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Consciousness, Self-Consciousness, and “Inner Sense” The relation of consciousness and self-consciousness I (Lecture 3) Charles Siewert Rice University [email protected]

Consciousness, Self-Consciousness, and “Inner Sense”

The relation of consciousness and self-consciousness I (Lecture 3)

Charles SiewertRice University

[email protected]

How is consciousness related to self-consciousness?

A seemingly basic highly controversial question (or rather, complex set of questions).

The issue(s) can have an intrinsic fascination.

But also, it bears on such issues as these:

– How is consciousness to be explained?

– How should we conceive of the basis of self-knowledge?

– In what sense, if any, does one experience one’s “self”?

How is consciousness related to self-consciousness?

Is all consciousness essentially bound to self-consciousness?

For example: is consciousness the mind’s self-representation?

My treatment of this issue applies and illustrates my “analytic phenomenology”

Not a “straightforward” appeal to “naïve introspection.” We don’t say: “simply ask yourself—does my consciousness consist in mental self-representation?”

No, that would be absurdly naïve.

We must appeal to first-person reflection in a more indirect way—“carefully” in “favorable conditions” (to use Schwitzgebel’s words).

This means correcting Schwitzgebel’s worst mistake

Schwitzgebel assumes that

if “introspection can guide us in such matters” –regarding the phenomenal character of experience–

it should allow us to “reach agreement…as easily and

straightforwardly as we reach agreement about the presence of the table” (p.128)—by looking.

This couldn’t be more wrong.

Analytic phenomenology starts when we reject Schwitzgebel’s assumption

We grant a defeasible authority to first-person judgment in addressing questions about the relationship between consciousness and the mind’s self-representation.

But it is a fundamental, serious mistake to think that, this first-person reflection can help us to get answers about experience only in the same way we use vision to tell us whether there’s table in the room.

First-person reflection can and should help us address certain issues—but only when properly integrated into artful questioning and reasoning.

A phenomenologist is more like a detective than a housemover

It would be naïve to try to use first-person reflection to help determine whether consciousness is the mind’s self-representation in the same way as you use it to tell whether you feel cold. Let’s not be naïve!

The philosophical use of first-person reflection is not like a house mover’s use of perception to tell whether a room has a table in it.

It’s more like a detective’s use of perception to tell who committed a crime.

What does “careful reflection in favorable conditions” require in the present case?

If the question is: “Is consciousness the mind’s representation of itself?” To start, we need:

• Articulate clarification of the relevant sense of ‘conscious’ and of what would count as ‘the mind’s representing itself’

• Which needs to be helpfully substantive, without presupposing or favoring an answer to questions that should initially be left open.

• First, a word about the mind’s representing itself—i.e., “higher-order representation”

Higher-Order Representation Theories of Consciousness (HORTs)

• A particular state of mind belonging to kind B is a “higher-order mental representation,” if this instance of B represents one to have some mental state belonging to another kind A.

• HORT (“Higher-Order Representation Theory”) Consciousness is to be explained as a species of the mind’s self-representation.

• HORT implies SRM (“Self-Representing Mind”) Thesis. Necessarily, a state c of a subject S is conscious, only if S has the appropriate sort of mental representation of c.

Prominent variations on HORT

• HIGHER-ORDER THOUGHT: for a state to be conscious is for it to be a mental state of a certain type M, and for one to think (non-inferentially), at the same time, that one is in M. (David Rosenthal)

• HIGHER-ORDER PERCEPTION (or “INNER SENSE”). For a state it be conscious is for it to be a mental state of a certain type M, and for one to sense or perceive one is in M. (“Sense or perceive” as distinct from think; analogous to, but distinct from, the sensing/perceiving of one’s body (“proprioception”) and environment (e.g., seeing, touching, hearing). (William Lycan)

• There have also been hybrid views (Peter Carruthers).

• As these purport reductionist representationalist explanation of consciousness, it is important the M in the account be a type of mental state that can be nonconscious (nonconscious vision, pain)


Explain what is meant by ‘consciousness’…

in a way that will give us something to work with…

but allows us to assess SRM and HORT fairly, without making unnecessary assumptions for or against them.

