In an earlier post I outlined the case for qualia realism from the higher-order perspective as I see it. Dave Chalmers worried that one of the moves was too quick. The move in question is the move from concepts making a difference to phenomenal experience to their determining phenomenal experience. Basically the line I was pushing was that if it is the case that applying concepts changes our phenomenal experience then “perhaps it is not too crazy to think that applying concepts is what results in phenomenal feel in the first place,” but Dave is right that there is a lot more that needs to be said.
As I also said, I think that a crucial step in securing this premise in the argument is showing that there can be unconscious states with qualitative character which are not like anything for the creature that has them. If we established that then we would have evidence that it is solely applying concepts that constitutes phenomenal consciousness. There is another line of argument which might show this as well which is given by David Rosenthal in a few different places (see page 155 in Consciousness and Mind for a representative example). Basically it is a subtraction argument. Take some phenomenally conscious experience, like listening to music. We already agree that applying new concepts will change the character of the experience. So, if I were to learn what a bass clarinet was then listening to Herbie Hancock’s Chameleon will sound differently to me. Now suppose that we subtract this concept. My experience will change. More specifically it will lack the bass clarinetiness that my experience had when I applied that concept. Now we can continue subtracting out concepts one by one without altering the first-order state in any way. Since subtracting the concept produces a phenomenal experience that lacks precisely the element corresponding to the concept we can conclude that subtracting these concepts will produce phenomenal consciousness that is sparser and sparser. What are we to say when we have reached teh point where there is just one concept characteriing the first-order state? Suppose that we are at the point where we are only applying the concept SOUND to the experience. Phenomenally it will be like hearing a sound for me but not any particular sounds. Now suppose we subtract that concept. What will it be like for the creature?
The higher-order theorist says that at that point it is no longer like anything for the creature. The other side says that there is still something that it is like, though it may not be like anything for the creature) but what argument could show this? What reason is there for thinking that there is anything phenomenal left over?