The Ability Hypothesis - objections to Lewis

Frank Jackson

@Suppose [Mary] received a lecture on skepticism about other minds while she was incarcerated. On her release she sees a ripe tomato in normal conditions, and so has a sensation of red. Her first reaction is to say that she now knows more about the kind of experiences others have when looking at ripe tomatoes. She then remembers the lecture [on skepticism] and starts to worry. Does she really know more about what their experiences are like, or is she indulging in a wild generalization from one case? In the end she decides she does know, and that skepticism is mistaken... What was she to-ing and fro-ing about--her abilities? Surely not; her representational abilities were a known constant throughout. What else then was she agonizing about than whether or not she had gained factual knowledge of others? There would be nothing to agonize about if ability was all she acquired on her release. ^^^What Mary Didn't Know, p. 394.@


  • Tye "Knowing What It Is Like: the Ability Hypothesis and the Knowledge Argument"
  • X can know what it is like to have an experience at the moment when X is having the experience, without having the abilities that Lewis has described.
  • Example: Mary is looking at a particular hue of red: red17. She knows what it is like to see red17 now. But she lacks the ability to recognize, imagine and remember the experience, e.g. distinguishing red17 from red18.

Stanley and Williamson