The Semiotic Mind: A Fundamental Theory of Consciousness

Dissertation, York Universiy (2014)
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One of the leading concerns animating current philosophy of mind is that, no matter how good a scientific account is, it will leave out what its like to be conscious. The challenge has thus been to study or at least explain away that qualitative dimension. Pursuant with that aim, I investigate how philosophy of signs in the Peircean tradition can positively reshape ongoing debates. Specifically, I think the account of iconic or similarity-based reference we find in semiotic theory offers a more promising variant of the phenomenal concept strategy. Philosophers who endorse this strategy think that the difficulties we have fitting conscious qualia into a scientific picture may owe to the peculiar nature of indexical concepts. They point to the fact that, when we try to convey the feel of our experiences, we employ context-dependent gestures and/or utterances that are indexed to perspectives unique to each person. However, according to the theory I defend, there are three ways signs can refer, namely by convention, causal contact, and similarity. Since similarity is not reducible to proximity, I argue that a theory of reference that turns on shared quality can bypass some of the implausible consequences that plague indexical accounts. In the first chapter, I describe the apparatus needed to make sense of this claim. In the second chapter, I present my account of iconic reference. In the third chapter, I justify my reliance on a distinction that is less than real yet more than nominal. In the fourth chapter, I sketch a trinitarian metaphysics well-suited to house the foregoing account of qualia.
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