A holistic defence of the Knowledge Argument?

It was mentioned in the most recent set of updates that I have been thinking about Jackson’s Knowledge Argument, with some ideas coming up in the UG seminar I recently led on the topic. One idea seems to be a holistic defence of Jackson. Here’s what I was thinking:

People like Lewis and Nemirow reply to Jackson’s Knowledge Argument by claiming that knowing what it is like to see red is an ability (such as the ability to recognise or imagine red), and therefore the fact that Mary gains this knowledge after seeing red for the first time casts no aspersions on physicalism.

People like Tye reply that this objection doesn’t work, since we can have an experience of, say, red35, and thus know what such an experience is like, without being able to re-identify, recognise, imagine, etc. that shade. That is, colour experience “outstrips” our abilities.

In the seminar, a student (Nicholas Courtney) proposed that the relevant abilities might not (only) be offline, recognitional ones, (like all those Tye considers, I believe, though I haven’t checked), but rather online, discriminative ones. Unlike the offline abilities, it is hard to make sense of having an experience of red35 without having these online abilities. This argues against Tye, and thus against Jackson.

He’s my idea: “Perhaps,” the holist defender of Jackson reasons, “we do have these discriminative capacities, and perhaps they are even necessary for certain kinds of colour experience. Nevertheless, our experience of red35 on its own (RED35-SOLO) is not the same as our experience of it in the context of red34, say (RED35-CONTRAST-RED34). So the above response to Tye fails. That discriminative capacities may be necessary for having the experience RED35-CONTRAST-RED34 does not show that they are necessary for having the experience RED35-SOLO. So it may still be maintained that at least some of our experiences outstrip our abilities, and thus the Ability response to Jackson fails – Mary acquires something other than an ability when she first sees red (on its own) for the first time.”


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