Imaginability: From Mind to Morals


2:30 p.m. (HST) October 29, 2021

Presented by
Dr. Anand J. Vaidya
San José State University

There is a long tradition in the philosophy of mind, stretching from Rene Descartes to David Chalmers, whereby exercises of conceivability are used to argue for an anti-materialist conclusion about consciousness. In this talk, I use the work of Descartes’ critic Antoine Arnauld to argue for a generalized problem for all conceivability-based arguments against materialism: the problem of modal epistemic friction. Moving off of this critique, I argue for re-conceiving conceivability as a project within moral philosophy where we take seriously the task of critically asking the question: Why do certain groups have a problem conceiving of a certain kind of thing having moral properties or having equal rights? At the heart of the argument is the idea that what we learn from the failure of conceivability arguments in the philosophy of mind pays off in moral philosophy as a project. We need to pursue the project of criticizing the controlling conceptions (ideas about the essences of kinds) that drive our impossibility judgments, since these conceptions often block us from expanding morality and equality out to different kinds of things.

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