Physicalism is a concept that refers to or defines anything in the world as physical. Physicalism’s core point and foundation is that everything in the universe has a physical state and occupies space. Several questions arise from this concept, such as what constitutes pain, pleasure, and sorrow. Do these have a physical state and do they occupy space in the universe because they exist? Materialistic monism is another name for physicalism. Physicalism’s key statements assert that the mind is a mere physical object that can be explained using physical theory. Physicalism is closely related to materialism in some ways because its evolvement has highly been associated and linked to physical sciences to include more complex notions of physical other than just matter. It is difficult to visualize or imagine things like anger, happiness or fear have a physical form. Such things seem to be in the form of mental and immaterial. However, for any person who might experience such, they are not abstract. In the field of philosophy of mind, physicalism has always been an element and topic of discussion. Physicalism also claims and classifies everything to have an explanation in the realm of physics. Therefore, it can be concluded that physicalism is a supporting tenet of reductionism.
According to Thomas Nagel, there is a problem in assuming or perceiving the conscious state of mind to subjectivity. Thomas, main arguments are centered on the facts about conscious states, claiming that they are inherently subjective. Hence grasping them fully, it would only be from limited types of viewpoints. The Scientific explanation requires a fact to have objective characteristics. Objective characterization refers to an explanation that drifts away from a specific point of view. Therefore, the events associated with consciousness avoid science, hence making the mind body problem intractable (Nagel, 1974, 435).
Thomas argues that the inherent subjectivity of the general facts centered on consciousness are linked through a reflection on the question of what it is like for a bat to be a bat posing a problem for physicalism. From that perspective, it appears that there is no level of thinking objective data that could provide with this knowledge, based on the fact that people do not share its type of point of view. The main point of view based on the statement what it is like for a bat to be a bat is how a creature can fly and echolocate. Even though gaining knowledge, experiencing or learning about the brain mechanisms, biochemistry, and psychophysics, of a bat remains unimaginable and leaves us unable to either discover or imagine what it is like for the bat to hunt by echolocation during the night. However, it is still plausible that there are existing and explainable facts on what it is lying to be a bat. Such facts are based on how things appear from a bat’s perspective. Despite the fact that there may be valid reasons to make one believe that consciousness is a physical phenomenon, there is still no factual evidence on the bat’s conscious experience. The physical phenomenon is attributed to the considerations of the mental causation and the success attributed to the materialist science (Nagel, 1986).
Thomas Nagel starts his argument by claiming that the conscious experience is widespread, that is particularly existing in several animals, and that for an organism, hence it must be special is some way for it to have a conscious experience. From that perspective, it is termed as the subjective character of experience that is unique. From his argument, an organism can only have a conscious state of mind if there is something that is like to be that organism (Cliteur, p 292).
The arguments presented by Nagel argue that the subjective nature of consciousness eliminates and weakens any attempts made to explain consciousness via objective means. It is impossible to explain a subjective character without involving the subjective character of experience. Similarly, conscious is unexplainable devoid of involving the subjective character of experience. Moreover, subjective character cannot be clarified by a reductionist. It can, therefore, be concluded to be a mental condition or phenomenon that cannot be reduced to materialism. The concept of the subjective character of experience would require omitting to explain from a reductionist perspective. Nagel uses the example of bats to provide a clear distinction between objective and subjective objects. Bats are classified under the groups of mammals and are perceived to have a conscious experience. For purposes of his argument, Nagel uses bats because they are highly involved and are known to actively use a biological sensory apparatus that distinguishes them from other organisms.
Functionalism is a theory that is used to explain the nature of mental states. According to the functionalism theory, mental states could be identified from what they do rather than from the physical composition. This definition and argument contradict the theory and evidence presented by Thomas Nagel. To understand the theory, it is important to think about or consider artifacts as keys. The main motivation of the theory is derived from the supportive comparison between minds and computers. The main argument related to the theory of functionalism is dependent on the ability to exhibit the superiority feature to the primary competitors which are classified as the identity theory. From that point of view a functionalist (who is also a physicalist), would object to Nagel argument by claiming that is based on the internal state of thinking creatures rather than the ability show that it is superior to its primary competitors. Many of the presented arguments on functionalism are dependent on the actuality of systems that have mental states. All the negative arguments towards the theory, are directed towards showing that there are alternative to functionalism that are not unacceptable.
Nagel’s argument and claim centered on the bat’s consciousness is inaccessible. This reasoning is founded on the fact that any theoretical significant characteristics of a bat’s consciousness would be amenable to third-person observation, for example, it is evident that a bat does not have the ability to detect objects that are a few meters away due to the limited range of echolocation. Therefore, one can argue that further scientific experiments could be used to explain similar aspects associated with its experience. Those that object the theory of functionalism base their objections and arguments on the fact that the theory defines things to have a mental state. The efficiency of such arguments that either support or criticize the theory is centered on the particular question about variety and whether it results in a stronger or weaker version of the presented theory.
Cliteur, Paul. “Selected Reading.” The Secular Outlook: In Defense of Moral and Political Secularism (2001): 281-304.
Nagel, T. “The view from nowhere Oxford University Press.” (1986).
Nagel, Thomas. “What is it like to be a bat?.” The philosophical review 83.4 (1974): 435-450.