Uriah Kriegel (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of the Philosophy of Consciousness, Oxford: Oxford University Press 2020, xiv+696 p., £110, ISBN 978-0-19-874967-7.
The handbook under review collects 31 unpublished papers of varying length (they range from 14 to 32 pages, including bibliography, with a majority of them having ca 20-25 pages).
Uriah Kriegel has not only edited it, but contributed one of chapters and an introduction. As he explains in his introduction “What is the Philosophy of Consciousness?”, the volume has been prompted by a concern that, for all its progress, science is not able to answer all the questions that are relevant to consciousness; hence philosophical supplementation is necessary for a full understanding.
The volume’s scope is limited by questions concerning conscious experience being either grounded in or dependent upon three kinds of phenomena: (i) other types of conscious experience, (ii) psychological phenomena other than conscious experience, and (iii) non-mental processes or states.
The papers are grouped into three sections: (i) “Varieties of Conscious Experience” (reminiscent of the title of Kriegel’s 2015 book) – chapters 2-10, (ii) “Theories of Consciousness” – chapters 11-22, and (iii) “Consciousness and Neighboring Phenomena” – chapters 23-31. The volume ends with an index that is certainly helpful but, alas, too selective. Below, I survey the 31 chapters and conclude with a more general word.
David Papineau (“The Problem of Consciousness”) investigates how consciousness relates to other features of reality. Although physicalism is a dominant philosophical position, many, including physicalists, find it hard to believe in mind-body identity. Papineau remarks that it is a strange fact that even those who deny dualism cannot, or do not, avoid dualist phraseology. In their accounts, they repeatedly speak of brain processes that cause or generate (or the like) conscious states. This fact reveals that there is, or may be, some truth in intuitive resistance to physicalism.
Pär Sundström (“Visual Experience”) studies visual experiences, in particular their transparency, the kind of properties they display, and whether they present external spatiotemporal particulars. He remarks that it does not have to be the case that “if two experiences […] are the same in what they are like, they must be the same in what they are phenomenally of” (p. 58), because the agent may be simply unable to distinguish the two experiences. Accordingly, the idea that an agent is in direct contact with outer, spatiotemporal objects is under various threats.
Casey O’Callaghan (“Non-Visual Perception”) covers forms of perceptual consciousness other than visual, viz. hearing, touch, smell, and taste. He focuses on exteroceptive and sensory forms of perception. Various sense-experiences may occur simultaneously, and in some cases they are unified into a single experience. Since an experience often draws upon more than one sense, it is methodologically problematic to analyze one sense in abstraction or isolation from the others.
Frédérique de Vignemont (“Bodily Feelings: Presence, Agency, and Ownership”) explores bodily feelings. She takes for granted that the object that a subject knows best is her body, with the corollary that it is known to her not as a body but as her own body, having a special intimacy for her. Bodily awareness, unless in painful and learning situations, is limited. It constantly remains at the margin of her consciousness, but comes to the fore “when things go wrong” (p. 98). De Vignemont discusses more particularly feelings of bodily presence, of bodily capacities, and of bodily ownership.
Julien Deonna and Fabrice Teroni (“Emotional Experience: Affective Consciousness and its Role in Emotion Theory”) deal with affective consciousness. First, they explain the way they understand affective consciousness (as consisting “in providing the subject with a perspective from which she can attend to her affective life, hopefully making sense of it” (p. 103) rather than as consciousness of emotions). Next, they overview a feeling approach, a componential approach, a perceptual approach, and an attitudinal approach (their own). In conclusion, they claim that making sense of emotional experience is crucial for accounting for an understanding of evaluative concepts which, otherwise, are elusive.
Amy Kind (“Imaginative Experience”) treats imaginative experience, which she takes to be both similar and dissimilar to perception. In her view, imagination is a kind of speculation about what is going in another place, has happened in the past, or will happen in the future. She presents three views (the impoverishment view, the will-dependence view, and the non-existence view), all insufficient insofar as they all restate rather than explain the difference between perceptual and imaginative phenomenology.
Tim Bayne (“Conscious Thought”) takes a look at conscious thought. After a short section on its taxonomy, he analyzes the kind of consciousness that characterizes thought. He refers to three kinds of consciousness (phenomenality, cognitive accessibility and awareness); he then says more about cognitive phenomenology, and presents argument for and against it. Finally, he proceeds to the relation between consciousness and thought. Even if there happen to be states of which we are not conscious, thought – or what Bayne wishes to count as thought – lies within the stream of consciousness.
