The four conceptions, rewritten a bit by me for what I hope is clarity, are that the problem is to explain why phenomenal consciousness:
- …arises from the physical (using only a physicalist ontology)
- …arises from the physical, using any ontology
- …arises at all (presumably from the non-physical)
- …arises at all or cannot be explained.
I don’t really see these as different conceptions of the problem (which simply seems to be the explanation of phenomenal consciousness), but rather as different conceptions of what the expected answer is to be. That may be nit-picking; useful distinctions in any case. Dorsey offers some pros and cons for each of the four.
In favour of number one, it’s the most tightly focused. It also sits well in context, because Dorsey sees the problem as emerging under the dominance of physics. The third advantage is that it confines the problem to physicalism and so makes life easy for non-physicalists (not sure why this is held to be one of the pros, exactly). Against; well, maybe that context is dominating too much? Also the physicalist line fails to acknowledge Chalmers’ own naturalist but non-physicalist solution (it fails to acknowledge lots of other potential solutions too, so I’m not quite clear why Chalmers gets this special status at this point – though of course he did play a key role in defining the Hard Problem).
Number two’s pros and cons are mostly weaker versions of number one’s. It too is relatively well-focused. It does not identify the Hard Problem with the Explanatory Gap (that could be a con rather than a pro in my humble opinion). It fits fairly well in context and makes life relatively easy for traditional non-physicalists. It may yield a bit too much to the context of physics and it may be too narrow.
Number three has the advantage of focusing on the basics, and Dorsey thinks it gives a nice clear line between Hard and Easy problems. It provides a unifying approach – but it neglects the physical, which has always been central to discussion.
Number four provides a fully extended version of the problem, and makes sense of the literature by bringing in eliminativism. In a similar way it gives no-one a free pass; everyone has to address it. However, in doing so it may go beyond the bounds of a single problem and extend the issues to a wide swathe of philosophy of mind.
Dorsey thinks the answer is somewhere between 2 and 3; I’m more inclined to think it’s most likely between 1 and 2.
Let’s put aside the view that phenomenal consciousness cannot be explained. There are good arguments for that conclusion, but to me they amount to opting out of a game which is by no means clearly lost. So the problem is to explain how phenomenal consciousness arises. The explanation surely has to fit into some ontology, because we need to know what kind of thing phenomenal experience really is. My view is that the high-level differences between ontologies actually matter less than people have traditionally thought. Look at it this way: if we need an ontology, then it had better be comprehensive and consistent. Given those two properties, we might as well call it a monism. because it encompasses everything and provides one view, even if that one view is complex.
So we have a monism: but it might be materialism, idealism, spiritualism, neutral monism, or many others. Does it matter? The details do matter, but if we’ve got one substance it seems to me it doesn’t matter what label we apply. Given that the material world and its ontology is the one we have by far the best knowledge of, we might as well call it materialism. It might turn out that materialism is not what we think, and it might explain all sorts of things we didn’t expect it to deal with, but I can’t see any compelling reason to call our single monist ontology anything else.
So what are the details, and what ontology have we really got? I’m aware that most regulars here are pretty radical materialists, with some exceptions (hat tip to cognicious); people who have some difficulty with the idea that the cosmos has any contents besides physical objects; uncomfortable with the idea of ideas (unless they are merely conjunctions of physical objects) and even with the belief that we can think about anything that isn’t robustly physical (so much for mathematics…). That’s not my view. I’m also a long way from from being a Platonist, but I do think the world includes non-physical entities, and that that doesn’t contradict a reasonable materialism. The world just is complex and in certain respects irreducible; probably because it’s real. Reduction, maybe, is essentially a technique that applies to ideas and theories: if we can come up with a simpler version that does the job, then the simpler version is to be adopted. But it’s a mistake to think that that kind of reduction applies to reality itself; the universe is not obliged to conform to a flat ontology, and it does not. At the end of the day – and I say this with the greatest regret – the apprehension of reality is not purely a matter of finding the simplest possible description.
I believe the somewhat roomier kind of materialism I tend to espouse corresponds generally with what we should recognise as the common sense view, and this yields what might be another conception of the Hard Problem…
- …arises from the physical (in a way consistent with common sense)