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What does language tell us about consciousness? First-person mental discourse and higher-order thought theories of consciousness.

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Published

Journal publication date2002
JournalPhilosophical Psychology
Journal number3
Volume15
Number of pages18
Pages221-238
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

The fact that we can engage in first-person discourse about our own mental states seems, intuitively, to be bound up with consciousness. David Rosenthal draws upon this intuition in arguing for his higher-order thought theory of consciousness. Rosenthal�s argument relies upon the assumption that the truth-conditions for �p� and �I think that p� differ. It is argued here that the truth-conditional schema debars �I think� from playing one of its (expressive) roles and thus is not a good test for what is asserted when �I think� is employed in making an assertoric utterance. The critique of Rosenthal�s argument allows us to make explicit the intuitions which shape higher-order representation theories of consciousness in general. Consciousness and first-person mental discourse seem to be connected primarily because consciousness is (and was) an epistemic term, used to denote first-person knowledge of minds. Higher-order thought theories of consciousness draw upon this epistemic notion of consciousness, and because self-knowledge seems to involve higher-order representation, the higher-order theorist can deploy what is in effect an �error theory� about conscious experience disguised as a kind of conceptual analysis of our ordinary concept of a conscious mental state. The conclusion reached is that there is unlikely to be a simple or direct path from considerations about mental discourse to conclusions about the nature of consciousness.