I defended my thesis on July 8th, 2021. My thesis advisor was Earl Conee.
I started work on my dissertation proposal early in 2019, and I started working on it when my proposal was accepted at the end of the Spring semester of that year. I was in my fifth year of graduate school, and I also started full-time work at a nearby company in anticipation of the end of my funding. As such, progress on the dissertation was slow, and I also became closely acquainted with the dread of working in a cubicle. I quit that job in February of 2020, optimistic about getting to enjoy being on campus with my colleagues without the burden of an additional job. That optimism was promptly crushed by the ensuing pandemic, and the following years involved some blend of dissertation work, job market anxiety, and lots of walking outdoors. I received a job offer from the University of Nebraska at Omaha in December of 2020 to begin in August of 2021. The job was contingent upon the finishing of my dissertation, and it was upon receiving the offer that I realized I had only one chapter written. I wrote the remaining three chapters, worked through a number of revisions, defended, and jumped over the administrative hurdles in the months before defense. Needless to say, it was an interesting time.
You can find a PDF of my dissertation here.
As substance dualism fell out of favor, philosophers became increasingly interested in making sense of mind in purely physicalist terms. Along the way, the physicalist project has hit a few snags. Perhaps the most popular challenge was presented by Frank Jackson's Mary's Room thought experiment, wherein Mary, a brilliant color scientist, comes to know all of the physical facts about color whilst confined to a black-and-white room. Once released, Mary is presented with a ripe tomato. The intuition is that Mary, upon seeing a colored object for the first time, has learned something new, but what she has learned apparently cannot be accounted for by physicalism, thereby leaving an explanatory gap between mind and matter. There are those, like Joseph Levine, who believe the explanatory gap to be a necessary consequence of any physicalist theory of mind. I disagree, and in this dissertation, I aim to show that at least one physicalist theory of mind can close the gap. However, it requires embracing a theory that physicalists are hesitant to embrace: panpsychism.
I begin by offering a very brief overview of physicalism and raising the challenge of the explanatory gap. I then work through the dominant physicalist theories of mind that have been offered in an attempt to find a diagnosis. I conclude that classical physicalist theories all fall victim to the explanatory gap because they make use of problematic brute identity claims. I then set out some desiderata for a physicalist theory that can avoid the gap.
Further developing the claims at the end of the previous chapter, the problem, I claim, comes down to the use of emergence as an explanatory device. More specifically, emergence is not an explanation, I claim. It is as this point that I introduce panpsychism as the only kind of theory that holds any promise of avoiding emergence. Panpsychism, however, comes in many flavors, and I believe most will fail either to avoid emergence or else to count as physicalist theories. So, I spend the remainder of the chapter narrowing down the options to one that can work.
The claims of Chapter Two can leave one concerned that the panpsychist theory being proposed cannot be embraced by physicalists. I spend Chapter Three arguing against this. In this chapter, I defend the Heilian conception of properties and use it to argue that, given this conception, the phenomenal properties that panpsychists need would surely be physical properties.
Having (hopefully) successfully defended that the version of panpsychism I propose (1) successfully closes the explanatory gap and (2) is properly physicalist, I turn my attention to the combination problem. The combination problem is typically seen as the panpsychist's explanatory gap, and I believe it wouldn't be very helpful to propose a theory that runs into the same exact problem. I argue that my proposed version of panpsychism is not subject to any of the popular renditions of the combination problem.