Sunday, June 25, 2006

Kirk Takes Zombies Back

Robert Kirk, Zombies and Consciousness, Oxford University Press, 2005.

Kirk is famous for inventing phenomenal zombies--creatures physically indistinguishable from us but lacking consciousness--and for using their possibility to refute physicalism. (The undelying idea goes back to Descartes.)

Kirk published his original papers on zombies in 1974. In recent years, David Chalmers has formulated a version of Kirk's zombie conceivability argument and put it at the center of debates on consciousness.

There is now a huge literature that discusses the possibility of zombies. It is only fitting that Kirk weighs in with his own book.

Kirk is now convinced that the zombie idea is incoherent. According to Kirk's new book, sombies are not possible, and hence they don't refute physicalism, after all.


Anonymous djc said...

A couple of notes. First, while Kirk deserves a lot of credit for his paper, equal credit is deserved by Keith Campbell, whose 1970 book "Body and Mind" gives a version of the zombie argument, albeit using the name "imitation man" rather than "zombie". Second, Kirk hasn't only just changed his mind: he has a 1979 paper arguing for materialism, and his 1994 book "Raw Feeling" has a lot on the impossibility of zombies. His new book is well worth reading, though.

7:28 AM  
Blogger Eric Thomson said...

Kirk's big problem with zombies is that it leaves consciousness epiphenomenal. One thing I really admired about Chalmers' book was his attempt to come to terms with this problem, refusing to beat around the bush and pretend it is not a potentially damning objection.

After a few years in philosophy grad school banging my brain against the qualia problem, I came to think that the only two reasonable positions in the qualia wars are:
1. Some kind of eliminativism (which seems sorta implausible) wrt to the essential features of qualia.
2. Some sort of dual aspect theory (which leaves you with an implausible epiphenomenalism).

That's about when I decided to go into neuroscience :)

Every couple of years, I poke my head into the philosophy offices on campus to see if any real progress has been made on qualia. So far, not much since I left philosophy about six years ago.

3:10 PM  

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