SWIF Philosophy of Mind, 01 September 2001 http://www.swif.uniba.it/lei/mind/forums/levine.htm
Forums Forum 2 Carruthers's reply
Carruthers, Peter. Phenomenal Consciousness. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.
Department of Philosophy
Ohio State University
In Phenomenal Consciousness, Peter Carruthers defends a dispositionalist higher-order theory of phenomenal consciousness. On this view, to enjoy a phenomenally conscious experience is to occupy an analog representational state that is accessible to a faculty of higher-order thought. In the course of defending his view, Carruthers takes on an impressive array of arguments and opposing positions. He addresses "mysterians", who believe that no materialist theory is adequate to an explanation of phenomenal consciousness, as well as first-order representationalists and actualist higher-order theorists. Since his theory is itself a representational theory, he also engages the debate over narrow content, arguing that narrow content, in the form of a consumer semantics, is the appropriate theory of content for psychological explanation.
As a mysterian myself, let me begin my critical comments by addressing his response to that position. As he notes, there are really two positions here, one metaphysical and the other epistemological, though they both share a reliance on conceivability considerations. The metaphysical argument goes like this. Since zombies (or zombie worlds) are conceivable, they are possible. Though it is not a straightforward matter to infer what is possible from what is conceivable, in this case there is reason to think the inference goes through; so goes the argument, at any rate. (Both Kripke 1980 and Chalmers 1996 defend the inference in this case, using different, but related, arguments.) But if zombies are possible, then the physical facts do not metaphysically determine the mental, or phenomenal facts, and thus some form of dualism is true.
I am generally sympathetic to Carruthers's response to the metaphysical argument (see Levine 1998 and 2001, chapter 2). He insists on distinguishing concepts from properties, at least if by "property" one means "natural property" - the sort of feature by virtue of which objects change and events happen. Distinct concepts can pick out the same property, and so what seems conceivable may not be possible. For instance, one might be thinking that some object could be F without being G, but just not realize that the property of being F just is the property of being G. The situation envisaged, though conceivable in the sense that there is no incoherence or contradiction in the description of the situation, is still impossible. Though there are complications here, I believe this general line is basically right.
Still, I want to quibble with some of what Carruthers has to say on this point. With respect to Kripke's argument against the type-identity of pain and cfiber-firing, Carruthers claims that we have two options by way of reply: First, maybe "pain" isn't a rigid designator, so "pain = cfiber-firing" isn't necessary after all. Second, maybe physicalism about phenomenal consciousness doesn't require an identity claim, so "pain is constituted by/realized in cfiber-firing" is good enough. I think neither of these replies works.
With regard to the first option, it's supposed to go like this. "Pain" is akin to "manifest-water", which picks out whatever substance in a world instantiates the manifest properties of water. But "manifest-water" also expresses a property that is shared across worlds, the property by virtue of which something in a world falls under that concept. What is the corresponding property for "pain", if not a phenomenal property? This is of course Kripke's (and Chalmers's) point.
Carruthers seems to think this point is already addressed by his adoption of what he calls his "thick" theory of properties. This comes up prominently in his reply to Chalmers as well, when he denies significance to the fact that the primary intension of "pain = cfiber-firing" is contingent. He argues that primary intensions are mere functions from possible worlds to extensions, and therefore irrelevant to the identity of honest-to-God properties; that is "natural" properties, the mind-independent features of objects that figure in what happens to them. He says that "grue" and "bleen" also determine such functions, yet no one thinks of them as genuine properties (unless of course they are just collapsing the concept/property distinction altogether).
But I don't think this quite gets him off the hook. First of all, I think there is an intermediate level of property in between the full-fledged natural property (the sort that figures in causal generalizations, etc.) and the one that just collapses into a concept. Being grue, after all, is an objective condition that objects either satisfy or not, and this is so whether or not human beings had ever thought of the property. I agree that it is not a causally significant property, but it seems to me pretty clear that there is a determinate fact of the matter whether or not something is grue. It's also the case that we can form distinct concepts of grue: for instance, the concept expressed by the canonical description "green before 2001 and blue after" and the concept expressed by "has reflectance G [put in the technical details here] before 2001 and reflectance B after".
