Phenomenality, conscious states, and consciousness inessentialism
I draw attention to an ambiguity of the expression ‘phenomenal consciousness’ that is an avoidable yet persistent source of conceptual confusion among consciousness scientists. The ambiguity is between what I call phenomenality and what I call conscious states, where the former denotes an abstract property and the latter denotes a phenomenon or class of its instances. Since sentences featuring these two terms have different semantic properties, it is possible to equivocate over the term ‘consciousness’. It is also possible to fail to distinguish between statements that are true about conscious states in virtue of their phenomenality, and statements that are true in virtue of other properties of conscious states. I review empirically informed arguments by scientists Bernard Balleine and Anthony Dickinson, Stevan Harnad, and Jeffrey Alan Gray, arguing that each of them makes errors based on the ambiguity. I conclude with some tentative suggestions for avoiding further confusion about the ambiguity.
KeywordsPhenomenal consciousness Consciousness science Consciousness inessentialism The hard problem of consciousness
I am grateful to the members of Mazviita Chirimuuta’s 2011 seminar on ‘A Science of Consciousness’ for feedback on these ideas, in particular that of Mazviita Chirimuuta, Trey Boone, Joseph McCaffrey, and Lisa Lederer.
Compliance with ethical standards
I declare that neither I nor any member of my immediate family have any affiliation with or involvement in any organization or entity with a financial or non-financial interest in the subject matter of this manuscript.
I have not fabricated or falsified any data. The research represented in this manuscript poses no threat to national security or public safety.
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