Higher-Order Awareness, Misrepresentation, and Function

Abstract
Conscious mental states are states we are in some way aware of. I compare higher-order theories of consciousness, which explain consciousness by appeal to such higher-order awareness (HOA), and first-order theories, which do not, and I argue that higher-order theories have substantial explanatory advantages. The higher-order nature of our awareness of our conscious states suggests an analogy with the metacognition that figures in the regulation of psychological processes and behaviour. I argue that, although both consciousness and metacognition involve higher-order psychological states, they have little more in common. One thing they do share is the possibility of misrepresentation; just as metacognitive processing can misrepresent one’s cognitive states and abilities, so the HOA in virtue of which one’s mental states are conscious can, and sometimes does, misdescribe those states. A striking difference between the two, however, has to do with utility for psychological processing. Metacognition has considerable benefit for psychological processing; in contrast, it is unlikely that there is much, if any, utility to mental states’ being conscious over and above the utility those states have when they are not conscious.
Keywords consciousness  conscious awareness  metacognitive awareness  function of consciousness  misrepresentation by consciousness  higher-order awareness  higher-order theory
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