What is Thomas Nagel’s argument in his essay “What is it like to be a bat?” for the conclusion that consciousness poses a challenge to physicalism?

A possible interpretation of Thomas Nagel’s argument can be written in syllogistic form:

Premise 1: Physicalism is true if and only if mental states are states of the body and mental events are physical events. (p. 446)

Premise 2: Conscious mental states exist and are mental states. (p. 436)

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Conclusion 1’ (based on premises 1 and 2): Physicalism is true if and only if conscious mental states are states of the body.

Premise 3: A conscious mental state is subjective. (p. 436-437, p. 445)

Premise 4: A physical state is objective. (p. 449) Premise 4’: A state of the body is a physical state (implied assumption) Conclusion 4’’ (based on premise 4 and 4’): A state of the body is objective.

Premise 5: There is no known method for reducing a subjective mental state to an objective physical state. (p. 436-437)

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Conclusion 6 (based on premise 3, conclusion 4’’, and premise 5): There is no known method for reducing a conscious mental state to a state of the body.

Premise 7: If there is no known way of reducing a conscious mental state to a state of the body, then we cannot conclude at the moment that physicalism is true. (based on conclusion 1’)

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Conclusion 8 (based on conclusion 6 and conclusion 7): We cannot conclude at the moment that physicalism is true.

Bibliography
  • What Is It Like to Be a Bat?, Thomas Nagel, The Philosophical Review, Vol. 83, No. 4. (Oct., 1974), pp. 435-450
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