Hard, Harder, Hardest

In Arthur Sullivan (ed.), Sensations, Thoughts, and Language: Essays in Honor of Brian Loar. New York, USA: Routledge. pp. 265-289 (2020)
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In this paper I discuss three problems of consciousness. The first two have been dubbed the “Hard Problem” and the “Harder Problem”. The third problem has received less attention and I will call it the “Hardest Problem”. The Hard Problem is a metaphysical and explanatory problem concerning the nature of conscious states. The Harder Problem is epistemological, and it concerns whether we can know, given physicalism, whether some creature physically different from us is conscious. The Hardest Problem is a problem about reference. Recently some philosophers – among them David Papineau – who advocate a physicalist approach to both the Hard and the Harder problem have called into question the common sense assumption that phenomenal concepts – subjective concepts that we apply directly to experience – refer determinately (modulo vagueness) to real properties that can be instantiated in minds other than my own. The Hardest Problem is the problem of explaining how, given physicalism, this assumption could be true. In this paper I explore how these three problems appear from the perspective of a physicalist approach to consciousness based on Brian Loar’s account of phenomenal concepts, recently dubbed the “phenomenal concept strategy”. My contention is that this approach can go quite far in handling not just the first two problems but the Hardest Problem as well.
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