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The Significance of Consciousness

The Significance of Consciousness

Copyright Date: 1998
Pages: 392
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  • Book Info
    The Significance of Consciousness
    Book Description:

    Charles Siewert presents a distinctive approach to consciousness that emphasizes our first-person knowledge of experience and argues that we should grant consciousness, understood in this way, a central place in our conception of mind and intentionality. Written in an engaging manner that makes its recently controversial topic accessible to the thoughtful general reader, this book challenges theories that equate consciousness with a functional role or with the mere availability of sensory information to cognitive capacities. Siewert argues that the notion of phenomenal consciousness, slighted in some recent theories, can be made evident by noting our reliance on first-person knowledge and by considering, from the subject's point of view, the difference between having and lacking certain kinds of experience. This contrast is clarified by careful attention to cases, both actual and hypothetical, indicated by research on brain-damaged patients' ability to discriminate visually without conscious visual experience--what has become known as "blindsight." In addition, Siewert convincingly defends such approaches against objections that they make an illegitimate appeal to "introspection."

    Experiences that are conscious in Siewert's sense differ from each other in ways that only what is conscious can--in phenomenal character--and having this character gives them intentionality. In Siewert's view, consciousness is involved not only in the intentionality of sense experience and imagery, but in that of nonimagistic ways of thinking as well. Consciousness is pervasively bound up with intelligent perception and conceptual thought: it is not mere sensation or "raw feel." Having thus understood consciousness, we can better recognize how, for many of us, it possesses such deep intrinsic value that life without it would be little or no better than death.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2272-0
    Subjects: Psychology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
    (pp. ix-2)
    (pp. 3-9)

    To understand consciousness is to understand something deeply important about us. This may sound truistic to some, but even so, it is not a truism apparently much honored in the past century’s leading views of mind, meaning, and behavior. In fact, to judge by such accounts, one might easily think what is most significant about consciousness is just its surprising insignificance. Or one might think what is supposed significant is not consciousness itself, so much as its seeming to create for theories of mind some oddly persistent nuisance.

    Perhaps such attitudes have abated of late: at least, books and articles...

  5. CHAPTER 1 First-Person Knowledge
    (pp. 10-38)

    I have proposed taking a first-person approach to consciousness—one that enjoins us to rely on a distinctively first-person knowledge of our minds. Before I defend the claim that we have such knowledge on which to rely, I want to make it a little plainer still just what my proposal does and does not involve. However, this clarification is not entirely separate from the task of defense, since, in averting certain misunderstandings by making explicit what I amnotassuming, I hope also to help save my views from being mangled in the molds of some ready-made critique. In the...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Third-Person Doubts about First-Person Warrant
    (pp. 39-64)

    Should we hold to our belief in first-person warrant? Or do we have reason to say our claim to even the mundane self-knowledge I’ve illustrated evinces only some quaint, pretheoretical naivete? If one is to refute the thesis that we have a distinctively first-person knowledge of mind, one will need to attack the pre-epistemological convictions in which we discerned a commitment to it. But it may be difficult to see where one could look for reasons to doubt such beliefs.

    What we are willing to count as a serious reason to doubt here depends on what we are willing to...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Phenomenal Consciousness
    (pp. 65-100)

    We can do little to judge the efforts of those who purport to explain consciousness, and little to assess its relation to other features or its importance, if the notion of consciousness at issue is obscure to us. ‘Conscious’ and its cognates are notoriously slippery terms, and the sense I want us to consider in which our experience is conscious can be elusive: eminent theorists have used ‘consciousness’ in ways that indicate either a denial that we even have experience conscious in this sense, or else a remarkable lack of commitment on this point. So if I tried to do...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Varieties of Consciousness Neglect
    (pp. 101-150)

    You may or may not have enjoyed lingering over examples of your conscious experience. And you may or may not have found it interesting to conceive of being someone who suffered from hypothetical deficits in visual consciousness. But you should not doubt the value of such reflections because you think consciousness is already unmistakable and obvious. I hope to make this clear by drawing attention to some ways in which the distinction between consciousness and its lack is liable to serious theoretical neglect, even amidst extended efforts to explore the territory where it is found.

    You neglect something, I take...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Preventing Neglect
    (pp. 151-186)

    Consciousness, I have argued, tends to get lost in certain writings one might have presumed were devoted to it. I hope you are willing to acknowledge you have experience that is conscious in this sense others have slighted—or, as I might now say more simply, without too much risk of misunderstanding: I hope you will admit that you are conscious. But if you will not, I hope I have at least aroused some desire to make plain this refusal, and the reasons for it, without reliance on the vague insinuations of “anti-Cartesian” rhetoric.

    Some will undoubtedly want to take...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Consciousness and Self-Reflection
    (pp. 187-216)

    Some people will want to think of consciousness as the mind’s somehow bending or doubling back onto itself. They will want to say that it somehow consists in one’s “thinking of,” or “representing,” or “perceiving” one’s own mind—some kind of self-directed, inward-pointing intentionality.¹ I have already had some occasion to criticize such a conception of consciousness, focusing on Rosenthal’s account of conscious states as mental states one seemingly noninferentially thinks that one is in. Now I want to broaden and deepen this critique. For though this and kindred views can seriously mislead us about consciousness—even induce a kind...

  11. CHAPTER 7 Visual Experience: Intentionality and Richness
    (pp. 217-262)

    If consciousness isnotessentially some way in which the mind is directed at itself, then just what does it have to do with directedness, or intentionality? Some may be willing to distinguish being phenomenally conscious from having a self-representing mind, because they want to dissociate phenomenal features from intentional ones entirely. The phenomenal character of experience, some might say, is its “raw feel”—to have phenomenal experience is merely to have “sensations” of one sort or another; to have a mind with intentionality, or to have “mental representations”—thatis something else altogether.

    This way of thinking is encouraged...

  12. CHAPTER 8 Conscious Thought
    (pp. 263-306)

    To understand phenomenal consciousness, we must distinguish sensoryappearancefrom sensoryjudgment. But this, I’ve argued, should not make us think that intentionality can be stripped from sense-experience, so as to leave only some “raw feel.” Sensory appearance has intentionality of its own, inseparable from its phenomenal character. But if we find in sense-experience a kind of intentionality, distinct from that of judgment, do we exclude judgment from phenomenal consciousness? More generally, we might ask: Does thinking also have phenomenal character? If so, how is this related to its intentionality?

    Here I have just slid from talk of judgment to...

  13. CHAPTER 9 The Importance of Consciousness
    (pp. 307-340)

    I have tried to save consciousness from the neglect it may suffer in various theories. But mightn’t someone doubt the rescue worthwhile, even if successful? I can imagine a grudging, equivocal concession:

    All right, so we have omitted phenomenal consciousness, in your sense, from our theories, and we cannot show it is not real. Still, we do theorize about something—for example, a certain collection of discriminatory, regulative, and evaluative talents; higher-order thought; or information access to speech-producing or self-representational or planning subsystems. There’s no law against labeling our accounts of these “theories of consciousness”—and what these would explain...

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 341-364)
    (pp. 365-368)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 369-374)