DOI: 10.14704/nq.2010.8.4.331

Why Jaegwon Kim’s Physicalism is Not Near Enough: An Implicit Argument for a non-Cartesian Interactionism (Part II)

David Scharf


In Part I we critiqued Kim’s thesis that cognitive/intentional properties can be accounted for in terms of functional reduction to neurophysiology. We saw that this thesis is conceptually incoherent and implicates Kim in eliminative materialism, despite his sanguine belief that he is saving what is distinctive about mind by providing for mental causation. These considerations argue for the autonomy of at least some aspects of the cognitive/intentional domain. Here, in Part II, we will further critique minimal physicalism by showing that Kim’s radical demarcation between phenomenal consciousness and cognitive/intentional properties is untenable. Contemporary research in cognitive neuroscience documents the principle, anticipated by William James, that consciousness is functional and adaptive. Hence, if the consciousness that the explanatory gap says is irreducible—phenomenal consciousness—is the same as the consciousness which cognitive neuroscience tells us is functional—cognitive/intentional—then William James is right, and interactionism is a reasonable point of view. Although there remain compelling reasons to reject a Cartesian model of radically distinct substances, both threads of this critique (Part I and Part II) indicate the need to take seriously a more sophisticated interactionism, where consciousness is metaphysically fundamental and interacts with biophysical processes in the brain. In order to avoid the extreme conclusion that consciousness is absolutely irrelevant to our cognitive/intentional functioning, Kim proposes that, although individual qualia are epiphenomenal, qualia relations may have cognitive/intentional significance. However, I show that his proposal involves a paradox of conflicting dependencies, which may be characterized as supervenience collision.


Jaegwon Kim; physicalism; supervenience; interactionism; philosophy of mind; functional reduction; eliminative materialism; William James; Bernard Baars; contrastive analysis

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