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Volume 50 • Number 4

October 2013


What Is It Like to Be a Human (Instead of a Bat)?

by Laurence BonJour

My purpose in this paper is to discuss and defend an objection to physicalist or materialist accounts of the mind—one that I believe to be essentially conclusive. The argument in question is not new. A version of it seems to be lurking, along with much else, in Thomas Nagel’s famous paper “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?”; and a somewhat more explicit version is to be found in a well-known paper by Frank Jackson. Despite the efforts of Nagel and Jackson (and some others), however, I believe that the most compelling version of the argument has not emerged clearly, with the result that responses that in fact fail to speak to its central point are widely taken to be adequate. Thus one purpose of the present paper is to offer what I regard as a more perspicuous restatement of the Nagel-Jackson argument, one which shows clearly why the responses in question do not work. A second purpose is to suggest that the application of the argument is in fact very much wider than the case of phenomenal properties or qualia upon which both Nagel and Jackson focus, that it in fact applies just as well to the content of intentional mental states like thoughts, and indeed to the general phenomenon of consciousness itself.

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ISSN: 2152-1123