Iâ€™ve been developing an argument against both higher-order and first-order representational theories of consciousness (hereafter HOR and FOR, respectively). I call the argument the Unicorn and so far everybody (but me) hates it. To constructively focus the hate on a single blog post (instead of a longish paper draft), I briefly summarize here.
First, some quick and dirty definitions of my targets:
HOR â€“ The property of being a conscious state consists in being a represented state.
FOR â€“ The property of being phenomenal consists in being a represented property.
And nowâ€¦the Unicorn:
P1. Things that donâ€™t exist donâ€™t instantiate properties.
P2. We represent things that donâ€™t exist.
P3. Representing something does not suffice to confer a property to that thing.
C1. Representing a state does not suffice to confer the property of being conscious to that state (so HOR is false).
C2. Representing a property does not suffice to confer the property of being phenomenal to that property (so FOR is false).
Thatâ€™s the argument. Here are some quick notes on it.
N1. Re: P1, cheetahs, not unicorns, are the fastest animals. This is not because unicorns have the property of being slow. This is because they have no properties whatsoever.
N2. Re: P2, if contrary to P2, we donâ€™t represent things that donâ€™t exist, then P2 is meaningless since it would represent nothing at all (it wouldnâ€™t represent so-called people-who-represent-things-that-donâ€™t-exist). P2, however, is not meaningless. Therefore, itâ€™s true.
N3. Re: P3, it follows from P1 and P2. I donâ€™t think it takes a lot of fancy work to show that it does, so I wonâ€™t bother.
N4. Re: P4, mutatis mutandis for how C1 and C2 follow from P3.
N5. HOR and FOR canâ€™t dodge the Unicorn by simply adding existence to the list of criteria for consciousness/phenomenality. The key question HOR and FOR address is â€œin what consists the property of being conscious/phenomenal?â€ The problems the Unicorn raises for the answer â€œit consists in being representedâ€ cannot be solved by requiring the existence of the representational target, since existence is not a property. Not being a property, existence adds nothing in â€œbeing represented and existingâ€ not already present in plain old â€œbeing representedâ€. I take it that something like this dodge is at work in so-called same-order representational theories of consciousness (SOR). It (and they) wonâ€™t work.
Fig 1. Donâ€™t hate me, hate my unicorn. (Photo by Ray Gunn.)
Fig 2. This is not my unicorn. (Photo source: http://www.fortgreenepups.org/03/images/unicorn.jpg )