Can We Provide a Plausible Evolutionary Account of the Emergence of Phenomenal Consciousness?


The nature of phenomenal consciousness has been the subject of much debate. It seems that the phenomenal character of certain mental states is intimately related to the functional, cognitive or intentional properties of those states. The relationship between functional, intentional and cognitive properties and phenomenal properties remains mysterious. Explaining the evolutionary development of such states may enable us to develop a better understanding of the nature of phenomenal consciousness. It is therefore my aim to evaluate the prospect of providing a plausible evolutionary explanation of phenomenal consciousness. I discuss the distinction highlighted by Block between access consciousness and phenomenal consciousness, before identifying some of the important features of phenomenal consciousness that need to be explained. I then discuss attempts to provide an evolutionary account of consciousness from Daniel Dennett and Peter Carruthers, evaluating whether they account for the emergence of phenomenal consciousness or access consciousness, as distinguished by Block. I compare these accounts and assess whether they can account for any of the important features of phenomenal consciousness. I finally evaluate the implications this might have for the prospect of a successful evolutionary account of the emergence of phenomenal consciousness.



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Lisa McLellan
University of Edinburgh

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