Myrto Mylopoulos and Joshua Shepherd (“The Experience of Agency”) reflect on the nature and sources of agentive phenomenology. First, they discuss empirical work in psychology and neuroscience, observing that its findings are debatable insofar as the target of explanation is not clear. Next, they move to a philosophical approach to agentive phenomenology. To address it, they consider six aspects of agentive phenomenology: purposiveness, mineness, execution, action perception, action assessment, and freedom.
Philippe Chuard (“Temporal Consciousness”) looks into consciousness not only as occurring in time, but also as related to the temporal features of what is perceived. After surveying the main accounts of temporal experience, he touches upon the sense in which temporal relations between non-simultaneous events are perceived, and upon the relation between the content of experiences and their temporal ontology. In conclusion, Chuard reviews arguments concerning the impact of the temporal structure of experience upon perception of the temporal features of perceived events.
Farid Masrour (“The Phenomenal Unity of Consciousness”) examines the phenomenal unity of consciousness, which he understands as “a property of a set of experiences that is phenomenally manifest, uniformly grounded, singularizing, and natural to phenomenal consciousness” (p. 211). He first argues against the view that phenomenal unity obtains in virtue of oneness or singularity (the Unity Thesis); next he proposes a purist alternative on which “lonely experiences” (p. 219), i.e. experiences not extrinsically unified with other experiences, are impossible (the Pure Extrinsic Unity Thesis).
Jorge Morales and Hakwan Lau (“The Neural Correlates of Consciousness”) overview a selection of influential positions on the neural correlates of consciousness. They recommend caution in interpreting empirical evidence. Various considerations are at stake: consciousness may be supported by more than one neural mechanism or else failing to detect activity in brain area may not be sufficient for excluding them as crucial for consciousness. Moreover, not only may neural activity in conscious and unconscious perception be alike, but also a difference at the neural level may not correspond quantitatively to any difference at the psychological, behavioural, or phenomenal levels.
Kriegel’s contribution (“Beyond the Neural Correlates of Consciousness”) aims to show that various possible explanations of the relation between consciousness and its neural correlates are scientifically underdetermined; hence, the traditional metaphysical positions should not be abandoned, at least as long as science does not make any significant progress in explaining consciousness. One of the distinctions he makes is between causal and constitutive interpretation. Finally, he admits that science may be methodologically and epistemologically unable to reach a satisfying solution. If this is so, or so long as this remains so, the choice of explanation remains a matter of philosophical preference.
Brie Gertler’s chapter (“Dualism: How Epistemic Issues Drive Debates about the Ontology of Consciousness”) on dualism aims at correcting a common picture of the dualist/physicalist divide with a focus on neglected epistemic parallels between dualism and physicalism. Both physicalism and dualism form arguments that hinge on epistemic premises – different for each – concerning representation, conceptualization, and the way one learns about conscious experience and physical phenomena. For instance, arguments for dualism are inconclusive, because physicalists as well as dualists are unable either to corroborate or to falsify the theses that the experiments they concoct are supposed to prove in another way than speculatively.
Philip Goff and Sam Coleman (“Russellian Monism”) go into the details of two versions of Russellian monism, panpsychism and panprotopsychism. While the first views consciousness as an omnipresent feature of reality, the second attributes consciousness to protoconscious properties. Although neither is without problems, they are attractive insofar as they offer solutions to the issue unaddressed by physicalism. Since they do not face the problems of dualism, they may be considered to constitute a middle way between physicalism and dualism, and as such are worth examination.
Michael Pelczar (“Idealism: Putting Qualia To Work”) gives voice to idealism as “the mirror-image of physicalism” (p. 328). Although idealism’s best period belongs to the past, it retains some advantages. After presenting the main tenets of Kant, Leibniz, Berkeley, and Mill, Pelczar discusses objections to the supervenience claim that is common to all idealist theories. He praises idealism as the simplest defensible metaphysics, and suggests adopting a wait-and-watch policy in respect of the existence of unobservable things.
Elisabeth Irvine and Mark Sprevak (“Eliminativism about Consciousness”) examine eliminativism about consciousness and more particularly about phenomenal consciousness, leaving access consciousness aside. First, they discuss three arguments put forward by entity eliminativists, e.g. that phenomenal consciousness (or qualia) is only appearance. Judgments and beliefs that experiences have qualia are false. Next, they discuss three arguments in favour of discourse eliminativism. According to one of them, one should not speak about consciousness because the phenomenon of consciousness is not clearly delineated.
