Research

winter-157

Published

2016. “Conscious Intentionality in Perception, Imagination, and Cognition.” Phenomenology and Mind (10):140-155.

Participants in the cognitive phenomenology debate have proceeded by (a) proposing a bifurcation of theoretical options into inflationary and non-inflationary theories, and then (b) providing arguments for/against one of these theories. I suggest that this method has failed to illuminate the commonalities and differences among conscious intentional states of different types, in the absence of a theory of the structure of these states. I propose such a theory. In perception, phenomenal-intentional properties combine with somatosensory properties to form P-I property clusters that serve as phenomenal modes of presentations of particulars. In imagination, somatosensory properties are replaced with phenomenal-intentional properties whose intentional objects are somatosensory properties, thus resulting in imaginative facsimiles of perceptual P-I property clusters. Such structures can then be used as phenomenal prototypes that pick out individuals and kinds. Sets of such prototypes constitute a subject’s conception of individuals and kinds. Combined with a few additional elements, these imaginative P-I property clusters serve as the building-blocks of conscious cognitive states. Different ways of carving up theoretical space classify my theory either as inflationary or as non-inflationary. I conclude that the theory is anti-inflationary in letter but inflationary in spirit.

2014. “Incarnation and the Multiverse,” with Tim O’Connor.

The authors discuss the possibility that God is multiply incarnated (in the manner that traditional Christians have understand God’s relationship to Jesus of Nazareth) within spatiotemporally disconnected locales or even throughout causally disassociated universes. We argue that, on a plausible conception of the metaphysics of a single incarnation—in which a divine person comes to be partly constituted by an instance of a creaturely nature—multiple divine incarnations are indeed possible. Moreover, if Christian teaching concerning the restorative and identificational purposes that God intends the Incarnation to serve viz-a-viz human beings is correct, then the plausibility that there are creatures relevantly alike to human persons elsewhere in the universe, or perhaps multiverse, suggests that multiple incarnations are actual.

Penultimate draft manuscript available here.


Forthcoming

“Consciousness.” (in John Campbell, ed., A Companion to Free Will, Wiley.)

It is easy to prompt the intuition that free will and consciousness have something importantly to do with one another: we do not hold somnambulists responsible for stealing cake from the refrigerator, for example, owing to their lack of conscious awareness of their action. But the precise relationship between consciousness and free action is controversial. This is due to the fact that there is no consensus regarding either the cognitive function of consciousness, on the one hand, and the necessary conditions on free action, on the other. I explore how differing conceptions of consciousness and of free action motivate four (families of) theories regarding the relationship between them: the constitution view, the causal-dependence view, the counterfactual-dependence view, and the independence view. Then I review some of the most influential recent findings in the empirical sciences that touch on the relationship between consciousness and the will, and I discuss the potential philosophical significance of these findings.

“Explaining the Ontological Emergence of Consciousness” (in Mihretu Guta, ed., Consciousness and the Ontology of Properties, Routledge)

Ontological emergentists about consciousness maintain that phenomenal properties are ontologically fundamental properties that are nonetheless non-basic: they emerge from reality only once the ultimate material constituents of reality (the “UPCs”) are suitable arranged. Ontological emergentism has been challenged on the grounds that it is insufficiently explanatory. In this essay, I develop the version of ontological emergentism I take to be the most explanatorily promising—the causal theory of ontological emergence—in light of four challenges: The Collaboration Problem (how do UPCs jointly manifest their collective consciousness-generating power?); The Threshold Problem: (under what circumstances do UPCs jointly manifest their collective consciousness-generating power?); The Subject Problem (which object is the bearer of emergent phenomenal states?); and The Specificity Problem (what determines which specific phenomenal state is generated?) In response to these challenges, I arrive at the following picture of ontological emergence. When UPCs that are parts of a sensorimotor system become entangled, they jointly manifest a subject-forming power (where subjects are deeply unified composites of the UPCs responsible for generating them). The emergent subjects thereby formed exhibit a novel causal power: the power to generate phenomenal states, which they themselves instantiate: states that “interpret” what is going on in the brain.

