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Quining Qualia Quine's Way

DON ROSS University of Ottawa

Thanks largely to Daniel Dennett, I am a recent convert to what many will

regard as the shocking hypothesis that qualia do not exist. This admission is
not quite a confident sighting of that rarest of philosophical birds, an un-
equivocally sound and valid argument. For one thing, I have, like many,
been frustrated by and suspicious of philosophers' use of qualia for some
time, and have often wished them dead (the qualia, not the philosophers); so
I was an easy mark. More to the point, I was persuaded by Dennett without
being persuaded by his arguments. This is not intended as a confession of a
Kirkegaardian penchant for preferring to believe the conclusions of bad ar-
guments. Dennett enabled me finally to kick qualia out of my private (now
public) ontology by providing, in the later sections of his "Quining Qualia"
(Dennett 1988), an alternative conceptual vocabulary for talking about the
contents of perceptual and reflective experience that genuinely makes no
appeal, surreptitious or otherwise, to qualia. Furthermore, Dennett's most
general motivations for banishing qualiathe convictions that there is no
compelling evidence for them, that they serve no reliable explanatory pur-
pose and that the hypothesis of their non-existence dissolves some other-
wise wrenching philosophical dilemmasare the right ones, and his paper
made this clear to me. However, I feel the need to quine qualia again for
myself, because I want them to stay dead, and am afraid that, due to some
infelicities in his argument, Dennett has only wounded them.
Dennett has in fact published two slightly different versions of his attack
on qualia: the original one, in the paper cited above, and a second which
comprises Chapter 12 of his recent book Consciousness Explained (Dennett
1991b). The second argument for the most part recapitulates the first, but,
along with some differences in emphasis, is set within the larger context of
his general theory of consciousness. In that setting, certain moves to which
he did not appear to be entitled in the first presentation gain plausibility. On
the other hand, the original argument is more straightforwardly situated in
the philosophical debate as it has raged over the past decade or so. This is

Dialogue XXXII (1993), 439-59

440 Dialogue

important for my purposes, since the thrust of the critical part of my discus-
sion will be that Dennett's argument has different sorts of force depending
on the point in the philosophical debate at which it is inserted. Therefore,
my strategy will be as follows. In summarizing and criticizing Dennett's ar-
gument, I will basically march through its original presentation. But wher-
ever puzzling assumptions of that argument can be clarified by reference to
the second one, and to its context in Dennett's larger theory, I will try to do
As indicated at the outset, my main aim is not to criticize Dennett
though such criticism will occupy the bulk of my paperbut to extend and
broaden his position in the hope of converting some philosophers who (they
tell me) are not convinced by either of his assaults on qualia. This attempt
will eventually lead me into some general reflections (that also owe much to
Dennett) on how ontologies should be populated. In particular, I will defend
the proper use of the famous ontology-builder's slogan associated with
Quine, that to be is to be the value of a variable in our best scientific theory.
I will argue that "Quine's Razor" makes short work of qualia; hence my
title. Let me emphasize at the outset that none of this is intended as Quine
scholarship. I urge the deployment of Quine's Razor as I think it should be
understood, and not, per se, as Quine thought it should be used. As a matter
of fact, I think that Quine's intentions and mine are pretty much the same,
but nothing hinges on this. Furthermore, I believe that this Razor is what ba-
sically motivates Dennett, but that it works most surely against qualia if ap-
plied directly rather than by way of Dennett's own particular argument.
The first job, then, is to get Dennett's argument onto the table for dissec-
tion. Dennett brings his target into focus by arguing, persuasively, that the
philosophical tradition has held four sorts of properties to be jointly essen-
tial to something's being a quale. Along with being itself a property of some
subject's mental state, a quale must be: (1) ineffable; (2) intrinsic; (3) pri-
vate; and (4) directly or immediately apprehensible in consciousness (Den-
nett 1988, p. 47). Dennett notes that most recent defenders of qualia have
proceeded by trying to relax one or more of these constraints so as to pre-
serve a less metaphysically demanding, and hence less vulnerable, concept
that still captures our imputed intuitions about qualia. But he also contends,
convincingly, that in most of these accounts the dropped property has
tended to be inadvertently snuck back in, which suggests that our intuitions
really do involve all four of them. If, then, it can be shown either that the
four properties are mutually incompatible or that at least one of them is in-
dependently insupportable, by modus tollens our intuitions are shown to be
confused. And since the concept of a quale has never had the status of a
working posit of a robust scientific theory, since, then, the evidence for
qualia has always just been our intuitions about them, to demonstrate that
these intuitions are confused is to leave the qualia hanging ontological fire
with vital spirits and immaterial souls.
Quining Qualia 441

Dennett's unfolding of this argument proceeds in two stages. He first

launches systematic attacks on the coherence of each of the four putative
properties. This is, strictly speaking, overkill, since if our intuitions entail
that the four properties are jointly essential to something's being a quale,
then to dispose of one of them is to dispose of the force of the intuitions.
But strictly speaking is beside the point, since if our intuitions really are in-
coherent then talk of what they entail is out of place to begin with. Den-
nett's apparent overkill is thus prudent offensive strategy. He then substanti-
ates his conclusion by a direct attack on the intuitions themselves. Using his
patented "argument by intuition-pump" strategy, he presents several real
cases of peculiar pathologies affecting dispositions to respond to qualitative
experiences, which are intended to show that the intuitions on which our
confidence in qualia is based must shrug hopelessly if asked to tell a consis-
tent story about the psychological facts. Thus, for example, we are told of a
patient whose reports of his own states cross-classify colours, shades and
hues in extremely odd ways, but who successfully guesses at colours of ob-
jects, using the normal classification scheme, about 50 percent of the time.
How is our standard conceptual apparatus concerning qualitative experience
to be applied here? "My informal sampling," Dennett concludes after re-
viewing several such anecdotes,
shows that some philosophers have strong opinions about each case and how it
should be described in terms of qualia, but they find they are in strident (and ulti-
mately comic) disagreement with other philosophers about how these "obvious"
descriptions should go. Other philosophers discover that they really do not know
what to saynot because there are not enough facts presented in the descriptions
of the cases, but because it begins to dawn on them that they have not really known
what they were talking about over the years. (Dennett 1988, p. 67)
Now, it seems to me that the second, direct attack on the intuitions underly-
ing qualia depends on the success of the first, indirect argument against the
coherence of qualia's putative properties. If we were already convinced that
our intuitions lead to paradoxes, then watching them flail hopelessly in the
face of the various pathologies would help to undermine our last likely bas-
tion of resistance, namely the meta-intuition that the fault leading to the
paradoxes must lie with the philosophical analysis of our intuitions, rather
than with the intuitions themselves, because those intuitions are so useful in
real cases. However, we are not likely to be convinced by appeal to exotic
defects alone, because as philosophers we should by now be quite jaded in
the face of arguments from aphasia and so on. Such arguments are, we
would remind Dennett, the favourite device of eliminativists about every-
thing. Stich (1983), for example, depends heavily on such a strategy to con-
vince us that belief must disappear from our ontology; but most of us are
not persuaded, and for reasons which Dennett himself has done much to
make clear. Belief is a posit of folk psychology, and we may be optimistic
about folk psychology's long-run prospects because there is good prima fa-
442 Dialogue

