Phenomenal consciousness and cognitive access

Ros Morales, Raúl

September 2016

Thesis or dissertation

© 2016 Raúl Ros Morales. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

[From the introduction:]
Consciousness is one of the most debated topics of the last decades. Human beings perform many activities throughout the day; some of them imply conscious states, while others do not. Conscious states are those states by which subjects are aware of something. How could we know whether individuals are aware of something? We usually rely on reports to know whether one is in a conscious state. When individuals report their experiences about something in particular, for example, their visual experience of a flower in a garden, we infer that they were conscious of that flower; otherwise they would not have been able to report about their visual experience. Nevertheless, it is not always easy to distinguish between conscious and unconscious states. Are those subjects also conscious of the rest of the elements that surround that flower? We receive plenty of sensory information in a given time, how could we distinguish between conscious and unconscious sensory information? In some cases, individuals do not have the ability to report. How would we know whether they are conscious of sensory stimuli? In order to give an answer to these questions, we have to find out what is the nature of consciousness. That is, to put it in terms familiar to philosophers, to answer the question: what are the necessary and sufficient conditions of consciousness?

In this dissertation, I will explore what are the necessary and sufficient conditions for being conscious of sensory mental states, that is, those mental states that a subject undergoes when perceiving information from the external world. Some scholars argue that the neural machinery involved in the cognitive accessibility that underlies reportability is a constitutive condition for being conscious of a sensory mental state. In other words, subjects cannot be aware of their sensory mental states, unless those sensory mental states have been cognitively accessed. Those who assert this assumption are known as advocates of a stance called metaphysical correlationism. On the other hand, other scholars have replied that cognitive accessibility is not a constitutive condition for being conscious of a sensory mental state. This means that subjects could be conscious of their sensory mental states without having cognitive access to them (Block, 2007, 2008).

School of Politics, Philosophy and International Studies, The University of Hull
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