zach blaesi

Department of Philosophy

The University of Texas at Austin


Grounding, Physicalism, and the Explanatory Gap

Contemporary metaphysics is marked by a revived interest in the notion of ground. Some philosophers have even suggested that this is the notion needed to formulate physicalism—the view that the mental is "nothing over and above" the physical. For there are reasons to think that physicalism understood as a grounding thesis (Grounding Physicalism) has advantages over the traditional options. In short, the appeal of Grounding Physicalism is that it promises to occupy a middle position between reductive and non-reductive versions of physicalism. Despite its initial appeal, I argue that a new spin on a common objection to physicalism—that it leaves an "explanatory gap"— undermines the enthusiasm for Grounding Physicalism. The explanatory gap problem has been heavily discussed, but usually with the assumption that physicalism is an identity thesis. By contrast, I focus on Grounding Physicalism and argue that it also leaves an explanatory gap—moreover, one that cannot be addressed in the usual way. I then argue that this creates a dilemma for the Grounding Physicalist.


The Phenomenal Concept Strategy Revisited

The phenomenal concept strategy for defending physicalism against the knowledge argument is to substitute a dualism of concepts for a dualism of properties. The idea is that when Mary sees a red object for the first time, she acquires a phenomenal concept for the experience of red. But what is a phenomenal concept? To answer this question, Balog, Block, and Papineau have independently developed a quotational-indexical account according to which phenomenal concepts are partly constituted by phenomenal experiences. However, Michael Tye has argued against the phenomenal concept strategy, and it is unclear whether the quotational-indexical account can overcome his objections. I will suggest that the quotational-indexical account can handle Tye’s objections by making a crucial concession. I then argue that once this concession is made, the account can no longer address the knowledge argument. I conclude that if the phenomenal concept strategy depends on the quotational-indexical account, then it fails. 


Some Puzzles About Reasons (And How To Solve Them)

Many philosophers working in metaethics accept what I call the Relational View (RV). According to RV, the predicates "is a reason for" and "counts in favor of" express a relation—the favoring-relation—that holds of considerations and responses. But it has gone unacknowledged that RV gives rise to a number of puzzles. The puzzles can be summarized with a single question: What, exactly, is favored in a favoring-relation? The answer may seem obvious: a response. But a momen's reflection shows that this answer is unsatisfying. For when agents respond to their reasons, they perform actions, concrete particulars, whereas before they act, no such particulars exist. This might prompt us to say that acting in a way is favored, yet this suggestion does little to clarify the relationship between what agents have reason to do (act in a way) and what they in fact do (perform actions). I develop the puzzles in detail and propose a common solution. 

Works in Progress


(contact me for unlinked drafts)