The point is that it would be a real problem for physicalism if there weren't a supervenience claim of the form "Grue metaphysically supervenes on P", where "P" designated a physicalistically respectable property. Of course in the case of grue there is such a property (or group of properties). If you specify all the reflectance properties of all the objects at all times, you have thereby metaphysically determined the distribution of grue-facts. So even if "pain-feeling" is on a par with "grue", it seems to me we still have a problem if Chalmers is right that the pain-feeling facts do not logically (or metaphysically) supervene on the physical facts.
So why do I think, nevertheless, that by distinguishing properties from concepts one can avoid the anti-physicalistic consequence of the conceivability argument? My long-winded argument is cited above, but the short answer is this. I think one must reject the assumption that we have a priori access to primary intensions. That is, I endorse what Chalmers calls "strong metaphysical necessity" - the idea that a primary intension can be both necessary and a posteriori. Though Chalmers argues that this involves a bizarre metaphysics of modality, I argue that it's quite benign in the end. For the details, see the works cited above.
Let's turn now to the epistemological side of the mysterian position. As I argue (see Levine 1983, 1993, and 2001, chapter 3), there is an explanatory gap between the physical (broadly construed, so as to include functional or computational states as well) and the phenomenal. Support for the existence of the explanatory gap comes partly from the fact that zombies - physical and functional (including representational) duplicates of me but without phenomenal consciousness - are conceivable. Again, I don't infer that they are therefore possible as well. But merely from the fact that they are conceivable, I argue, we see that we can't explain phenomenal consciousness by reference to those properties we and the zombie are stipulated to share. The point is, we have a conception of phenomenal consciousness such that we can't really understand how it could be constituted by (broadly) physical processes.
Carruthers employs two strategies to overcome the explanatory gap. On the one hand, he lists what he takes to be the principal desiderata on an adequate explanation of phenomenal consciousness, and then argues that his theory meets them all. On the other hand, whatever qualms remain over the conceivability of zombies he deals with by appeal to the notion of a recognitional concept. In other words, whatever legitimate explanatory demands there are can be met by his theory, and what can't be met is explained away.
The legitimate explanatory demands are these: What endows phenomenal states with subjectivity, there being something it's like to occupy them? Why do they seem ineffable, private, to involve intrinsic properties of experience, and to be accessible in a privileged manner? I have my doubts that Carruthers's theory does successfully meet these explanatory demands (my doubts chiefly concern the first one), but let me put this aside for now and turn to the question of what seems to remain.
One way to put the matter is this. When I wonder how a (broadly) physical process could be like this (mentally ostending my visual experience of red, say), I'm not wondering how such a process could be such that I'm tempted to judge it to have this feature or that. I can certainly imagine a computational architecture that would lead the subject of that architecture to judge that certain of its states were ineffable, say, or couldn't be doubted. But the explanatory gap isn't between a description of the computational architecture and a description of certain propensities to make judgments. (Notice that zombies would definitely have the same propensities for judgments that we do, so the conceivability argument doesn't even apply here.) Rather, it's between the description of the computational architecture and a description of the experience itself. It's the character of my visual experience of red that I want explained, not my tendency to judge that it's ineffable, etc..
Fair enough, Carruthers might say, but this is where the appeal to the notion of a recognitional concept does its work. If what you want out of an explanation, goes the argument, is that zombies should no longer be conceivable - in other words, that one should be able to derive a description in first-person terms of someone's having a visual experience of red from a description in third-person terms of their physical or computational structure - then you won't get it. But the reason is perfectly benign, from a naturalistic perspective. The problem is that one's first-person concepts of phenomenal properties are recognitional concepts, and much as one can't derive indexical or demonstrative descriptions from purely non-indexical or non-demonstrative descriptions (see Perry 1979), one can't derive descriptions involving recognitional concepts from descriptions not containing such concepts. So in this sense the explanatory gap is not exactly bridged, but still explained away, and therefore rendered harmless.
