Philosophers Facing Phenomenal Consciousness, Online

Journal of Consciousness Studies, 17, No. 3–4, 2010

Editor’s Note: this post is a not a review of a single article, but a shorter summary of a series of articles. If you are interested in further detail on any of these articles, we invite you to post to the comments section of this post and begin that conversation.

The six articles collected in this special issue  are all descendants of papers presented at the first online consciousness conference in February of 2009. Each of these papers was reworked in light of discussion from the conference and serve as examples of the potential for interaction between online venues and traditional print formats. David Rosenthal gave the keynote talk entitled ‘Consciousness and its Function’ (not included in the special issue; my review of this article is here).

In the first paper Clare Batty defends the view that olfactory experiences have only existentially quantified content. So an experience of smelling fish, for instance, will have representational content of the form that ‘something or other is fishy and here’. This account of the content is then used to explain why it is that we are comfortable attributing olfactory hallucinations but not olfactory illusions; the kind of representational content in olfaction only allows us to say that something is there or that it isn’t. Olfactory experience, on the abstract account, does not present an object as having a property and so we would expect that our olfactory experience doesn’t lend itself to illusions.

In the second paper Dave Beiseker defends type-z materialism according to which we are the very zombies that dualists conceive. The materialist, unlike the physicalist, denies that the mind-brain identities are necessary. While the type-a physicalist holds that zombies are inconceivable, and the type-b physicalist claims that they are conceivable but not possible. The type-z materialist holds that zombies are conceivable, possible, and actual. That is, we might find out that we live in a zombie world in which case it will be angelic beings with non-physical qualia that are conceivable but not possible. He then argues that those who like the phenomenal concepts response to the zombie argument should adopt type-z materialism.

In the third paper Richard Brown, who is micorphysically identical to the author of this review, defends an a priori type-c physicalism by employing four parody anti-dualist thought experiments. A priori physicalism is the view that the physical facts entail t he qualitative facts a priori. It is typically thought that the conceivability of zombies rules this view out. However non-physical duplicates of me that lack qualitative properties –zoombies—as well as physical duplicates of me that have physical qualia –shombies—are every bit as conceivable as zombies and ghosts. In fact which of these one finds conceivable depends only on what theory one accepts. However both cannot really be ideally conceivable and so one set, either zombies and ghosts or zoombies and shombies, must merely be prima facie conceivable. Only new empirical evidence will decide the issue but once the evidence is in the deductions will be a priori, just as Chalmers and Jackson argue is true in the water/H2O case.

In the fourth paper Barbara Montero defends Russellian Physicalism, which is a physicalist version of Russellian monism. According to the Russellian the properties that physicists talk about — mass, charge, charm, spin, etc. — are the properties of some fundamental stuff that has those properties. Montero proposes to call these hidden things ‘inscrutables’. On this view the inscrutable properties ground consciousness and so are not physical in the sense that they are not captured by physics. Montero argues that one small modification of this view results in a Russellian Physicalism. If one thinks that the inscrutables are the ground for both qualitative properties as well ordinary physical properties there will be nothing special about the qualitative properties and so this view will count as in the letter and spirit of physicalism; but one that withstands the conceivability arguments.

In the fifth paper Gualtiero Piccinini further develops and defends his self-measurement view of first-person reports and distinguishes it from Dennett’s heterophenomenology. Both of these views agree that first-person data is third-person and public but Piccinini proposes six modifications to heterophenomenology that will, he argues, preserve the third-person public nature of first-person data while also bringing it more in line with the actual practice of scientists. In particular Piccinini’s self-measurment account of first-person data denies that consciousness is the target of study, that only verbal reports counts as first-person data, that scientists should be neutral about the truth-value of the first-person reports, that the data is beliefs about mental states rather than the mental states themselves, that persons are incorrigible when they report their mental states, and that third-person methods licenses the same experiments as first-person methodologies.

In the sixth paper Justin Sytsma presents data from experimental philosophy on the folk concepts of phenomenal consciousness. He argues that the folk are naïve realists about qualitative properties in contrast to the common assumption, typified by people like Dennett, who think that the folk theory of phenomenal properties construes them as secondary properties. For instance Sytsma argues that the folk treat colors as mind independent qualities of objects when they claim that an unobserved tomato would still be red and that the redness is located on the tomato. Similarly when asked they deny that the red is in their mind or that there could be inverted spectra. Sytsma also presents evidence that the folk feel the same way about pains. They claim that pains can exist in the pained body part, that they can exist unfelt and that two distinct subjects could feel the same pain if it was located in a shared body part.

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  1. P-Angels « Evolving Thoughts — May 27, 2010 @ 10:34 am

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