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Summary Higher-order theories of consciousness seek to explain the difference between conscious mental states and unconscious mental states. We have both common sense as well as scientific reasons to think that mental functioning can occur both consciously and unconsciously. Higher-order theories explain this difference in terms of our having some kind of (unconscious) higher-order awareness which makes it the case that I am aware of myself as being in some mental state. The claim that a conscious mental state is one which I am in some suitable way aware of myself as being in is commonly referred to as the Transitivity Principle.
Key works For an overview and comparison of various higher-order approaches see: Rosenthal 2004.  For a collection of important papers by David Rosenthal see: Rosenthal 2005. A recent challenge comes from Ned Block here: Block 2011. See here for Rosenthal's reply: Rosenthal 2011.  For a defense of higher-order perception see: Lycan 2004. Balog 2000 discusses an objection from the possibility of HOT-zombies -creatures with all of my HOTs and none of my first-order states. Hardcastle 2004 criticizes what she takes to be Rosenhal's reasoning in support of higher-order theories.  Matey 2011 offers a defense of the higher-order thought theory in a modified form.
Introductions Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Carruthers 2008; Scholarpedia: Rosenthal & Weisberg 2008; Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Droege 2005
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  1. William Hirstein (2015). Consciousness Despite Network Underconnectivity in Autism: Another Case of Consciousness Without Prefrontal Activity? In Rocco Gennaro (ed.), Disturbed Consciousness: New Essays on Psychopathology and Theories of Consciousness. The M. I. T, Press 249-263.
    Recent evidence points to widespread underconnectivity in autistic brains owing to deviant white matter, the fibers that make long connections between areas of the cortex. Subjects with autism show measurably fewer long-range connections between the parietal and prefrontal cortices. These findings may help shed light on the current debate in the consciousness literature about whether conscious states require both prefrontal and parietal/temporal components. If it can be shown that people with autism have conscious states despite such underconnectivity, this would constitute (...)
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  2. Jeffery B. Remmel & Alfred B. Manaster (1980). CO-Simple Higher-Order Indecomposable Isols. Zeitschrift fur mathematische Logik und Grundlagen der Mathematik 26 (14-18):279-288.
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  3. Renate Reschke & Volker Gerhardt (2008). Zum Tod von Maud Levy-Rosenthal. In Renate Reschke & Volker Gerhardt (eds.), Friedrich Nietzsche – Geschichte, Affekte, Medien. Akademie Verlag Gmbh
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  4. Douglas A. Roberts & Audrey M. Chastko (1991). A Response to Rosenthal. Science Education 75 (2):253-254.
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  5. Moira Roth (1997). Rachel Rosenthal. Monograph Collection (Matt - Pseudo).
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  6. Nils-Eric Sahlin (1993). On Higher Order Beliefs. In J. Dubucs (ed.), Philosophy of Probability. Kluwer, Dordrecht 13--34.
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  7. Roger Schnaitter & Stephen Winokur (1973). Some Interactions in a Higher Order Multiple Schedule of Reinforcement. Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society 2 (6):410-412.
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  8. Eric Schwitzgebel (2013). Reply to Kriegel, Smithies, and Spener. Philosophical Studies 165 (3):1195-1206.
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  9. Sampooran Singh (1996). Remarks on Higher Consciousness: An Oriental Perspective. World Futures 46 (1):53-56.
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  10. John Smythies (2012). Consciousness and Higher Dimensions of Space. Journal of Consciousness Studies 19 (11-12):11-12.
    This paper reviews the present status of the material dualist theory of brain-consciousness relations. I cover first the history of its development by Priestly, Broad, Price, Carr, Jourdan, and myself. The theory is then described with its basis in higher-dimensional geometry, the phenomenology of consciousness, the neurological concept of the body image, and the application of Leibniz's Law to the current dominant identity theory of brain-consciousness relations. A model based on Flatland is developed to illustrate the theory followed by a (...)
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  11. Teodor Stepien (1993). A Note On Formalisations Of First-Order Theories. Reports on Mathematical Logic:19-28.
