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Symposium on Joseph Gottlieb’s “Verbal Disputes in the Theory of Consciousness”

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It’s my pleasure to introduce our next Ergo symposium, featuring Joseph Gottlieb’s “Verbal Disputes in the Theory of Consciousness“, including commentaries by Jonathan Farrell, Assaf Weksler, and Josh Weisberg. I’d like begin by thanking each of the participants for their great work. One of the basic rifts within consciousness research is between First-Order and Higher-Order theories of consciousness. This debate centers on the following disputed claim: TRANSITIVITY: A mental state is conscious only if one is in some way aware of that mental state. To illustrate, according to transitivity, if Michael’s perception of the tree in front of him is conscious rather than unconscious, then Michael is aware of his perception of the tree. Higher-Order theorists affirm this conditional, while First-Order theorists reject it. Although trenchant, Gottlieb argues that the debate over transitivity is ultimately verbal. The culprit, Gottlieb suggests, is the Nagelian Conception of consciousness: THE NAGELIAN CONCEPTION: For any mental state M of a subject S, M is conscious iff there is something it is like for S to be in M. As Gottlieb notes, The Nagelian Conception is taken as common ground in the First-Order/Higher-Order debate. The question is whether consciousness in the Nagelian sense requires higher order awareness. That is, the dispute is over the truth-value of: NAGELIAN TRANSITIVITY: A mental state is like something for its subject only if its subject is in some way aware of that mental state. Crucially, however, the central phrase of The Nagelian Conception (‘is like something for its subject’) is semantically ambiguous, and Gottlieb suggests that this ambiguity is at the heart of the controversy over transitivity. Specifically, Gottlieb suggests that First-Order and Higher-Order theorists disagree about the truth-value of transitivity because they tacitly disagree about the meaning of the expression ‘like something for its subject’.. . .

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News source: Philosophy of Mind – The Brains Blog

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