What do you mean, “Phenomenal Consciousness”?

Two starting points now frequent in philosophical discussions of consciousness

– “What it’s like” conception. Block : “what makes a state phenomenally conscious is that there is something it’s like to be in it.”

– “Blindsight contrast” conception. Phenomenal consciousness is what’s missing in blindsight.

A word on “blindsight”• A condition discovered in some

subjects with damage to the visual cortex.

• The subjects sincerely deny seeing stimuli in parts of their visual field (where pre-trauma, they would have affirmed it).

• But when given forced-choices (“was it an X or an O?”) they verbally discriminate at levels well above chance. Also some subjects visually avoid obstacles they deny seeing.

Why “what it’s like” conception needs more clarification

A subjective curiosity: What was it like for Felix Baumgartner to fall?

– Mightn’t there have been nothing it was like for him? (He passed out, the moment he left the capsule.)

– Assuming there was something it was like for him, wasn’t this derived from what is was like for him to feel as he did?

If so, the fact that there was something it was like to fall—for Felix—does not make falling a phenomenally conscious state, or else it is one only because of something else that is conscious in a more basic sense.

Why “blindsight contrast” conception needs more clarification

There are two apparently different ways to interpret the idea of blindsight:

• Blindsight: condition in which the subject sees stimulus, but is not aware of (she is “blind to”) the fact that she sees it.

• Blindsight: condition in which (in one sense) the subject sees the stimulus, but in another sense, she is blind to it.

How do we further explain these two interpretations? How are they related? What are the implications of how we interpret the notion?

A “HORT-biased” clarification of the “what it’s like”

• Carruthers: “what the world is like” for you (determined by how it appears to you) contrasted with “what your experience is like for you” (which constitutes its phenomenal character)—

• He then goes on to take the latter to be determined by how your experience is “presented” to you, in some sense like that in which the world appears to you.

• SRM is thereby loaded into the construal of “what it’s like” talk.

A “HORT-biased” clarification of the “blindsight contrast”

For Carruthers “blindsight percepts” are “ones to which the subjects of the states are blind, and of which they cannot be aware.”

Thus the difference between the phenomenal vision blindsighters lack and the kind we have is construed simply in terms of the lack or presence of an awareness of—hence a representation of—one’s own seeing.

Lycan assumes a HORT-ey starting point• He starts by saying there is a sense of consciousness in which, by definition,

satisfies SRM: you have a conscious state only if you are “conscious of it”—where this ‘of’ is construed as the representational ‘of’. (E.g., “a picture of Salzburg Cathedral”). (“The Superiority of HOP to HOT” pp.93-94

• But maybe—the only sense in which we have conscious states that satisfy that definition depends on our having states conscious in a different sense that is the “phenomenal one.”

• And, this second sense of consciousness is not covered by what Lycan understands as the having of a “sensory quale” (or “featuring a Q-property). For a conscious state can’t be conscious in this sense if there is not something it’s like for one to be in it. And states conscious in this (phenomenal) sense are not, by definition, confined to awareness of “sensory qualities.”

• We should consider whether there is a way of introducing the topic of consciousness that leaves open this possibility.

Starting points that aren’t “HORT-ey?

Can we explain the “what it’s like” and “blindsight contrast” ways of clarifying what consciousness is, without favoring SRM, and without thereby biasing us towards HORT from the start? Yes.

“Subjective Knowledge/What It’s Like” conception of phenomenal consciousness

There is something it’s like to have some features only non-essentially, or in a manner derivative from what it’s like to have other features

The bona-fide phenomenal features are features there is something it’s like for one to have essentially and non-derivatively.

Phenomenally conscious states are instances of phenomenal features.

Is there essentially or only non-essentially something it’s like to have the feature?

Suppose: there is something it’s like for Felix to fall (in part) only because there is some way that felt to him.

Falling could occur without being felt (or other, e.g., visual experiences).

Then there is something it’s like to fall only non-essentially or accidentally.

For the “underived” part of the account, consider another example:

Visual recognition of this emoticon:


9_9• You agree that there is something it’s like for you to visually recognize the

“tired face” emoticon (and to see it as a tired face, not just as “nine, underline, nine”).