Perhaps the best way to make the case, and also, to my mind, to see what's wrong with it, is by way of Carruthers's own example of "bare color". He asks us to imagine that there exists a creature who makes "bare-color" judgments, purely recognitional judgments unconnected to any concepts about normal lighting conditions and normal observers, or to any phenomenal properties. Like chicken-sexers, they just judge "this is red" without having any idea how they do it, without there being any basis they are aware of for their judgment. They just respond. Such creatures would experience an explanatory gap, since they could conceive of the physical story for red holding without something's being red, i.e. without their applying their recognitional concept. Yet it is clear that these creatures pose no problem for the explanatory reach of a physical (or computational) theory of color recognition.
But what strikes me as the real import of the example is how different bare-color responses are from genuine phenomenal experiences, and this bears directly on the adequacy of the appeal to recognitional concepts as a way of responding to the explanatory gap. After all, we don't feel tempted in the chicken-sexing case, nor in the hypothetical bare-color example, to see a problematic explanatory gap present. What, then, explains the difference between these cases and genuine phenomenal experience?
When I wonder how this experience (again, mentally ostending my current visual experience of something red) could be constituted by such-and-such computational/physical processes, I have a substantive and determinate conception of - I am, as it were, directly acquainted with - a feature of my experience. The reddishness doesn't have the character for me of a something-I-know-not-what that happens to be prompting this response, as it does for the bare-color responder. The point is it's the reddishness I am wondering about, not about my tendency to regard it as intrinsic, nor about my tendency to respond to it with a certain judgment, or anything else of that sort. In the bare-color case, as in the chicken-sexer case, there isn't any substantive and determinate content to my judgment over and above the response itself. Put another way, "that again" carries a much richer content in the phenomenal case than it does in the bare-color case. What's more, it is precisely what corresponds to that richer content that is the focus of my puzzlement when judging that there is an explanatory gap.
This last point is crucial, for it is natural at this point to respond that our phenomenal concepts are not in fact purely recognitional, and therefore of course they possess a richer content than is possessed by the corresponding concepts of the bare-color responder. In addition to the recognitional component, on Carruthers's view, is a descriptive component that derives from our stock of folk-psychological concepts. So we have concepts of perception, experience, and the like, with which we can fill out our concept of "that again", to make it more like "that perceptual experience of something red, again". But this doesn't address the sense of richer content at issue here, for there is no explanatory gap when it comes to folk psychological concepts, so long as they are understood functionally, as Carruthers understands them. (Of course, if our concepts of experience and perception are not understood in this third-person way, but rather in the first-person manner of phenomenal concepts generally, then the argument begins all over again with respect to them.)
Above I used the term "direct acquaintance", which of course carries a lot of philosophical baggage. Let me hasten to say that I have no theory of our epistemic access to our own phenomenally conscious experiences. What does seem clear to me is that not only is the explanatory gap a problem about phenomenally conscious experiences themselves, but also about how we can have the sort of cognitive access to their content that we seem patently to have. The two aspects of the problem of phenomenal consciousness are just two sides of the same coin. How can we be subjects of experience, where this involves our occupying states that are somehow themselves cognitive apprehensions of themselves? In fact, this question leads naturally to a discussion of Carruthers's positive view, since his view can be seen as precisely an attempt to answer it.
However, there is one more point about conceivability arguments I want to address first, and this has to do with Carruthers's discussion of the possibility of inverted qualia. On his view, two factors make a state phenomenally conscious: its being an analog representational state and its being available to a faculty of higher-order thought. The zombie, or absent qualia problem is a challenge to that aspect of the theory. But a theory of phenomenal consciousness has to tell us not only what makes a state phenomenally conscious to begin with, but also what determines its precise phenomenal content; what distinguishes reddish visual experiences from greenish ones. With respect to this question, Carruthers maintains that phenomenal content is determined by representational content, and it is at this point that the problem of inverted qualia becomes relevant.
