Why aren’t body parts independently conscious?

by | Feb 5, 2024 | Story Ideas | 0 comments

February 2024

Physicalism posits that consciousness somehow emerges out of matter, possibly when enough molecules or cells have agglomerated and can coordinate in a certain way. This hypothesis raises a number of dilemmas.

A new scientific article defends what is called the many-subjects argument against physicalism (there are other more epistemically based arguments, like the knowledge argument or the conceivability argument). The many-subjects argument notes that, given physicalism, it is hard to avoid the absurd result that there has to be many conscious subjects in your immediate vicinity with more-or-less the same experiences as you.

The author of the article, associate professor of philosophy Brian Cutter at University of Notre Dame in the U.S., argues:

“If physicalism is true, then not only you, but also certain parts of your body, are conscious. These parts might include your brain, your head, all-of-you-except-your-left-pinky, all-of-your-brain-except-one-neuron, or your left cerebral hemisphere.”

This goes against experience and common sense.

“You can know with something approaching Cartesian certainty that you are conscious, so there must be at least one conscious being in your vicinity. And it is arguably a Moorean fact … that there aren’t multiple conscious beings in your vicinity”, Cutter writes.

The many-subjects argument raises confidence in the philosophical orientation called dualism and also in some forms of idealism.

For more background on the topic, see our brief Covering Consciousness.

Anders Bolling

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