The HOT Theory of Consciousness: Between a Rock and a Hard Place?

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Abstract:

The so-called 'higher-order thought' (HOT) theory of consciousness says that what makes a mental state conscious is the presence of a suitable higher-order thought directed at it (Rosenthal, 1986; 1990; 1993; 2002; 2004; Gennaro, 1996; 2004). The HOT theory has been or could be attacked from two apparently opposite directions. On the one hand, there is what Stubenberg (1998) has called 'the problem of the rock' which, if successful, would show that the HOT theory proves too much. On the other hand, it might also be alleged that the HOT theory does not or cannot address the so-called 'hard problem' of phenomenal consciousness. If so, then the HOT theory would prove too little. We might say, then, that the HOT theory is arguably between a rock and a hard place. In this paper, I critically examine these objections and defend the HOT theory against them. In doing so, I hope to show that the HOT theory, or at least some version of it, neither proves too little nor too much, but is just right. I also show that these two objections are really just two sides of the same coin, and that the HOT theory is immune from David Chalmers' (1995; 1996) criticisms of other attempted reductionist accounts of consciousness.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2005

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