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  12. Steve Taylor (2005). The Sources of Higher States of Consciousness. International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 24:48-60.
    In this paper, it is argued that “higher states of consciousness”–or mystical experiences–have two main sources: they can be caused by a disruption of the normal homeostasis of the human organism and also by an intensification of the “consciousness-energy” that constitutes our being. . The author investigates examples of both types of experience, and compares and contrasts them. It is concluded that the second type of experience is the only one which is truly positive and which can become a fully (...)
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  13. Morgan Wallhagen (2004). Attention to Consciousness. Dissertation, University of Pennsylvania
    The notion of consciousness, though central to contemporary philosophy of mind, is not well understood. This fact vitiates many recent attempts to develop a theory of consciousness. I aim to achieve a deeper understanding of consciousness by considering what it is that distinguishes conscious mental phenomena from non-conscious mental phenomena. I argue that, contrary to widespread opinion, consciousness is not a matter of a mental state's possessing phenomenality. Nor is it simply a matter of an organism's developing a mental representation, (...)
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  14. Jün-Tin Wang (1973). On the Representation of Generative Grammars as First-Order Theories. In Radu J. Bogdan & Ilkka Niiniluoto (eds.), Logic, Language, and Probability. Boston,D. Reidel Pub. Co. 302--316.
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  15. Paul T. P. Wong (1977). Extinction Facilitates Acquisition of the Higher Order Operant. Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society 9 (2):131-134.
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Higher-Order Thought Theories of Consciousness
  1. Richard E. Aquila (1990). Consciousness as Higher-Order Thoughts: Two Objections. American Philosophical Quarterly 27 (1):81-87.
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  2. Nils A. Baas (1996). A Framework for Higher Order Cognition and Consciousness. In S. R. Hameroff, A. W. Kaszniak & A. C. Scott (eds.), Towards a Science of Consciousness. MIT Press 633--648.
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  3. Katalin Balog (2000). Phenomenal Judgment and the HOT Theory: Comments on David Rosenthal’s “Consciousness, Content, and Metacognitive Judgments”. Consciousness and Cognition 9 (2):215-219.
    In this commentary I criticize David Rosenthal’s higher order thought theory of consciousness . This is one of the best articulated philosophical accounts of consciousness available. The theory is, roughly, that a mental state is conscious in virtue of there being another mental state, namely, a thought to the effect that one is in the first state. I argue that this account is open to the objection that it makes “HOT-zombies” possible, i.e., creatures that token higher order mental states, (...)
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  4. John Beeckmans (2007). Can Higher-Order Representation Theories Pass Scientific Muster? Journal of Consciousness Studies 14 (s 9-10):90-111.
    Higher-order representation (HOR) theories posit that the contents of lower-order brain states enter consciousness when tracked by a higher-order brain state. The nature of higher-order monitoring was examined in light of current scientific knowledge, primarily in experimental perceptual psychology. The most plausible candidate for higher-order state was found to be conceptual short-term memory (CSTM), a buffer memory intimately connected with a semantic engine operating in the medium of the language of thought (LOT). This combination meets many of the requirements of (...)
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  5. Jacob Berger (2014). Consciousness is Not a Property of States: A Reply to Wilberg. Philosophical Psychology 27 (6):829-842.
    According to Rosenthal's higher-order thought (HOT) theory of consciousness, one is in a conscious mental state if and only if one is aware of oneself as being in that state via a suitable HOT. Several critics have argued that the possibility of so-called targetless HOTs?that is, HOTs that represent one as being in a state that does not exist?undermines the theory. Recently, Wilberg (2010) has argued that HOT theory can offer a straightforward account of such cases: since consciousness is a (...)
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  6. José Luis Bermúdez (2000). Consciousness, Higher-Order Thought, and Stimulus Reinforcement. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 23 (2):194-195.
    Rolls defends a higher-order thought theory of phenomenal consciousness, mapping the distinction between conscious and non-conscious states onto a distinction between two types of action and corresponding neural pathways. Only one type of action involves higher-order thought and consequently consciousness. This account of consciousness has implausible consequences for the nature of stimulus-reinforcement learning.
