Mary's Powers of Imagination

In Sam Coleman (ed.), The Knowledge Argument. Cambridge University Press. pp. 161-179 (2019)
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Abstract

One common response to the knowledge argument is the ability hypothesis. Proponents of the ability hypothesis accept that Mary learns what seeing red is like when she exits her black-and-white room, but they deny that the kind of knowledge she gains is propositional in nature. Rather, she acquires a cluster of abilities that she previously lacked, in particular, the abilities to recognize, remember, and imagine the color red. For proponents of the ability hypothesis, knowing what an experience is like simply consists in the possession of these abilities. Criticisms of the ability hypothesis tend to focus on this last claim. Such critics tend to accept that Mary gains these abilities when she leaves the room, but they deny that such abilities constitute knowledge of what an experience is like. To my mind, however, this critical strategy grants too much. Focusing specifically on imaginative ability, I argue that Mary does not gain this ability when she leaves the room for she already had the ability to imagine red while she was inside it. Moreover, despite what some have thought, the ability hypothesis cannot be easily rescued by recasting it in terms of a more restrictive imaginative ability. My purpose here is not to take sides in the debate about physicalism, i.e., my criticism of the ability hypothesis is not offered in an attempt to defend the anti-physicalist conclusion of the knowledge argument. Rather, my purpose is to redeem the imagination from the misleading picture of it that discussion of the knowledge argument has fostered.

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Amy Kind
Claremont McKenna College

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