Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





David Papineau

Committee Members

Barbara Montero

Torin Alter

Susan Schneider

Graham Priest

Subject Categories

Metaphysics | Philosophy of Mind


physicalism, Russellian monism, existentialism, via negativa


Extant well-considered problems with physicalism primarily come from two sources: philosophers of mind arguing that subjective experience does not fit into a physicalist world-picture, and metaphysicians trying to figure out the particular commitments of the view. I examine the thesis of physicalism in order to produce a clearer notion of the physical and to help straighten out physicalism’s entailments, while simultaneously providing a strategy for physicalists to sidestep well known anti-physicalist arguments concerning consciousness. This involves both a critical and a positive effort: on the critical side, I expose an issue with a popular way of understanding physicalism called “via negativa” physicalism, which is the view that ‘physical’ should be understood to mean ‘not fundamentally mental’. The positive project has two components. One part defends physicalism from the ever-looming threat of the scientific insolubility of phenomenal consciousness by fleshing out a version of Russellian monism called “Russellian physicalism”, which is the view that the structural/dispositional properties described by fundamental physics have inscrutable role-fillers that are not directly revealed through scientific inquiry. The other part of the positive project consists in examining the existentially relevant consequences of physicalism, which are the consequences that have a bearing on whether we ought to continue to live. Toward this end, I determine whether such things as robust free will, God, ultimate purpose and an immortal soul are consistent with the most popular versions of physicalism.