If inverted qualia are possible, then two individuals might be occupying the same functional/intentional state, and yet be having distinct experiences - one that is reddish, say, and the other greenish. But then phenomenal content couldn't be determined by intentional content. So Carruthers must deny the possibility. He employs two strategies. First, he allows that inverted qualia are indeed conceptually possible, but argues, as with absent qualia, that their conceptual possibility does not entail their metaphysical, or "natural" possibility, and it is only the latter that really matters to a naturalistic theory of phenomenal consciousness. Second, he appeals to his version of narrow content theory - an inferential role consumer semantics - to counter arguments to the effect that inverted qualia are indeed naturally possible.
With respect to the first strategy, I basically agree that if inverted qualia are only conceptually possible that this doesn't constitute an objection to the intentional theory of phenomenal content. But I'm puzzled by Carruthers's insistence on the distinction between metaphysical and natural possibility, and his claim that it is only the latter that matters here. I would have thought that it is metaphysical possibility that mattered. Now, given the arguments Carruthers in fact uses, the distinction may not be crucial. However, I can think of a situation in which the distinction might matter, and it's unclear to me what Carruthers would say about it.
So, suppose that as a matter of natural law it's impossible for a perfectly symmetrical information processing system to be physically realized. Let's also suppose that from the point of view of the theory of computation, however, there is no obstacle to such systems (and suppose they could include analog representations as well). It's just that for some reason (which, by the way, it seems hard to imagine what it could be) you can't actually build (or evolve) such a device. So we know that our perceptual system couldn't be symmetrical, and therefore invertible, and we know no naturally possible (I assume that means physically possible) perceptual system could be, but there's no reason to suppose that no metaphysically possible system could be.
Well, consider such a system in world W1, call it S1. By Carruthers's theory, according to which phenomenal consciousness supervenes on functional/intentional properties, S1 (assuming it's attached to an HOT faculty) contains phenomenally conscious states whose phenomenal contents are determined by their intentional contents. Let system S2, in W2, have intentional contents inverted around the axis of symmetry. We can of course insist that the phenomenal contents go with the intentional contents, but we have the Shoemaker and Block scenarios, discussed by Carruthers, to contend with. My only point is that if one found those scenarios convincing in the first place, they ought to bother one in this case, and, by stipulation one can't appeal to constraints on the realization mechanisms to get around the problem. So it looks as if cases of inverted qualia can be metaphysically possible even if not naturally possible.
As I say, it's not clear to me how much the distinction between natural and metaphysical possibility matters here because I take Carruthers in the end to be arguing that inverted qualia are not even metaphysically possible, though they are conceptually possible. But his argument for this is obscure, at least to me. At one point he says: "if [the notion of narrow content] is legitimate, then the teeth can drawn from all forms of experience inversion...". My problem is that I can see how the appeal to narrow content insulates him from the sort of inversion argument that troubles externalist representationalists - in particular Block's Inverted Earth argument (see Block 1990) - but how does it help with the sort of inversion argument, like Shoemaker's, which is aimed at traditional functionalist theories? After all, these theories have usually been understood to be internalist. (That's certainly how Shoemaker conceived of functionalism when worried about inverted qualia in Shoemaker 1984.)
In fact there's a curious transition in Carruthers's discussion. He begins by discussing Shoemaker's argument, which involves memory switching, etc., and concludes that it's inconclusive on the question of genuine possibility (I'll use this term to cover both metaphysical and natural possibility), as opposed to conceptual possibility. He then brings up Block's Inverted Earth argument as something that pushes us in the pro-qualia direction, but then replies that if we have the requisite notion of narrow content we don't have to worry about Block's argument (that's where the quote above comes in). But what happened to the original Shoemaker argument? Why does the legitimacy of the requisite notion of narrow content "draw the teeth from all forms of experience inversion", rather than just from those that address externalism, as Block's case does?
Finally, let me say why in the end I think it's very plausible to think inverted qualia are genuinely possible. First, I assume that symmetrical internal systems of functional roles are genuinely possible. Again, it's hard to see how one could rule them out, especially their metaphysical possibility. Second, I assume that symmetrical external quality spaces - of the sort that would be the external contents of some perceptual system - are also genuinely possible. Once we have these two symmetrical systems - internal roles and external quality spaces - how could one determine the identity of a single phenomenal content by its location in either space?
