Consciousness and the Prospects of Physicalism

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He maintains that due to general facts about the nature of the universe, we lack the free will required for the aspect of moral responsibility at issue in the traditional debate. That is, whether our actions are deterministically or indeterministically caused, we will not have the control in action required for our deserving to be blamed or punished for immoral decisions, and to be praised or rewarded for those that are morally exemplary. Pereboom nevertheless proposes that forward-looking aspects of blaming and praising, those that aim, for instance, at improving character and reconciliation in relationships, are compatible with our lacking free will.

He also contends that denying free will is likely to diminish anger and the desire to punish, and in this way can benefit human relationships, both personal and societal. The physicalist position Pereboom proposes in philosophy of mind develops two responses to the hard problem of consciousness , which is explicated by Frank Cameron Jackson 's knowledge argument and David Chalmers ' conceivability argument against physicalism.

The first response invokes the possibility that introspective representations fail to represent mental properties as they are in themselves; specifically, that introspection represents phenomenally conscious properties as having certain characteristic qualitative natures which these properties actually lack. This position is related to the more general illusionism about consciousness [8] advanced by Daniel Dennett and to an illusionist view set out by neuroscientist Michael Graziano.


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The second response draws on the Russellian monist proposal that currently unknown fundamental intrinsic properties provide categorical bases for known physical properties and also yield an account of consciousness. There are non-physicalist versions of this position, but some are amenable to physicalism, and Pereboom highlights such views in his treatment.

Pereboom defends a version of nonreductive physicalism , a view proposed by Hilary Putnam in the s, according to which types of mental states are not identical to types of states at lower levels, such as the neural and the microphysical. The nonreductive position he defends departs from others in that it also rejects all token-identity i. The relation between the mental and the microphysical is material constitution , with the provision that this relation is not to be explicated by the notion of identity.

Nor, it seems, can it be captured by any sort of compositional, causal, or structural characterization that is not itself phenomenal. And this seems true for any type of conscious experience; this is what the conceivability of zombies, etc. Thus it seems clear why there is an asymmetry between phenomenal-physical grounding claims and the others; namely, that—unlike for the other cases—there is no a priori or partially a priori, or quasi a priori characterization of the nature of conscious experience that is functional, compositional, or anything other than phenomenal i.

Blaesi, however, suggests that Identity Theorists have more resources than Grounding Physicalist to do so. As he notes, some physicalists e. Identities need no explaining. Therefore, if Grounding Physicalism is true, it leaves a genuinely explanatory gap, not a mere cognitive illusion. Once again, I agree that the only way to be an a posteriori non-reductive physicalist is to accept the explanatory gap.

So—or so it seems—phenomenal-physical identity statements also call out for explanation in a way that other identity statements do not. In my view the best explanation of why there is an explanatory gap for all phenomenal-physical grounding and identity claims—and why it occurs nowhere else—is that phenomenal concepts are special and unique.

In particular, they are recognitional-type-demonstrative concepts derived via introspection. Therefore they, and only they, have no conceptual connections to any physical or functional or physical-functional descriptions; they are—as many put it—radically conceptually isolated. This is why the Explanatory Gap arises both for identity or grounding statements in which one term expresses a phenomenal concept. On the view of phenomenal concepts sketched above, however, physicalists can avoid this conclusion. First, it explains why zombies are conceivable, namely, that there is no a priori connection between concepts such as [feels like] that and any physical or functional concepts.

Indeed, Blaesi observes that there is a difference between the paradigm cases of grounding and non-reductive physicalistic claims about phenomenal states. There may be something weird and special about phenomenal-physical grounding or identity statements, but that should be no concern to grounding theorists who want to clarify what metaphysical explanation requires. This is the a posteriori insight that H 2 O is the actual stuff that is potable, transparent etc. From this, the subject can then deduce that water is H 2 O.

Once you fix the functional analysis of water and fix the facts about what H 2 O does, it is not an open question whether or not H 2 O is water. It is credible though controversial that all reduction follows this general model. Applying this to the case of subjective character, we get premise 2. To reduce subjective character would involve functionalizing it and then showing that the relevant functional role is performed by physical properties.