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  7. Thomas Bittner (2007). Consciousness: Essays From a Higher-Order Perspective - By Peter Carruthers. Philosophical Books 48 (1):84-86.
  8. N. Block (2011). Response to Rosenthal and Weisberg. Analysis 71 (3):443-448.
  9. Ned Block (2011). The Higher Order Approach to Consciousness is Defunct. Analysis 71 (3):419 - 431.
    The higher order approach to consciousness attempts to build a theory of consciousness from the insight that a conscious state is one that the subject is conscious of. There is a well-known objection1 to the higher order approach, a version of which is fatal. Proponents of the higher order approach have realized that the objection is significant. They have dealt with it via what David Rosenthal calls a “retreat” (2005b, p. 179) but that retreat fails to solve the problem.
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  10. Ned Block (2009). Comparing the Major Theories of Consciousness. In Michael Gazzaniga (ed.), The Cognitive Neurosciences IV. 1111-1123.
    This article compares the three frameworks for theories of consciousness that are taken most seriously by neuroscientists, the view that consciousness is a biological state of the brain, the global workspace perspective and an account in terms of higher order states. The comparison features the “explanatory gap” (Nagel, 1974; Levine, 1983) the fact that we have no idea why the neural basis of an experience is the neural basis of that experience rather than another experience or no experience at all. (...)
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  11. Ned Block (2002). Some Concepts of Consciousness. In D. Chalmers (ed.), Philosophy of Mind: Classical and Contemporary Readings. 206-219.
    Consciousness is a mongrel concept: there are a number of very different "consciousnesses". Phenomenal consciousness is experience; the phenomenally conscious aspect of a state is what it is like to be in that state.
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  12. Manuel Bremer (2008). Peter Carruthers, Consciousness: Essays From a Higher-Order Perspective. Minds and Machines 18 (3):409-411.
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  13. Bruce Bridgeman (1992). Consciousness and Memory. Psycoloquy.
    Rosenthal makes assertions about what can and cannot happen without being conscious. Although his distinctions are informative, they do not substitute for data. We have little precise information that differentiates the immediate feeling of awareness, such as that possible for Korsakoff patients, from the later episodic memory of conscious experience. Appeals to introspection are useful starting points, but they are clearly are not to be trusted in this context. Rosenthal also asks why conscious thinking would be more efficacious than thinking (...)
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  14. Richard Brown (2015). The HOROR Theory of Phenomenal Consciousness. Philosophical Studies 172 (7):1783-1794.
    One popular approach to theorizing about phenomenal consciousness has been to connect it to representations of a certain kind. Representational theories of consciousness can be further sub-divided into first-order and higher-order theories. Higher-order theories are often interpreted as invoking a special relation between the first-order state and the higher-order state. However there is another way to interpret higher-order theories that rejects this relational requirement. On this alternative view phenomenal consciousness consists in having suitable higher-order representations. I call this ‘HOROR’ (‘Higher-Order (...)
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  15. Richard Brown (2014). Consciousness Doesn't Overflow Cognition. Frontiers in Psychology 5 (1399):10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01399.
    Theories of consciousness can be separated into those that see it as cognitive in nature, or as an aspect of cognitive functioning, and those that see consciousness as importantly distinct from any kind of cognitive functioning. One version of the former kind of theory is the higher-order-thought theory of consciousness. This family of theories posits a fundamental role for cognitive states, higher-order thought-like intentional states, in the explanation of conscious experience. These states are higher-order in that they represent the subject (...)
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  16. Richard Brown (2012). Review of 'The Consciousness Paradox: Consciousness, Concepts, and Higher-Order Thoughts' by Rocco J. Gennaro. [REVIEW] Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.
    There is much that is interesting in Gennaro's discussion of concepts and concept acquisition, and in general I am very sympathetic to the goals of his book, even if not with every detail (for another account of these issues that I don't fully agree with see Rosenthal 2005, chapter 7). I agree that we have good reason to think that some version of a higher-order thought theory of consciousness could be true and that this is consistent with animals and infants (...)
