The Quietist Posit: A Methodologically Agnostic Resolution to the Problem of Qualia
This thesis paper addresses the aim and methodology of an argument by Daniel Dennett (1988; 1992), who proposes an eliminativism with regards to the referent of the term “qualia”. Dennett’s argument centres on the purported failure for any property to meet the criteria for this term widely found in traditional philosophical literature. Dennett argues that this failure may be demonstrated as a result of the term failing to refer to any property which contains naturalistic methodological verification conditions. I provide, in this paper, an outline of two key historical arguments by W.V. Quine and Ludwig Wittgenstein, respectively, whose influence on Dennett’s position will help clarify a certain vulnerability in the latter’s argument. I then provide a series of arguments to serve as important counterexamples to the methodology employed by Dennett which, I argue, reveal a dialectical stalemate between two sets of competing methodologies –methodological naturalism and phenomenology. I argue that this stalemate is indicative of a methodological underdetermination with regards to the question of whether qualia exist. I refer to this as the “methodological problem of qualia”. I then propose that a resolution may be found for this problem by adopting a methodological agnosticism. I argue that upon this agnosticism, it is possible to positively assert methodological verification conditions according to which it may be determined whether the term “qualia” refers to a property which contains naturalistic methodological verification conditions. I argue that these are the conditions which hold upon the explicitly conditional, or “methodological”, assumption of a naturalistic methodological verificationism, as opposed to a phenomenological methodology, or vice versa. I conclude that, under these conditions, the term “qualia” therefore may succeed in referring to a property which contains naturalistic methodological verification conditions. As such, I propose that Dennett is incorrect: neither the term nor its referent merit elimination, but rather the latter a quietist resolution, and the former its own meaningful place in language.