Philosophical Studies

, Volume 174, Issue 8, pp 2105–2123 | Cite as

Vagueness and zombies: why ‘phenomenally conscious’ has no borderline cases



I argue that there can be no such thing as a borderline case of the predicate ‘phenomenally conscious’: for any given creature at any given time, it cannot be vague whether that creature is phenomenally conscious at that time. I first defend the Positive Characterization Thesis, which says that for any borderline case of any predicate there is a positive characterization of that case that can show any sufficiently competent speaker what makes it a borderline case. I then appeal to the familiar claim that zombies are conceivable, and I argue that this claim entails that there can be no positive characterizations of borderline cases of ‘phenomenally conscious’. By the Positive Characterization Thesis, it follows that ‘phenomenally conscious’ can not have any borderline cases.


Phenomenal consciousness Vagueness Explanatory gap Conceivability argument Knowledge argument 



Acknowledgments to audiences in Canberra, New York, Sydney, Toronto, Wagga Wagga, and Wollongong, and in particular to Eli Alshanetsky, Michael Antony, Ned Block, Paul Boghossian, David Chalmers, Kit Fine, Franz Huber, Geoffrey Lee, Dan Lopez de Sa, Colin Marshall, John Morrison, Diana Raffman, Michael Raven, Stephen Schiffer, Miguel Sebastian, Ted Sider, Nicholas J.J. Smith, Sharon Street, Peter Unger, Robbie Williams and Achille Varzi.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.NYU Department of PhilosophyCenter for Mind, Brain and ConsciousnessNew YorkUSA

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