Phenomenal knowledge why: the explanatory knowledge argument against physicalism

In Sam Coleman (ed.), The Knowledge Argument. Cambridge University Press (2019)
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Phenomenal knowledge is knowledge of what it is like to be in conscious states, such as seeing red or being in pain. According to the knowledge argument (Jackson 1982, 1986), phenomenal knowledge is knowledge that, i.e., knowledge of phenomenal facts. According to the ability hypothesis (Nemirow 1979; Lewis 1983), phenomenal knowledge is mere practical knowledge how, i.e., the mere possession of abilities. However, some phenomenal knowledge also seems to be knowledge why, i.e., knowledge of explanatory facts. For example, someone who has just experienced pain for the first time learns not only that this is what pain is like, but also why people tend to avoid it. Some philosophers have claimed that experiencing pain gives knowledge why in a normative sense: it tells us why pain is bad and why inflicting it is wrong (Kahane 2010). But phenomenal knowledge seems to explain not (only) why people should avoid pain, but why they in fact tend to do so. In this paper, I will explicate and defend a precise version of this claim and use it as a basis for a new version of the knowledge argument, which I call the explanatory knowledge argument. According to the argument, some phenomenal knowledge (1) explains regularities in a distinctive, ultimate or regress-ending way, and (2) predict them without induction. No physical knowledge explains and predicts regularities in the same way. This implies the existence of distinctive, phenomenal explanatory facts, which cannot be identified with physical facts. I will show that this argument can be defended against the main objections to the original knowledge argument, the ability hypothesis and the phenomenal concept strategy, even if it turns out that the original cannot. In this way, the explanatory knowledge argument further strengthens the case against physicalism.

Author's Profile

Hedda Hassel Mørch
Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences


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