Consciousness, folk psychology, and cognitive science

Abstract

This paper supports the basic integrity of the folk psychological conception of consciousness and its importance in cognitive theorizing. Section 1 critically examines some proposed definitions of consciousness, and argues that the folk- psychological notion of phenomenal consciousness is not captured by various functional-relational definitions. Section 2 rebuts the arguments of several writers who challenge the very existence of phenomenal consciousness, or the coherence or tenability of the folk-psychological notion of awareness. Section 3 defends a significant role for phenomenal consciousness in the execution of a certain cognitive task, viz., classification of one's own mental states. Execution of this task, which is part of folk psychologizing, is taken as a datum in scientific psychology. It is then argued (on theoretical grounds) that the most promising sort of scientific model of the self-ascription of mental states is one that posits the kinds of phenomenal properties invoked by folk psychology. Cognitive science and neuroscience can of course refine and improve upon the folk understanding of consciousness, awareness, and mental states generally. But the folk-psychological constructs should not be jettisoned; they have a role to play in cognitive theorizing.

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Robert Gordon
University of Missouri, St. Louis

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