The Development of Consciousness

Dissertation, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (2017)
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The principal aim of the thesis is to develop a developmental account of conscious experience. In this account, the objective is to understand and explain the phenomenal experience of newborns and pre-linguistic infants. The question that guides the investigation concerns the phenomenality of babies' experiences: what is it like to be a baby? There are some crucial philosophical issues that any account of the nature of infant consciousness must face: the ontology of early conscious states; the epistemic status of infants' experiences; the content of infants' experiences. The thesis addresses how we evolve as conscious beings from early states of life until we become full self-conscious beings who are morally responsible for our actions. The thesis involves four chapters. The first chapter explores phenomenal consciousness in newborns, first addressing the epistemological and methodological problems, and then arguing that newborns are phenomenally conscious and have a variety of phenomenal experiences. The second chapter addresses representation in newborns, claiming that their conscious experiences represent the world and discussing the consequences for representationalism. The third chapter focuses on the sense of agency, arguing that infants have a sense of agency and a sort of self-consciousness. The fourth chapter discusses moral agency, focusing mainly on the role of empathy.

Author's Profile

Claudia Passos-Ferreira
New York University


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