Suppose one wanted to do it purely internally. True, qualitative difference can be accounted for internally, so red and green can be distinguished (or the analogues for red and green in the symmetrical system under consideration). But appeal to location in the relevant system of relations won't account for what makes red red and green green, and not the other way around. To do that, it looks like one would need to appeal to the identities of the external properties to which each is responsive. But if the relevant quality space is itself symmetric, then this won't work either, for the sorts of reasons anti-externalists like Block point out. This problem - that you can get a functional account of qualitative difference but not a functional theory of particular qualitative characters - was precisely Shoemaker's point in the papers cited above, and why he opted in the end for a physiological type-reduction theory for individual qualia (not that I think that move works either; see Levine 1989 for a detailed discussion of Shoemaker's position).
Let's turn now to consider Carruthers's positive theory. As mentioned above, Carruthers defends the view that phenomenally conscious states are analog representational states that are available to a faculty of higher-order thought. He distinguishes his view from a number of alternatives, but two in particular take up the bulk of his discussion: first-order representationalism (FOR) and actualist higher-order representationalism (HOR). FOR is the view that phenomenally conscious states are analog (or non-conceptual, the difference doesn't matter for our purposes) representational states that are available ("poised", as Tye 1995 puts it) for cognitive processes such as control of behavior, rational planning, etc.. Actualist HOR theory is the view that to be phenomenally conscious is to occurrently entertain a higher-order representation that one is in the state in question. Carruthers's position differs from the latter in not requiring that there actually be an HOR directed on the phenomenally conscious state, just that it be accessible to the faculty so that one could direct an HOR on it. His position differs from FOR in that mere availability to planning, behavior control, and the like is not sufficient; it must be a capacity for forming HOR's to which the state is available.
The main problem with FOR, according to Carruthers, is that it can't provide a principled distinction between "experiences" or perceptual states that are phenomenally conscious and those that aren't. There is abundant evidence both from ordinary experience and from scientific psychology - from absent-minded drivers to cases of blindsight - to the effect that there are perceptual states that are not phenomenally conscious. While advocates of FOR might want to appeal to the "poised" condition to account for the non-conscious status of these perceptual states, Carruthers argues that there is solid evidence that they do contribute to behavior control, which includes interacting with unconscious beliefs and desires as well. So why don't they count as phenomenally conscious?
There is one point Carruthers makes repeatedly in response to various attempts on the part of FOR advocates to provide a principled distinction between conscious and non-conscious states: it is not sufficient to merely find some difference that is extensionally accurate, but the difference in question must actually explain why the phenomenally conscious states have this feature of subjective feel and the others don't. So, for instance, in response to the suggestion that the crucial property is being accessible to the highest-level decision-making faculty, Carruthers complains: "How can the mere fact that an analog content is now in a position to have an impact upon the highest-level decision-making processes confer on it the subjective properties of feel and "what-it-is-likeness" distinctive of phenomenal consciousness?" (page 170) I am quite sympathetic to this complaint, and it is crucial to the development of his own view.
Now some have pressed a similar complaint against (actualist) HOR theory, but advocates reply, with some justice I think, that this objection betrays a misunderstanding of their position. The entire point of (actualist) HOR theory is that being phenomenally conscious is not a monadic property of the first-order state, but a relation holding between the higher-order state and its target state. This idea has problems of its own (see Neander 1998, Byrne 1997, and Rosenthal 2000), but still it has a principled answer to what makes some states conscious and others not: namely, states are conscious when we are conscious of them, which means that they are the intentional objects of higher-order thoughts.
The point I'm getting to is this. Carruthers levels a serious objection against FOR, one to which, at least on the surface, actualist HOR is not vulnerable. However, once Carruthers abandons the actualist version of HOR for the dispositionalist version, the objection comes back to rear its ugly head; why, after all, should mere availability to a higher-order faculty render a first-order analog perceptual state phenomenally conscious? The actualist response that for a state to be phenomenally conscious is for one to be phenomenally conscious of it only works if there is an occurrent higher-order state. A mere disposition for there to be such an would seem to endow the first-order state with at most a disposition to be phenomenally conscious.
