Powerful qualities, the conceivability argument and the nature of the physical

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David Chalmers’ ‘conceivability’ argument against physicalism is perhaps the most widely discussed and controversial argument in contemporary philosophy of mind. Recently, several thinkers have suggested a novel response to this argument, which employs the ‘powerful qualities’ ontology of properties. In this paper, I argue that this response fails because it presupposes an implausible account of the physical/phenomenal distinction. In the course of establishing this, I discuss the so-called ‘ultimate’ argument for the claim that dispositional properties form the subject matter of physics. I argue that the ultimate argument can be interpreted in a strong or a weak way, and that the strong interpretation is implausible. I argue that this undermines the powerful qualities based response to the conceivability argument. I also argue for a general conclusion: that we should not define 'the physical' exclusively in terms of a distinction drawn from ontology.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1895-1910
Number of pages16
JournalPhilosophical Studies
Issue number8
Early online date15 Sept 2016
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2017


  • Chalmers
  • Powerful qualities
  • Physical
  • Dispositional properties
  • Conceivability argument
  • Ultimate argument


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