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Conceivability Arguments

Conceivability Arguments

When one talks about something being conceivable, the implication here is that whatever one is talking about can be imagined (Sartre, 2012). Anything imaginable can be grasped mentally and, therefore, conceived by an individual. This paper explores the conceivability in the Descartes’ argument in the Sixth Meditation and David Chalmers’ argument against materialism in his work called “The Hard Problem of Consciousness.”

In the Sixth Meditation, Descartes presents a strong argument that he is really distinct from his body (Tlumak, 2013). What he implies here is that if an individual can conceive of something in the absence of contradiction, then this thing is possible. Individuals can conceive of themselves existing exclusively as thinking objects without a body. In the same way, they can conceive of their bodies existing solely as non-thinking entities without them inhabiting their bodies. According to Descartes’ argument, it is possible for him and his body to be separated, meaning that it is possible for him to exist without his body. Therefore, an individual is distinct from one’s body, and it is possible for the two to be separated by God. Descartes considers himself a soul that is closely joined to his body, which he describes as a non-thinking thing.

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Descartes’ Sixth Meditation implies that the human soul does not need the body to exist, but the body needs the soul. Without the immaterial part of the human body, it cannot be considered alive. His argument leans toward the Christian belief that when a person dies, the body goes back to the dust while the soul goes back to the creator. Descartes’ believes that God created the body and firmly joined the spirit to it. Therefore, the thoughts and actions of people are governed by the soul and not their bodies. The body of individuals harbors their soul, but the existence of the soul cannot be affected by the existence of the body. The actions of the body are mere manifestations of what the non-extended, thinking thing is doing in this body. Since the body is an extended, non-thinking thing that is closely joined to the soul, its actions are largely dictated by the latter. Therefore, it follows that through death, the maker separates the soul from the body.

However, Descartes’ argument in the Sixth Meditation that a thinking thing is not identical to one’s body is unsound. It does not make sense because,  when people are hurt, their body and not a body external to it feels the pain. In the same way, tugging feelings in the stomach of one’s body suggest to their mind that they should eat. It leaves one puzzled because there is no apparent correlation between the tugging and the decision to eat. Descartes’ dualism argument suggests that the mind is trapped in the body and, therefore, it can only learn about the world through the casual interface at sensory surfaces. The fact that the philosopher can conceive a state in which he exists without a body does not show that such situation is practical.

On the other hand, the philosophy of materialism holds that nature’s fundamental substance is matter and that all the happenings, including mental experiences and consciousness, result from material interactions (Popper & Eccles, 2012). David Chalmers argues in his work “The Hard Problem of Consciousness” that materialism is false. According to Chalmers (2007), zombies suggest that the idea that our world is absolutely physical is false. He argues that the idea of the existence of zombies is conceivable and, consequently, it is metaphysically possible that they exist. If the existence of zombies is metaphysically possible, then consciousness is not tangible, which is the argument that Chalmers is presenting. From his arguments, some facts about consciousness cannot be inferred from physical facts (Chalmers, 2007). It is possible for one to master all physical factors and reason in a perfect manner, but still be unable to apprehend all the actualities. For instance, one can know about all physical processes pertinent to the visual perception of color. However, since it is possible that individuals have never seen some colors, for example, the blue one, they may not know what it is like to see them. If such people see blue for the first time, they will learn what it is like to see it.

According to Chalmers (2007), despite it is obvious that organisms are subjects of experience, it may be difficult for one to explain why there is something it is like to have an emotional experience. The point he is presenting here is that conscious experience is the basic composition of the universe commonly known as panexperientialism. The rich inner life cannot be logically reduced to the unostentatious properties of physical processes. Therefore, it follows that one can only describe consciousness using nonphysical means. This description of consciousness must involve a primary ingredient that has the capability of clarifying the occurrences that have not been made clear using physical means. This argument goes against the one presented by the proponents of materialism, which states that all phenomena result from material interactions.

The argument made by Chalmers that the philosophy of materialism is false is a sound one. Not all phenomena in the universe result from material interactions. The existence of zombies can only be imaginable because, even if they exist, they cannot act human without consciousness. For instance, they do not feel pain, an inner feeling that can be used to explain consciousness. One cannot explain why people feel pain as opposed to physical hurt because consciousness does not follow from the world’s physical processes with absolute necessity (Chalmers, 2007). Even if zombies are able to respond to environmental stimuli, this is just an easy problem of consciousness. They cannot feel pain as opposed to physical hurt. They do not know what it feels like to experience emotions because it is a hard problem of consciousness. One can only consider the argument that this world is absolutely material as a valid one if its proponents are able to explain the hard problem of consciousness. Materialism can be true if one can explain the existence of qualia, as well as the reasons some living things are subjects of experience. The existence of a subjective component to experience and the existence of the awareness sensory information at all are also hard problems of the consciousness. These problems do not necessarily result from material interactions as opposed to the easy problems.

In conclusion, Descartes argues that he is different from the body and that he can exist without it. He further says that he can be separated from the body he is attached to and still exist. The philosopher says that he is a non-extended thinking object whereas his body is an extended non-thinking object. This argument leaves one puzzled as to why, for instance, the tugging in the stomach suggests to people’s mind that they should eat, as there is no absolute correlation between the tugging and the decision to eat. On the other hand, Chalmers argues that the idea of the existence of zombies is conceivable. It is metaphysically possible that there exist zombies and, if this is the case, then consciousness is not tangible. Consequently, some facts about consciousness cannot be inferred from the physical facts. For instance, it is hard to explain why qualia exist but it is easier to explain a particular response to environmental stimulus.