CONSCIOUS IS SOMETHING'S BEING ACTUAL -- WHAT, AND HOW?
by Ted Honderich
A lecture handout for talks in Cambridge, Bath, Edinburgh, Sussex 2009-10. Each of them, like a good deal else, moving things forward a little towards the full story in the book Actual Consciousness.
1 Ordinary Consciousness -- An Initial Clarification Missing?
Despite our commonsense primary definition of what it is to be conscious, and announcements of consensus, the philosophy and science of consciousness is a melee of disagreement. Is this owed to the absence of an initial clarification of the subject? Is there a rough necessary and sufficient condition of ordinary consciousness to be found in five leading ideas in the philosophy & science? If not, is there anyway data for an initial clarification?
2 Leading Ideas
Being conscious is having qualia. But what do they include? In any case, no general clarification here -- consciousness also has in it propositional attitudes.
Being conscious is there being something it is like to be a thing. Must be something it is like for the thing. Circularity.
Being conscious is a subjective state. Circularity of reference to a conscious subject, or experience.
An intentional or representative state. Not general.
Ned Block's two kinds of consciousness: phenomenal and access. Second not experience, hence not ordinary consciousness at all.
3 Thoughts and Impulses or Data in the Five Ideas and Elsewhere
Being conscious in the primary ordinary sense is:
something's being had, something all of it being had -- held, possessed or owned,
something's being experienced -- met with, encountered, contacted or undergone, all of it, as in the case of each of the thoughts and impulses below,
something's being direct or immediate,
something's somehow existing,
there being something for something else,
something's being self-presenting, self-confirming or self-intimating,
something's being open -- all in view or on view, or open,
something's being presented,
something's being present,
something being there, right there,
all of something being given -- something that consists in no more than what is given,
something being before something else,
something's being in a way provided or supplied,
something being to some extent a matter of privileged access, something known best by the conscious thing,
there being, in perceptual consciousness, the world as it is for someone,
something being close, as some say an ego is,
something's being within awareness -- being at that time somehow perceived,
something's being before something else,
something's somehow being to something else,
there being, with perceptual consciousness, the world as it is for someone,
something's being transparent, in the sense of being wholly seen without any medium being seen in between -- rather than seen through a just-discernible medium.
These characteristics of something's being conscious in the primary ordinary primary sense can be summed up as something's being actual. That is the initial clarification of consciousness -- a first approximnation to a necessary and sufficient condition. Ordinary consciousness is what can be called actual consciousness.
So obviously there are two questions to be answered, two primary criteria to be satisfied, by an adequate theory of ordinary consciousness. Answers to What is actual? and What is something's being actual?
Do the thoughts and impulses or data, and the summary, make for only metaphorical, otherwise figurative, vague, inchoate initial clarification, rather than literal? Of course. Anyway mainly. Cf initial metaphor in the whole history of science, including main science.
4 Functionalism and Four More Criteria for an Adequate Theory
Functionalism divides into Abstract Functionalism and Physical Functionalism. Both fail. The first is in fact amounts to historical dualism. They illustrate four more criteria for an adequate theory of consciousness: reality, causal role, difference-in-kind, subjectivity.
5 Other Criteria
Adequate account of the three parts, sides or elements of consciousness.
Answer to what has the best claim to the name of the mind-body problem, and related problems -- 'the hard problem', 'the explanatory gap'.
Make sense of and satisfy the demand for an 'intelligible' rather than a 'brute' connection between brain and consciousness.
A theory must consort with science, to say very the least.
Intentionality or aboutness must be given some place.
Some account of the extent of your privileged access to your own conscious states, and also privacy.
It will recognize our common uncertainty about internalism or cranialism.
6 The Actualism Theory of Perceptual, Reflective, & Affective Consciousness
The theory is a subjective physicalism, in part an externalism.
In your perceptual consciousness now, what is actual is only a room, a perceived world, out there in space and time, not in your head.
Nothing else whatever is actual, including neurons, abstract stuff, a self, qualia, direction, content, vehicle of content, just discernible medium etc. A whole pile of stuff that gets into the science and philosophy of consciousness is just missing. It is not denied, of course, but relocated. A small Copernicanism.
What it is for the perceived world to be actual is only for it to exist -- in a well defined sense.
In reflective consciousness, differently, what is actual is propositional attitudes having to do with truth. Beliefs in a general sense. At bottom, representations. What it is for them to be actual is only for them to exist in a defined sense.
In affective consciousness, what is actual is propositional attitudes having to do with the good in a general sense. Desires in a general sense. Representations at bottom. What it is for them to be actual is again only for them to exist.
In sum, subjective physicalism. Space-and-time-occupying reality with a particular dependencies different from those of the objective physical world. Your consciousness is a subjective in that (i) it is different from the objective worlds and from my consciousness, and (ii) dependent not only on an objective physical world but on you neurally. Cf objective physicalisms.
A more radical externalism re perceptual consciousness than those of Putnam & Burge re meaning.
7 Satisfying Many Criteria
The two main questions -- the theory answers them, no doubt because they shaped it. Can other theories possibly be rewritten into answers? No.
Reality criterion. Actualism does indeed make consciousness a reality, in fact a kind of physical reality. A reality in certain ways prior to objective physical reality.
Causal role criterion. Theory allows for causal connection between being conscious and the physical. Certainly there can be causal relations between realities at different levels, different categorizations of reality.
Difference in kind. The theory makes such a difference -- between being subjectively physical and objectively physical.
Subjectivity. It gives a very substantal account of subjectivity, as noted.
Three parts, kinds, sides or elements of consciousness.
The mind-body problem dealt with. Other thinking and research, anyway in its general assumptions and generalizations, didn't get the whole basis of consciousness right. Actualism recognizes and deals with a wider problem.
An 'intelligible' rather than a 'brute' connection between brain and consciousness? Problem really the supposed great difference between consciousness and e.g. the brain.
Science. Actualism neither denies nor replaces any neuroscience or psychology or cognitive science. Leaves everything of consciousness itself and also its physicality-relations as subjects of science -- and of the philosophy that is a concentration on logic. Frees science from its residual uncertainty about somehow missing a subject, even the main subject.
Reluctance about consciousness within the head -- pure cranialism. Actualism says the right answer to the location question is its mixed one.
Intentionality or aboutness. Actualism gives it a large place, but in reflective and affective consciousness, not perceptual consciousness.
Privileged access. An account given.
Actualism is an externalism more radical but in a way less general than the meaning-externalisms of Putnam and Burge.
8 Ordinary Consciousness the Right Subject?
As for other theories, say that of two kinds of consciousness, there can be no objection to considering consciousness together with its basis or bases.
Can there be any objection to considering consciousness separately? You can indeed say consciousness and basis, or rather bases, are both explanatory of behaviour, which obviously is true. So what?
Are there reasons for considering consciousness separately? None are needed. But, if pressed, we can answer that it as against its bases stands in unique connection with human life: the great human goods, ethics, responsibility and credit.
Reading: Actual Consciousness, Oxford University Press, 2014; On Consciousness, Edinburgh University Press, 2004; Anthony Freeman, ed., Radical Externalism: Honderich's Theory of Consciousness Discussed, Imprint Academic; review by Colin McGinn of On Consciousness, and a reply, and also other papers, at http://www.homepages.ucl.ac.uk/~uctytho/ .