Correlation, Causation, Constitution: On the Interplay between the Science and Philosophy of Consciousness

In S. M. Miller (ed.), The Constitution of Phenomenal Consciousness. John Benjamins. pp. 400-417 (2015)
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Consciousness is a natural phenomenon, the object of a flourishing area of research in the natural sciences – research whose primary goal is to identify the neural correlates of consciousness. This raises the question: why is there need for a philosophy of consciousness? As we see things, the need for a philosophy of consciousness arises for two reasons. First, as a young and energetic science operating as yet under no guiding paradigm, the science of consciousness has been subject to considerable confusion regarding its methodological, conceptual, and philosophical foundations, and it is philosophy’s mandate to address such confusion in an attempt to regiment scientific practice. Secondly, the identification of a neural feature that correlated perfectly with consciousness would still leave open a certain metaphysical question: is the relation between consciousness and the relevant neural feature merely correlation, or is that correlation indicative of a deeper, more intimate relation between the two? In this paper, we offer an opinionated overview of the philosophy of consciousness as it addresses these two dimensions of consciousness research.
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