Preserving the Normative Significance of Sentience

Journal of Consciousness Studies 31 (1):8-30 (2024)
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According to an orthodox view, the capacity for conscious experience (sentience) is relevant to the distribution of moral status and value. However, physicalism about consciousness might threaten the normative relevance of sentience. According to the indeterminacy argument, sentience is metaphysically indeterminate while indeterminacy of sentience is incompatible with its normative relevance. According to the introspective argument (by François Kammerer), the unreliability of our conscious introspection undercuts the justification for belief in the normative relevance of consciousness. I defend the normative relevance of sentience against these objections. First, I demonstrate that physicalists only have to concede a limited amount of indeterminacy of sentience. This moderate indeterminacy is in harmony with the role of sentience in determining moral status. Second, I argue that physicalism gives us no reason to expect that introspection is unreliable with respect to the normative relevance of consciousness.

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Leonard Dung
Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg


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