[Michael is a PhD student at The University of Adelaide (Australia). His thesis explores evolutionary psychology from a much neglected empiricist perspective, arguing against the dominant nativist paradigm. He argues against the existence of specialised modules for things like language acquisition and moral sense, and tries to ground cognitive function in connectionist computational models (also a much neglected approach, nowadays). Jesse Prinz and Kim Sterelny are major influences.]
One of the main tasks of philosophers is to solve what are sometimes called “location problems.” We start with a conception of reality that we’re happy with, namely the description of the world that comes out of physics. This conception is both strongly supported by empirical evidence, and conceptually very clear. The problem is that it’s hard to square many aspects of our everyday experience with it. How is it — for instance — that morality, or meaning, or mathematics can exist in a purely physical world? In come the philosophers (hopefully to make matters better rather than worse) to try to “locate” these things into whatever conception of the world we’re happy with. To solve a location problem is to understand how it is that the thing we’re trying to locate — be it moral properties or anything in our manifest experience — fits conceptually into our picture of the physical world.
[Editor's note: for a different perspective on Mary and the zombies, see this recent RS post by Massimo]