Metaphysics 24: 112-121.

Rorty, R. (1972) ‘Functionalism, machines and incorrigibility.’ Journal of Philosophy 69: 203-220

Rorty, R. (1979) Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Rorty, R. (1997) Introduction to Sellars, W (1956/1997) Empiricism and the philosophy of mind. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Schiffer, S. (1986) ‘Functionalism and belief.’ In Brand, M. & Harnish, R., eds. The Representation of Knowledge and Belief. University of Arizona Press.

Seager, W. (1983) ‘Functionalism, qualia and causation.’ Mind 92: 174-88

Sellars, W. (1956/1997) Empiricism and the philosophy of mind. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Sellars, W. (1962) ‘Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man.’ In R. Colodny, ed., Frontiers of Science and Philosophy. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press.

Sellars, W. (1965) ‘The Identity Approach to the Mind-Body Problem.’ Review of Metaphysics 18: 430-51

Sellars, W. (1975) ‘The Adverbial Theory of the Objects of Sensation.’ Metaphilosophy, 6: 144-160

Sellars, W. (1971) ‘Science, Sense Impressions, and Sensa: A Reply to Cornman.’ Review of Metaphysics 24: 391-447

Shoemaker, S. (1990) in R. Audi, (ed), The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Sloman, A. (1999) What is it like to be a rock? Unpublished ms (available online at Aaron Sloman’s home page:

Spencer, H. (1880) Principles of Psychology. New York: Appleton.

Squires, R. (1974) ‘Zombies vs. materialists II.’ Aristotelian Society Supplement 48: 153-63

Troland, L. (1928) The Fundamentals of Human Motivation. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold.

Tye, M. (1984a) ‘The Adverbial Approach to Visual Experience.’ The Philosophical Review, 93(2): 195-225

Tye, M. (1984b) ‘Pain and the Adverbial Theory.’ American Philosophical Quarterly, 21: 319-328

Tye, M. (1996) Ten Problems of Consciousness: A Representational Theory of the Phenomenal Mind MIT Press.

Walker, R. (1989) The Coherence Theory of Truth. Routledge.

Wall, P (1999) Pain: The science of suffering. Weidenfeld and Nicolson.

Williams, M. (1999) Groundless Belief. Blackwell, Oxford.

Wittgenstein, L. (1958) Philosophical Investigations. Trans. G. E. M. Anscombe. New York: Macmillan.

Young, P. (1959) ‘The role of affective processes in learning and motivation.’ Psychological Review 66: 104-125.


Repository Staff Only: item control page