cie evidence that folk psychology picks out real patterns in the behaviour of
neurophysiologically and functionally normal adult human beings. (See
Dennett 1991a for a discussion of the relevant "real patterns." See also
Ross 1986.) Of course, real patterns which hold for non-mysterious reasons
in a class of normal cases may, for equally non-mysterious reasons, break
down in non-normal cases. There are discernible real patterns in political
behaviour in the United States so robust that you can get rich betting on
them; but I would advise you to keep your ante in your pocket following a
nuclear war. Similarly, attention to pathologies helps us to identify the limits
of the patterns recognized by folk psychology, but it does not thereby refute
folk psychology, and hence it does not call the existence of beliefs into
doubt. Now, whatever qualia are posits of, it certainly is not a mature (or
immature) neuroscientific or computational theory. Qualia are posits either
of folk psychology proper or, what is more likely, of a philosophically ex-
tended (and often, in the process, twisted) folk psychology. That we have
trouble using them to explain the behaviour of the exotically brain-damaged,
then, should only persuade us to eliminate them if we are already elim-
inativists about the folk ontology in general.
Let us, then, focus our attention on the line with which most of Dennett's
paper is occupied, his argument against the coherence of the four properties.
Here, I want to question the general soundness of his strategy. He worries
early in his paper that "My challenge strikes some theorists as outrageous
or misguided because they think they have a much blander and hence less
vulnerable notion of qualia to begin with. They think I am setting up and
knocking down a straw man, and ask, in effect, 'Who said qualia are ineffa-
ble, intrinsic, private, directly apprehensible ways things seem to one?' "
(Dennett 1988, p. 47). Now, I think that Dennett is true to the facts when he
replies to this by saying that, whatever their official intentions, most philos-
ophers to date who have actually tried to defend qualia in detail have wound
up assigning them the four properties. So it is fair of him to complain that
however straw the man, it is actually being used by the friends of qualia to
keep their crows away. However, I will now argue at some length, when he
goes on to explain this socio-philosophical fact, he undermines the persua-
siveness of his subsequent argument to those whose opinions I, at least, care
about mostour fellow naturalists. Here, first, is Dennett on why the straw
man is continually rebuilt, despite their disavowals, by qualia's defenders:

I suspect, in fact, that many are unwilling to take my radical challenge seriously
because they want so much for qualia to be acknowledged. Qualia seem to many
people to be the last ditch defense of the inwardness and elusiveness of our minds,
a bulwark against creeping mechanism. They are sure there must be some sound
path from the homely cases to the redoubtable category of the philosophers, since
otherwise their last bastion of specialness will be stormed by science. (Ibid., p. 48)
Again, I think that this is probably right. But here begins my worry. (First, a
bit of terminology. Dennett 1991b refers to the defenders of qualia as
Quining Qualia 443

"qualiaphiles." For reasons which will become clear shortly, I wish to dis-
tinguish between two classes of qualiaphiles: those who pin their hopes on
qualia as a weapon against scientific imperialism, and those who agree with
Dennett that the mind is as open to scientific investigation as anything else,
but who think that qualia are proper objects of scientific study. I will refer to
the formerthe anti-naturalistsas qualiacs.) Of the four properties, the
two that do all of the work in keeping science at bay are ineffability and pri-
vacy. It is these features of qualia that allow philosophers like Jackson
(1982) to argue that third-person descriptions of the mind, of the sort that
science gives, must in principle always leave something outnamely, the
nature of qualia. This is supposed to be so, of course, because if the qualia
are private then the scientific perspective cannot reach them, and if they are
ineffable then even if science could reach them it could not describe them in
a theory. The other two putative properties of qualia seem distinctly second-
ary to this enterprise. Once you make qualia ineffable and inaccessible to
science, then you have to make them directly apprehensible in conscious-
ness, lest you be left with no epistemic route to them at all and so are forced
to endorse Dennett's eliminativism. But this property in itself can do almost
no work for the qualiac; in the absence of a theory of consciousness, it is
unclear how it can mean anything more than 'available to conscious inspec-
tion', and that commitment seems too bland to drive any important philo-
sophical engines. (Of course, Dennett has a theory of consciousness, and
one that is likely to be uncongenial to the qualiac; so in that context he is
able, in the second version of his argument, to smoke out what the qualiac
must interpret (4) to mean, at least negatively. However, the philosophical
tradition's definition of qualia was hardly framed with Dennett's theory in
mind. In fact, the tradition was framed with nothing very definite about con-
sciousness in mind.) As to the features of qualia being intrinsic, this helps if
you are fighting functionalists; but who cares about functionalists if you've
got all of materialism licked?
So, if one's aim is to undermine the use of qualia as a weapon against sci-
entific imperialism, then one should focus hard on their putative privacy and
ineffability. And this, for the most part, is just what Dennett does. About
half of his paper is devoted to showing that if qualia are taken to be private,
then Rylean-style arguments against their existence still work very well. As
Dennett discusses, the first-generation verificationist argument against
qualia, which assuaged worries based on the famous interpersonal inverted
spectrum, is widely thought to have been overthrown by appeal to the in-
frapersonal inverted spectrum. The idea here is that even if you could not
reliably distinguish your own qualia from those of another person which
were systematically inverted, you could tell your own qualia at ti apart from
your own qualia at t2 across a systematic inversion event (or some less
shattering change) in your own case. Suppose, for example, that you woke
up one morning to discover that flesh-coloured objects, including your own
444 Dialogue

