Conscious experience and concept-forming abilities

Acta Analytica 16 (26):45-52 (2001)

Elisabeth Pacherie
Institut Jean Nicod
Pierre Jacob's book, What Minds Can Do , is mainly concerned with intentionality. Jacob's primary goal is to explain both how it is possible for a physical system to have intentional mental states and how the intentional content of such mental states can play a role in the causal explanation of behaviour. Yet, he also tackles the issue of the nature of conscious experience. I shall focus here on a claim he makes in connection with this latter topic. The claim (made at the very end of Chapter 2, p. 77) is that in order to undergo states of consciousness a creature must have concept-forming abilities. At first sight, this contention seems implausibly strong. Although our intuitions in such matters may not be very reliable, I think many people would be willing to attribute to members of certain animal species a capacity to enjoy conscious experiences, while being reluctant to grant them concept forming abilities. The plausibility or implausibility of Jacob's claim depends in a large part on how one construes the notion of a conscious experience, as well as on what one considers concept-forming abilities to be. Since the topic of consciousness is rather peripheral in Jacob's book, the rejection of this claim would not directly affect his more central theses. Yet, examining it gives us an opportunity to scrutinize a distinction that plays a central role in Dretske's work and that Jacob endorses, namely, the distinction between analogical and digital coding of information. Since this distinction underlies in turn the distinction between sensory content and conceptual content and since the latter distinction is at the core of informational semantics, this discussion may have at least indirect implications for some other problems discussed by Jacob in his book
Keywords Ability  Concept  Experience  Metaphysics  Mind  Jacob, P
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