Consciousness is not a property of states: A reply to Wilberg

Philosophical Psychology 27 (6):829-842 (2014)
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According to Rosenthal's higher-order thought (HOT) theory of consciousness, one is in a conscious mental state if and only if one is aware of oneself as being in that state via a suitable HOT. Several critics have argued that the possibility of so-called targetless HOTs—that is, HOTs that represent one as being in a state that does not exist—undermines the theory. Recently, Wilberg (2010) has argued that HOT theory can offer a straightforward account of such cases: since consciousness is a property of mental state tokens, and since there are no states to exhibit consciousness, one is not in conscious states in virtue of targetless HOTs. In this paper, I argue that Wilberg's account is problematic and that Rosenthal's version of HOT theory, according to which a suitable HOT is both necessary and sufficient for consciousness, is to be preferred to Wilberg's account. I then argue that Rosenthal's account can comfortably accommodate targetless HOTs because consciousness is best understood as a property of individuals, not a property of states.

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Jacob Berger
Lycoming College


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