skin, suddenly appeared to be deep blue, while the sky in A Starry Night and
Texas Rangers baseball caps had become flesh-toned. Suppose also that
other people exhibited no signs of surprise, alarm or aesthetic disgust, and
reported that their experiences were unchanged, thereby indicating that
nothing had happened to the objects themselves or to the properties of light.
Surely, goes the anti-verificationist argument, you would conclude that you
had suffered qualia inversion. As Dennett correctly argues, however, this
conclusion rests on the assumption that introspection could reliably distin-
guish between (a) changes in one's qualia themselves, (b) changes in one's
dispositions to judge and react to qualia and (c) changes in one's recon-
struction in memory of one's qualia. And, as a barrage of Dennett's
thought-experiments conspire to show, this assumption is quite implausible.
Therefore, if qualia are essentially private, then there is no reliable
epistemic route to them, and so no good reason for positing them in the first
Dennett's argument is right. Its conclusion, however, will have limited
force for naturalists and cognitive scientists. The problem is simply that its
antecedent ('If qualia are essentially private .. .') is, given just the most ele-
mental and basic assumptions of naturalism, obviously false. As Dennett
himself has led the way in reminding us over the years, naturalism crucially
rests upon the conviction that there is no in-principle, privileged, first-
person epistemic route to anythingwhere 'privileged' here has the sense
of '(epistemically) more authoritative', rather than '(causally) more direct',
as Ausonio Marras urges me to emphasize. Indeed, naturalism needs some-
thing even stronger than this: it assumes that first-person routes are sys-
tematically less reliable than carefully designed and theoretically informed
third-person ones. Again, the anti-science qualiac, who assumes none of
this, is an appropriate target for Dennett's argument. Since the proper con-
clusion of his argument is the disjunction (i) qualia are not essentially pri-
vate or (ii) qualia do not exist, the qualiac who ex hypothesi cares about
qualia mainly insofar as they are private has nowhere to go. Ironically, it is
the naturalist who has room for manoeuvre, since she already embraces an
assumption that implies (i). Now, Dennett can just reiterate his point that no
detailed analysis of qualia has yet succeeded in dispensing with the privacy
property. Yet it seems to me that most people's intuitions are too resilient
for this move by itself to shift the burden of proof so easily. My own infor-
mal survey turns up many thoughtful naturalists who believe in qualia while
explicitly not believing in essentially private entities beyond the reach of
science. (More about them below.) And if it is really to be established that
qualia do not exist, then I am more concerned that we convince the natural-
ists than people whose general ontological principles are apt to be, by my
lights (and Dennett's) odd to begin with.
Now, in fairness, Dennett does make a move toward pushing the conse-
quences of the verificationist argument past its dependence on the privacy
Quining Qualia 445

assumption. He considers, for rejection, arguments of Shoemaker (1982)

and others that if we allowed ourselves the full resources of third-person,
theory-informed scientific investigation, then we could reliably distinguish
between qualia inversion, dispositions-to judgement inversion and memory
inversion. For example, as Dennett notes, if we imagine ourselves armed
with an appropriately detailed neuropsychological theory, then we "can
imagine discovering an . . . 'early' anomaly in the pathways leading from
taste buds to judgement. .. tending to confirm [a subject's] claim that he
has suffered some change in his perceptualas opposed to judgemen-
talmachinery" (Dennett 1988, p. 56). Dennett acknowledges that sophis-
ticated empirical measures could reliably distinguish "a change near the
brute perceptual processing end of the spectrum" from "a change near the
ultimate reactive judgement end of the spectrum" (ibid.), but then tries to
minimize the significance of this by noting that any real case of inversion
would likely lie somewhere between the poles, where the resultant
behavioural change could not be analyzed into its component causal vec-
tors. Now, this is fancy footwork in two respects. First, the impact of Den-
nett's admission about verifiability at the poles is not mitigated by the ob-
servation about real cases, since the ontological implications of (a), verifica-
tion of qualia inversion would be impossible, and of (b), verification of
qualia inversion would hardly ever be possible, are as different from each
other as can be, given the context; (a) is supposed to imply that qualia do
not exist, while (b) implies that qualia do exist. Second, Dennett's grounds
for his claim that in realistic cases the causal vectors could not be separated
relies on the (true) claim that behavioural tests could not so separate them.
But, one might ask, since when are we restricted to behavioural tests? Den-
nett, of all people, one might suppose (but see below), has no business ap-
pealing to such a premise. Of course, if qualia were essentially private then
we would be stuck with behavioural testswith subjects' introspective re-
ports, to be exact. But, as against Shoemaker's point, that is precisely beg-
ging the question.
Actually, in light of Dennett's newly unveiled theory of consciousness, it
takes some work to get this last charge to stick. Summarizing Dennett's the-
ory in a sentence or two is apt to make it look far-fetched, which is not at all
my intent, since I think that most of it is on the right track. But here goes
anyway. The "stream of consciousness," which constitutes our phenome-
nological data on the basis of which we construct the concept of conscious-
ness, is essentially the product of a story told by the brainunder no out-
side editorial control by some further "self"in order to make a coherent
narrative out of the chaos of registrations, perceptions, awarenesses and
whatnot whose multiple, simultaneous generation is its own basic activity.
This narrative is not fashioned for the benefit of any internal "audience";
its function is to assist in behavioural control, and its criteria of coherence
are given by evolutionary and cultural pressures. In case this telegraphic
446 Dialogue

condensation (given, perforce, without any demonstration of its evidence or

explanatory utility) makes no sense to you, it will suffice for present pur-
poses to focus on its most basic upshot: consciousness is not a functional (or
physical, of course) place where ideas happen, or a box where contents are
deposited, or a finish-line across which some lucky thoughts race. (These
metaphors are all Dennett's own.) Consciousness is the concept of a certain
sort of activity in which brains engagereporting to parts of themselves
about what is going on in other parts of themselves, in a highly selective but
ultimately unguided way.
Now, then, the idea that one could distinguish between qualia inversion,
dispositions-to-judgement inversion and memory inversion depends, ac-
cording to Dennett, on seeing consciousness as a control box that mediates
between perception, memory and judgement. In comes a perception; in
swift consequence, a quale is presented to consciousness, which duly reacts
to it, and then stores the quale and the reaction (separately) in memory. On
this boxological (Dennett again) view of the mind, there would be a fact of
the matter in any case of phenomenal inversion about where the interference
had occurred: was it in the perception-uptake mechanisms, the mind's-eye
of consciousness, the memory storage-and-retrieval mechanisms, the chan-
nels along which orders to react are sent, or what? But the whole point of
Dennett's theory of consciousness is to reject this boxology. Since there are
no discrete boxes, there is no fact of the matter about which box holds the
trouble. In the folk-psychological apparatus the brain uses to tell its most
high-level stories about itself, several possible narratives are equally coher-
ent, and the brain may spin any one of them (or all of them). Normally, the
brain will not bother, unless it's being bugged by a philosopher, to make any
of these distinctions in the first place. "Hey!" it will say, "Something
weird's going on! My skin looks to me as if it's turned blue, but no one else
seems to be looking at me strangely. It must be me." The reference to 'me'
here is what indicates that the brain has swept under the rug all of the phi-
losopher's sought-after distinctions; for the personal level of description
just is the level at which architectural distinctions are ignored to useful
behaviour-controlling effect.
We can now see why Dennett thinks that he is entitled to demand that the
defender of qualia provide a behavioural test to discriminate intrapersonal
qualia inversion from other sorts of inversion. Qualia are taken by qualiacs
(and by other qualiaphiles) to be elements of consciousness. But, according
to Dennett, there is no sub-behavioural fact of the matter about the contents
of introspective consciousness. Once you dispose of the idea that memory is
the place where consciousness stores files for its own later use, and that re-
actions are things ordered by consciousness, then you can (and should) say
something like: both memory and the generation of dispositions-to-react are
activities of the whole brain, under different descriptions. On such a con-
ception, asking in the case of phenomenal inversion whether it is your mem-
Quirting Qualia 447

