The knowledge argument is an argument against physicalism that was first formulated by Frank Jackson in 1982. While Jackson no longer endorses it, it is still regarded as one of the most important arguments in the philosophy of mind. Physicalism is the metaphysical thesis that, basically, everything in this world-including cars, humans, animals, research papers, even our sensations-are ultimately physical. The knowledge argument attempts to refute this thesis by appealing to the following made-up scenario known as “Mary’s Room”: Mary is confined to a black-and-white room, is educated through black-and-white books and through lectures relayed on black-and white television. In this way she learns everything there is to know about the physical nature of the world. She knows all the physical facts about us and our environment, in a wide sense of ‘physical’ which includes everything in completed physics, chemistry, and Neurophysiology and all there is to know about the causal and relational facts consequent upon all this, including of course functional roles. (Jackson 1986, p.291) What the knowledge argument also basically states is that if physicalism is in fact true, Mary would know everything in this world. Obviously though, Mary cannot have learned absolutely everything from this experience. Once Mary is released into the real world, with color, she is then experiencing, and learning something new: what it is to see color. Although she learns everything physical in her black and white environment, and still learns something new when she is exposed to color once she is released, it only seems reasonable that we are able to conclude that physicalism is false. In a simpler form, Jackson presents the Knowledge Argument like such: 1. While in the black-and-white room, Mary knows all of the physical facts about color experience. 2. Mary learns something about color experience upon her release. 3. If Mary learns something about color experience...
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Dennett, Daniel. Consciousness Explained. Boston: Little Brown and Company, 1991.
Jackson, Frank. “Epiphenomenal Qualia.” The Philosophical Quarterly 32(1982):127-136.
Jackson, Frank. “What Mary Didn 't Know.” The Journal of Philosophy 83(1986):291-295.
Nemirow, Laurence. Review of Mortal Questions Thomas Nagel. Philosophical Review 89(1980):473-477.
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