A Posteriori Physicalism and the Discrimination of Properties.” (in Acta Analytica)

According to a posteriori physicalism, phenomenal properties are physical properties, despite the unbridgeable cognitive gap that holds between phenomenal concepts and physical concepts. Current debates about a posteriori physicalism turn on what I call “the Perspecuity Principle”: it is impossible for a suitably astute cognizer to possess concepts of a certain sort—viz., narrow concepts—without being able to tell whether the referents of those concepts are the same or different. The Perspecuity Principle tends to strike a posteriori physicalists as implausibly rationalistic; further, a posteriori physicalists maintain that even if the principle is applicable to many narrow concepts, phenomenal concepts have unique features that render them inferentially isolated from other narrow concepts (a dialectical move known as ‘the Phenomenal Concept Strategy’). I argue, on the contrary, that the case for the Perspecuity Principle is quite strong. Moreover, not only have versions of the PCS repeatedly failed; likely all versions will, given the strange combination of lucidity and opacity that the PCS has to juggle (it requires that we come up with a lucid explanation of an irremediable cognitive blindspot). I conclude that a posteriori physicalists currently lack a principled objection to classic anti-physicalist arguments.


Under Review

“Phenomenal Intentionality: Reductionism vs. Primitivism.”

A number of philosophers have argued recently for the Phenomenal Grounding Thesis, i.e. the thesis that some phenomenal states have intentional content solely in virtue of their phenomenology. Katalin Farkas and Farid Masrour have offered versions of a reductive explanation of the Phenomenal Grounding Thesis. On their view, phenomenally-intentional states have their content in virtue of systematic correlations between sensory/somatic properties. I supply two objections to their version of reductionism: (1) It cannot explain all types of phenomenal intentionality we have good reason to believe are instantiated (and hence provides only a partial explanation of the Phenomenal Grounding Thesis). (2) Neither of two ways of disambiguating its central explanatory relation (in terms of abductive evidential support vs. metaphysical constitution) provides a perspicuous reduction of phenomenal intentionality. I propose instead my own preferred alternative view, phenomenal primitivism.

 

Book Reviews

2017. Keith Ward, Christ and the Cosmos: A Reformulation of Trinitarian Doctrine. In Sophia.

2014. Declan Smithies & Daniel Stoljar, ed., Introspection and Consciousness. In Philosophical Psychology 28 (8):1241-45.

 

In Progress

“Panpsychism, Neuroscience, and the Dynamics of Consciousness.”

Panpsychism is the view that the ultimate physical constituents of reality (the “UPCs”) instantiate phenomenal properties, and that the phenomenal states of macroscopic entities (such as ourselves) are constituted by these properties. The central challenge for panpsychism is to explain the constitution-relation that is said to hold, with metaphysical necessity, between the phenomenal properties of the UPCs and the phenomenal states of macro-level minds. I argue that the deliverances of neuroscience make it impossible to rise to this challenge: what’s explanatorily relevant to the dynamics of consciousness are high-level neural-functional properties, rather than low-level physical properties had by the UPCs. Either panpsychism will treat the top-down influence of brain activation on bonding/blending as brutely nomic—thereby inviting a charge of arbitrariness, of explanatory inadequacy; or it will posit a mechanism of top-down causal influence—thereby inviting a charge of adhockery.

“The Acquaintance Argument for Intrinsic Intentionality.”

Naturalistic theories of intentionality identify intentional properties with complex functional/dispositional profiles within cognitive systems. Whatever the merits of these theories, they cannot account for the intentional properties instantiated in our conscious mental states. Here’s why: such functional/dispositional properties are not intrinsic feature of conscious mental states. We can only be acquainted with the intrinsic features of conscious mental states, and the intentional properties of our conscious mental states are among the intrinsic features with which we can be acquainted—as evidenced by the fact that introspective acquaintance guides our ability to recognitionally sort conscious mental states with respect to their content.

Draft manuscript available here.


Doctoral Dissertation

The Emergence of Mental Content: An Essay in the Metaphysics of Mind. Defended July 2015.

Committee: Timothy O’Connor (chair), Colin Allen, Kirk Ludwig, Fred Schmitt

According to a common paradigm in philosophy of mind, for mental states to have intentional content is for those states to be suitably functionally embedded in a cognitive system vis-à-vis its environment. Such views, I argue, are unable to account for our first-personal knowledge of the content of our mental states. I develop an alternative approach according to which all intentionality is, at bottom, a way of being conscious. I call the relevant ways of being conscious “phenomenal-intentional properties.” Along with the rest of the phenomenal realm, phenomenal-intentional properties emerge as ontologically novel properties of subjects. In perception, imagination and cognition, phenomenal-intentional properties combine with each other (and with other non-intentional features of consciousness) to form arbitrarily complex and diverse representational states.

Extended abstract available here.

        Manuscript available here.