It is the first of these steps that is problematic, hence premise 3. It seems that there is more to subjective character than the performance of some causal role. Even if a physical state occupies the causal role distinctive to mental states with subjective character, it would remain a further question whether that physical state is accompanied by consciousness. This is because subjective character is a non-functionalizable property—its functional role whatever that might be does not exhaust its nature.

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This captures how the apparent non-functionalizability of consciousness could be responsible for its apparent irreducibility. But why does consciousness appear non-functionalizable? To explain this would be to explain our intuition of irreducibility. Of course, anti-physicalists say that it appears non-functionalizable because it is non-functionalizable. But this is where the physicalist should be trying to block the argument for irreducibility. Yes , consciousness uniquely appears non-functionalizable but No , that appearance need not reflect consciousness really being non-functionalizable.

In order to understand why subjective character seems non-functionalizable it is worth reflecting on why other properties perhaps all other concrete properties appear open to functionalization. Kriegel has a plausible story to tell about this. We gain epistemic access to properties in virtue of their causal impact upon us. Sometimes this causal impact is relatively immediate, as in perception.

Other times it is more circuitous, as in the detection of properties using sophisticated scientific instruments. Because we can only know a property through how it affects us, it is inevitable that the criteria we have for that property being instantiated will be exclusively causal. For instance, our criteria for being water will involve nothing more than doing what water does. After all, if there were anything more than this to being water we would have no way of gaining epistemic access to it.

If normal properties appear functionalizable because they are known exclusively via their causal role, perhaps subjective character appears non- functionalizable because it is not known exclusively via its causal role.

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SR has interesting implications for our epistemic access to subjective character and Kriegel argues that this distinctive epistemic status is responsible for the appearance that consciousness is non-functionalizable. Because conscious states are self-representing, our epistemic access to the subjective character of our conscious state is built into the very instantiation of consciousness.

Rather, a subject gains causally unmediated acquaintance with subjective character simply by being in a conscious state. This is not to say that consciousness guarantees the presence of a belief that one is conscious—such propositional knowledge plausibly requires a further cognitive step. Rather, the idea is that when we are in a state of awareness, we are thereby aware of our awareness.

By instantiating the property of being conscious, a subject is put into epistemic contact with that very property. Crucially though, even though conscious states yield this special non-causal kind of knowledge they are still, according to Kriegel, wholly analysable in causal terms.

This appearance, however, is not to be trusted. Assume, for the sake of argument, that the instantiation of subjective character is nothing more than the instantiation of some functional property F: the instantiation of F suffices for suitable self-representation, which in turn suffices for being in a state with subjective character. If this were the case, SR predicts that we would have a dual epistemic access to F.

We would know F from the outside via its outward causal manifestations. We would also know F from the inside by ourselves instantiating it. This would create the appearance that the property to which we have that special inside access is something over and above the functional property we can access from the outside. Instead, the subjective character of our conscious state reveals itself to us directly. Put another way, the fact that our criteria for subjective character being instantiated are non-functional does not show that subjective character itself is non-functional.

Physicalists are thus free to tell the following functional story about consciousness: the occurrence of physical properties performing a certain causal role suffices for the instantiation of F; F suffices for the instantiation of a suitably self-representing mental state; such a representational state suffices for the instantiation of a conscious state; and finally, the occurrence of a conscious state suffices for the subject of that state having non-causal knowledge of their own consciousness.

This knowledge is non-causal in that the subject has epistemic access to their conscious state simply by being in it, and not by standing in some causal relation to it. That said, it is the causal properties of conscious states and their parts that make such non-causal knowledge possible. In other words, the non-causal epistemology of consciousness can be given a purely causal metaphysics. None of this confirms that consciousness is in fact a functional property.

It does, however, undermine our central reason for doubting that this is so. The apparent non-functionalizability of consciousness should not be taken at face value as it would still have this appearance even if it was in fact a functional property. Consciousness does indeed appear non-functionalizable, and thus irreducible. Kriegel claims that SR demystifies consciousness. Implicit in his proposed demystification is the following argument:. The discussion in the previous section suggests that premise 1 is highly plausible: SR predicts that subjective character appears irreducible but also shows why that appearance is not to be trusted.