ory or your dispositions (or your qualia detection) that has gone haywire
would be just like asking, when your famous curve-ball goes in the dirt,
"Was it my nervous system as controller of my arm, or my arm itself, that
failed to execute the usual effective sequence?" If you ask this latter ques-
tion of the trainer, he will rightly advise the manager to take you out of the
rotation until you stop being crazy. (If you ask it of a philosopher you will
be in even worse shape, for she will probably try to answer it.)
Does the defender of qualia have an answer to this? Well, the qualiac had
an answer right from the start: she doesn't buy Dennett's theory of con-
sciousness for one minute. But the qualiac was already out of this part of the
debate, since her insistence on the essential privacy of qualia enabled Den-
nett's verificationist argument to refute her without any appeal to the theory
of consciousness. Shoemaker, however, can go quite a long way with Den-
nett's theory and still have a response. He can start by asking Dennett
whether, according to his theory, consciousness exists, or is just a fiction. Of
course, if consciousness does not exist then, trivially, neither do qualia. But
this (sensibly) is not Dennett's line at all. Consciousness exists, Dennett re-
plies, because it is a real pattern (Dennett 1991a); the concept picks out a
type of robust structure in events on the basis of which reliable predictions
and satisfying explanations can be given. But now the qualiaphile can come
back with the following argument. The robustness of the pattern depends on
the relative constancy of the coherence criteria within which the brain's nar-
rative is shaped: if the evolutionary and cultural pressures which drive
brains to " d o " consciousness were random, then pattern would vanish, tak-
ing consciousness itself with it. This means that the brain is, at least provi-
sionally, committed to certain constraints in fashioning its narratives. Fur-
thermore, those constraints are themselves real patterns. Therefore, as sci-
ence discovers new facts about the brain, it can appeal to those con-
straintsthe most basic of which are logical onesto force the brain to
make some hard choices over details of plot which it had formerly preferred
just not to care about. In fact, of course, this is precisely what happens. I
cannot think of myself as an eternal soul-flame, because science has con-
vinced me that trying to do so would do savage violence to the overall co-
herence of my narrative. The implication of this is that third-person investi-
gation can bring into existence facts of the matter about the structures of
conscious experience where formerly there were none. Therefore, science
could, in principle, lead us to reliably distinguish between, for example,
memory displacement and disposition displacement. This in-principle possi-
bility is, essentially, the price Dennett pays for his well-argued ontological
liberalism in being willing to quantify over real patterns whose reality is
grounded in their mere robustness.
It must be conceded that one of the points of Dennett's theory of con-
sciousness is that this general in-principle possibility will not be actual in
the case of the brain's story about consciousness itself. That is, Dennett
448 Dialogue

thinks that in fact the progress of cognitive science is leading us away from,
rather than towards, the hard choices on which the qualiaphile pins his
hopes. But this appeal to the theory of consciousness is out of place in the
present context. I have spent time with Dennett's theory here because I
wanted to show that Dennett has better grounds for his "methodological
behaviourism" (see Dumouchel 1992; but also Davies 1992) about con-
sciousness than his readers over the years might have supposed. But I do
not want to use the theory of consciousness directly to dispose of qualia
(though if it is right, it will do that), because my whole project is, ultimately,
to argue that qualia do not exist anyway. That is, I do not want the banish-
ment of qualia to hinge on converting everyone to full-blown Dennettism, a
position which, despite Dennett's efforts over the years to ward off charges
of instrumentalism, continues to be viewed with suspicion by realists.
So, where are we? I have argued that Dennett's verificationist argument
against the appeal to intrapersonal inverted spectra works against the
qualiac, because of her commitment to the privacy of qualia, but that it does
not necessarily work against a naturalistic qualiaphile. Now I want to show
that his discussion of ineffability (Dennett 1988, pp. 69-74) has similar con-
sequences. The qualiac, remember, insists that qualia are ineffable because
she wants them to be special. Whereas science (it is mistakenly assumed)
can exhaustively describe pulsars and kidney cells, perhaps even memories,
thoughts and emotions, it will never describe qualia because they cannot be
described. Against this (grotesque) mistake, Dennett rightly points out the
following (as very liberally interpreted by me). Public language, along with
scientific language, carves the world into classes of objects, properties, rela-
tions, events, and so on. These classes are, of course, built out of perceived
and exploited similarities. What makes language public is roughly the same
thing that makes science objective (to whatever extent it is)namely, that
the similarities in question are regularly observable and regularly important
to groups of people. (There may also be natural kinds whose "metaphysi-
cal" individuation is insensitive to human utilities. But it is an open ques-
tion in any given case whether language will hit upon "nature's" classifica-
tion; furthermore, as Dennett observes (giving credit for the point to Kath-
leen Akins), qualia, if they existed, would be products of the co-evolution of
minds and environments, so their individuation would not be insensitive to
human utilities (Dennett 1991b, pp. 375-83).) It follows from this that to the
extent that an object (etc.) is descriptively atomic with respect to this refer-
ential apparatus, and is of little utility for people in general and is of little
extended utility to any particular person, language is unlikely to evolve re-
sources for describing it. It follows from this that to the extent that qualia
are conceived of as utterly idiosyncraticthe way this baseball grip feels to
Nolan Ryan before that pitch to this batterthen language will not develop
resources for describing them. Language just is a mechanism for efficiently
encoding, for purposes of interpersonal communication, or intrapersonal
Quining Qualia 449

