Research Group
in Analytic Philosophy

A Posteriori Physicalism, Two-Dimensional Semantics, and Varieties of Transparency

27 November 2023  |  15:00  |  Ramó Llull seminar


I sketch what might become a new possible line of response to forceful arguments presented in Nida-Rümelin (2007) and Goff (2011, 2017) for the claim that a posteriori physicalists get our phenomenal concepts wrong. First, I contrast what are two very different transparency theses and argue that, contrary to common opinion, it is really the first which matters in the knowledge argument against physicalism: (i) ‘Boghossian-transparency’ (B-transparency) according to which, for any two of her occurrent thoughts/concepts, a thinker can know a priori, without the benefit of further empirical investigation, whether they have the same or distinct contents; and (ii) ‘phenomenal transparency’ (P-transparency), according to which a phenomenal concept reveals the essence of the state it denotes. Second, I use two-dimensionalism (2D) as a descriptive tool to contrast the different predictions of various possible semantic/epistemic views of phenomenal concepts. I note that the Kripkean motivation for recognizing a new dimension of meaning (diagonal/primary) beyond the usual dimension (horizontal/secondary), just like the original Fregean motivation for introducing sense beyond reference, tacitly relies on B-transparency. Third, I argue that the anti-physicalist conclusion does follow, as Nida-Rümelin and Goff contend, but only given what is actually a controvertible presupposition built into standard 2D (and itself neutral between various possible interpretations – epistemic, semantic, metasemantic, etc. – of the 2D framework). This is the presupposition that the two dimensions distinguished for each concept and thought must correspond to two contents/intensions (horizontal/secondary and diagonal/primary). Fourth, I argue that an original sort of 2D (Austinian 2D), which dispenses with that presupposition and is based on a distinction highlighted in Recanati (2007) between content/intension and Austinian proposition (content/intension + a designated circumstance), respects the B-transparency of contents, remains silent about essences, and potentially affords a new way of defending the a posteriori physicalist contention that, no matter how much empirical information we may happen to possess, the reducibility of the mental to the physical will always sound unintelligible or arbitrary to us.