Do the personal experiences of qualia, such as what it is like to smell a flower, bring about issues for functionalism?

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    – Dcleve
    Nov 24, 2020 at 16:51
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  • I would suggest you try editing this question to describe what are meant by 'issues'. What metaphysical presuppositions are you making? A dualism broadly accepts that the material function and subjective experience are independent, for instance. Also try running searches here for functionalism.
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    Nov 25, 2020 at 15:02
  • Here's an example: philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/29319/…
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    Nov 25, 2020 at 15:03

1 Answer 1


Yes, qualia very much pose a problem for functionalism -- that is what they were articulated to point out. Mary can functionally do vision science, but EXPERIENCING vision adds something to her consciousness that functionalism does not capture at all. Also, explicitly 99% of human mental processing is unconscious -- IE it has no qualia, but that processing is FUNCTIONAL. Once more -- function =/= consciousness.

Chalmers Zombie thought problem also notes zombies can do functions, but don't have qualia, and that the experiences of qualia is what makes us conscious.

  • That something is unconscious does not imply that it has no qualia. All we can say is that we don't know whether our own unconscious thoughts have qualia or not. This in fact applies to anything at all we are are not conscious of. Do a stone has qualia? We don't know. Do other people have qualia? We don't know. Nov 25, 2020 at 10:38
  • @Speakpigeon -- You pose the rationalist "but you can't prove it" objection which applies to ALL empiricism. Theory is always under-determined by evidence, so our criteria for what we "know" has to be based on pragmatic effectiveness, not theoretic certainty. With qualia, we know that we have qualia with all consciousness, and that we do massive amounts of processing unconsciously, with no qualia we can discern, and that rocks show no signs of being conscious. The "but we can't prove otherwise" is irrelevant to a pragmatic empiricist, inference that conscious == qualia is still valid.
    – Dcleve
    Nov 25, 2020 at 20:59
  • "so our criteria for what we "know" has to be based on pragmatic effectivenes" No, doesn't follow. We all make a fundamental distinction between knowing and believing, and we say we believe X when we don't know that X. And where would be the problem? We can be pragmatic and effective using our best beliefs, so to speak. It is sure very tempting to say that I know that p even when I don't, but this is for convenience and self-gratification, not to speak of hard-cash economic interests. Still, you do as you please. Nov 26, 2020 at 10:33
  • @Speakpigeon -- a careful examination of how we perceive, both logically and neurologically, shows that "know" is an unconscious process of empirical inference, performed unconsciously by our neural net processes, and it is as logically subject to empirical error as our conscious beliefs are. One can, and does, "know" things like the answer to a math problem, or that there was not a stop sign at that last corner where you had that fender bender, when that answer or lack is wrong.
    – Dcleve
    Nov 26, 2020 at 18:07
  • I was talking about our notions that we know or believe things, not whether it is actually true that we know things like whether the Eiffel Tower is 300 metres tall. Further, here you are mixing up belief and knowledge. We would know whether we believe there is a stop sign. We never actually know that we know there is a stop sign. We have to live with that and it is good enough to live our lives. Trying to go beyond this wil inevitably be metaphysical speculation. Nov 27, 2020 at 10:46

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