communication over time, a large subset of the immense quantity of rele-

vant information that is usually carried by a significant event. Ryan knows
what the pitch feels like, we can say if we like, because he is getting all the
relevant information in uncoded formbut, trivially, since he does not en-
code it in language, he cannot linguistically convey it.
On this account, there is nothing special about the ineffability of qualia.
They are (or would be if they existed) for the most part just like lots of other
ephemeral little eventsthis part of the surface of that electron therethat
are beneath the lofty gaze of science and language alike. But, equally, no
particular quale is in principle inaccessible to language and science. As
similarities in qualia come to matter to groups of peopleas the profession
of wine-tasting evolvesor come to matter regularly to one personas
Ryan wants to get that feel every time he faces Roberto Alomarlinguistic
resources evolve to systematically achieve the relevant reference. Of course,
the description never codes all of the information in the experience, because
no description of anything ever does. (That, by the way, points to one of the
silly premises in the qualiac's argument that makes it, as I said, grotesque;
science never, in the sense relevant to the qualiac, exhaustively describes
anything.) The implications of all this for the qualiac are as follows. She can
insist, if she likes, that qualia are essentially utterly idiosyncratic, in which
case any given quale will be, as a matter of fact, ineffable. The price of this
is that she will have saved something from the grip of science merely by
making it too ontologically trivial for science to notice. Or she can admit
that qualia are not essentially ineffable. On either concession, there will no
longer be anything special about qualia in the sense that matters to her. And
now if, ex hypothesi, she only defended qualia in the first place because she
thought there was something special about them, then her motivations for
defending them against Dennett are gone.
Here, then, are the general conclusions to this point. If, in violation of
Hume's Guillotine, you posit qualia because you hope to thereby have a
weapon against physicalism, then you must hold that qualia are essentially
private and ineffable. And if you hold that, then Dennett's arguments should
drive you to eliminativism, since his arguments against privacy and ineffa-
bility are right. But what if you are not an anti-scientific qualiac? Can you
still have motivations for defending a concept of qualia such that they are
not private and ineffable? Well, presumably you do not just insist that there
are conscious experiences and that qualia is a nice name for them; in that
case, Dennett will readily agree with you on the first point, and ask you why
you wish to go on using a word that has caused so much philosophical
havoc. In fact, however, you may well (I judge from recent conversations
with philosophers) wish to defend a controversial position within physical-
istic naturalism which goes well beyond the truism that there are conscious
experiences, and which involves defending the existence of clusters of prop-
erties that are probably most appropriately called qualia. You may pass over
450 Dialogue

the fourth putative property of qualia, on the grounds that the phrase 'di-
rectly or immediately apprehensible in consciousness' is almost completely
meaningless except in the context of a worked-out model of mental process-
ing and a worked-out theory of consciousness, and that the motivations for
worrying about this property died out with the qualiacs anyway. But you
may focus on the second putative property, that of being intrinsic. That is,
you may hold that there is a certain class of conscious experiences (to be
called "experiences of qualia") that have whatever content they do intrinsi-
cally, and not as a matter of functional role. In short, you may remind the
eliminativist that while qualia have gained fame as weapons of anti-physi-
calist opponents of functionalism, they can be picked up by physicalist op-
ponents of functionalism who are not so vulnerable because they are really
not encumbered by concerns about privacy and ineffability. It is no mere
coincidence that Paul Churchland, who is not a functionalist, is an elimina-
tivist about everything except qualia, while Dennett, who is a functionalist,
is an eliminativist only about qualia.
It is possible to maintain this sort of positionto be a pro-science
qualiaphilebecause it must be admitted by everyone that folk psychology
is not wholly consistent in its basic principles of ontological commitment.
That is, even the most convinced functionalist must admit the possibility
that while most of the generic posits of folk psychologybelief, desire,
etc.pick out real patterns rather than candidates for reduction, some of its
posits may be reducible to, or at least precisely co-extensional with, items in
a neurophysiological ontology. (Marras [this volume and issue] shows how
this possibility need not be as embarrassing to the functionalist as the
Churchlands and others have supposed. But, sure enough, it is just this argu-
ment that leaves Marras feeling free to go on talking about qualia.) To the
extent that qualia are fully reducible, they may be said to have their proper-
ties intrinsically, and their existence is obviously confirmed. ("If it reduces,
it is real.") Now, again, we must acknowledge that on Dennett's larger the-
ory of consciousness none of this makes any sense. No phenomenon, if it is
a phenomenon of consciousness, will be reduced to a class of local, physi-
cal events (though, of course, it may be explained in terms of them). As
Dennett asks, isn't it silly to suppose that the qualia associated with amuse-
ment should be individuated by reference to their intrinsic property of hilar-
ity (Dennett 1991b, p. 449)? Well, of course it is. But the Churchlands could
respond to this by saying that in a case of the sort of reduction they have in
mind, 'hilarity' will be replaced by a term embedded within a rich neuro-
psychological theory. Churchland (1986) in fact suggests that qualia and
proprioceptive states are coded by dedicated brain regions with biologically
fixed parameters of variation, such that a quale will be represented, in
everyone who comes to represent it, by a specific n-tuple of spiking fre-
quencies in a specific triune brain system that codes a pre-fixed hyperspace
relative to which each humanly discriminable quale is uniquely described
Quining Qualia 451

by a set of co-ordinates. Hilarity itself will not be reduced, on this story, it

will be eliminated as an explanatory posit; but that is a virtue of the story
rather than a vice, as Dennett's rhetorical question implicitly concedes. The
point is that qualia will have been reduced in terms of heretofore unknown
intrinsic properties, and will thereby have been vindicated.
One obvious way for Dennett to fight this out is just to say that he has
positive reasons for doubting that cognitive science is actually going to take
us in the direction that Churchland foresees. I think that Dennett's reasons
are good ones. But this defence can establish only that, as a matter of fact,
qualia probably do not exist. By contrast, Dennett's official eliminativism
about qualia consists in the claim that the very positing of qualia is itself a
piece of philosophical confusion. Now, in "Quining Qualia," Dennett does
mount a more direct attack on the coherence of the property that the natural-
ist defender of qualia needs. That is, he questions whether it is possible to
make sense of intrinsicality as a putative property of qualia. This scepticism
is motivated in two ways. First, Dennett supplies an intuition-pump (Den-
nett 1988, pp. 60-61) intended to cast doubt on the view that the properties
of the supposed qualia are intrinsic. Then, later in the paper, he suggests that
the very notion of an intrinsic property may be dubious in general (ibid.,
pp. 67-68).
Let us briefly consider the more general source of scepticism first, since
if there are no intrinsic properties at all then we need not specifically inquire
as to whether qualia have them. It may well be the case that, as a matter of
fact, everything in the universe is causally related to everything else. Fur-
thermore, it is the case that, as Dennett says, the notion of intrinsicality has
proven tough to explicate. But none of this obviates our need, in giving de-
scriptions of the world, to preserve the logical distinction between proper-
ties and relations, and to treat some properties as intrinsic. We should not
forget that in the heyday of the nineteenth-century British idealists, who col-
lapsed the distinction, philosophy reached what may be its historical ex-
treme of irrelevance and speculative excess. Of course, the mistake of the
idealists was to treat relations as properties, rather than the other way
around; and one could, I suppose, imagine trying to avoid their problems
by banishing intrinsic properties altogether and describing the world as a
system of external relations between featureless reference points on some
fixed metaphysical metric space. But the question of the existence or non-
existence of qualia surely should not be supposed to turn on such grandiose
Taking the standard, if unexplicated, metaphysical baggage for granted,
then, we turn more productively to Dennett's case against the properties of
qualia being intrinsic. I will quote his "argument from the experienced beer
drinker'' in full, since I think that in general his intuition pump arguments
are poorly served by paraphrase.
452 Dialogue