Frank Jackson (“A Priori Physicalism”) addresses a priori physicalism, that is a view not only that the mental is grounded in the physical, but also that “the way things are physically a priori entails the way things are mentally” (p. 372). His thesis is that a priori physicalism is the only tenable version of physicalism. It includes the thesis that “persons’ psychological properties are a priori entailed by the physical way they are” (p. 377). If, however, a priori physicalism turns out to be false, then any type of physicalism is false.
Joseph Levine (“A Posteriori Physicalism: Type-B Materialism and the Explanatory Gap”) presents a posteriori physicalism, that is a view that the mental is grounded in the physical, but it is hard to know in what way it is so grounded. This view is motivated by the existence of brute necessities which are known a priori, but cannot be explained a priori. An apparent brute necessity is the fact that the mental is realized by the physical. In order to avoid brute necessities, one needs “one kind of necessary claim – an identity claim – which, due to its special nature, can be established by a posteriori reasoning” (p. 395).
Adam Pautz (“Representationalism about Consciousness”) considers representationalism about sensory consciousness, i.e. the view that sensory consciousness is a way of representing the world. After discussing arguments, objections, and answers to the objections, Pautz develops reductive and nonreductive versions of representationalism. The former involves a radical externalism about the qualities of experience (sensible properties are in the world and are represented to creatures able to think and to reason), while the latter is internalist (sensible properties are a part of the content of experience).
Josh Weisberg (“Higher-Order Theories of Consciousness”) explores higher-order theories, according to which a mental state is conscious when it is represented by a higher order state. He looks first at objections of their conceptual incoherence, and then presents the empirical support for them. Finally, he remarks that higher order theories can successfully deal with qualia, which are a result of selective processes occurring within consciousness. It is only because they are given in a direct way that they seem special and privileged, while in fact their connections to the properties of mental states are weak.
Tom McClelland (“Self-Representationalist Theories of Consciousness”) scrutinizes self-representionalism, one of meta-representionalism theories, another being higher-order theories (see Weinsberg’s chapter). A mental state is conscious if it correctly represents itself. The difference between various self-representationalist theories is a matter, first, of whether the content of representation is structured or not, and then, if it is structured, whether the higher-order content of a conscious state is conscious (reflexive) or not (non-reflexive theories). McClelland ends with an assessment of all the types of self-representationalist theory.
Daniel Stoljar (“The Epistemic Approach to the Problem of Consciousness”) surveys the problem of consciousness from the epistemic point of view. Within this perspective, if no explanation whether and in what way consciousness is related to physical facts has yet been provided, this is either because it is impossible altogether (because it is biologically impossible), or because it is impossible at present but can be attained in the future. Neither option offers a prospect of so advancing our understanding as to address the hard problem. Since the epistemic view flies in the face of recent suppositions about how philosophy should be conducted, it remains less attractive than its rivals.
Christopher Mole (“Consciousness and Attention”) reviews the relation between consciousness and attention. He focuses mainly on psychological experiments that serve to show that neither does attention explain (or is prior to) consciousness, nor does consciousness explain (or is prior to) attention. They are interrelated in various ways; e.g. an inattentive consciousness differs from attentive consciousness, and conscious attention operates in a different way from unconscious attention.
Christopher S. Hill (“Consciousness and Memory”) considers consciousness and memory in their relations. He distinguishes three types of each, i.e. introspective, access, and phenomenal consciousness; and long-term, working, and iconic memory. Some connections are stronger than others; e.g. a working memory is a necessary condition for introspective consciousness, and often the content of phenomenal consciousness is transmitted to long-term memory, while long-term memory shapes the content of phenomenal consciousness.
Benjamin Kozuch (“Consciousness and Action: Contemporary Empirical Arguments for Epiphenomenalism”) deals with two recent empirical challenges to the efficacy of the mental, first Libet’s, and then Milner and Goodale’s. The first was supposed to put into question the existence of free will; but it is not decisive since it is subject to a number of methodological and conceptual objections. The second concerned visual perception and motor action to the effect that the former rarely pilots the latter (if at all). In this case too, the results are debatable and open to interpretation.