• Assume there is essentially something it’s like for you. For such visual recognition could not occur without the figure’s looking somehow to you.

• Even so, you could conceivably maintain that what it’s like for you to recognize the “tired face” is derived from what it’s like for you to have a type of visual experience, which you could have without recognizing the figure, plus other factors that don’t essentially involve any “what it’s like”.

• If that were right, there would only derivatively be something it’s like for you to recognize the tired face.

Applying this conception: why feeling is phenomenal

There is essentially and non-derivatively something it’s like to feel the way Felix felt, provided that

One couldn’t possibly feel this way when there was just nothing that was like for one,

And there is no further feature, for which feeling this way is not required,

Such that what it was like to feel this way derived entirely from the presence of that feature.

That’s why feeling this way is a bona-fide phenomenal feature. And any instance of it is a phenomenally conscious state.

To clarify “what it’s like” talk

Proposal: There is something it’s like for someone to have some feature: it is suited for one to claim or desire a subjective, non-theoretical knowledge regarding what feature it is.

A “subjective knowledge” of a feature: a type of knowledge of what feature it is that in at least some cases requires having the feature oneself, but which can be sought by trying to imagine having the feature in question.

A non-theoretical knowledge: it does not require one can give a theoretically satisfying account or explanation of what that feature is.

A Phenomenal Feature: one there is essentially and non-derivatively “something it’s like for one” to have.

That means: it’s a feature essentially suited for one to claim or desire a subjective, non-theoretical knowledge regarding what feature it is, underived from other such knowledge.

Now: Blindsight Contrast Conception


To say that subjects have “blindsight” is to say that in one sense they do see the relevant stimulus and in another they are blind to it (and their denials of seeing are correct).

What’s the difference between these senses?

We can interpret ‘look’ and ‘see’ so that…

Nothing looks any way to you in a lightless room

You cannot see something that looks no way to you at all.

So, one can intelligibly interpret a blindsighter’s situation so that…

She in one sense she correctly denies seeing the stimulus—since it doesn’t look any way to her...

But since she accurately reports on it because of the activity it triggers in what’s left of her visual system…

In another sense, she could be said to “see” it.

The Blindsight Contrast Conception

Any instance of something’s looking somehow to you—in the sense that was thought to be missing in the interpretation of blindsight just given) is a phenomenally conscious state.

And its looking that way to you is a phenomenal feature.

So, there are indeed “unHORT-ey” alternatives RE “what it’s like” (contrast with Carruthers)

• “What the experience is like” is simply the manner of appearance that constitutes the experience.

• And to say this is an appearance “for you” is to say that something appears in this very way to you.

• In other words, what the experience is like for you is what manner of appearance this is to you.

• And I have given an account of how to interpret “what it’s like” talk to yield a conception of consciousness without Carruther’s HORT-ey assumption (that to say there’s something the experience is like for you is to say it is “presented” (it “appears”) to you).

There are “unHORT-ey” alternatives RE “blindsight contrast” (contrast with Carruthers)

• Blindsight is a deficit in consciousness where, in one sense you do see a stimulus, and in another you don’t.

• The sense in which you see: you verbally and behaviorally discriminate the features of a stimulus through activation of light receptors.

• The sense in which you don’t see: the stimulus doesn’t look anyway to you.

• “Looking” is sufficient for consciousness. But this neither assumes nor denies that higher-order representation is essential.

Recall: variants of HORT

–Higher Order Thought–Inner Sense/Perception

I will focus more on the second. But first, briefly, why HOT versions of HORT are mistaken.

HOTs are inessential to consciousness (1)

• Conscious higher-order attributive (classificatory) thoughts are not even contingently co-extensive with conscious first-order experience—appearings.

• An infinite regress problem arises here if we suppose otherwise. (More on this next time.)

• Positing an unbroken activity of conscious non-attributive “thought” (like Brentanian primitive judgment (?)) is unwarranted.

• Positing ubiquitous unconscious higher-order thoughts has no

explanatory value, and doesn’t satisfactorily answer to the regress problem.