Carruthers is of course aware of this objection, and it is precisely to meet it that he employs his consumer semantics. The idea is this. First-order analog perceptual states, when not functionally attached to a higher-order faculty, have intentional contents that are about the features of distal objects (though the contents are narrowly individuated). But when serving within a mental system that contains a higher-order faculty, one that, in particular, is capable of noting an appearance-reality distinction, the analog perceptual states, by virtue of their connection to this faculty "down-stream" (hence a consumer semantics), acquire a new content, one that not only represents the features of distal objects, but also themselves as representing these distal features. Instead of "red at 4 o'clock", the content is "seems to be red at 4 o'clock", or, maybe, even more explicitly, "I'm detecting red at 4 o'clock". We now have back the analysis of "is conscious" in terms of "is conscious of", but without the need to appeal to an occurrent accompanying higher-order state.
I have three problems with this view. The first is actually not aimed at the dispositionalism of the view, but applies to any version of HOR. It's crucial to Carruthers's case, especially against FOR, that it be possible for there to be unconscious experiences. Again, this is a feature of any version of HOR. Now Carruthers makes a strong case that there are unconscious analog perceptual states - and of course if you want to stipulate that these be called "experiences", there's no stopping you. But I think it's clear that in conscious experience we encounter a property that is essentially phenomenal, in the sense that its instantiation is "for" a subject. Put another way, pains, tickles, and sensations of red all seem to be essentially modes, or bits of conscious experience. Of course you can have the representation of bodily damage or distal color properties without any phenomenal feel, no one doubts that. But whether such registrations of properties would be the same sort of event as a painful feeling, or a reddish experience, seems highly doubtful.
I present this objection to register my disagreement with Carruthers on this crucial point. But I mention it only to put it aside, since Carruthers, with some justice, can accuse me of begging the question against him. After all, he denies there are qualia in the sense of intrinsic properties of experience, and my objection appeals to such qualia. Unfortunately I can think of no clearly non-question-begging way to put the objection. If I do, I'll let you know. (For a discussion of how the burden of argument plays out here, see Levine 2001, chapter 5).
To state my second problem I refer back to my remarks above about the conceivability argument. Appeal to a disposition to form HOR's doesn't really explain phenomenal consciousness, and the conceivability of having the former without the latter is evidence of this. Of course Carruthers has his general reply to the conceivability argument, and I have already commented on that. The reason I bring this up again here is that it might seem as if his argument above concerning the role of recognitional concepts in explaining the appearance of an explanatory gap is strengthened by his account of the dual content expressed by analog perceptual states when attached to an HOR faculty. So it is only this aspect of his response to conceivability considerations that I want now to address.
Carruthers argues that just as one can form a recognitional concept of distal features like red on the basis of one's first-order analog states, so too one can form a recognitional concept of experience-of-red on the basis of one's higher-order representations of one's first-order analog states. These, then, are the recognitional concepts appeal to which allegedly accounts for the appearance of an explanatory gap.
Now part of my objection to this move above had to do with what I claimed was a clear difference between the cognitive relation that obtains between the recognitional concept of "bare-color" and our standard cognitive relation to experiences of red and green. I claimed that the former lacked the substantive and determinate character of the latter, which pointed to a kind of cognitive intimacy not provided for in the relation between recognitional concept and what it is a concept of.
However, it might seem now that Carruthers has a way of addressing this concern. It's not that the recognitional concept which is applied when I am aware of my own experience of red is a distinct representation from its first-order target, but rather it is one and the same representation, though its secondary content. When my first-order analog state simultaneously says "red at 4 o'clock" and "seems red at 4 o'clock", it is simultaneously applying the concept "red" to the distal object (or spatial region) and the concept "is a red appearance" (or a "red-seeming") to itself. This reflexivity in the secondary content might plausibly account for the sort of cognitive intimacy that seems apparent in our apprehension of our own sensory experiences.
It isn't clear to me if Carruthers in fact takes this line, but, whether or not he does, I don't think it holds up. The problem is that the thoughts we have when entertaining conceivability thought experiments, or puzzling about the explanatory gap, are genuine thoughts, with full-fledged concepts as constituents. That we might form recognitional concepts of first-order perceptual states within the representational system of the HOR faculty makes perfect sense. But then these representations are distinct from those in the first-order perceptual faculty. When I think, "Oh, another one of those sorts of experiences again", it isn't the experience itself but a thought about it that's in play.
