Intuitions about Consciousness: Experimental Studies

Philosophers have long been concerned with intuitions about consciousness, but this interest usually takes a peculiar form. The fundamental goal is typically not to understand the intuitions themselves, with all the psychological intricacies. Instead, what philosophers really want to understand is the true nature of consciousness, and they turn to intuitions as a way of getting indirect evidence about this other topic. This emphasis strikes us as unfortunate. Intuitions about consciousness are fascinating phenomena, amply worthy of study in their own right. The fact that people have the intuitions they do can teach us something valuable about the way people ascribe mental states, the way they think about non-human animals, perhaps even the way they make moral judgments. Our aim here, then, is to conduct a straightforward investigation into people’s intuitions about consciousness. In pursuing this line of inquiry, we truly have no ulterior motives. It is not as though we are trying to present a theory about the true nature of consciousness and have simply chosen to argue for it in a roundabout way. Rather, we are genuinely intrigued by the intuitions themselves, and we want to get a better understanding of the psychological mechanisms that generate them. Our paper therefore draws on a number of different lines of existing research, including research in ‘theory of mind’ (e.g., Gopnik & Meltzoff; Scholl & Leslie 1999), research in consciousness studies (e.g., Block 1978; 1995), and research about how people determine which sorts of entities are capable of having mental states (Inagaki & Hatano 1991; Johnson 2000). Because our aims are somewhat unusual, we will be making use of a somewhat unusual method. First we introduce hypotheses about the psychological mechanisms underlying people’s intuitions; then we put these hypotheses to the test using systematic experiments..
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