David Rosenthal: Consciousness | Who Shaves the Barber? #29

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Continuing my discussion with philosopher of mind David Rosenthal, we now focus on consciousness itself. There are two plausible theories, says Rosenthal: that consciousness is an “inner sense” or that it is a kind of thought. He argues for the latter, claiming that awareness is a “higher order thought”: that is, a thought about a mental state. When we are conscious, according to Rosenthal’s theory, all that’s going on is that we are having a thought about the mental state we are in. Notice that, since you’re not usually having a thought about your own awareness (unless you’re a philosopher), your consciousness is not itself usually conscious. He fills out the details of this theory and defends it against some objections.

Rosenthal spends the second half of the episode arguing that consciousness has little to no utility. He speculates as to why this idea seems so intuitively repugnant, and as to why we might have developed consciousness despite its lack of utility.

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Next week: Daniel Howard: Philosophical Novels and Relativism

Special thanks to Jackie Blum for the podcast art, and The Tin Box for the theme music.
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Topics discussed

0:45 – Conscious versus unconscious perception
4:45 – Awareness: inner sense
6:06 – Awareness: higher order thought
15:19 – Regress of higher order thought?
17:32 – Disposition to higher order thoughts
22:13 – Consciousness has little or no utility
29:12 – Why did we develop consciousness if it’s not useful?…

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