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International Journal of Research and Scientific Innovation (IJRSI) | Volume IX, Issue VIII, August 2022 | ISSN 2321–2705

Qualia and What it is Like Arguments

Kent B. Olson
Mlitt, Ph.D., University of Aberdeen, Scotland

IJRISS Call for paper

Abstract: Philosophy has always preoccupied itself with questions about the mind and consciousness. However, there are ways in which one could become confused. If there are purely mental facts, then they are so because they are not physical, and they are not completely explainable in a physicalist lexicon. The materialist on some accounts wanted to tell the dualist that mentalese is not translatable (and maybe should be wiped out, as eliminative materialism would have it). Or, on others, that there isn’t any ‘mental’ activity left after reducing it? I hold that qualia and ‘What it is Like’ phenomena both show that there are concepts that can’t be explained in a purely physicalist vocabulary.

Keywords: Nagel, qualia, philosophy of mind, physicalism, mentalese, dualism, what it is like, consciousness


Qualia and ‘What it is Like’ phenomena can be explained neither in terms of physical facts, nor are they physical facts themselves. According to people like Frank Jackson, there is an inner subjective component when it comes to qualia and ‘What it is Like’ phenomena. Nagel’s writing on this still topic sparks interest to this day, these phenomena pose looming problems that face materialist conceptions of mind. One of the clearest ideas to come out of the philosophy of mind is the notion of an explanatory gap. There is an irreducibility problem that suggests incommensurability between mentalistic and physicalist lexicons. Due to the nature of the subjectivity of individual experience, this problem runs deeper than issues of mere lexicography. The incommensurability is indicative of an ontological problem. I argue that there are phenomena in this area of discourse, even though they are not factual in a purely physical sense.
Let us be clearer here about these problems. There are two. We can phrase the general overarching issue in the form of a question: ‘are there any mental facts which are neither (x) physical facts nor (y) explainable in terms of physical facts?’ My response is that there are and that qualia as well as ‘What it is Like’ phenomena are neither explainable in terms of facts nor are they physical facts. They are the best candidates for ‘the mental’.
(1) u → ~(y ∨ x)
(2) y&x ______________ (c)u
To phrase our question in plain English – if there are purely mental facts (u), then they are so because they either are not purely physical (y), or not explainable in a physicalist lexicon (x) or both (taking note of the inclusive disjunction). I hold that qualia and what it is like phenomena both show that there are private, perspectival experiences that cannot be reduced to