Mind, Modality, and Meaning: Toward a Rationalist Physicalism

Dissertation, University of California Los Angeles (2013)
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This dissertation contains four independent essays addressing a cluster of related topics in the philosophy of mind. Chapter 1: “Fundamentality Physicalism” argues that physicalism can usefully be conceived of as a thesis about fundamentality. The chapter explores a variety of other potential formulations of physicalism (particularly modal formulations), contrasts fundamentality physicalism with these theses, and offers reasons to prefer fundamentality physicalism over these rivals. Chapter 2:“Modal Rationalism and the Demonstrative Reply to the Master Argument Against Physicalism” introduces the Master Argument Against Physicalism and investigates its crucial premise: the inference from an a priori gap between the physical and consciousness to a lack of necessitation between the two. I argue against the strong form of modal rationalism that underwrites the master argument and offer a more moderate rationalist view. I offer a novel demonstrative reply to the master argument, according to which a connection between conscious experience and demonstratives, not dualism, is the source of the epistemic gap between consciousness and the physical. Chapter 3: “Conceptual Mastery and the Knowledge Argument” argues that Frank Jackson’s famous anti-physicalist knowledge argument featuring Mary, a brilliant neuroscientist raised in a black and white room, founders on a dilemma. Either (i) Mary cannot know the relevant experiential truths because of trivial obstacles that have no bearing on the truth of physicalism or (ii) once the obstacles have been removed, Mary can know the relevant truths. Chapter 4: “Toward a Theory of Conceptual Mastery” investigates the question “Under what conditions does a thinker fully understand, or have mastery of, a concept?” I argue against three views of conceptual mastery, according to which conceptual mastery is a matter of holding certain beliefs, being disposed to make certain inferences, or having certain intuitions. I propose and respond to objections to my own “meaning postulate view” of the conditions under which a thinker has mastery of a concept.

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Gabriel Rabin
New York University, Abu Dhabi


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