The Rational Role of Experience

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If there is content that we reason on, cognitive content, it is in the head and accessible to reasoning mechanisms. This paper discusses the phenomenal theory of cognitive content, according to which cognitive contents are the contents of phenomenal consciousness. I begin by distinguishing cognitive content from the closely associated notion of narrow content. I then argue, drawing on prior work, that the phenomenal theory can plausibly account for the cognitive contents of many relatively simple mental states. My main focus in this paper is the question whether the phenomenal theory can account for the apparently abstract and complex cognitive contents of "high-level" thoughts. It might seem dubious that the theory can account for such cognitive contents, because cognitive phenomenology is too scarce and too thin. However, I argue there are in fact few abstract or complex cognitive contents, so the phenomenal theory's predictions are correct. This position explains some apparently irrational behavior that is otherwise hard to explain, and it makes sense of the central role of inner speech and other forms of consciousness in reasoning.
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First archival date: 2017-05-18
Latest version: 8 (2017-07-01)
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