What does language tell us about consciousness? First-person mental discourse and higher-order thought theories of consciousness

Philosophical Psychology 15 (3):221 – 238 (2002)
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 is asserted when "I think" is employed in making an assertoric utterance. The critique of Rosenthal's argument allows us to make explicit the intuitions which shape higher-order representation theories of consciousness in general. Consciousness and first-person mental discourse seem to be connected primarily because consciousness is an epistemic term, used to denote first-person knowledge of minds. Higher-order thought theories of consciousness draw upon this epistemic notion of consciousness, and because self-knowledge seems to involve higher-order representation, the higher-order theorist can deploy what is in effect an "error theory" about conscious experience disguised as a kind of conceptual analysis of our ordinary concept of a conscious mental state. The conclusion reached is that there is unlikely to be a simple or direct path from considerations about mental discourse to conclusions about the nature of consciousness.
Keywords Consciousness  First Person  Language  Metaphysics  Mind  Rosenthal, D
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DOI 10.1080/0951508021000006076
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Thomas Nagel (1974). What is It Like to Be a Bat? Philosophical Review 83 (October):435-50.

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