It is familiarly said that beer... is an acquired taste; one gradually trains one-
selfor just comesto enjoy that flavour. What flavour? The flavour of the first
sip? "No one could like that flavour," an experienced beer drinker might retort.
"Beer tastes different to the experienced beer drinker. If beer went on tasting to
me the way the first sip tasted, I would never have gone on drinking beer! Or to
put the same point the other way around, if my first sip of beer had tasted to me the
way my most recent sip tasted, I would never have had to acquire the taste in the
first place! I would have loved the first sip as much as the one I just enjoyed." If
we let this speech pass, we must admit that beer is not an acquired taste. No one
comes to enjoy the way the first sip tasted. Instead, prolonged beer drinking leads
people to experience a taste they enjoy, but precisely their enjoying the taste guar-
antees that it is not the taste they first experience. But this conclusion, if it is ac-
cepted, wreaks havoc . . . with the traditional philosophical view of qualia. For if it
is admitted that one's attitudes towards, or reactions to, experiences are in any way
and in any degree constitutive of their experiential qualities, so that a change in
reactivity amounts to or guarantees a change in the property, then those properties,
those 'qualitative or phenomenal features' cease to be intrinsic properties and in
fact become paradigmatically extrinsic, relational properties. (Dennett 1988, p. 60)

Unless ordinary language philosophy has somehow become respectable

again, this argument exactly begs the question against the naturalistic de-
fence of intrinsic qualitative properties discussed a few paragraphs ago. On
Churchland's account, the experienced beer drinker is just wrong, and we
should not let his speech pass. (As an experienced beer drinker myself, I
suggest that my speeches while drinking beer should almost never be al-
lowed to pass.) His first sip does have the same taste as his recent sip; what
has changed is that he has come to enjoy that taste. Why is this supposed to
be an implausible thing to say? So what if the beer drinker himself says
something different? It is not at all obvious how this argument is supposed
to persuade anyone except, as usual, the anti-scientific qualiac, who has spe-
cial (and misguided) reasons for granting special epistemic access to the
beer drinker.
In his recent recapitulation of this argument (Dennett 1991b, p. 396),
Dennett concedes that the beer drinker should not be given epistemic au-
thority. To show that there is a fact of the matter about which the beer
drinker is wrong, he observes, we would have to effect a principled reduc-
tion of qualia to some class of entities in a neuropsychological theory. Ex-
actly. But, he asserts, this reduction would have to be "to one complex of
reactive dispositions or another" so that "we would have to 'destroy'
qualia in order to 'save' them" (ibid.). This last claim, however, is precisely
what Churchland denies. If we are to avoid being forced to avail ourselves
of appeal to Dennett's general theory of consciousness, I do not see that he
has provided us with any clear argument against Churchland's position.
The general conclusion to this point, then, is that Dennett's qualia-spe-
cific arguments establish only that qualia cannot be used to keep a corner of
the world beyond the reach of science, and that it is empirically possible
that qualia do not exist. Is there, though, anything further that we can say
Quining Qualia 453

about the ontological status of qualia in advance of the relevant empirical

data? Well, it seems to me that there is. For the sake of the argument, let us
suppose that Churchland's hypothesis about the coding of perceptual con-
tent turns out to be right. Let us, however, re-state that hypothesis in a way
that does not directly invoke the concept of qualia. Then let us ask whether
we should be led by the hypothesis to find it natural to quantify over such
First, then, to reformulate the hypothesis. Let us assume that, relative to a
canonical metric hyperspace, a specific n-tuple of spiking frequencies in a
specific triune brain system of a neurophysiologically and functionally nor-
mal human subject is a highly reliable predictor of the content of the sub-
ject's perceptual and proprioperceptual experiences, just in the sense that
whenever the n-tuples are identical in two instances /, j , our best theory of
mental representation assigns the same contents to the outputs of the per-
ceptual modules in the computational description of;' and j (where the com-
putational description may be a characterization of the activity of a neural
network); and whenever the -tuples are different in two instances k, I, our
best theory of mental representation assigns non-identical contents to the
outputs of the perceptual modules in the computational description of k and
/. Along with avoiding direct mention of qualia, this reformulation makes
our identification of the content of a perceptual experience depend on some-
thing other than a behavioural test. It is, of course, mysterious at present as
to what "our best representational theory of mind" might be, and as to how
we achieve a canonical computational description of the activity of a neural
network that, presumably, employs distributed representations, or how we
even pick out modules in such a network. For present purposes, however,
these mysteries do not matter.
If we were armed with such an hypothesis, empirical study of human sub-
jects would be expected to yield a cognitive theory of human perception.
What would be the basic ontological types in such a theory? The theory will
clearly quantify over spiking frequencies, perceptual modules and the con-
tents of the outputs of perceptual modules; it might also quantify over be-
liefs. Should any of these types be identified with qualia? Well, certainly not
the spiking frequencies (which are just measurements) nor the modules. As
to the beliefs, if we assume that functionalism and eliminative materialism
are the only philosophical options in town where the folk psychological on-
tology is concerned, and if ex hypothesi the content-bearing properties of
qualia must be intrinsic, then if the theory quantifies over beliefs they must
be functionally individuated and their content-bearing properties are not in-
trinsic, so they are not qualia. This leaves only one candidate: the contents
of the outputs of the perceptual modules. Are these, at last, our elusive
The crucial issue in answering this question concerns the way in which
these contents will be typed. We could, on the one hand, type them accord-
454 Dialogue

