The Zombie Argument is an argument in philosophy of Mind against most forms of materialism. There are actually not one, but many Zombie Arguments, but all of them take the same basic form, differing only in the particular form of materialist theory against which they argue (usually one of minimal materialism, type materialism, or functionalism). Since the Zombie Argument against minimal materialism undermines the entire materialist enterprise upon which all the other materialist theories are built, that is the argument which we shall examine here. Formally, it looks something like this:

  1. Zombies are possible.
  2. If Zombies are possible, minimal materialism is false.
  3. Therefore, minimal materialism is false.

Clearly this requires some explication. A Zombie is a creature that is physically identical to a human, but entirely devoid of a conscious experience. The premise that they can exist is argued on the grounds of conceivability, i.e. that we can clearly conceive of such a creature, therefore it is metaphysically possible. If such a creature can exist, then the first principle of minimal materialism is violated: we have two systems exactly alike in all physical respects that differ in their mental respects; thus the second premise is true. Then by simple modus ponens we arrive at the third premise and the minimal materialist is very emabarassed indeed.

But it doesn't take very close examination to see the weakest point in this argument, and indeed where it is unsound: the conceivability principle has been used by Dualists since the time of Descartes (and probably before), and over and over again it has been shown incorrect. In my mind I can clearly conceive of the existence of a triangle such that the length of one side is longer than the length of the other two combined; yet, it is not metaphysically possible for such a triangle to exist. Thus the first premise fails and minimal materialists can rest easy.

See also: Philosophy of Mind, minimal materialism.

All material taken from whatever I managed to absorb in my Philosophy of Mind class at the University of Rochester during Fall 2003.