HOT Theories of Consciousness & and Gricean Intentions

One of the things that I am interested in is the philosophical commitments of the higher-order thought theory. Rosenthal, in my estimation, presents a viable theoretical account of what consciousness might consist in. I do not actually endorse the view; rather what I think is that the view is not obviously false. This is not a popular view, since most people do in fact think that it is obviously false. They therefore dismiss it with strange assuarnce. But it seems to me that we ought to take the theory seriously. When it is properly understood it is capable of giving a very decent account of consciousness.

But no one is perfect and Rosenthal formulates the theory in terms of his background philosophical assumptions. In particular he relies on an anti-Gricean and anti-Kripkean philosophy of language. But I am very attracted to these kinds of view. So, I have taken to recasting the theorythat Rosenthal gives with this kind of view in mind (I have also tried to show that the theory is commited to a claim that all conscious mental states have a qualitative component).

One objection to the Gricean claim that one expresses a mental attitude via a reflexive intention, which is that one’s hearer recognize the very intention to express the attitude in question, is that we often do not consciously experience ourselves as having these kinds of intentions. Maybe we do in some elaborate circumstances, but usually whe one is talking to someone the conversation often doesn’t seem so strategic. But if the any kind of higher-order theory of consciousness turns out to be right then we should expect the kind of Gricean intentions to occur unconsciously. If so it would not seem to us that we had those intentions and so it would then be no objection that we rarely notice them. We notice only the conscious ones.

Rosenthal objects to Gricean theories because, according to him, A Gricean is committed to saying that in the case of insincere speech acts (misleading people) one is expressing a mental attitude that one does not have. So, if I reflexively intend that take me to be expressing the belief that p, even though I know that p is false (or at least believe that it is) and want to purposely manipulate you into believing it (a perlocutionary effect I hope to achieve), then I count as expressing the belief that p even though I do not have that belief.

Now it is true that writiers like Searle and Vendler have said these sorts of things, and so it is the case that Rosenthal has an objection to their theories this is not the only way to go. One can simply define belief expression as occurring if and only if one has the belief that p and one reflexively intends ones utterance as a reason for the hearer to take his utterance as evidence that he does believe p. Then lying or misleading would not strictly speaking count as expressions of belief (even though the hearer would take the utterance as a reason to think that the speaker does have the belief and so, if the speech act were successful, the hearer would take the speaker to be expressing the belief when in fact the speaker were not really expressing the belief. Bach and Harnish define belief expression in this way, though they do not explicitly discuss insincere speech acts. We might say that when one lies one actually express the belief that ones utterance will deceive the hearer into taking me as believing p. Or one could say that when someone lies they pretend to express the belief. It would then be the case that a person who lies pretends to have the right intention to express the belief that p. This is actually the kind of account Rosenthal himself gives of lying. According to him it is pretending to think p, why can’t the Gricean just say what I did? What can’t they be pretending to have the relvant intention rather than to be thinking the relevant thought?

Either way though, Rosenthal’s objection to Gricean theories isn’t fatal and the higher-order theory actually helps to make sense of some first person data. This is problematic for Rosenthal since he bases one of his major argument for the higher-order thought theory itself on his causal theory of attitude expression.


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