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Sceptical Alternatives: Strong Illusionism versus Modest Realism

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Daniel Dennett and others have suggested that qualia and introspectible phenomena do not exist. Dennett's account of consciousness, along with several related approaches, has been called illusionism by Keith Frankish. Frankish's analysis is helpful and provocative. As currently presented, however, his 'strong' version of illusionism suffers from several basic confusions, particularly regarding its relationship to eliminative materialism. This paper contrasts strong illusionism with an alternative that is easier to understand and more sharply focused -- fallibilist experiential realism, or, less technically, modest realism. Fallibilist realism affirms the existence of experiential states that are commonly considered qualitative and phenomenal, but shares Frankish's agenda of thoroughly re-evaluating our judgments about such experiences. To illustrate the advantages of modest realism, I compare the ways illusionism and modest realism address two challenging puzzles: explaining how qualitative differences among sensory experiences could be constituted by differences among neural states, and explaining how neural states could constitute any conscious experiences whatsoever.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2018

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