My objection to Kriegel concerns his somewhat suppressed premise 2. I claim that the qualitative character of conscious states also appears irreducible, and that SR does nothing to neutralise this appearance of irreducibility. The phenomenal qualities of our conscious states appear to be inexplicable in physical terms. Consequently, even if the subjective character of consciousness could be demystified, we would still be left with something about consciousness that seems to resist reduction.

2. Zombies and physicalism

This claim breaks down into two theses: a that qualitative character appears irreducible and; b that the demystification of consciousness therefore requires the demystification of qualitative character. There are thus two possible ways in which Kriegel might resist my claim: he can deny that qualitative character appears irreducible or he can accept its apparent irreducibility but deny its relevance to the demystification of consciousness. I argue that neither route is feasible, and that SR therefore owes us a demystification of qualitative character.

In line with the first route, Kriegel comes quite close to denying that qualitative character appears to resist reduction. He writes:. The suggestion here is not that there is no need to explain qualitative character. If there is nothing about phenomenal qualities that makes them compellingly appear to be properties that resist reduction, then there is nothing about qualitative character that stands in need of demystification.

Consider, for instance, the claim that the phenomenal quality of pain is nothing more than the firing of C-fibers. The sense of mystery also comes out vividly in qualia-inversion cases: it appears conceivable that two subjects could be alike in all physical respects and yet differ with respect to the qualitative character of their respective experiences. This would, however, put him in an uncomfortable dialectical position.

Kriegel does take seriously the intuition that zombies are conceivable: indeed, it underwrites his case for regarding subjective character as mysterious. The intuition that qualia-inverts are conceivable seems to have parity with the first intuition. Consequently it looks inconsistent, or at least ad hoc, for Kriegel not to take the second intuition equally seriously. If conceivability intuitions are taken seriously regarding zombies, they should be taken equally seriously regarding qualia-inverts.

At the very least, good reasons need to be given for doubting that the two cases have parity, yet Kriegel provides no such reasons. Put another way, if Kriegel denies that qualia-inversion intuitions indicate that qualitative character is mysterious, he cannot comfortably maintain that zombie intuitions indicate that subjective character is mysterious. Although Kriegel cannot credibly deny that qualitative character appears irreducible, he might be able to deny that this is his problem.

SR promises to demystify consciousness. If the mystery of qualitative character is not a mystery that strictly pertains to consciousness, then SR does not owe us an account of it. An experience with a reddish quality, for instance, is an experience that suitably represents the property of being red.

Prof. Derk Pereboom: Consciousness And The Prospects Of Physicalism

Such external properties raise deep metaphysical problems. The redness of a ripe tomato, for instance, appears irreducible to its physical properties. No matter what underlying physical properties we cite, it remains a mystery why those properties would be associated with a red quality rather than, say, a green quality. I have two objections to this defence. The first objection is that it is very much an open question whether phenomenal qualities are external properties represented by experience, or whether they are instead internal properties of experiences themselves. If the internal property view is true, then the mysteriousness of qualitative character would clearly be part of the mystery of consciousness.

Since Kriegel cannot rule out this view, he cannot assume that the mysteriousness of qualitative character is only an inherited mystery. A conscious state is the kind of conscious state it is in virtue of its qualitative character i. If the external property view is true, then conscious states are typed by the external properties they represent. If those external properties are mysterious, then the properties that type conscious states are mysterious.

If the properties that type conscious states are mysterious, then surely demystifying them is a prerequisite of demystifying consciousness. As such, Kriegel would still owe us a demystification of phenomenal qualities. Indeed, other theorists who adopt an externalist view of qualitative character go on to confront the apparent inexplicability of externally-located phenomenal qualities e.

Tye Relatedly, when Kriegel concludes that phenomenal qualities are externally located, he does not infer that they are of no concern for theories of consciousness. Instead, he attempts to incorporate an account of qualitative character into his theory of consciousness. Since Kriegel believes that an explanation of consciousness owes us an explanation of qualitative character, he ought also to believe that a demystification of consciousness owes us a demystification of qualitative character.

