‘What it is Like’ Talk is not Technical Talk

Journal of Consciousness Studies 23 (9-10):50-65 (2016)
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Abstract
‘What it is like’ talk (‘WIL-talk’) — the use of phrases such as ‘what it is like’ — is ubiquitous in discussions of phenomenal consciousness. It is used to define, make claims about, and to offer arguments concerning consciousness. But what this talk means is unclear, as is how it means what it does: how, by putting these words in this order, we communicate something about consciousness. Without a good account of WIL-talk, we cannot be sure this talk sheds light, rather than casts shadows, on our investigations of consciousness. The popular technical account of WIL-talk (see e.g. Lewis, 1995, and Kim, 1998) holds that WIL-talk involves technical terms — terms which look like everyday words but have a distinct meaning — introduced by philosophers. I argue that this account is incorrect by showing that the alleged technical terms were not introduced by philosophers, and that these terms do not have a technical meaning.
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