Conceptual mastery and the knowledge argument

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


According to Frank Jackson's famous knowledge argument, Mary, a brilliant neuroscientist raised in a black and white room and bestowed with complete physical knowledge, cannot know certain truths about phenomenal experience. This claim about knowledge, in turn, implies that physicalism is false. I argue that the knowledge argument founders on a dilemma. Either (i) Mary cannot know the relevant experiential truths because of trivial obstacles that have no bearing on the truth of physicalism or (ii) once the obstacles have been removed, Mary can know the relevant truths. If we give Mary the epistemological capabilities necessary to draw metaphysical conclusions about physicalism, she will, while trapped in the black and white room, be able to know every truth about phenomenal experience.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)125-147
Number of pages23
JournalPhilosophical Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 2011


  • Concept possession
  • Concepts
  • Conceptual mastery
  • Consciousness
  • Dualism
  • Knowledge argument
  • Modal rationalism
  • Phenomenal concept
  • Phenomenal concept strategy
  • Phenomenal experience
  • Physicalism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy


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