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  17. Richard Brown (2012). Editorial: Standing on the Verge: Lessons and Limits From the Empirical Study of Consciousness. Consciousness and Cognition 21 (2):597-599.
    The papers in this special issue are all descended from papers presented at the second Online Consciousness Conference. I founded the Online Consciousness Conference at Consciousness Online (http://consciousnessonline.wordpress.com) in 2008 mostly because no one else would. Being inspired by the Online Philosophy Conference, I mentioned to several people that it would be great if we had something like that in Consciousness Studies. People I talked to were very enthusiastic but no one seemed like they wanted to initiate the process. I (...)
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  18. Richard Brown (2012). The Brain and its States. In Shimon Edelman, Tomer Fekete & Neta Zach (eds.), Being in Time: Dynamical Models of Phenomenal Experience. John Benjamins 211-238.
    In recent times we have seen an explosion in the amount of attention paid to the conscious brain from scientists and philosophers alike. One message that has emerged loud and clear from scientific work is that the brain is a dynamical system whose operations unfold in time. Any theory of consciousness that is going to be physically realistic must take account of the intrinsic nature of neurons and brain activity. At the same time a long discussion on consciousness among philosophers (...)
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  19. Richard Brown (2012). The Myth of Phenomenological Overflow. Consciousness and Cognition 21 (2):599-604.
    In this paper I examine the dispute between Hakwan Lau, Ned Block, and David Rosenthal over the extent to which empirical results can help us decide between first-order and higher-order theories of consciousness. What emerges from this is an overall argument to the best explanation against the first-order view of consciousness and the dispelling of the mythological notion of phenomenological overflow that comes with it.
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  20. Richard Brown & Pete Mandik (2012). On Whether the Higher-Order Thought Theory of Consciousness Entails Cognitive Phenomenology, Or: What is It Like to Think That One Thinks That P? Philosophical Topics 40 (2):1-12.
    Among our conscious states are conscious thoughts. The question at the center of the recent growing literature on cognitive phenomenology is this: In consciously thinking P, is there thereby any phenomenology—is there something it’s like? One way of clarifying the question is to say that it concerns whether there is any proprietary phenomenology associated with conscious thought. Is there any phenomenology due to thinking, as opposed to phenomenology that is due to some co-occurring sensation or mental image? In this paper (...)
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  21. Derek Browne (1999). Carruthers on the Deficits of Animals. Psyche 5 (23).
    The simple version of the HOT theory of consciousness is easily refuted. Carruthers escapes this refutation because he is actually a closet introspectionist. I agree with Carruthers that the subjective properties of experience are constituted from discriminatory and other cognitive responses, but I disagree that conceptual uptake into a language of thought is the form of uptake that is necessary. Carruthers' neocartesian argument for a divide between 'man and brute' should be rejected.
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  22. Alex Byrne (2004). What Phenomenal Consciousness is Like. In Rocco J. Gennaro (ed.), Higher-Order Theories of Consciousness: An Anthology. John Benjamins
    The terminology surrounding the dispute between higher-order and first-order theories of consciousness is piled so high that it sometimes obscures the view. When the debris is cleared away, there is a real prospect.
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  23. Alex Byrne (1997). Some Like It HOT: Consciousness and Higher-Order Thoughts. Philosophical Studies 2 (2):103-29.
    Consciousness is the subject of many metaphors, and one of the most hardy perennials compares consciousness to a spotlight, illuminating certain mental goings-on, while leaving others to do their work in the dark. One way of elaborating the spotlight metaphor is this: mental events are loaded on to one end of a conveyer belt by the senses, and move with the belt.
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  24. Neil Campbell Manson (2002). What Does Language Tell Us About Consciousness? First-Person Mental Discourse and Higher-Order Thought Theories of Consciousness. Philosophical Psychology 15 (3):221 – 238.
    The fact that we can engage in first-person discourse about our own mental states seems, intuitively, to be bound up with consciousness. David Rosenthal draws upon this intuition in arguing for his higher-order thought theory of consciousness. Rosenthal's argument relies upon the assumption that the truth-conditions for "p" and "I think that p" differ. It is argued here that the truth-conditional schema debars "I think" from playing one of its roles and thus is not a good test for what (...)
