According to Chalmers, philosophical zombies are physically identical to each of us, but lack consciousness.

By 'consciousness' Chalmers means the qualitative feel we often experience. The what-it's-like to be me, to taste apples, to fear ducks, etc.

So, do zombies, by lacking this, already lack any mental states, or do they have mental states, but just no phenomenal states?

  • The "qualitative feels" are called qualia, 'consciousness' or mind is more than that. A mental state is a state of mind, so you can't have them without it.
    – Conifold
    Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 18:13
  • can be googled easily try these pages "A zombie so defined may engage in mental activities or be in mental states in what Chalmers calls a purely “psychological” sense."
    – anon
    Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 18:18
  • "philosophical zombies are physically identical to each of us, but lack consciousness." Incoherent concept, unless you're a mystic. Our physical state gives rise to consciousness, so if they aren't conscious, they can't be physically identical. Spending time talking about philosophical zombies is like arguing about squares without corners. Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 22:03
  • I think that your comment is not relevant to my question and begs the question against Chalmers
    – Lukas
    Commented Mar 26, 2017 at 9:20
  • You might find a scientific analysis of this matter here at this article interesting and helpful to your question.
    – user287279
    Commented Oct 9, 2019 at 3:29

3 Answers 3


Philosophical Zombies can have mental states and would still be Zombies. The whole point of Chalmer's Zombie thought experiment is to show that having mental states isn't enough to account for subjective/phenomenological first person experience. After all, computers have "mental states" - their internal memory states and software configurations - but don't have conscious experience.

Here's one way of looking at it: Imagine that your Zombie isn't created by evil magic, but instead is a super advanced android, one that is indistinguishable externally from a human in terms of behavior and appearance. Per Chalmers, this android has internal mental states in its robotic brain, but it still doesn't have first person subjective experience.

Another way to look at the question is historically:

The main materialist position w/r to the mind body problem in the early to mid 20th century was behaviorism. This was the idea that only external behavior was observable and talk of internal mental states was unscientific, since there was no way to measure/observe them. A problem with this view was that most accepted that the same behavior could correspond to different mental states, or vice-versa. If someone is crying, are they crying tears of sadness or tears of joy?

To solve this problem, functionalism was proposed in the 1960s, which was basically "behaviorism + internal mental states" - and was inspired in part by developments in computer science (see Hilary Putnam's work on the topic for example).

Chalmers' Philosophical Zombie concept is a direct response to functionalism: That even when taking into account internal mental states, materialism (or physicalism) still fails to account for first person subjective/phenomenological experience.

  • Could you say more about what you mean when you say "materialism (or physicalism) still fails to account for first person subjective/phenomenological experience"? Are you using (or does Chalmers use) "first person subjective/phenomenological experience" as synonymous with the quality of being conscious of an experience? Commented Mar 21, 2017 at 17:33
  • @ClearMountainWay see the second part of this reply and this reply -- note that I'm not advocating for Chalmers views, I'm only trying to explain them. Commented Mar 21, 2017 at 17:47

The question is Does a philosophical zombie have mental states?

One can answer that if one can clarify what it means to be a zombie and what mental states are. Although these terms may be fluid, let's use how Wikipedia defines them as a baseline. My emphasis is in bold.

Wikipedia describes a mental state as follows:

A mental state is a state of mind that an agent is in. Most simplistically, a mental state is a mental condition. It is a relation that connects the agent with a proposition. Several of these states are a combination of mental representations and propositional attitudes. There are several paradigmatic states of mind that an agent has: love, hate, pleasure and pain, and attitudes toward propositions such as: believing that, conceiving that, hoping and fearing that, etc.

Wikipedia describes a zombie:

A similar argument holds that it is conceivable (or not inconceivable) that there could be physical duplicates of people, called "philosophical zombies", without any qualia at all. These "zombies" would demonstrate outward behavior precisely similar to that of a normal human, but would not have a subjective phenomenology. It is worth noting that a necessary condition for the possibility of philosophical zombies is that there be no specific part or parts of the brain that directly give rise to qualia—the zombie can only exist if subjective consciousness is causally separate from the physical brain.

If a zombie is conceivable then there is something about us, who are not zombies, that is not explainable by materialism. This understanding of zombie requires understanding qualia.

Wikipedia describes qualia as follows:

In philosophy and certain models of psychology, qualia ... are defined as individual instances of subjective, conscious experience....

Examples of qualia include the perceived sensation of pain of a headache, the taste of wine, as well as the redness of an evening sky. As qualitative characters of sensation, qualia stand in contrast to "propositional attitudes", where the focus is on beliefs about experience rather than what it is directly like to be experiencing.

Given these as definitions one can distinguish qualia as the "subjective, conscious experience" of having a mental state from the mental state itself.

This allows one to answer the question. A zombie can have all the physical characteristics of being in a mental state. In that sense the zombie has the mental state. However, the zombie would lack the subjective experience associated with having that mental state.

Wikipedia contributors. (2019, July 20). Mental state. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 13:47, October 8, 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Mental_state&oldid=907154141

Wikipedia contributors. (2019, October 1). Qualia. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 13:48, October 8, 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Qualia&oldid=918997985


Advaita Vedanta school of philosophy mentions that the world is MAYA, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Hinduism: A-M ,namely it already exist but it is unreal .Some other Indian philosophies asserts that the world is the manifested God ,namely it is none but one entity ,we call it God.Nick Bostrom's simulation theory postulate that the world may be simulation ,so some of which are real and other as back ground,namely,unreal.To reconcile the three opinions of Advaita,another schools,Nick Bostrom , we postulate that behind the philosophical zombies a creator or creators who manage the p-zombies.If this creator is metaphysical such as God ,then why not he may be the creation and the creator at the same time ,so why not the p-zombies are of absolute consciousness, Absolute consciousness=consciousness of God.

This means that reality composed of incarcerated humans and manifested God as P-ZOMBIES. [Jorge Berkeley].

P-ZOMBIES [God as P-ZOMBIES] are the reactive background. The reactive background are humans, animals, plants and everything else.

I am surprised, how philosophy talks about pantheism and philosophers can't get this notion.

  • 4
    Do you have some references for this? Who says this, where and why?
    – user2953
    Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 17:51
  • Like I said Advaita Vedanta school of philosophy in Hinduism asserts that the world is MAYA ,namely unreal ,another schools within Hinduism asserts that the world is manifestation of God,namely,it is none bot God .The sages of Hinduism ,concluded that from holy scriptures by meditation .
    – salah
    Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 19:15
  • 3
    Could you rewrite your answer to make it objective? Generally, posts here are written from the idea that the ideas put forward could be false, so they read like "The Advaita Vedanta school of philosophy would say that [claim], because [argument]." Also, if you could provide some references (books, articles, links) for more information, that would be very helpful.
    – user2953
    Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 20:28
  • 1
    You should pick a different name for what you describe, maybe "spiritual zombies", etc. "Philosophical zombie" has an established meaning which is very different from yours. So most people won't understand what you are talking about if you keep using it this way.
    – Conifold
    Commented Mar 21, 2017 at 20:45

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