Sunday, March 29, 2009

Causally inefficacious qualia

The following question is probably very naive: If qualia are causally inefficacious, then how can I know that I experience any qualia, that I am not in fact a qualia-deprived semi-zombie who falsely believes himself to experience qualia? (I say "semi-zombie" because maybe one can be qualia-deprived and yet conscious in a qualia-free way. Maybe even folks who believe in qualia will say that when one is conscious of certain mathematical or moral or modal truths, there are no qualia.)


Jonathan Jacobs said...

I've wondered similar things. With respect to your question, I imagine the probable answer will involve something about how qualia are partly constitutive of the person who has them. Here's another question. What causes me to answer yes when asked whether I'm having a certain phenomenal experience? It would seem exceedingly strange to me if the quale itself were causally irrelevant to my answering as I did.

Doug said...

I think that would definitely be a problem for those who subscribe to Platonism or semi-Platonism with respect to abstract objects, or qualia. Given their lack of any causal relation, in conjunction with the necessity of a causal relation in order to have knowledge of some external object, then it would follow that knowledge of qualia would be impossible. This, of course, assumes that qualia exist independently of the mind.

I'm inclined to think of qualia, and other abstract objects, as concepts of the mind. And, given their necessity, they must be grounded in some necessary and absolute mind (re: God). Our knowledge of qualia would then be due to our being created in the image of God.

Alexander R Pruss said...


Qualia are contingent beings--they exist only when apperceived. So they don't seem at all abstract.


It is weird that if you tell me you had a quale, you would have told me the same thing even if you didn't have the quale (at least on one resolution of the counterfactual).

In any case, much the same thing happens on non-theistic Platonic views of mathematical entities. What's a bit weirder is that qualia are contingent.

Doug said...

Ah, I see. So, qualia are phenomenological? Still, I would think that qualia, per some minimalistic metaphysical realism, would correspond to abstracta.