Chalmers on the Vitalism Objection

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David Chalmers on the Vitalism Objection

Emerson Green

Quote:Élan vital was postulated to explain observations. It’s an explanatory construct. Experience is not.

Vitalists took confusing data and explained those data by appealing to a life force. Experience, on the other hand, is not being postulated to explain data. We already know that experience exists: it’s a datum that needs explaining. It isn’t like élan vital, rather it’s more like self-organization, regeneration, metabolism, replication, evolution — the things that needed to be explained. Experience can’t fall out of favor as an explanation because it’s not an explanation — it’s the thing that needs to be explained. This is where the true disanalogy lies.

Further, a vital force was postulated to explain complex functions. Once those functions were explained without a life force, there was no more need for vitalism. We have no independent reason for believing in élan vital. This is obviously not the case for experience. Unlike élan vital, we know experience exists. And the more we learn about neurobiological function, the question remains: Why should it be like anything to carry out these functions?
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell


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