Drop it like it’s HOT: a vicious regress for higher-order thought theories

Philosophical Studies 176 (6):1563-1572 (2019)
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Higher-order thought theories of consciousness attempt to explain what it takes for a mental state to be conscious, rather than unconscious, by means of a HOT that represents oneself as being in the state in question. Rosenthal Consciousness and the self: new essays, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2011) stresses that the way we are aware of our own conscious states requires essentially indexical self-reference. The challenge for defenders of HOT theories is to show that there is a way to explain the required reference-fixing mechanisms that is compatible with the theory. According to Rosenthal, the reference to oneself as such is grounded in the disposition to identify the individual the HOT refers to as the individual who has that HOT. I argue that this leads to a vicious infinite regress on the more than plausible assumption that our cognitive capacities are limited. This leaves such theories without a foundation, since self-reference is thought essential to consciousness.
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