Meaningless Phenomenality: Physicalist Reduction of Intentionality and Subjectivity


  • Xing Zhan Eötvös Loránd University


Kim concludes that “physicalism is not the whole truth, but it is the truth near enough” [1], with qualia being the only mental residue that resists physical reduction. The terms "qualia" and "phenomenality" have ontological commitment to the existence of something-it-is-likeness as real non-physical properties. First, starting from Kim's halfway physicalism, I argue that the ontological status of language (formal system and semantics) is physical, while the physical domain is the limit of meaningful speech. That is, the semantical relationship is naturalistic. Hence, as non-physical properties, qualia are beyond the reach of meaningful discourse. Even philosophical theories, as physical-formal systems, are not able to talk about qualia meaningfully. Second, I deploy Wittgenstein's private language argument [2] to argue that Mary, in Jackson's knowledge argument [3], does not gain any knowledge after leaving the black-and-white room. In conclusion, phenomenality is not a legitimate object of reference and knowledge, and physicalism is the perfect metaphysical theory within the boundary of meaning.


[1] J. Kim, Physicalism, or Something near Enough. Princeton University Press, 2008.

[2] L. Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, trans. G.E.M. Anscombe, Oxford, UK: Basil Blackwell, 1968.

[3] F. Jackson, “Epiphenomenal qualia,” The Philosophical Quarterly, vol. 32, no. 127, p. 127, Apr. 1982. doi:10.2307/2960077