Robert Alan and Kathryn Dunlevie Hayes Professor of Humanities and Professor of Philosophy at Rice University

Phenomenal Thought

In Cognitive Phenomenology, edited by Tim Bayne and Michelle Montague, Oxford University Press, 2011.



 Does phenomenal consciousness include conceptual thought, or is it limited to merely sensory features? The answer can significantly affect theories of consciousness. This article’s case for including conceptual thought (“inclusivism”) starts with historical background meant to show that the opposite “exclusivist” position enjoys no default status. The notion of phenomenal consciousness is then clarified by proposing an interpretation of the crucial phrase “there is something that it’s like for one.” This allows a relatively precise and unpredjudicial statement of the issue. It is largely decided by whether what it is like for one to have occurrent conceptual thought is entirely derivative from what it is like to have sensory features one could have in its absence. Detailed examination of three situations of occurrent understanding furnishes three arguments that this is not the case, and thus that an inclusivist position is correct. The three involve: (i) what it like to read a passage with and without following the meaning; (ii) what it is like to have a delayed understanding what someone said; (iii) what it is like to switch one’s interpretation of a phrase. Finally it is argued that the inclusivism advocated is compatible with certain forms of content externalism; these do not refute it.

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