Experience and Structure: philosophical history and the problem of consciousness

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Abstract:

Investigation and analysis of the history of the concepts employed in contemporary philosophy of mind could significantly change the contemporary debate about the explainability of consciousness. Philosophical investigation of the history of the concept of qualia and the concept of scientific explanation most often presupposed in contemporary discussions of consciousness reveals the origin of both concepts in some of the most interesting philosophical debates of the twentieth century. In particular, a historical investigation of the inheritance of concepts of the elements of experience and the nature of scientific explanation from C. I. Lewis and Rudolf Carnap to contemporary theorists like David Chalmers shows the profound continuity of these concepts throughout the analytic tradition, despite important changes in the dimensions of philosophical relevance and significance that have characterized the emerging debate.

I argue that, despite the significant methodological shift from the foundationalist epistemology of the 1920s to today's functionalist explanations of the mind, the problem of explaining consciousness has remained the problem of analysing or describing the logical and relational structure of immediate, given experience. Appreciation of this historical continuity of form recommends a more explicit discussion of the philosophical reasons for the underlying distinction between structure and content, reasons that trace to Lewis and Carnap's influential but seldom-discussed understanding of the relationship between subjectivity, conceived as the realm of private, ineffable contents, and objectivity, understood as public, linguistic expressibility. With this historical background in mind, the contemporary debate about the explanation of consciousness can be re-interpreted as a debate about the relationship between ineffable experience and structurally conceived meaning.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Philosophy, University of California, Irvine, CA 92697, USA. Email: plivings@uci.edu

Publication date: January 1, 2002

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