Monday, January 11, 2010

David Lewis


From the "Key Thinkers" section of Key Terms in Philosophy of Mind by Pete Mandik, to be published by Continuum in May 2010 (link to publisher's page).

Lewis, David (1941–2001) Lewis’s contributions to the philosophy of mind involved the development of various physicalistic theses and defenses of PHYSICALISM. The brand of physicalism that Lewis favored was a kind of FUNCTIONALISM whereby functional analyses where obtained by collecting the mass of commonsense platitudes about mental states—platitudes such as “People who desire something tend to seek it out,” “People who believe that something will cause painful experiences will fear it,” and so on—and then codifying such mental states in the form of theories expressed as sets of Ramsey sentences (see RAMSEY SENTENCE. See also RAMSIFICATION). Lewis saw the resultant functionalism as compatible with the TYPE-IDENTITY THESIS (see also TYPE-TYPE IDENTITY). The functional roles described by the Ramsified theory, discovered by consulting commonsense platitudes, were open to be identified with entities discoverable in the physical sciences, including neuroscience.


Lewis was an influential defender of the ability hypothesis, a physicalist response to the KNOWLEDGE ARGUMENT whereby it is objected that KNOWLEDGE of WHAT IT IS LIKE to see red is not, as presupposed by the knowledge argument, a kind of PROPOSITIONAL KNOWLEDGE, but instead, a kind of KNOW-HOW. Defenders of the ability hypothesis hold that the knowledge of what it is like to see red is constituted by an ability to recognize and imagine red things (see also IMAGERY; MEMORY).


Representative writings:

“An argument for the identity theory” (1966)

“Psychophysical and theoretical identifications” (1970)

“Mad pain and Martian pain” (1980)

“What experience teaches” (1990)