Turning the zombie on its head

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This paper suggests a critique of the zombie argument that bypasses the need to decide on the truth of its main premises, and specifically, avoids the need to enter the battlefield of whether conceivability entails metaphysical possibility. It is argued that if we accept, as the zombie argument's supporters would urge us, the assumption that an ideal reasoner can conceive of a complete physical description of the world without conceiving of qualia, the general principle that conceivability entails metaphysical possibility, and the general principle that for any s and t the metaphysical possibility of s & - t entails that s does not necessitate t, we have to conclude not that materialism is false but rather that either materialism or the "mental paint" (or "phenomenist") conception of phenomenality is false. And further, given the initial advantages of materialism, the fact that proponents of the zombie argument are not allowed to rely on arguments against materialism in confronting this dilemma, and difficulties with arguments in favor of phenomenism, we find ourselves pushed to reject the mental paint conception rather than materialism. Or at any rate, it is hard to see how the proponent of the zombie argument can carry the burden of proof that lies with her. Thus, whether or not those premises of the zombie argument are true, the argument fails to refute materialism.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)191-210
Number of pages20
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2009


  • Chalmers
  • Conceivability
  • Dualism
  • Eliminative materialism
  • Functionalism
  • Intentionalism
  • Materialism
  • Mental paint
  • Phenomenism
  • Qualia
  • Representationalism
  • Zombie


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