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Capturing qualia: higher-order concepts and connectionism

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Antireductionist philosophers have argued for higher-order classifications of qualia that locate consciousness outside the scope of conventional scientific explanations, viz., by classifying qualia as intrinsic, basic, or subjective properties, antireductionists distinguish qualia from extrinsic, complex, and objective properties, and thereby distinguish conscious mental states from the possible explananda of functionalist or physicalist explanations. I argue that, in important respects, qualia are intrinsic, basic, and subjective properties of conscious mental states, and that, contrary to antireductionists' suggestions, these higher-order classifications are compatible with qualia reduction. I demonstrate this compatibility by examining the putative higher-order properties of qualia and comparing them to the higher-order properties characteristic of connectionist models of cognitive processes. I contend that the higher-order properties characteristic of connectionist networks approximate (in intertheoretic terms) the putative higher-order properties of qualia sufficiently well to conclude that qualia reductionism can (1) accommodate claims that qualia are intrinsic, basic, and subjective properties, and (2) explain the motivating intuitions for those claims generated by inverted, absent, and alien qualia thought experiments. In this way I argue that (approximate versions of) the putative higher-order classifications of qualia not only fail to defeat qualia reduction but, ironically, turn out to support it.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Philosophy, Emory University, Bowden Hall, 214, Atlanta, GA 30322, USA

Publication date: 2001-03-01

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