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!!!!

HOT Fun in the Wintertime?

I am starting to think about my talk in April. The main difference between this this talk and the one that I gave at the ASSC will be that I will consider a couple of objections to the argument and make some replies. In the earlier version I went on to trying to reconcile and incorperate qualitative beliefs into the general framework of the higher-order theory that Rosenthal defends, especially his homomorphism theory of the sensory qualities.

So here is a summary of the original argument

Given that the transitivity principle says that a conscious mental state is a mental state that I am conscious of myself as being in the argument for the commiotment to the qualitative nature of conscious beliefs is pretty simple and straight-forward.

  1.   HOT Implies PAM
    1. The transitivity principle commits you to the claim that any mental state can occur unconsciously and so to the claim that pains can occur unconsciously
    2. An unconscious pain is a pain that is in no way painful for the creature that has it (the transitivity principle commits you to this as well, on pain of failing to be able to give an account, as promised, of the nature of conscious qualitative states)
    3. It is the higher-order state, and solely the higher-order state, that is responsible for there being something that it is like to have a conscious pain.
    4. So, when a higher-order state of the appropriate kind is directed at a beleif it should make it the case that there is something that it is like for the creature that has the belief, otherwise there is more to conscious mental states than just higher-order representation.

So I got two objections that I owe to Rocco. The first is that (3) is too quick. There are some (like Rocco) who think that the pain is only painful when the higher-order state and the lower-order state that it targets occur together. So, it is not solely the higher-order state that does the work. It is the higher-order state occuring in conjunction with its target. This is attractive because it rules out the possibility of the higher-order state occuring in the absence of the lower-order state. This is thought by many to be an embarresment for the higher-order theory since one will be forced to say that one seems to be in a conscious state that one is in fact not in. This sounds strange indeed! But though unintuitive there is nothing incoherent or even implausable about this once one becomes familiar with the theory. The transitivity principle says that a conscious state is a state that I am conscious of myself as bein in, so if I am conscious of myself as being in some state, then I am ina consious state (the one that I am conscious of my self as being in). It may turn out that the first order state is not there, in which case I am conscious of myself as being in a state (and so have a conscious mental state) that I am not in fact in…it just seems to me that I am in it when I am not. Now, from the first person point of view these two happening will be indistinguisable. That is, whether or not the lower-order state does in fact occur or not my conscious experience will be the same (given that I have the same higher-order state in each case). But, there are third-person techniques that would allow us to tell when the first-order state was really there or not and so allow us to differentiate the two cases. This turns the problem into an empirical one and we will have to wait until the brain sciences are suffiently sophisticated (on a side not, onwe of the session in Tucson will be on Brain imaging as mind reading, something I am very interested in!!!!). But even if we grant to the objector the premise that the higher and lower-order content must both occur for there to be somethign that it is like for the creature to have the pain, the same question arises. So, this is more an objection to the way that I formulated the argument, rather than to the argument itself.

Another thing that Rocco pointed out was that the argument loses its force if one thinks that all beliefs are dispositions and I grant that. However, I don’t believe that all beliefs are dispositions (though most of them may well be, there have to be some occurent beliefs!). The argument is directed at people who think that the propositional attitudes (belief, fear, desire, love, hate, joy, despair, etc) are, or at least can be, occurent mental states (whether or not these occurent mental states are language like is a seperate question)

The next group of objections come from Rosenthal and I will address those in a seperate post.

Back in the Swing of Things

So I am back in NYC and settling into the Winter session course I am teaching…I am also mastering Assassin’s Creed on the Play Station3 🙂

 I hope that everyone had an exceptional New Years…I started the new year with some good news. I found out that I will be going to the Towards a Science of Consciousness meeting in Tucson to present HOT Implies PAM: Why Higher-Order Theories of Consciousness are committed to a Phenomenal Aspect for all Mental States, even Beliefs (which is a re-worked version of the first half of my paper Consciousness, (Higher-Order) Thoughts, and What it’s Like…you can see the virtual presentation from this summer’s Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness meeting in Vegas HERE). I am very exited to do this as I have had lots of great feedback and discussions about my argument with David Rosenthal and Rocco Gennaro and I think the argument is stronger than ever…

 Before I left for vacation I was having a very interesting discussion about Christmas and whether or not it is a Christian holiday (and whether or not, even if it is, atheists and agnostics ought to celebrate it). Let me re-cap what I think my argument was supposed to be.