HOTs are inessential to consciousness (2)

• I never have conscious non-inferential HOTs with the HORT-required content (e.g., thoughts attributing to myself the kind of “pain” I could have unfelt, the kind of “vision” a blindsighter could have). I think of myself as having felt pains, and seeing things (in the “no-seeing-without-looking” sense)

• But my lack of the HORT-required HOTs doesn’t deprive me of sensory consciousness.

• More: having the sensory appearances that I do self-attribute (“looks”, “feels”) does not necessitate having any HOTs about them.

• If it did, doubts about babies’ and animals’ capacity for HOT would rationally commit me to doubt whether they feel anything, or to conjecturing they are all blindsighters. But this isn’t the case.

HOTs are inessential to consciousness

• Conclusion: appearings (looks, feels) are sufficient for consciousness, but not for HOTs.

• So higher-order thoughts are inessential to consciousness.

• That version of SRM (and HORT) should be rejected as an impediment to understanding the relationship of consciousness and self-consciousness.

What I claim to have done

Used analytic phenomenology:

• To clarify what consciousness is, by solving problems that arise for common ways of doing this (“what it’s like” “blindsight contrast”).

• Without making unnecessary assumptions in favor or against higher-order representation theories, this gives us the basis for a critique of these.

• This phenomenological conception provides a part of what we need to understand the relation between consciousness and self-consciousness.

• Now, what about “inner sense”?

• What is implied by saying there is an “inner” sense?

What is implied by saying there is an “inner” sense?

a) There is a distinction between: sensing something and thinking about it.

b) Sensing somehow enables you to have knowledge of the item sensed, or warrant for thinking what you do about it.

c) Sensing/thinking distinction can be iterated above the first level. There is both first-order sensing (of, e.g., colors, shapes, smells and sounds) and also—distinct from this in kind—a second or higher order sensing of such sensing (and perhaps of other mental states/occurrences).

d) On some versions (such as Lycan’s): a distinctively sensory form of attention to experience.

My view of inner sense

• We don’t actually have anything properly called “inner sense”

• My argument: inner sense is phenomenologically indiscernible, and the real phenomena it is invoked to explain can be explained better without it.

“objectual” sensing Consider cases where:

1. You sense something to change in some respect. (E.g., it (visually appears) to change shape or color)

2. How you sense some feature of it changes, but you do not sense it to change in that respect. (E.g., the way its color or shape looks to you changes, but it does not appear to you to change shape or color). Rather you sense it to remain the same in that respect. (It looks/appears to you the same color or shape throughout.))

When (and only when) a kind of sensing can meet condition 2—the condition of sensory constancy—is it “objectual”.

There is “first-order” objectual sensing.

sensory registration

• You sense something by having a kind of sensory state S that “registers” the instance of a separate feature F (≠ S). (This plausibly requires that normally there is some kind of causal link between instances of S and F.)

• This can happen even if having S is not an “objectual sensing” of the occurrence of F.

• For example: plausibly, a feeling of pain sometimes “registers” bodily tissue damage.

Reflection does find sensing that neither: takes sensing as an object nor registers it.

• But does it also find sensing that takes sensing as an object or registers it?

• For this, we need to be able in reflection to distinguish the feature of (“innerly”) sensing (e.g.) a visual experience, or a feeling of pain, from the feature(s) of something’s looking to us somehow, or our feeling somehow.

• We’d need to find either a “second order” sensory constancy, or a distinct sensory “registration” of the visual appearing or feeling.

So we need to find either:

• Constancy. Do you find: the way you sense how you feel changes, but how you feel is itself sensed to remain just the same? (How you sense your feeling of pain changes, but you don’t feel any different.)

• Registration. Can you find you can distinguish(a) Your feeling (of pain) and (b) your “sensing” of this feeling (≠ judging myself to feel

pain) ?

Inner sense is phenomenologically indiscernible

Genuine inner sense will be phenomenologically discernible:

only if critical first-person reflection confirms that we have, not just thought about our experience, but either:

– a form of objectual sensing of our own sensing (displaying object constancy), or

– a form of sensory registration of our own sensing.

It confirms neither.


