The utility of conscious thinking on higher-order theory

Philosophical Explorations 15 (3):303 - 316 (2012)

Higher-order theories of consciousness posit that a mental state is conscious by virtue of being represented by another mental state, which is therefore a higher-order representation (HOR). Whether HORs are construed as thoughts or experiences, higher-order theorists have generally contested whether such metarepresentations have any significant cognitive function. In this paper, I argue that they do, focusing on the value of conscious thinking, as distinguished from conscious perceiving, conscious feeling, and other forms of conscious mentality. A thinking process is constituted by propositional-attitude states, and during conscious thinking some or all of these states would be targeted by HORs. Since cases of nonconscious thinking are widely accepted, the question arises as to the use of representing one's thoughts during thinking. Contra the views of Armstrong and Rolls, I argue that HORs do not facilitate first-order thinking. Rather, I propose that such representations enable reasoning about one's act of thinking, and I give various examples of this sort of metacognition in support of the theory. I further argue that the general correlation between complex thinking and its being conscious is merely due to the fact that assessing one's mental act is particularly useful during such thinking, not because consciousness somehow facilitates first-order inference-making, as folk psychology implies. My view is thus consistent with recent empirical evidence that complex thinking sometimes yields better results when nonconscious
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DOI 10.1080/13869795.2012.696132
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The Language of Thought.Jerry A. Fodor - 1975 - Harvard University Press.
The Illusion of Conscious Will.R. Holton - 2004 - Mind 113 (449):218-221.

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