This leads naturally to my third problem, which relates directly to the idea that because of their effects down-stream, first-order analog perceptual states take on a secondary higher-order content. The proposal just seems ad hoc. I don't see why, merely by virtue of its availability to a higher-order faculty, a state's content should thereby take on some of that higher-order character itself. What basis is there for assigning this secondary higher-order content when interpreting the system as a whole, instead of merely leaving the analog perceptual states with their first-order contents and assigning the higher-order cognitive faculty the content that there's been a representation of a certain distal feature reported by the perceptual faculty? I see nothing in the consumer semantics that forces the former interpretive scheme, and therefore it seems merely ad hoc to insist on it.
The idea, as I understand it, is that once the down-stream cognitive faculties are capable of discerning the difference between something's seeming red (i.e. causing the red-registers to go off) and really being red, then the consumer, these cognitive faculties, come to interpret (as it were) the red register going off as meaning "seems red". Consumer semantics, after all, is a matter of the significance of the representation for the consumer - in this case, higher-level cognitive faculties. But given the lack of any syntactic markers of reflexivity in the analog perceptual states, it seems a much better overall interpretation of the system to assign the usual distal contents to the first-order analog states and locate the appreciation of their constituting a "seeming" in the representational states of the higher-order faculty itself, where the appearance-reality distinction is explicitly appreciated. What you get then is a down-stream state saying "seems red at 4 o'clock", which, in effect, can be glossed as, "a report of red at 4 o'clock coming from the visual faculty". Pushing the "seeming" all the way down into the perceptual contents themselves seems gratuitous.
Consider the following analogy. I wear my watch all the time and rely on it constantly to give me the time of day. Of course, I know that watches are notoriously prone to run fast or slow, so I take its reading with a grain of salt. When asked what time it is, I can imagine being in a careful enough mood to say, "well, by my watch it's 2:15", or "it seems to be 2:15". Does that mean that my watch is reporting on its own state when the big hand is on the three and the little hand on the two? I think my watch is indicating the time, and then I qualify the content of my own representation when I don't completely trust it. Of course there is a somewhat metaphorical sense in which the watch is also telling me that its hands are in the requisite positions. But that isn't a matter of its content, but rather of its being so - its having its hands where they are - and my ability to detect that fact. My detecting that fact is where to locate the representational content that says the hands are where they are. Similarly, that it's seeming to me as if there's red at 4 o'clock is a content that is appropriately located in the representation that detects the first-order perceptual state; not in the first-order state itself.
Though I'm no fan of consumer semantics, let me emphasize here that my objection is not an objection to this sort of semantics per se. I take the point of positing narrow contents, including consumer-based ones, to be to overcome the Frege problem. By appeal to inter-representational relations one can more finely individuate contents and thereby account for differences in cognitive significance that don't track differences in reference. Let that be so. Indeed, let it be the case that we can use these down-stream relations to distinguish the perceptual contents of two creatures both of whose perceptions are tracking the same distal feature. In particular, let it be that "red at 4 o'clock" in a creature with an HOR faculty has a different narrow content from its corresponding state in a creature without such a faculty, because narrow content is a function of, among other things, intra-mental relations. Still, it's a big leap from acknowledging this difference to then saying that the one attached to the HOR faculty is itself partly higher-order. Why can't the mere difference in its causal relations be the difference in content? What makes it necessary to put a reflexive gloss on that difference? I don't see the motivation, except that it helps with the theory of phenomenal consciousness. But that's precisely why it's ad hoc.
In this commentary I've criticized a number of aspects of Carruthers's view. As one with mysterian leanings, it's not unexpected that I would find material with which to disagree. But this shouldn't obscure my appreciation for the impressive achievement this book represents. By pressing the anti-mysterian case as forcefully and honestly as he does, with such a wide array of philosophical and psychological argumentation to back him up, Carruthers has done the "consciousness business" a great service.
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© Joseph Levine