Angela Mendelovici and David Bourget (“Consciousness and Intentionality”) consider phenomenal consciousness’s relation to intentionality. They claim that intentionality is brought about by phenomenal consciousness (which is not to claim that each phenomenal state results in an intentional one). This view (phenomenal intentionality theory) does better than tracking theories and functional role theories in responding to charges of empirical inadequacy. Although phenomenal intentionality theory is not without its problems (though they attempt to resolve these), it seems to offer the best explanation of the relation between consciousness and intentionality relation.
Berit Brogaard and Elijah Chudnoff (“Consciousness and Knowledge”) look into the relation between consciousness and knowledge. First, they consider the relation between perceptual experiences and justified beliefs, concluding that perceptual experiences are relations not to their objects but to representational contents. Next, they analyse an argument about perceptual experiences being composed of sensations and seemings. Finally, they reflect upon the content of perceptual experience; this takes in low-level and high-level (or higher-level) properties (the latter are variously understood).
Maja Spener’s chapter (“Consciousness, Introspection, and Subjective Measures”) addresses problems related to subjective measures of consciousness. Since there are no objective measures of consciousness, it is accessed from a first-person point of view. However, subjective reports are not accessible to independent checks; further, they are often unreliable insofar as they report the subject’s view of consciousness rather than that consciousness itself. A final, methodological crux is that there are no worked-out concepts of subjective access and introspection.
Dan Zahavi’s topic (“Consciousness and Selfhood: Getting Clearer on For-Me-Ness and Mineness”) is the interrelations between phenomenal consciousness, self-consciousness, and selfhood. He argues for an experiential minimalism that claims that experiential episodes, rather than occurring within the subject, are constitutive of the subject. This counts as minimalism because the experiential self is not exhaustive, but rather a precondition, both of first-person conscious self-reference and of mature selfhood. Interestingly and importantly, Zahavi also touches upon the relevance to his thesis of pathological experiences.
Joshua Shepherd and Neil Levy (“Consciousness and Morality”) overview debates on consciousness’s relation to three issues belonging to ethics. Regarding an entity’s moral status, various positions are possible; e.g. it may depend on the possession of self-consciousness, or alternatively on a set of psychological capacities that provide the moral subject with high-level cognitive sophistication. As to whether consciousness is required for moral responsibility, contrasted views are held. Finally, various kinds of consciousness (perception, intuition, etc.) contribute to moral knowledge in different ways and to different degrees.
Mark Rowlands (“Embodied Consciousness”) examines embodied consciousness. He takes for granted that the body as object is unlike the body as subject, and that only the latter – the lived body – is linked to consciousness. Body as subject and consciousness are similar (indeed, he claims they are one and the same thing) in the sense that they both reveal or disclose the world. He conjectures that if this is the case, and consciousness exists only within the lived body, there is no more trouble with the hard problem of consciousness.
In summary, this is an excellent volume on an important topic. It should help and stimulate anyone working within the philosophy of consciousness.
On the whole this is a rich and inspiring volume. A collection is inevitably made up of contributions of unequal quality; however, here they rank either as good or as excellent. Most of them merit a separate and detailed discussion – as is evidently impossible here. Let me just remark that whereas some chapters present a single clearly defined thesis, arguing for or against it, others offer a selection of views or theories related to their topic. Some are more selective while others are more comprehensive in their treatment of their topic. Some chapters contain an abstract, some an introduction, and some an explicit conclusion; this makes some easier to follow than others. A good number of them end with an indication of further argumentation and future research. Thus the volume may be more welcome to experts than to novices.
I should add that the volume contains what, for OUP, is a relatively high number of misspellings (see e.g. pp. 199, 213, 217, 478, 484, 542, 580, 591, 612, 667, and 683). There is also an irregularity in modes of reference not only within the volume taken as a whole (at least three different styles are adopted), but on occasion even in a single paper (e.g. Ch. 14, Ch. 26, Ch. 27). There are also errors in reference (e.g. pp. 100, 163) or in quotation (e.g. p. 605). These are minor issues: the quality of the collection transcends such deficiencies of editing.
In summary, this is an excellent volume on an important topic. It should help and stimulate anyone working within the philosophy of consciousness.
Uriah Kriegel (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of the Philosophy of Consciousness. Buy it here!
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Robert Zaborowski is Professor at the Institute for the History of Science, Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw.
He studied philosophy at Paris I Panthéon–Sorbonne. He specializes in history of Greek philosophy and philosophy of affectivity and is the author of several articles, reviews, edited books, and two own books: La crainte et le courage dans l' Iliade et l' Odyssée (2002) and Sur le sentiment chez les Présocratiques (2008).
Since 2013 he has been Editor of Organon.