We should accept the reality of some phenomena mistakenly thought to support the idea of inner sense.

For example: there really is such a thing as attending to experience. (Here I agree with Lycan (though not with many of his assumptions about attention). And I oppose the radical “transparency” thesis of (e.g.) Michael Tye)

Attention to experience

Negative Thesis. We do not attend to our own experience as we attend sensorially to an object, so that it reveals its constancy through a difference in how it appears, thereby becoming more and better apparent to us.

Positive Thesis. Nonetheless, we can attend to experience. Introspective cognitive attention to experience is phenomenologically discernible.

Challenge: explain how there can be “attention to experience” without “inner sense”

Phenomenal-Indexical Thought

• Consider forms of thought expressible as

– “The way this feels to me…”– “The way this tastes to me…”– “The color this looks to me…”

• Thoughts expressible using complex phrases combining indexicals and “appearance” words (or terms for phenomenal features) to identify these features.

• Call these “phenomenal-indexical thoughts.”

Identification for Recognition

In some phenomenal-indexical thought you can understand what phenomenal feature you are thinking of…

in a way that enables you to recognize further characterizations of what feature you are thinking of as correct or incorrect…

provided there is no defect in your understanding of the terms in which you would express your thought, a defect which would impair your capacity to make these classifications.

What I mean by saying: this form of thought sometimes constitutes “identification for recognition.”

The first and second/third person ways of thinking about experience differ. For:

(a) It would be both true and informative to find that the color that this looks to me = the color that this looks to you. (And, of course, this is not because I might discover I am you.) Also:

(b): when I identify for recognition some phenomenal feature in first-person phenomenal-indexical thought, I inevitably actually have the feature identified.

Why? Because a phenomenal feature is a feature essentially suited for one to claim or desire a subjective knowledge of what feature it is.

We would have no right to think there are any such features unless we sometimes knew what features they were by having them.

And there is no better candidate occasion for such knowledge than when we identify for recognition such a feature in first-person phenomenal-indexical thought.

To have this sort of thought the thinker must have the very phenomenal feature identified

in the thought.

“attention to experience” without “inner sense”

There is a distinctively first-person thought you can have about experience

that is essentially dependent on your having the very appearance identified in thought

and which allows one to consider (and recognize the correctness or incorrectness of) ways of classifying that experience.

A kind of “cognitive attention”

Attention to Experience in First-Person Reflection

Such first-person phenomenal-indexical thoughts constitute a (substantive) form of attention to your experience. Because:

They can “anchor inquiry” about experience by enabling you to “hold it in mind”—they can allow you to maintain over time a continuing common topic for subsequent, otherwise varying cognition.

Any mental activity that enables you to do this counts, non-trivially, as a form of attention.

The visual appearance—this first-order sensing—can do a sort of double duty.

It can comprise an act of attending to a visible object,

even as it also helps constitute a cognitively attentive phenomenal-indexical thought about itself.

Is all consciousness “of itself”?• We shouldn’t say consciousness by its nature always involves a sense-like

perception (a kind of representation) of itself.

• But we can understand the appeal of this view, because of something else that is true:

• consciousness—in a sense that can be shared by both reflective and non-reflective beings—is such that, by it nature, when found in reflective beings like us, partially constitutes a kind of thought about itself, which is a kind of attention to experience that is distinctively first-personal.

• That, I claim, is shown through analytic phenomenology.

• It is also the phenomenon that makes such philosophical reflection possible.

Conclusion• Phenomenological examination does not support an “iteration of sensing”:

inner sense is phenomenologically indiscernible.

• However, there is something phenomenologically discernible—cognitive attention to one’s own experience—that explains why people have found the notion of inner sense appealing.

• However, we can account for this form of attention without believing in inner sense, as defined here.

• Mightn’t we still speak of attentive thought to one’s own experience in which one recognizes the truth of certain ways of classifying it as “perception”? Ok, as long as one doesn’t confuse this with the idea that there is some second level of “sensory representation” involved.

Two ways this matters

• It clears away fundamental but influential and appealing misconceptions about what consciousness is, which lead to misguided theories of it.

• It provides the basis for an account of self-knowledge.