ing to the functional roles they standardly play in the representational lives
of people (qua cognitive processors). Ex hypothesi, these roles will not vary
much, so we need not suppose that this must undermine the reliability of the
spiking frequencies as predictors of them. But now their content-bearing
properties are not intrinsic; now they just are the non-tendentious "contents
of perceptual experience," and nothing substantive hinges on whether we
call them 'qualia' or not. (The disagreement between Marras [this volume
and issue] and me lurks somewhere around here. In a personal communica-
tion, he suggests that "a microfunctional [hardware specific] classification
[perhaps with reference to a spiking-frequency metric] might do; and that
might be a way of typing qualia by reference to intrinsic properties ['con-
tents'] of the outputs of perceptual modules." In the absence of an example,
it is hard to see what relationship this sort of "content" might have to tradi-
tional [even traditional eliminativist] notions of content. Marras's felt need
to put scare-quotes around 'content' here might signify a problem.) Alterna-
tively, we could type them by reference to the features in the world that
cause the spiking patterns that in turn cause them. (Churchland sometimes
seems to suggest a third alternative: type them directly by reference to the
spiking patterns themselves. Then the content of a given quale is that such-
and-such a spiking frequency is occurring. This does not seem to me to be a
priori crazy, as it does to some philosophers. But such a notion of content
makes sense only in Churchland's Eliminativist Utopia, where a very radi-
cal transformation in our view of our own minds has occurred. In such a
context, why advert to any traditional philosophical concept like 'qualia'?)
On the second alternative, the content-bearing properties of the states will
plausibly be intrinsic, barring general Burge-style externalism about all con-
tent ascription. But now their actual contents can only be individuated as
finely as the perceptible features of objects themselves. The content of
Nolan Ryan's mental state q cannot be 'the way the ball feels to Ryan', but
must make reference to some actual features of the ball. And this brings us
back to the considerations raised by Dennett in his discussion of the ineffa-
bility issueonly they now appear to have more general significance. Psy-
chologists, acting as ecological opticians, acousticicians, olfactiticians, etc.,
might seek to classify perceptible features of, e.g., balls for purposes of con-
tent-ascription (under the terms of the present assumed hypothesis), but the
degree of individuation that would thereby be achieved would be relatively
gross. It is utterly implausible to suppose that the relevant perceptible fea-
tures of this ball at this timethe ones that distinguish it from that ball at
that time, and from that ball at this time, and from this ball at that
timewould ever be individuated by any theory. This implies that if the
contents over which our imaginary theory quantifies are identified with
qualia, then none of Ryan's qualia are particular to his own experience. In
that case, I would argue, the use of the word 'qualia' has become openly de-
Quining Qualia 455

This deviance shows that while the naturalist need not join the qualiac in
requiring that qualia be essentially individually idiosyncratic (since, on the
former's story, it is obviously logically possible that you and I could have
the same type of "raw feel") she must hold them to be at least statistically
idiosyncratic. If the naturalist's new-fangled qualia are to bear any interest-
ing conceptual relationship to the traditional philosopher's old-fangled
qualia, then it cannot be the case that qualia in general are to be individu-
ated as tokens of more widely shared types, even if some qualia are dis-
tinguished in this way. If this is so, then we can see why, even when we
grant the naturalist defender of qualia the most favourable possible circum-
stances for her argumentno commitment to privacy or ineffability and a
counterfactual theoretical framework in which the contents of perceptual
experience can be directly read off from a neurophysiological profileshe
still has no qualia to quantify over. Science is never in the business of gen-
eralizing over types which can only be picked out ostensively; that is, no
theory will bind a variable whose range of possible values is a unique indi-
vidual. To put this yet another way, scientific claims do not have the form
'Here is a set of universal truths about that thing there'. (Perhaps there are a
few odd exceptions to this, like 'the universe'. But it is independently plau-
sible to grant the universe a special ontological status. Even then, 'universe'
may well represent a theoretical type of which we happen to be acquainted
with only a single actual token; by contrast 'the way the ball feels to Ryan
now' just is not a type.) But to be is to be the value of a variable in our best
scientific theory. Therefore, types of qualia do not exist. Denying the exis-
tence of types of qualia by the invocation of Quine's Razor does not entail
the non-existence of qualia. But it does entail that the defender of qualia
must find some explanatory role for the generic type 'qualia' to play in her
general, programmatic ontology of mind. And this is just what our tour
through the options available to the theorist in a world of Churchland's
imagining has failed to find.
Passing conversation suggests to me that many philosophers will regard
my argument as depending upon an outrageous abuse of Quine's hoary old
slogan. In the opinion of these philosophers, the slogan is just a catchy way
of expressing an attitude to the relationship between science and philoso-
phy, rather than a serious ontological principle. After all, if the slogan is ap-
plied literally then tables and chairs do not exist (since none of the types
that a table might instantiate qua 'table', e.g., buffet table, ping-pong table,
physical object, feature in any contemporary scientific theory). But what
this shows is not that Quine's Razor should be taken as a metaphor. Rather,
what it shows is that the slogan is not an intervention in metaphysics, but an
epistemological principle for scientific ontology-construction. And what
other sort of ontology-construction is there? Tables and chairs are not as-
pects of any constructed ontologythat is just the point of naturalism.
(This is not an endorsement of constructivism as a metaphysic of science.
456 Dialogue

We are led to construct the concept MUON because muons actually exist.)
Of course, philosophers have argued over whether things like tables exist;
but such philosophers have always meant by such questions to be asking
whether anything extra-mental exists, or whether anything physical exists,
or whether anything exists at all. These are questions from which the natu-
ralist demurs. Are tables and chairs really there? The "Natural Ontological
Attitude" (NOA) (Fine 1984) says that they are, and stronger forms of real-
ism can accept them in the same spirit as does the NOA. Are muons? Here,
the NOA shrugs, genuine, practical issues about what exists arise, and it is
appropriate to drag out the literature on scientific realism. Here, it can be
appropriate (at least if you are a Quinean) to start saying things like ' 'To be
is to be the value of a variable in our best scientific theory."
Now, as to qualia again. If the question "Is there a way the beer tastes to
Ross at tV (to paraphrase Dennett 1988, p. 45) is meant as along the lines
of "Does the chair on which Ross is sitting at t exist?", then I will assume
the NOA and say "sure." But nothing of philosophical interest hangs on
these questions, or their answers; or, rather, if you do mean to be asking a
serious philosophical question by them, then you are well advised to stick to
chairs so as to avoid confusing your own issue. Philosophers who have in-
quired into the existence of qualia have seldom intended their questions in
this way. They have meant instead "Must we posit theoretical entities
called 'qualia' that have properties so-and-so?" (Or, as in Shoemaker 1975,
"Do any phenomena have the theoretical properties that have been associ-
ated with the concept 'quale?' " ) . Of course, the vast majority of them have
answered "yes" to this question. Dennett sees that the correct answer is
"no." But the correct reason for answering " n o " is that such entities are
not now, and will never be, values of variables in our best (most predic-
tively reliable, explanatively satisfying, suitably general, testable, clear) the-
oretical description of the world, whether Dennett's theory of consciousness
is correct or not. Of course, the philosopher who wishes to keep something
beyond the reach of scientific theory is not persuaded by appeal to Quine's
Razor. She seizes on an admission that "ways things feel to unique individ-
ual x's at unique individual fs" have the same conceptual status as chairs,
and tries to make a metaphysical barrier to science out of it. (I avoid saying
'qualia' now because, as Dennett also rightly sees, calling what the NOA
sanctions 'qualia' imports philosophical commitments that the NOA does
not require.) But, in showing that "ways things seem to unique individual
x's at unique individual f's" are not private or ineffable, Dennett has made
clear that 'ways (etc.)' are beyond the reach of science in exactly, and only,
the trivial sense that chairs are beyond the reach of science. I have argued in
addition that intending qualia as serious theoretical posits within the reach
of science does not change this conclusion.
It may be objected that in assimilating the ontological status of 'ways
(etc.)' to that of chairs, I have ignored two obvious differences. The first is
Quining Qualia 457