In the previous section I argued that SR owes us a demystification of qualitative character.

Consciousness and the Prospects of Physicalism

The purpose of this section is to determine whether SR can make good on this debt. Kriegel arrives at his theory of qualitative character by starting with a familiar simple account of qualitative character. He then identifies a serious problem faced by that account, and shows how that problem can be avoided by introducing his more complex theory. The simple account is that when I look at the sky, my experience has the specific qualitative character it has—say, blue 16 —in virtue of representing the sky to have the property of b e i n g b l u e Now, this analysis of representation is not without its difficulties.

This simple representational account has difficulty accommodating a particular empirical datum regarding colour perception.

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If the simple representational account is right, then Norma must be representing the sky to be blue 17 all over, while Norman must be representing it to be blue 16 all over. This entails that the sky really is as they each represent it to be. This reductio tells us that something has gone wrong, but which step should be rejected?

One option is to deny that Norma and Norman both have veridical experiences. Furthermore, this account would be committed to saying that half the population consistently has illusory visual experiences, even under ideal conditions. The more credible option is to reject the simple representational account in favour of a theory that allows both Norma and Norman to have veridical experiences. He represents the property of being disposed to cause a neurophysiological state N 16 in male subjects under normal viewing conditions, where N 16 is the brain state that Norman and subjects like him go into when they look at a blue sky under normal conditions.

Importantly though, we can maintain that both experiences are veridical as the sky can have both response-dependent properties simultaneously: it can be both disposed to cause one kind of brain state in one kind of observer and disposed to cause a different kind of brain state in a different kind of observer. So although Norma and Norman are having different experiences, neither experience is illusory. Kriegel is thus led to the conclusion that:. This account of qualitative character clearly has a number of virtues.

The question we must now ask is whether it yields a credible reduction of qualitative character, or whether something about qualitative character remains unaccounted for. Let us grant that the property of representing certain response-dependent properties is amenable to reduction. The question is whether qualitative character is thereby reduced. I would argue that something is left unexplained by this account.

Why should representing that kind of response-dependent property yield this kind of experience rather than some other? When I represent the response-dependent property associated with bluish 17 experiences, it appears that my experience could just as easily have had a yellowish qualitative character. In other words, the qualitative character of experience still stands in need of demystification. One response available to Kriegel is that the quality we are aware of when we have a bluish 17 experience is one and the same as the relevant response-dependent property.

On this view, there is no room for qualitative character to vary independently of the properties our experience represents. There is, however, something odd about saying that the quality blue 17 is identical with some response-dependent property. Response-dependent properties are dispositional properties. In contrast, phenomenal qualities like blue 17 appear to be non-dispositional properties, where to be a non-dispositional property is to be a property whose nature is not exhausted by any disposition or set of dispositions.

Rather, the sky looks to have the occurrent categorical property of being a certain colour. What he does not recognise, however, is how this challenge parallels the difficulty faced by reductive accounts of subjective character. If you recall, the property of having subjective character resists physical explanation because of its apparent non-functionalisability. Now we see that the property of being blue 17 generates trouble because of its apparent non-dispositionality. But the 2nd-order property of being a non-dispositional property is closely related to the 2nd-order property of being non-functionalisable.

Somewhat tautologically, a property is non-dispositional just in case its nature is not exhausted by any dispositional property. Relatedly, a property is non-functionalisable just in case its nature is not exhausted by any set of dispositional properties. Just as subjective character appeared to transcend any purely causal characterisation, the qualitative properties of which we are subjectively aware appear to resist any purely causal characterisation too.

Kriegel considers two possible responses to the problem at hand: denying that phenomenal qualities appear non-dispositional or accepting this appearance but denying its veridicality. The parallel I have drawn between the apparently disposition-transcending nature of subjective and qualitative character has important consequences for the assessment of both responses.

The first response is the one Kriegel officially advocates, albeit somewhat reluctantly. The difficulty with this move is that denying there is a genuine appearance of non-dispositionality regarding phenomenal qualities is in tension with accepting that there is an appearance of non-functionalisability regarding subjective character.

The very same admonition should encourage him to acknowledge the apparent non-dispositionality of phenomenal qualities.

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