University of Miami Property Dualism Relation Between Mind and Body Paper
What is the relation between mind and body, according to property dualism?
What is missing from the complete physical story of the brain, according to property dualism
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WHAT MARY DIDN’T KNOW
COMMENTS AND CRITICISM
WHAT MARY DIDN’T KNOW*
ARY is confined to a black-and-white room, is educated
through black-and-white books and through lectures re
layed 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 phys
ics, chemistry, and neurophysiology, and all there is to know about
the causal and relational facts consequent upon all this, including of
course functional roles. If physicalism is true, she knows all there is
to know. For to suppose otherwise is to suppose that there is more to
know than every physical fact, and that is just what physicalism
Physicalism is not the noncontroversial thesis that the actual world
is largely physical, but the challenging thesis that it is entirely physi
cal. This is why physicalists must hold that complete physical knowl
edge is complete knowledge simpliciter. For suppose it is not com
plete: then our world must differ from a world, W(P), for which it is
complete, and the difference must be in nonphysical facts; for our
world and W(P) agree in all matters physical. Hence, physicalism
would be false at our world [though contingently so, for it would be
true at W(P)]. 1
It seems, however, that Mary does not know all there is to know.
For when she is let out of the black-and-white room or given a color
television, she will learn what it is like to see something red, say. This
is rightly described as learning-she will not say “ho, hum.” Hence,
physicalism is false. This is the knowledge argument against physical
ism in one of its manifestations. 2 This note is a reply to three objec
tions to it mounted by Paul M. Churchland.t
* I am much indebted to discussions with David Lewis and with Robert Pargetter.
1 The claim here is not that, if physicalism is true, only what is expressed in
explicitly physical language is an item of knowledge. It is that, ifphysicalism is true,
then if you know everything expressed or expressible in explicitly physical language,
you know everything. Pace Terence Horgan, “Jackson on Physical Information and
Qualia,” Philosophical Quarterly, XXXIV, 135 (April 1984): 147-152.
2 Namely, that in my “Epiphenomena! Qualia,” ibid., xxxn, 127 (April 1982):
127-136. See also Thomas Nagel, “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?”, Philosophical
Review, LXXXIII, 4 (October 1974): 435-450, and Howard Robinson, Matter and
Sense (New York: Cambridge, 1982).
t “Reduction, Qualia, and the Direct Introspection of Brain States,” this JOUR
NAL, LXXXII, 1 Qanuary 1985): 8-28. Unless otherwise stated, future page refer
ences are to this paper.
© 1986 The Journal of Philosophy, Inc.
THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY
I. THREE CLARIFICATIONS
The knowledge argument does not rest on the dubious claim that
logically you cannot imagine what sensing red is like unless you have
sensed red. Powers of imagination are not to the point. The conten
tion about Mary is not that, despite her fantastic grasp of neurophys
iology and everything else physical, she could not imagine what it is
like to sense red; it is that, as a matter of fact, she would not know.
But if physicalism is true, she would know; and no great powers of
imagination would be called for. Imagination is a faculty that those
who lack knowledge need to fall back on.
Secondly, the intensionality of knowledge is not to the point. The
argument does not rest on assuming falsely that, if S knows that a is F
and if a= b, then S knows that bis F. It is concerned with the nature
of Mary’s total body of knowledge before she is released: is it com
plete, or do some facts escape it? What is to the point is that Smay
know that a is F and know that a = b, yet arguably not know that b is
F, by virtue of not being sufficiently logically alert to follow the
consequences through. If Mary’s lack of knowledge were at all like
this, there would be no threat to physicalism in it. But it is very hard
to believe that her lack of knowledge could be remedied merely by
her explicitly following through enough logical consequences of her
vast physical knowledge. Endowing her with great logical acumen
and persistence is not in itself enough to fill in the gaps in her
knowledge. On being let out, she will not say “I could have worked
all this out before by making some more purely logical inferences.”
Thirdly, the knowledge Mary lacked which is of particular point
for the knowledge argument against physicalism is knowledge about
the experiences ofothers, not about her own. When she is let out, she
has new experiences, color experiences she has never had before. It
is not, therefore, an objection to physicalism that she learns some
thing on being let out. Before she was let out, she could not have
known facts about her experience of red, for there were no such facts
to know. That physicalist and nonphysicalist alike can agree on. After
she is let out, things change; and physicalism can happily admit that
she learns this; after all, some physical things will change, for in
stance, her brain states and their functional roles. The trouble for
physicalism is that, after Mary sees her first ripe tomato, she will
realize how impoverished her conception of the mental life of others
has been all along. She will realize that there was, all the time she
was carrying out her laborious investigations into the neurophysiol
ogies of others and into the functional roles of their internal states,
something about these people she was quite unaware of. All along
their experiences (or many of them, those got from tomatoes, the
WHAT MARY DIDN’T KNOW
sky, . . .) had a feature conspicuous to them but until now hidden
from her (in fact, not in logic). But she knew all the physical facts
about them all along; hence, what she did not know until her release
is not a physical fact about their experiences. But it is a fact about
them. That is the trouble for physicalism.
II. CHURCHLAND’S THREE OBJECTIONS
(i) Churchland’s first objection is that the knowledge argument
contains a defect that “is simplicity itself” (23). The argument equiv
ocates on the sense of ‘knows about’. How so? Churchland suggests
that the following is “a conveniently tightened version” of the knowl
(1) Mary knows everything there is to know about brain states and their
(2) It is not the case that Mary knows everything there is to know about
sensations and their properties.
