Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Getting Clear on the Problem of Consciousness
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A new name for an old problem, the “hard problem of consciousness” is perhaps the most controversial issue in the contemporary philosophy of mind. The problem, posed by non-reductivists like Chalmers, is: how do the phenomenal qualities of our conscious experience stand in relation to a physical world that seems logically compatible with their absence? But there is no agreement over what precisely this question is asking about (viz., “phenomenal qualities”), or whether the apparently non-physical explanandum is a real one. At the root of the intractability is the particular way that we have come to think about the question, presupposing i) that the conscious explanandum is an ontological one and thus ii) that the sense in which it exists (as an inner entity) should be straightforward. These assumptions are overturned in the following account in which I argue that the qualitative contents of our experience are in the world, not the ontological mind. I argue that neither the non-reductivist nor the eliminitivist, on analysis, need disagree about this. In Chapter Two, I argue that what the non-reductivist really wants to preserve are the qualities of the world that are invisible to an ontological picture made in terms of scientific unobservables, or trans-experiential physical structures and processes. The eliminitivist, on the other hand, is merely interested in denying the ontologization of these qualities as properties of the ontological mind. On this interpretation, non-reductivists and eliminitivists can be seen to mutually support a solution to the traditional mind-body problem in the form of the non-reductive, non-ontological account of consciousness that I will offer in this thesis: non-reductive, because the properties of our experience are not illegitimately denied (or reduced), and non-ontological because they are not thereby hypostatized (or ontologized). Rather, they are left in the “neutral” public realm where—from a Wittgensteinian perspective—the meanings of the problematic terms of mind-body discourse are fixed.