1. The argument from etymology– The word ‘Christmas’ means ‘The Christian holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ’ in English. There is no definition of the word in any dictionary which lists it as a secular holiday

This indicates that ‘Christmas’ designates a Christian holiday. Now, there have been two sorts of response to this argument.

R1. The actual holiday is a pagan holiday that the Christians took over and renamed, so whatever you call it, Christmas is not a Christian Holiday at all, but just the disguised pagan holiday

This doesn’t seem right to me. It is true that rituals of Christmas are taken over from pagen religions, but this was a common strategy that the Church employed to boost its numbers. The locals are less reluctant to convert when the new religion has familiar attriibutes but none the less the Church (in around 300 CE) created a new holiday to commerate the birth of Jesus Christ and they decided to call it Christmas (originally Christ’s Mass). The practices that we have today derive from that Chriatian tradition, not the earlier pagan one. The fact that the celebration occurs on a day that no one actually believes marks the actual annevesery of Jesus’ birth does not matter. We do not celebrate President’s day on Washington’s actual birthday, but it is a celebration of his birth even still…Nothing similar has happened that would make Christmas a non-religious holiday…This leads us to the second response that was made,

R2. That may be the meaning of the word, in some external sense, but what matters is what the person intends to be celebrating (the internal meaning of the holiday). So, if I celebrate Christmas in a completely secular way, not intending to be performing any religious rituals, or to be giving thanks for the incarnation of God in the flesh, then I am not celebrating a religious holiday.

But is this right? Suppose that I decided to celebrate Adolf Hitler’s birthday (April 20th, I *think*)? Suppose that when challenged I replied that I was not intending to commemorate the mass murdering individual that was the Fuhrer of Germany, but rather the artistic vegetarian that Hitler was in his youth. It is important, I might continue, that we remember not to squander our talents. Hitler was a powerful persuasive personality and if only he had used his powers for good instead of evil the world might have been a very different place. So it is important to remember his birth.

Or again, suppose that I chose to celebrate Osama Bin Laden’s birthday? Suppose I gave the same sort of justification as above. It seems to me that whatever I intend to be doing, I am celebrating the birth of these hateful and wicked men.

Now, this response might be taken to mean that there is a separate holiday that is a secular celebration of family and helping the disadvantaged that just so happens to be celebrated on the same day as the Christian holiday (sort of like 4/20 a ‘stoner’ holiday is celebrated (accidentally I hope) on the same day as Hitler’s birthday). I don’t think that this is actually the case now (though maybe we are in the transition period and in the future ‘Christmas’ will be ambiguous in English as between a Christian and a secular holiday). At anyrate, I am sympathetic to this idea (this was the idea behind my ‘Family Day’ or, as I prefer now ‘Giftmas’ 🙂 but I think we ought to femphasize, and help formalize this process with the coining of a new name and specifically dedicating it to secular celebration.

Doing some research about this I discovered that the issue has been taken to court by some atheists. They argued that the fact that we get Christmas day off amounts to state endorsement of Christianity and so violates the seperation of church and state. Here is a nice little article on the case from The judge rules against the claim and denies that there is a violation of the seperation between church and state. The reason is not becaus ethe judge finds that Christmas is not a religious holiday but because the day off serves a “valid secular purpose’. Having Christmas day off de facto serves the purpose of bringing families togeher and that is a secular purpose of the holiday. I think this is right, but that doesn’t mean that the holiday is itself a secular one, unless someone declares it to be so…