Therefore, by Leibniz’s law,
(3) Sensations and their properties i= brain states and their properties
Churchland observes, plausibly enough, that the type or kind of
knowledge involved in premise 1 is distinct from the kind of knowl
edge involved in premise 2. We might follow his lead and tag the first
‘knowledge by description’, and the second ‘knowledge by acquain
tance’; but, whatever the tags, he is right that the displayed argument
involves a highly dubious use of Leibniz’s law.
My reply is that the displayed argument may be convenient, but it
is not accurate. It is not the knowledge argument. Take, for instance,
premise 1. The whole thrust of the knowledge argument is that Mary
(before her release) does not know everything there is to know about
brain states and their properties, because she does not know about
certain qualia associated with them. What is complete, according to
the argument, is her knowledge of matters physical. A convenient
and accurate way of displaying the argument is:
(l)’ Mary (before her release) knows everything physical there is to know
about other people.
(2)’ Mary (before her release) does not know everything there is to know
about other people (because she learns something about them on
(3)’ There are truths about other people (and herself) which escape the
What is immediately to the point is not the kind, manner, or type
of knowledge Mary has, but what she knows. What she knows be-
THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY
forehand is ex hypothesi everything physical there is to know, but is it
everything there is to know? That is the crucial question.
There is, though, a relevant challenge involving questions about
kinds of knowledge. It concerns the support for premise 2′. The case
for premise 2′ is that Mary learns something on her release, she
acquires knowledge, and that entails that her knowledge beforehand
(what she knew, never mind whether by description, acquaintance,
or whatever) was incomplete. The challenge, mounted by David
Lewis and Laurence Nemirow, is that on her release Mary does not
learn something or acquire knowledge in the relevant sense. What
Mary acquires when she is released is a certain representational or
imaginative ability; it is knowledge how rather than knowledge that.
Hence, a physicalist can admit that Mary acquires something very
significant of a knowledge kind-which can hardly be denied
without admitting that this shows that her earlier factual knowledge
is defective. She knew all that there was to know about the experi
ences of others beforehand, but lacked an ability until after her
Now it is certainly true that Mary will acquire abilities of various
kinds after her release. She will, for instance, be able to imagine what
seeing red is like, be able to remember what it is like, and be able to
understand why her friends regarded her as so deprived (something
which, until her release, had always mystified her). But is it plausible
that that is all she will acquire? Suppose she received a lecture on
skepticism about other minds while she was incarcerated. On her
release she sees a ripe tomato in normal conditions, and so has a
sensation of red. Her first reaction is to say that she now knows more
about the kind of experiences others have when looking at ripe
tomatoes. She then remembers the lecture and starts to worry. Does
she really know more about what their experiences are like, or is she
indulging in a wild generalization from one case? In the end she
decides she does know, and that skepticism is mistaken (even if, like
so many of us, she is not sure how to demonstrate its errors). What
was she to-ing and fro-ing about-her abilities? Surely not; her rep
resentational abilities were a known constant throughout. What else
then was she agonizing about than whether or not she had gained
factual knowledge of others? There would be nothing to agonize
about if ability was all she acquired on her release.
s See Laurence Nemirow, review of Thomas Nagel, Mortal Questions, Philo
LXXXIX, 3 Ouly 1980): 473-477, and David Lewis, “Postscript to
‘Mad Pain and Martian Pain’,” Philosophical Papers, vol. I (New York: Oxford,
1983). Churchland mentions both Nemirow and Lewis, and it may be that he
intended his objection to be essentially the one I have just given. However, he says
quite explicitly (bottom of p. 23) that his objection does not need an “ability”
analysis of the relevant knowledge.
WHAT MARY DIDN’T KNOW
I grant that I have no proof that Mary acquires on her release, as
well as abilities, factual knowledge about the experiences of others
-and not just because I have no disproof of skepticism. My claim is
that the knowledge argument is a valid argument from highly plausi
ble, though admittedly not demonstrable, premises to the conclusion
that physicalism is false. And that, after all, is about as good an
objection as one could expect in this area of philosophy.
(ii) Churchland’s second objection (24/5) is that there must be
something wrong with the argument, for it proves too much. Sup
pose Mary received a special series of lectures over her black-and
white television from a full-blown dualist, explaining the “laws” gov
erning the behavior of “ectoplasm” and telling her about qualia.
This would not affect the plausibility of the claim that on her release
she learns something. So if the argument works against physicalism,
it works against dualism too.
My reply is that lectures about qualia over black-and-white televi
sion do not tell Mary all there is to know about qualia. They may tell
her some things about qualia, for instance, that they do not appear in
the physicalist’s story, and that the quale we use ‘yellow’ for is nearly
as different from the one we use ‘blue’ for as is white from black. But
why should it be supposed that they tell her everything about qualia?
On the other hand, it is plausible that lectures over black-and-white
television might in principle tell Mary everything in the physicalist’s
story. You do not need color television to learn physics or function
alist psychology. To obtain a good argument against dualism (attri
bute dualism; ectoplasm is a bit of fun), the premise in the knowledge
argument that Mary has the full story according to physicalism be
fore her release, has to be replaced by a premise that she has the full
story according to dualism. The former is plausible; the latter is not.
Hence, there is no “parity of reasons” trouble for dualists who use
the knowledge argument.
(iii) Churchland’s third objection is that the knowledge argument
claims “that Mary could not even imagine what the relevant experi
ence would be like, despite her exhaustive neuroscientific knowl
edge, and hence must still be missing certain crucial information”
(25), a claim he goes on to argue against.
But, as we emphasized earlier, the knowledge argument claims that
Mary would not know what the relevant experience is like. What she
could imagine is another matter. If her knowledge is defective, de
spite being all there is to know according to physicalism, then physi
calism is false, whatever her powers of imagination.