Frank Jackson: Philisophical Theory Case Study

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What is Non-Reductive Physicalism?


Frank Jackson is a non-reductive physicalist who believes that the mind is a physical thing but only physical processes cannot describe mental states, and there must be something more in the equation. The term in philosophy associated with Frank Jackson is “Qualia.” Qualia is defined as the phenomenal elements of experience. Qualia cannot be measured, observed or described in words or pictures. It is the raw experience of something. A few examples of qualia are tasting a lemon, smelling a rose, hearing a noise, and seeing the sky. Characteristics of experiencing these events can be spoken of but only the person experiencing them in the first person really “knows” what it is like. Qualia cannot be measured or systematically categorized.

The Knowledge argument for Qualia is a defense of the philosophical theory of non-reductive physicalism. In non-reductive physicalism the brain and mind are separate entities. Jackson makes his point in the argument with two examples known as the Fred and Mary examples. Fred is an anomaly amongst humans. He can see two different colors of red known as Red 1 and Red 2. Scientists can study his brain, and optical system to find how color is being processed inside of him, but they will never be able to know what he is actually experiencing. This knowledge is inaccessible and hints towards the idea that there must be mental states and brain states that are separate. The experience that Fred is having is Qualia. The Mary example is similar. Mary is a scientist who spends her life living in a world where she can only see black and white (she is put in a room with only black and white walls). She learns everything she can about colors including what the wavelengths look like and how the information is processed in the body to produce a color. When she is released she is able to experience colors on a whole new level. Even though Mary had all the physical information possible about colors, she still learned something new when she experienced it first person. The phrase “Mary learns something new” derives from this example which is an important phrase in philosophy when Qualia is addressed. These examples are an objection to reductive physicalism because they confirm that the mind and body (brain) are not connected because they both possess different capabilities and information, which push towards non-reductive physicalism. Jackson agrees that the mind is a physical thing but objects to the aspect that only physical processes describe mental states. The previous examples of Qualia attest to this by proving the mind and brain have different capabilities.

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