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  25. Peter Carruthers, Higher-Order Theories of Consciousness. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
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  26. Peter Carruthers (2007). Higher-Order Theories of Consciousness. In Max Velmans & Susan Schneider (eds.), The Blackwell Companion to Consciousness. Blackwell
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  27. Peter Carruthers (2005). Consciousness: Essays From a Higher-Order Perspective. Oxford University Press.
    The first half of the volume is devoted to developing, elaborating, and defending against competitors one particular sort ofreductive explanation of phenomenal ..
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  28. Peter Carruthers (2005). Reply to Seager. Anthropology and Philosophy 6 (1/2):74-80.
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  29. Peter Carruthers (2005). Why the Question of Animal Consciousness Might Not Matter Very Much. Philosophical Psychology 18 (1):83-102.
    According to higher-order thought accounts of phenomenal consciousness it is unlikely that many non-human animals undergo phenomenally conscious experiences. Many people believe that this result would have deep and far-reaching consequences. More specifically, they believe that the absence of phenomenal consciousness from the rest of the animal kingdom must mark a radical and theoretically significant divide between ourselves and other animals, with important implications for comparative psychology. I shall argue that this belief is mistaken. Since phenomenal consciousness might be almost (...)
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  30. Peter Carruthers (2004). Hop Over FOR, HOT Theory. In Rocco J. Gennaro (ed.), Higher-Order Theories of Consciousness: An Anthology. John Benjamins
    Following a short introduction, this chapter begins by contrasting two different forms of higher-order perception theory of phenomenal consciousness - inner sense theory versus a dispositionalist kind of higher-order thought theory - and by giving a brief statement of the superiority of the latter. Thereafter the chapter considers arguments in support of HOP theories in general. It develops two parallel objections against both first-order representationalist theories and actualist forms of HOT theory. First, neither can give an adequate account of the (...)
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  31. Peter Carruthers (2003). Phenomenal Concepts and Higher-Order Experiences. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 68 (2):316-336.
    Relying on a range of now-familiar thought-experiments, it has seemed to many philosophers that phenomenal consciousness is beyond the scope of reductive explanation. (Phenomenal consciousness is a form of state-consciousness, which contrasts with creature-consciousness, or perceptual-consciousness. The different forms of state-consciousness include various kinds of access-consciousness, both first-order and higher-order--see Rosenthal, 1986; Block, 1995; Lycan, 1996; Carruthers, 2000. Phenomenal consciousness is the property that mental states have when it is like something to possess them, or when they have subjectively-accessible feels; (...)
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  32. Peter Carruthers, Precis of Phenomenal Consciousness: A Naturalistic Theory.
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  33. Peter Carruthers (2001). Consciousness: Explaining the Phenomena. In D. Walsh (ed.), Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement. Cambridge University Press 61-85.
    Can phenomenal consciousness be given a reductive natural explanation? Many people argue not. They claim that there is an.
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  34. Peter Carruthers (2000). Phenomenal Consciousness: A Naturalistic Theory. Cambridge University Press.
    How can phenomenal consciousness exist as an integral part of a physical universe? How can the technicolour phenomenology of our inner lives be created out of the complex neural activities of our brains? Many have despaired of finding answers to these questions; and many have claimed that human consciousness is inherently mysterious. Peter Carruthers argues, on the contrary, that the subjective feel of our experience is fully explicable in naturalistic terms. Drawing on a variety of interdisciplinary resources, he develops and (...)
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  35. Peter Carruthers (2000). Replies to Critics: Explaining Subjectivity. Psyche 6 (3).
    This article replies to the main objections raised by the commentators on Carruthers . It discusses the question of what evidence is relevant to the assessment of dispositional higher-order thought theory; it explains how the actual properties of phenomenal consciousness can be dispositionally constituted; it discusses the case of pains and other bodily sensations in non-human animals and young children; it sketches the case for preferring higher-order to first-order theories of phenomenal consciousness; and it replies to some miscellaneous points and (...)
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