Rosenthal’s Objection

In the last post I laid out and responded to a couple of objections to my argument that higher-order theories of consciousness are all committed to there being a Phenomenal Aspect for all Mental states (HOT Implies PAM, get it? 🙂 ) I want to now address an objection raised by David Rosenthal. Let me set up the argument in a slightly different way. Consider (1) and (2), they are tennents of the higher-order theory.

(1) A conscious belief=(ex hypothesi) a belief that I am conscious of myself as having

(2) A conscious pain=(ex hypothesi) a pain that I am conscious fo myself as having

All higher-order theories accept this much. What they will disagree on is the specific way that I am conscious of the first-order state. The argument works at this very general level and so, I think, applies to all versions of higher-order theory. In one case we are told that there is something that it is like for the creature to have the conscious mental state while in the other case there is nothing that it is like for the creature to have the conscious mental state. There is something that it is like to have (2) but nothing it is like to have (1). I argue that if it works for (2), it better work for (1) as well. Or if not explain the difference between the two cases. Any thing that is pointed out as a difference will render the attempt at an explanation of qualitative consciousness ineffectual and so obviates the very motivation for accepting the higher-order theory in the first place.

Rosenthal tries to explain the difference between the cases as follows. The difference is that in one case the higher-order state represents you as being in a painful state whereas in the other case it represents you as believing something. This objection draws on the specifics of the higher-order thought version of the higher-order strategy. Intentional representation is always representation AS. So, in (1) one is represented as believing, and in (2) one is represented AS being in pain. Since in (2) one is conscious of oneself as being in a painful state it will seem painful to you and since in (1) you are conscious of yourself as believing (say) p it will seem to you that you believe p.

This is a very natural kind of response for Rosenthal to make, as it is part and parcel of the higher-order thought theory that differences in representational content result in differences in conscious experience. The common sense example here is in wine tasting. When one starts to learn about wine (or Scotch Wiskey, as I prefer 😉 one statrs to learn a techinical vocabulary to describe the experience that one has when tatsting. Acquiring these new concepts allows one to become conscious of ones experience in different ways, thus making the conscious tastes themselves richer and fuller. Another example that I like is the following. I once put some salad dressing on my salad which I thought was Ranch. When I tasted it I was suprised to find that it was the worst tasting ranch dressing I had ever had. When I said as much to my girlfried she responded ‘that’s not ranch, it’s blue cheese!’ At which point I realized that it was not a terrible tasting ranch but a nice tasting blue cheese. The way I was conscious of this one and same taste made a huge difference to what it was like for me to consciously taste it.By hypothesis the first-order states do not change. What changes is our consciousness of those states. So differences in representation content matter and show up as differences in conscious experience.

It is also important what kind of state one is represented as being in. It is because the states are represented as my mental states that there is something that it is like for me. This is Rosenthal’s familiar response to the problem of the rock. Why is it that thoughts about my mental states makes them conscious mental states while my thoughts about that rock over there do not make it conscious? It is because I do not represent the rock in the right way. I do not represent it as a mental state that I am in. I represent it, the rock, as a certain shape, size, color, etc. That is what makes me conscious of the rock. But that state, the one that makes me conscous of the rock, only becomes conscious when I represent it as the state that I am in. So, then, there is nothing wrong with saying that the difference between (1) and (2) is similiar. It is the difference between being represented as a qualitative state and being represented as an intentional state. Of course, the objection continues, IF beliefs were qualitative states the higher-order thought theory could handle that by positing that the higher-order thought represented beliefs as qualitative states. So the issue of whether beliefs are qualitative or not is a seperate issue and the higher-order theory itself does not force us one way or another.

But this seems to me to beg the question against me. I wanted to know what the difference between (1) and (2) was such that in one case there is something that it is like for me to have it and not in the other. The answer is that in one case I represent myself as being in pain (and we all know that there is something that it is like to have a conscious pain), while in the other case I represent myself as believing someting (and we all know that there is nothing that it is like to belileve something). No evidence is given as to why this difference in representation should make such a huge difference to our conscious life. Why should being represented as one kind of mental state rather than another result in this huge difference? I mean, I agree with Rosenthal that differences in representational content will result in changes in what it is like for us (for instance, I may represent one and the same first-order state as either ‘blue’ or ‘baby blue’ and what it is like for will change). But this is a change in what it is like for me, not the cessation of what it is like.

The only model we have for that is the response to the rock. Being represented as a mental state or not results in very different kinds of experience. But in that case we have an independent motivation. A mental state is a state which makes me conscious of something, so rocks aren’t mental states and so we don’t owe an explanation for what it is that my thoughts about the rock make it conscious. But in the case of the qualitative versus intentional states issue this response does not work. What we are trying to do is to give an explanation of the nature of qualiltative consciousness in a way that is not naturalistically mysterious. We are not trying to explain what it means for something to be a mental state. We have a seperate theory of what it is to be a mental state. This is part and parcel of the higher-order strategy. But now if we say that there is something special about qualitative properties such that for some unknown reason when we are conscious of them there is something that it is like for us to have the first-order state, we lose the ability to explain what qualitative consciousness is supposed to be.

There is more that I want to say about this, but I have to go and move my car for alternate side parking!!!!


6 thoughts on “Rosenthal’s Objection

  1. […] comments on There’s Somethign About Jerry Josh and I have been having a nice discussion fo Rosenthal’s objection to my HOT implies PAM argument. Here is Josh’s suggestion in the sensory [case], I attribute […]

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