Methodological Encounters with the Phenomenal Kind

Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 84 (2):307-344 (2011)
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Block’s well-known distinction between phenomenal consciousness and access consciousness has generated a large philosophical literature about putative conceptual connections between the two. The scientific literature about whether they come apart in any actual cases is rather smaller. Empirical evidence gathered to date has not settled the issue. Some put this down to a fundamental methodological obstacle to the empirical study of the relation between phenomenal consciousness and access consciousness. Block (2007) has drawn attention to the methodological puzzle and attempted to answer it. While the evidence Block points to is relevant and important, this paper puts forward a more systematic framework for addressing the puzzle. To give it a label, the approach is to study phenomenal consciousness as a natural kind. The approach allows consciousness studies to move beyond the initial means of identifying instances of the kind, like verbal report, and to find its underlying nature. It is wellrecognised that facts about an underlying kind may allow identification of instances of the kind that do not match the initial means of identification (cp. non-liquid samples of water). This paper shows that the same method can be deployed to investigate phenomenal consciousness independently of access consciousness

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Nicholas Shea
School of Advanced Study, University of London


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