Knowledge by Acquaintance v. Knowledge by Description in the Mary Argument

I have always liked Earl Conee’s explanation of of Mary’s knowledge (see previous post for details). Here’s an excerpt from a paper I wrote that describes the difference between knowledge by description and knowledge by acquaintance

    An especially vivid illustration of the phenomenon of knowledge by acquaintance comes from Earl Conee who uses it to explain what is going on in Frank Jackson’s ‘knowledge argument’ against physicalism. Mary lives in a black and white world where she is educated through black and white textbooks and a black and white TV. So educated is Mary that she knows all the ‘physical facts’ [that is, knowledge by description] about the world. The day comes when she is let out of her classroom and she sees a ripe red tomato for the first time. At last, she learns what the color red looks like. This seems to be a clear instance of knowledge about a property that is not derived from the possession of all the physical information [descriptive knowledge] there is to know about that property. She comes to know the property of redness itself, not additional propositions about redness that transcend her black and white education. Thus, Mary’s new knowledge of redness coincides with her new experience of redness. Conee writes, “A simple acquaintance hypothesis about what Mary learns is that learning what an experience is like is identical to becoming acquainted with the experience.”

Read Conee’s “Phenomenal Knowledge” for more.


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