How a Materialist Can Deny That the United States is Probably Conscious – Response to Schwitzgebel
- 336 Downloads
In a recent paper, Eric Schwitzgebel argues that if materialism about consciousness is true, then the United States is likely to have its own stream of phenomenal consciousness, distinct from the streams of conscious experience of the people who compose it. Indeed, most plausible forms of materialism have to grant that a certain degree of functional and behavioral complexity constitutes a sufficient condition for the ascription of phenomenal consciousness – and Schwitzgebel makes a case to show that the United States as a whole fulfills this condition. One way to avoid this counter-intuitive consequence of materialism about consciousness is to adopt what Schwitzgebel calls an “anti-nesting principle”: a principle that states that there can be no nested forms of phenomenal consciousness and that therefore a conscious whole cannot have parts that are themselves conscious. However, Schwitzgebel then proceeds in his paper to draw up various objections, notably based on thought experiments, in order to dismiss these kinds of “anti-nesting” principles. My aim in this paper is to present a version of a sophisticated anti-nesting principle that avoids Schwitzgebel’s objections. This principle is reasonable, intuitive, and as non-arbitrary as possible. Moreover, it can resist the objections mounted by Schwitzgebel against simple anti-nesting principles. This principle helps materialists avoid the implication that the United States has its own stream of consciousness, while granting consciousness to some entities which, in many cases, are intuitive instantiators of phenomenal consciousness (among which are cases of authentic group consciousness). This principle therefore constitutes a way out for a materialist who wants to deny that the United States is conscious.
KeywordsConsciousness Experience Materialism Group consciousness
I would like to thank Eric Schwitzgebel, Isabelle Montin, Julietta Rose and an anonymous reviewer for their helpful comments.
- Baars, B. (1988). A cognitive theory of consciousness. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
- Block, N. (1978). Troubles with functionalism. Minnesota studies in the philosophy of science, 9, 261–235.Google Scholar
- Chalmers, D. (1996). The conscious mind: In search of a fundamental theory. Oxfordss: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Dennett, D. (1991). Consciousness explained. Boston: Little, Brown and Co.Google Scholar
- Dretske, F. (1988). Explaining behavior : Reasons in a world of causes. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
- Dretske, F. (1995). Naturalizing the mind. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
- Levine, J. (1983). Materialism and qualia: the explanatory gap. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, 64(October), 354–61.Google Scholar
- McLaughlin, B. (2007). Type materialism for phenomenal consciousness. In M. Velmans & S. Schneider (Eds.), The Blackwell companion to consciousness. Malden: Blackwell.Google Scholar
- Polger, T. (2004). Natural minds. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
- Putnam, H. (1967). Psychological predicates. In W. Capitan & D. Merrill (Eds.), Art, mind, and religion. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.Google Scholar
- Schwitzgebel, E. (forthcoming). If materialism is true, the United States is probably conscious. Philosophical Studies. DOI: 10.1007/s11098-014-0387-8.
- Shepherd, J. (forthcoming). Conscious Control over Action. Mind and Language.Google Scholar
- Tononi, G. (2012). Integrated information theory of consciousness: an updated account. Archives Italiennes de Biologie, 150, 290–326.Google Scholar