Intentionality and phenomenality: A phenomenological take on the hard problem

Canadian Journal of Philosophy, Supplementary Volume 29:63-92 (2003)
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Abstract

In his book The Conscious Mind David Chalmers introduced a by now familiar distinction between the hard problem and the easy problems of consciousness. The easy problems are those concerned with the question of how the mind can process information, react to environmental stimuli, and exhibit such capacities as discrimination, categorization, and introspection (Chalmers, 1996, 4, 1995, 200). All of these abilities are impressive, but they are, according to Chalmers, not metaphysically baffling, since they can all be tackled by means of the standard repertoire of cognitive science and explained in terms of computational or neural mechanisms. This task might still be difficult, but it is within reach. In contrast, the hard problem—also known as the problem of consciousness (Chalmers, 1995, 201)—is the problem of explaining why mental states have phenomenal or experiential qualities. Why is it like something to ‘taste coffee’, to ‘touch an ice cube’, to ‘look at a sunset’ etc.? Why does it feel the way it does? Why does it at all feel like anything? Chalmers’s distinction confronts us with a version of the so-called ‘explanatory gap’. On the one hand, we have certain cognitive functions, which can apparently be explained reductively, and on the other hand, we have a number of experiential qualities, which seem to resist this reductive explanation. We can establish that a certain function is accompanied by a certain experience, but we have no idea why that happens, and regardless of how closely we scrutinize the neural mechanisms we don’t seem to be getting any closer at an answer. In his book, Chalmers also distinguished two concepts of mind: a phenomenal concept and a psychological concept. The first captures the conscious aspect of mind: Mind is understood in terms of conscious experience. The second concept understands mind in functional terms as the causal or explanatory basis for behavior..

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Dan Zahavi
University of Copenhagen