DescriptionImagine slicing your hand with a steak knife. Inevitably, this leads to a characteristic unpleasant sensation, and just as reliably, to a withdrawal of the wounded limb. But can this rather mundane fact--and other similar facts--shed any light on the mind-body problem or the issue of the role of experience in causing behavior? In my dissertation, I explore this issue head on, and in the process clarify and criticize the arguments of philosophers who have given an affirmative answer to this question--philosophers such as William James and Herbert Spencer. These arguments have coupled evidence like the above with the fact that human beings have evolved, in order to make the case that epiphenomenalism with respect to qualia is false.
My first task will be to formulate a rigorous version of a James-Spencer style argument, which will occupy us in Chapter 1. Chapter 2 is dedicated to answering a number of objections to the argument, in an effort to show that if there is a problem with it, this problem lies elsewhere. Chapter 3 explores alternative arguments in the spirit of the original one formulated in Chapter 1, and discusses any resulting effects on the plausibility of the conclusion. Chapter 4 is the capstone chapter of the dissertation. In it, I discuss a crucial objection to all arguments in the spirit of that given in the first chapter--namely, that physicalism has analogous flaws to epiphenomenalism where accommodating the relevant evidence is concerned. My conclusions in this final chapter are twofold. First, that even if there is no fatal flaw in the general strategy the evolutionary argument employs, it works against all forms of dualism, not just epiphenomenalism. And second, the accusations made in the objection are correct; physicalism suffers from problems analogous to those faced by epiphenomenalism (and, indeed, interactionism as well).
Although the primary findings of the dissertation are negative, there are many lessons we can take from them along the way. Most prominent among them is an improved perspective on the appropriate roles of empirical findings and armchair philosophical theorizing in debate over the mind-body problem.