Consciousness Semanticism: A Precise Eliminativist Theory of Consciousness

In Valentin Klimov & David Kelley (eds.), Biologically Inspired Cognitive Architectures 2021. Springer International Publishing. pp. 20-41 (2022)
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Many philosophers and scientists claim that there is a ‘hard problem of consciousness’, that qualia, phenomenology, or subjective experience cannot be fully understood with reductive methods of neuroscience and psychology, and that there is a fact of the matter as to ‘what it is like’ to be conscious and which entities are conscious (Chalmers, 1995). Eliminativism and related views such as illusionism argue against this; they claim that consciousness does not exist in the ways implied by everyday or scholarly language. However, this debate has largely consisted of each side jousting analogies and intuitions against the other. Both sides remain unconvinced. To break through this impasse, I present _consciousness semanticism_, a novel eliminativist theory that sidesteps analogy and intuition. Instead, it is based on a direct, formal argument drawing from the tension between the vague semantics in definitions of consciousness such as ‘what it is like’ to be an entity (Nagel, 1975) and the precise meaning implied by questions such as, ‘Is this entity conscious?’ I argue that semanticism naturally extends to erode realist notions of other philosophical concepts, such as morality and free will. Formal argumentation from precise semantics exposes these as pseudo-problems and removes their apparent mysteriousness and intractability.

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Jacy Reese Anthis
Sentience Institute


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