Understanding Consciousness

Dissertation, University of California, Berkeley (1994)
Abstract
My aim is to clarify a certain concept of consciousness, to describe its relation to intentionality, and to explain its importance. ;I begin by arguing that one has a knowledge of one's own mind distinct in kind from that one has of another's, and propose that we rely on this distinctively first-person knowledge in thinking about consciousness. Adopting this first-person approach, I discuss certain kinds of illustrative instances, both actual and possible, of consciousness and its absence. The actual cases are such as can be found in ordinary experience, and the possibilities are suggested by research on what has been called 'blindsight'. ;By reference to such examples, I draw attention to certain distinctions, the neglect of which reveals a neglect of consciousness. I argue that consciousness should not be identified with a capacity to respond discriminatively to stimuli, or with some form of self-representation or inner perception. And consciousness should be distinguished from the accessibility of information to certain cognitive capacities, and from certain kinds of functional role. ;I explain the relation between intentionality and consciousness via an account of phenomenal character. To say that experiences differ in phenomenal character is to say that they differ in ways that only what is conscious could, and to have experience with phenomenal character is to have phenomenal features. I argue that the phenomenal character of our perceptual experience, imagery, and non-imagistic thought is inseparable from our intentional features, for the phenomenal features we thus have are intentional ones. ;On this view, phenomenal features are heavily and pervasively involved in manifestations of human intelligence in perception and verbal thought. Thus theories of mind cannot afford to ignore consciousness or treat it as a peripheral topic. Finally, I contend that consciousness is important to us not just for what it contingently enables us to do; having phenomenal features is an essential part of what many of us want. And, I argue, the value we thus attach to consciousness is not trivial, but underlies basic ethical attitudes we have towards ourselves and one another
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