Me-ishness: A Kantian explanation of subjective character

Document Type: 
ASSC Conference Item
Article Type: 
Theory of Consciousness
phenomenal consciousness, self-consciousness, unity of consciousness, neural correlate of consciousness
Deposited by: 
Dr Tobias Schlicht
Date of Issue: 
Tobias Schlicht
Event Dates: 
23-26 Jun 2006
Event Location: 
Oxford, UK
Event Title: 
10th annual meeting of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness
Event Type: 
ASSC Conference
Presentation Type: 
To explain the subjective character of phenomenal consciousness is to explain the "me-ishness" (Block 1995) of conscious experiences, i.e. the fact that they are something "for me", their subject, that it is somehow for me as their subject to undergo them. Higher-Order (HO) Theories (Rosenthal 1997, Lycan 1996) specify what it means for a mental state M to be conscious in terms of some form of self-awareness, i.e. the subjects' (higher-order) awareness that it is in M. But these theories typically postulate a distinct and separate mental state (M*), either thought-like or perception-like, which is supposed to explain what it's like to be in the first-order state M. Of the many objections which have been raised against HO theories, the most pressing have to do with this theoretical posit of a distinct second state M*. In the paper, I try to show how these problems can be avoided by an approach which is more Kantian in spirit. On this account, no second-order state is needed to explain my conscious experience of M. Rather, the condition which M has to meet in order to be conscious (something “for me”), is being part of a "global" mental state (Brook 2001), i.e. a combination (or network) of mental representations which amounts to the "total state of consciousness" (Bayne/Chalmers 2003) the subject is in at a time. Kant calls this the unity of self-consciousness. Accordingly, the neural substrate of M has to be part of a "cluster" (Edelman/Tononi 2004) of neuronal assemblies which underlie the subjects' "total state of consciousness" and which have to be integrated by some process or other to display a certain unity. This "cluster" might be comparable to what Damasio (1999) calls the "proto-self", a biological signature of the subject’s "core-consciousness", which carries its first-person perspective. On this account of subjective character, the unity of experience and its neuronal equivalent play a crucial role. With this in hand, a couple of otherwise perplexing phenomena regarding self-consciousness such as self-reference, failure of error through misidentification, and the sense of unity of self over time can be explained.
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