that there is still something philosophically, and perhaps scientifically, mys-

terious about 'ways (etc.)', whereas there is nothing mysterious about
chairs. This complaint can be taken in two possible ways. It may be inter-
preted, on the one hand, to mean (1) that whereas there is no puzzle as to
why and how chairs exist as a (non-natural, NOA-sanctioned) class, there is
such a puzzle in the case of 'ways (etc.)'. On the other hand, the worry may
be that (2), while it is usually easy in any given case to explain why an indi-
vidual chair is as it is, the opposite is true for 'ways (etc.)'. (As John Thorp
put it to me, "But why does red seem redT') The answer to the question in-
terpreted according to (1) has been given by a number of cognitive scien-
tists and philosophers, and has been forcefully stated by Dennett (1991b). It
is not mysterious that there are 'ways (etc.)'. Any cognitive organism that
hopes to function in real time in a changing environment like ours with ba-
sic hardware units as relatively inefficient as neurons will have to ' 'chunk''
much of its information for behaviour-control purposes. No transductional
mechanism works by detecting some intrinsic 'redness' property (because
there is no such property); transductional mechanisms detect things like sur-
face spectral reflectances. But it would be terribly wasteful of valuable pro-
cessing resources for behaviour-control mechanisms, including conscious-
ness {whatever story you tell about it, whether Dennett's or some other), to
have to keep track of all the information (in information-theoretic terms)
discriminated by the transducers. Patterns in the information may be sorted
at crude levels that are just sufficient for the organism's biological needs;
furthermore, the coding of these patterns need not represent disjunctions of
natural kinds, since most of the features that have to be very finely discrim-
inated by the organism are themselves features of biological systems that
are evolving in competitive equilibrium with the organism (Dennett 1991b,
pp. 375-83). Thus, if organism O codes surface spectral reflectences by the
"arbitrary" classification {C\, C2, C3,.. ., C^}, an organism O' which pro-
tects itself against O by a striking warning of its noxious taste or deadly
venom will evolve pigmentation such that the surface spectral reflectences it
emits fall into one of the patterns represented by an element of {C\, Ci,
C3,. . . , Ck}. By the same principle, another organism O" which protects it-
self from O by hiding will achieve its camouflage by "finding" the same
effects on O's representational mechanisms as its surrounding environment,
or by "finding" pigmentation that produces effects falling between those
directly coded by O. (This does not make O" invisible, of course, since
there is much more to seeing than seeing colours; but it makes it much less
striking.) In short, as Kathleen Akins apparently first observed, colours are
products of the historical development of organisms. Now, notice that this
answer to the sceptic's question, version (1), does two things for us. First, it
naturally leads us to say that 'ways (etc.)' evolved for exactly the same rea-
son that chairs did (do you suppose that the chair was invented one bright
morning?): they are jury-rigged arrangements of natural kinds that hold to-
458 Dialogue

gether as robust patterns because they serve our purposes (in the case of
'ways [etc.]', purposes bestowed on us by natural selection). Second, we are
led immediately to an answer to the other reading of the sceptic's question.
There is no general reason why red seems red, any more than there is a gen-
eral reason why the seat of the chair on which I am now sitting is 14 inches
rather than 13 inches from the ground. In both cases, any explanation, if one
is sought, must be a contingent historical narrative.
A second argument against putting chairs and 'ways (etc.)' into the same
ontological file might be based on the claim that whereas 'ways (etc.)' may
be held to exist only as elements of the heterophenomenological world of
intelligent subjects (as Dennett would put it), chairs are four-dimensional
hunks of matter (Heller 1990). To the extent that this sort of ontological dis-
tinction is seen as an important one for scientific, as opposed to "purely"
metaphysical (in the sense that annoyed Schlick and his gang) purposes,
then that part of my argument that appeals to Quine's Razor will fail. In that
case, 'physical object' will be viewed as a type, chairs will have a philo-
sophically significant sort of existence, and any sort of theoretical dubious-
ness associated with 'ways (etc.)' will have to depend on their presumed ir-
reducibilitywhich is not my claim. Here, our best move is just to question
the claim that the distinction between four-dimensional hunks of matter and
other things will actually be able to underwrite the pre-Socratic metaphysi-
cal ambition which it is intended to serve. In a universe which, we are be-
ginning to discover, contains odd things like black holes, an immense and
mysterious source of ' 'extra'' gravitational force, antimatter, and so on, it is
a bold philosopher indeed who can maintain that a promising solution to
Thales's Problem lies in this direction. For my part, I am content to hedge
my bets at the cost of leaving the bold souls unpersuaded. So for the sensi-
bly cautious, our conclusion may be summarized as follows. The existence
of chairs, and of 'ways (etc.)' can be affirmed without argument and with-
out metaphysical significance. The existence of muons can be affirmed with
argument and with metaphysical significance. But the existence of qualia
should not be affirmed at all.'

1 I would like to thank Chantale LaCasse, Andrew Lugg and Ausonio Marras for their
very helpful criticisms of the written version of this paper. I am also grateful to the par-
ticipants in the symposium "Qualia and Materialism / Les qualia et le materialisme,"
held at the University of Ottawa in February 1992, for their discussion of my original
presentation of it. This work was assisted by a grant from the Social Sciences and
Humanities Research Council of Canada (grant #410-91-1876).
Quining Qualia 459

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