A brood comb

….philosophical and other notes….

A Question About Epiphenomenalism

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on August 23, 2007

Say that epiphenomenalist accepts causal theory of reference.
Then zombie philosopher in the zombie-world by ‘conscious experience’ is referring to something by which it was causally affected. As there is no conscious experience in the zombie-world, what it is affected by  and refers to by ‘conscious experience’, then, is something physical.
But as the causal relations are same in our world, it appears that whatever zombie philosopher is referring to by ‘conscious experience’, we are referring to the same thing by ‘conscious experience’. So, seems that epiphenomenalist can’t after all accept causal theory of reference, as that would mean that by ‘conscious experience’ she is referring to something physical.

So, what kind of grounding of reference does epiphenomenalist buy?
Can zombies refer to conscious experience at all?

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12 Responses to “A Question About Epiphenomenalism”

  1. NooProcess said

    “Conscious zombie” would be an oxymoron, like “dry water” or “succinct philosopher”.

  2. Hi NooProcess,

    You are right, of course. But imagine a zombie-world… A world that is same as our world, just that people lack conscious experience. Even Tanas-zombie lacks conscious experience in that possible world, still he wrote this same post, and NooProcess-zombie wrote the same comment.
    Now I wonder, as per epiphenomenalists, what is the case with those zombies. Did they refer to conscious experience? If they did, in what way is ‘conscious experience’ grounded in conscious experience? And if it is grounded in something which is not conscious experience in that possible world, how come it is different in the actual world?

  3. Jeremy Shipley said

    (1) Are we to suppose that the zombie philosopher succeeds in referring?
    (2) Are we to suppose that we do?
    (3) The causal theory of reference is a theory of a kind of acquaintance. It is epistemically weaker than Russellian direct acquaintance because it’s possible to be mistaken about whether you are having a singular thought, a mistake not possible on the Russellian view. This being the case, I’m not sure why the causal theorist won’t just maintain that an appropriate causal connection is sufficient, but of course so is satisfaction of an acquaintance relation that is epistemically stronger: viz., Russelian direct acquaintance. That is, the epiphenomenalist causal theorist just might hold that our reference to consciousness is through direct acquaintance because direct acquaintance is stronger than the causal relation and thus obviously satisfies the same epistemic demands that causation satisfies. Are there non-epistemic demands that the causal theory meets and direct acquaintance does not, which would prevent the causal theorist from making this point?

  4. Hi Jeremy,

    I would answer No to (1) (at least I can’t figure out how it could be the case for zombie’s ‘conscious experience’ to refer to conscious experience), and Yes to (2). Given that, I was wondering what kind of grounding of reference would satisfy those requirements.

    If I understand you right, you are arguing about some kind of discursive grounding of reference, so that ‘conscious experience’ ends up meaning one thing in the zombie-world, and other thing (i.e. conscious experience) in our world. Or am I missing your point?

  5. Jeremy Shipley said

    Well, I was wondering if the causal theorist might allow Russellian direct acquaintance to trump causal relations when direct acquaintance is available. So, for us consciousness is available by direct acquaintance so the referent of ‘consciousness’ is consciousness. Direct acquaintance with consciousness isn’t available to the zombie because the zombie isn’t conscious, so the zombie-referent of zombie-‘consciousness’ is determined by the appropriate causal relation in the zombie-world. I honestly don’t know if this would be amenable to most causal theorists, however.

  6. Jeremy Shipley said

    Btw, the zombie angle seems superfluous to your argument. Why not just say that since the epiphenomenalist maintains that consciousness is not causally efficacious he/she cannot refer to consciousness on a strictly causal theory (i.e., where ONLY causation can establish reference)? Understanding that to be your point, I’m just saying that there could be a non-strict causal theorist that thinks causal relations establish reference except when trumped by Russellian direct acquaintance.

  7. Yeah, I think you are right in your last comment.

    I wasn’t intending, though, to give just an argument, but was also sincerely wondering what is the ‘standard’ reference theory which goes along with epiphenomenalism, and if there is maybe some ‘standard’ view about the possibility for zombie philosopher to refer to conscious experience (or really if the zombie means anything by its words in general).

  8. Norman Bacrac said

    The ‘causal theory of reference’ would seem to imply that if I referred to phlogiston,then phlogiston (a non-existent substance) caused me to use that word – which shows the theory is false and is certainly being misused here.
    The zombie creates and construes the word ‘consciousness’ in exactly the same way we do, ie as the ‘file name’
    for the totality of possible qualia. Each quale word the zombie uses (say ‘red’) is constructed as the file name for the physical brain state arising in its cortex when photons of the appropriate energy range strike its retina.
    I find, as an epiphenomenalist, no problem with zombies using qualia terms etc. They are not efficacious, it’s their neural correlates that do all the work.

  9. Hi Norman, thanks for the comment…

    If “red” in case of zombie is referring to the ‘physical brain state arising in its cortex when photons of the appropriate energy range strike its retina’, why would you not accept that in our case “red” refers to the same thing, hence denying that qualia are something not physical?

  10. Norman Bacrac said

    To be rated ‘physical’, I suggest, is to have a physical effect, ie to make a difference to what happens and figure in a scientific account. I don’t believe the ‘redness’ of a red sensation (say, of a traffic light) actually makes any difference – its neural correlate (identical for humans and zombies)is what originates the action of braking. ‘Redness’ will never figure in neurology, although we will necessarily continue to use the term and all qualia terms in talking to each other.

  11. Marcus said

    The theory of epiphenomenalism contradicts itself. If epiphenomenalism is true, how could someone talk about epiphenomenalism? It would be impossible, because epiphenomena has no effects in the physical world. How could there be any empirical reason to assert the presence of epiphenomena? It’s not rational to assert that experience E exists if the experience E’ of E is not caused or influenced by E.

  12. Hey Marcus, thanks for the comment.

    It seems that way to me too…

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