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David Armstrong, David Chalmers, And Thomas Nagel's Views On Consciousness

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The issue of consciousness is a difficult topic to understand, especially when there are different views about it. The issue of consciousness is a difficult topic to comprehend, especially when there are many different views about what it should and should not entail. There are quite a few philosophers who give their judgment about the role of consciousness in everyday life. In this paper, I will focus on the positions of David Armstrong, David Chalmers, and Thomas Nagel. While Armstrong, Chalmers, and Nagel possessed some similarity with the idea of consciousness, they have different views when it comes to the discussion of philosophical zombies, conceivability, and subjectivity and objectivity. First, I will compare the views of Armstrong and Chalmers about consciousness and philosophical zombies. Then, I will clarify Chalmers’ take on conceivability. Finally, I will give insight on Nagel’s position on physicalism, subjectivity, and objectivity.

In philosophy, there is always the debate about whether “zombies” exist. A zombie, in philosophy, is typically a being, creature, or anything that looks and behaves just like a human but has no consciousness or awareness. David Chalmers says that even if we do not know if it is true, we can still make sense of the idea that a philosophical zombie exists. His argument is this:

(P1) P&~Q is primarily ideally positively conceivable.

(P2) Whatever is primarily ideally conceivable is primarily possible.

(C1) P&~Q is primarily possible.

(P3) The primary intensions of P and Q are identical to the secondary intensions of P and Q.

(C2) P&~Q is secondarily possible.

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(P4) Materialism is true only if the entailment P>Q is secondarily necessary.

(C3) Materialism is false.

Materialism, or physicalism, is the principle that physical matter is the only actuality. Chalmers’ is trying to demonstrate that there is a possible zombie world that is exactly like our human world physically, but when it comes to consciousness, they are completely different. In the zombie world, consciousness is missing. So, why should we believe in Chalmers’ argument? We cannot support it with any stable evidence that there are these zombies that roam the earth. The fact that we cannot retain this evidence proves Chalmers’ claim that physicalism is false. The mere possibility of this is what helps give new light on the idea of consciousness. In contrast with Chalmers, David Armstrong proposes central-state materialism, which implies that the mind’s mental states are actual physical states of the brain. He believes that materialism is explained well by science. His argument is this: Mental states are the inner causes of behavior. The inner causes of behavior are brain states and processes. Therefore, mental states are identical with brain states and processes. Armstrong believes that consciousness is like our sense perception. Just as we can perceive colors, the same applies to consciousness (the inner state of our minds). Chalmers’ zombie suspicion spells out trouble for the idea that mental states could be identified with physiological/brain states. This is because it is uncertain if there are actually zombies, so we cannot physically say that they are explained in terms of science and matter. I do not favor Armstrong’s take on consciousness. This is because after hearing what Chalmers said about the different possibilities, it is hard to believe that the world is based solely on science and physical matter.

Next, I will talk about Chalmers’ standpoint on conceivability. Chalmers states that there is a primary and secondary sense of conceivability. Are primary and secondary conceivability identical? The primary sense of conceivability is directed towards mere possibility. Secondary conceivability refers to actuality, in a sense. It is difficult to distinguish between these two, but they are in fact different. One example in support of this would be the difference between pain and the stimulation of c-fibers. They are the same by definition, but by experience, they are completely different. Pain might be different from one person to the next. It is possible for a person to have a higher tolerance for pain than I do. This much is imaginable. However, it is not possible to stimulate someone’s c-fibers and they do not feel any pain at all. It is pain nonetheless; it just varies from person to person. Therefore, it is difficult to pinpoint the definition of pain. Stimulating c-fibers would be actuality, which makes this secondary. It is possible to imagine that there are different levels of pain when it comes human to beings, which makes this primary. My understanding from this would be that primary and secondary conceivability are not identical. This is because possibility and actuality do not equate when talking about the real world.

Finally, I will move on to discuss Nagel’s position on physicalism. Nagel uses a unique illustration when referring to the state of mind: the bat example. In this example, Nagel explains that we can understand the scientific properties of bats, but we cannot understand what it is like to be one. We know that bats come out during the night and use echolocation, but we don’t really have these abilities, therefore, we cannot really know what being a bat is like. Here, he is referring to subjectivity and objectivity, not physicalism. Subjectivity refers to first-hand experience, while objectivity refers to the observation of something. I agree with Nagel’s position because it explains that even if our mental state is imagining we are bats, our physiological brain states cannot equate to how a bat behaves and what they experience. Nagel’s point is that no amount of objective scientific knowledge will allow you to know the subjective mental states of the bat. He states that physicalism is not necessarily false, nor do we have any impression as to how it can be true. However, the claim that mental events are physical events becomes fallacious when the bat example is considered. I believe that this is a good argument and easy to believe because we are only aware of the things that we do as humans and can only process things through our own senses. Physically, we cannot turn ourselves into bats, but it is possible to imagine ourselves flying around as a bat would. I believe that Nagel has succeeded in demonstrating the difference between subjectivity and objectivity. His argument makes me think of this example: if there was a person who was born blind walking through the city, could he use echolocation to understand where he was? The answer to this question is no because he is not a bat. Could he know what it is like if he experienced the world as if he could see? The answer to this question is also no because he is not any other human being, and he has never experienced this before. He only has knowledge to what it is like to be blind.

The position that I agree the most with would be Chalmers’. He gives a clear example of what it is to imagine a world where there are no conscious beings, which supports his argument claiming that materialism is false. Materialism is a narrow theory. It only seems to work in aspects related to things that are actually present in the world, which sets a limit on what we, as conscious beings, perceive.

In conclusion, each of these philosophers’ positions on consciousness is understandable, and they tend to raise questions about what consciousness is and how we identify it. Armstrong makes a good argument about our mental states being our brain states. Chalmers uses many vivid examples, such as philosophical zombies and pain, to bring his point across about experience. Nagel explains subjectivity and objectivity in a way that is easy to follow. Consciousness is a complex subject to touch base on, but with these few explanations, it makes things a bit more understandable.

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David Armstrong, David Chalmers, And Thomas Nagel’s Views On Consciousness. (2021, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 3, 2022, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/david-armstrong-david-chalmers-and-thomas-nagels-views-on-consciousness/
“David Armstrong, David Chalmers, And Thomas Nagel’s Views On Consciousness.” Edubirdie, 27 Sept. 2021, edubirdie.com/examples/david-armstrong-david-chalmers-and-thomas-nagels-views-on-consciousness/
David Armstrong, David Chalmers, And Thomas Nagel’s Views On Consciousness. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/david-armstrong-david-chalmers-and-thomas-nagels-views-on-consciousness/> [Accessed 3 Dec. 2022].
David Armstrong, David Chalmers, And Thomas Nagel’s Views On Consciousness [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2021 Sept 27 [cited 2022 Dec 3]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/david-armstrong-david-chalmers-and-thomas-nagels-views-on-consciousness/
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