Two HOTs To Handle: The Concept of State Consciousness in the Higher-Order Thought Theory of Consciousness

Document Type: 
Article Type: 
Theory of Consciousness
Consciousness, Higher-Order-Thought, Representation, Mental State, Type/Token Distinction, Mental Causation, Intentionality
Deposited by: 
J Matey
Date of Issue: 
Jennifer Matey
Journal/Publication Title: 
Philosophical Psychology
Issue Number: 
Page Range: 
Official URL:
David Rosenthal’s Higher-Order Thought (HOT) hypothesis is one of the most widely argued for of the higher-order accounts of consciousness. In this paper, I address an inconsistency in that theory of consciousness. Rosenthal’s argument, I argue, vacillates between two independent models of the HOT theory. I suggest that two different concepts of state consciousness might lie at the heart of these two models; while both concepts refer to token target states, the two concepts refer to those states in virtue of different properties. In the first section of this paper, I review the two models. In subsequent sections, I examine the models more closely. Philosophers ought to invoke the principle of charity when reading critically. This means that where several models of a theory are put forth, philosophers should aim to assess the strongest among them. I argue that the second model is preferable to the first for several reasons. One reason is that the concept of state consciousness in that model fits better with the commonsense notion of intransitive consciousness. All else being equal, a theory that uses terms in a way that fits with our concepts should be preferred. But ultimately this second model is also problematic. I highlight those problems and suggest that they might be averted by modifying a core feature of the HOT theory, the Transitivity Principle. In the second half of this paper I develop a modified version of the Transitivity Principle. I hypothesize that Rosenthal occasionally employs this modified model himself. This slip may make sense of some problematic aspects of his theory. I also suggest that the inconsistency identified in the first section of this paper might actually reflect these two versions of the Transitivity Principle. One version gives us a token target state centered concept of state consciousness, and the other, which discusses only mental state types, doesn’t give us a theory of state consciousness at all. I offer one explanation for how this equivocation might have occurred. These two versions would result if articulations of the Transitivity Principle employed the term ‘mental state’ inconsistently, to refer on some occasions to mental state types and on others to refer to mental state tokens. I conclude by arguing, contrary to Rosenthal and others, that the theory is not incompatible with view that conscious states are uniquely causally efficacious.
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