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Quality, Thought and Consciousness

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 July 2010

Howard Robinson
Central European University, Budapest


My objective in this essay is to argue for two things. The first is that intellectual mental states – thoughts – are not physicalistically reducible, just as qualia are not reducible. The second is that thoughts and qualia are not as different as is sometimes believed, but not because – as some empiricists thought – thoughts are qualia-like by being mental images, but because qualia are universals and their apprehension is a proto-intellectual act. I shall mainly be concerned with the first of these topics.

Copyright © The Royal Institute of Philosophy and the contributors 2010

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1 As others have remarked, this is an eccentric use of ‘syntactic’, for syntax is hardly more of a physical feature of sentences than is semantics. The point of the metaphor (if that is what it is) is that a computing machine works because shapes fit holes, not because meanings fit anything.

2 This idea is passim, at least in Dennett's early work, such as Brainstorms (Hassocks: Harvester, 1978) and The Intentional Stance (Cambridge Mass.: MIT Press, 1987). One might cite in particular ‘Three Kinds of Intentional Psychology’ in R. Healey (ed.), Reduction, Time and Reality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), reprinted in The Intentional Stance.

3 Seager, W., ‘Real Patterns and Surface Metaphysics’ in Ross, D., Brook, A. and Thompson, D., Dennett's Philosophy: A Comprehensive Assessment (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2000), 95129Google Scholar: 117.

5 Ibid., 121.

6 D. Dennett, ‘With a Little Help from My Friends’ in D. Ross, A. Brook and D. Thompson (eds), Dennett's Philosophy: A Comprehensive Assessment, op. cit., 327–88: 355.

7 Ibid.

8 Robinson, H., ‘Dualism’ in The Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Mind, edited by Stitch, S. and Warfield, T. A. (Oxford: Blackwell, 2009), 85101Google Scholar; Robinson, H., ‘Reductionism, Supervenience and Emergence’ in The Routledge Companion to Metaphysics, edited by Simons, P. and Le Poidevin, R. (London: Routledge, 2009), 527–36Google Scholar.

9 Carnap, R., The Unity of Science (London: Kegan Paul, 1934)Google Scholar.

10 Nagel, E., The Structure of Science (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1961)Google Scholar.

11 Ayer, A. J., The Origins of Pragmatism (London: Macmillan, 1968)Google Scholar; Jackson, F., ‘Epiphenomenal Qualia’, Philosophical Quarterly 32 (1982), 127–36Google Scholar; Chalmers, D., The Conscious Mind (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996)Google Scholar; Russell, B., The Analysis of Matter (London: Allen and Unwin, 1927)Google Scholar.

12 Kripke, S., Wittgenstein and Rule-Following (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976)Google Scholar; Putnam, H., ‘Brains in a Vat’ in his Reason, Truth and History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 121Google Scholar.

13 I am grateful to the participants at the Metaphysics of Consciousness conference in Edinburgh in July 2009 and to Anita Avramides and Adrian Moore who commented on a later version of the paper.