Do Thoughts Make Us Conscious of Things?

The Transitivity principle says that a conscious state is a mental state that we are conscious of ourselves as being in, thus an account of transitive consciousness is key for implementing a higher-order theory. Rosenthal is clear that he thinks that thoughts can sometimes make us conscious of things. Here is what he says in the introduction to Consciousness and Mind

We are conscious of things when we are in mental states that represent those things in some suitable way. We might be conscious of something by seeing it or sensing it in some other way, or by having an appropriate thought about it (p 4)

 In particluar Rosenthal argues that when we think of some object as present we become conscious of that object. This claim is crucial for anyone that wants to hold a higher-order thought version of higher-order theory. 

 In some recent arguing with Pete over at the Brain Hammer, he has denied that thoughts can make us conscious of things. Here is the example that I gave

You get up in the middle of the night to take a leak, it is pitch dark in your room, you can’t see a thing, you think to yourself “there’s a table in this room by the door, I better be careful not to stub my toe”.

I claim that I am conscious of the table. Or consider another case. Suppose that for some reason you think ‘John is here, in this room’ with your eyes closed and where John is in fact in the room. I claim that I would be conscious of John.

Now Pete seems to think that it is obvious that I am NOT conscious of the table or of John in these cases, whereas I seem to think that it is equaly obvious that I am. Does anyone have an argument/intuitions either way?

UPDATE: I think I have actually found an argument for the claim that thoughts makes us conscious, other than the claim that it is intuitive in the above examples that I am. Rosenthal argues that we can be conscious of one and the same experience in various ways and these ways can be more or less exact. So, I could be conscious of an experience of red as a particular shade of red or juast as a generic shade of red, but preseumably the first-order state is in fact a determinate shade. This means that there is more to my conscious experience than the first-order expereinces that I have. We need a higher-order state that is able to capture these kinds of differences and the intentional/conceptual content of thought is arguably the only way to do this. I rather like this arguement…


4 thoughts on “Do Thoughts Make Us Conscious of Things?

  1. Dude,

    Quick clarification: I don’t deny that thoughts can make us conscious of things. I deny that thoughts necessarily make us conscious of things. In other words, I deny that merely having a thought alone suffices to make one conscious of something. But I affirm that sometimes there’s a thought that satisfies further criteria and thereby makes one conscious of something.

    Now, you might waqnt an actual argument for my claim. Unfortunately, I have like eight million recent comments over at Brain Hammer I have to go deal with ( seven million of which are by you) so it’s gonna be a while…

  2. Oh, but I did not say that ‘thoughts necessarily make us conscious of things’. I meant that these kinds of thoughts, thinking of something as present, make us conscious (hence my example of ‘there is a teble here in this room’. Do you deny that?

    I will patiantly wait for the argument and the further special criteria…

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