Chapter 3

Chapter 3 of The Subjective Brain is up now, and it’s called Beware the Unicorn: Consciousness, Intentionality, and Inexistence.


In case you think you’ve heard it (and hated it) all before, pause and appreciate this: you haven’t. There’s new stuff peppered throughout. See, for instance, the brand-spanking-new section 7. Enjoy!

The conclusion of the Unicorn argument is incompatible with HOT and FOR. HOT and FOR derive much of their plausibility from Transitivity and Transparency, respectively. If the lesson of the Unicorn is something that we can live with, then perhaps we must either (1) learn to live without Transitivity and Transparency or (2) find a way of accepting Transitivity and Transparency while rejecting HOT and FOR. Option (1) is the best option. Option (2) is unwelcome because it is hard to see how Transitivity and Transparency don’t just lead relatively directly to HOT and FOR, respectively. Further, a direct case for (1) can be made, and it is the aim of this section to make it. Resistance to abandonment of Transitivity and Transparency may be due to the fact that both theses are prima facie plausible and arguably useful. However, I think that their plausibility can be explained away and their utility can be had by much more plausible substitutes.


My case against Transitivity will have three parts: (1) its plausibility can be explained away, that is, its plausibility can be explained without supposing it true, (2) if Transitivity is supposed to be analytic, then a certain situation which is not obviously incoherent would be obviously incoherent, and (3) if Transitivity is not supposed to be analytic, but instead defended on grounds of theoretical utility, then it may just as well be replaced by what I’ll call Deflationary Transitivity.

Origami unicorn from Blade Runner. A non-existent representation of a non-existent.

13 Responses to “Chapter 3”

  1. R Brown says:

    Hey Pete, by the way, is that graphic of the tribal brain something that you did? Is it going to be a graphic on the cover or something? I like it…

    O will try not to rehash old ground…

    On p 79 you quote some passages from Rosentrhal, but I really don’t see why the passage you quote commits him to 1. some mental states have the property of being concious (I am not saying that he isn’t committed to this, but I don’t think that what you quote shows that)

    Your definition of DR needs some support. Why is anyone who accepts the causal theory of reference committed to “(a) two or more of these representations are about the same object if and only if they have the same cognitive significance”? Kripke, Devitt, and Fodor (though he is odd man out here) all have ways of holding the causal theory and rejecting (a). You need an argument as to why you think (a) is true. And so your a+ is extremely suspect and not something that I take myself to be committed to…and of course you know that I think (b) is just plain false! I do hope that you are going to eventually say some stuff that might actually bother someone who accepted the causal theory of reference…

    You say that section 5 you “examined the proposal that HOR be modifiedin such a way as to make it immune to the Unicorn. I argued that whatever alterations might be possible would result in an account that no longer implements Transitivity,” but there is no such argument in that section. That section is entirely concerned with FOR…unless I missed something…

    Whoooaaaaa Boy, your analogy of conscious mental states to trees is priceless! So, a mental state I am conscious of is like something for me to have it, so a tree that I am conscious of is like soemthing for me to have? C’mon, this analogy is silly.

    More srriously, if there are conscious states that we are not conscious of, then we need an independent explanation of what it is to be a conscious mental state, which, as Rosenthal, and others like myself, think you will not be able to do…I know, I know, wait for ch 4, and 6…I’m waiting!

    Re motioninduced blindness: You say “Is one
    compelled to say that the percept was conscious only as one became conscious of the percept? Or can one say without verging on nonsense that first the percept became conscious and only (a brief moment)afterward did one become conscious of the percept? If the latter option seems at all plausible, then Transitivity does not have a strong claim to pre-theoretic plausibility”

    But this is a false dilemma. First, you haven’t said what the latter option entails…if you mean for it to be “or can one say without verging on nonsense that first there was something that it was like FOR me to see the dot and only (a brief moment) afterward did one become conscious of what it was like FOR me to see the dot?” then it seems to me that it does obviously verge on non-sense…by the way, this migt make a good experimental philosophy project…perhaps we should do it and see what the folk think?

    Re deflationary tansitivity: ….must resist re-hashing…

    by the by, a general note on the style of argument in the last sections, of the form “if X is analytic then denial of X should be obviously incoherent”…aren’t there lots of mathematical/logical proofs which are either analytic or not and yet not obvious?

  2. Pete Mandik says:


    Thanks for all the comments. I’m out the door, so I’ll get to ‘em later. But the brain, yeah I made that a few years ago and hope to make it the book cover.

  3. Pete Mandik says:

    Ok, I’m back from class.

    1. I don’t think I need any special textual support for the claim that Rosenthal thinks that there are conscious states. What I’m hoping to use the quote to support is a claim that he thinks that conscious states have a property of being conscious. And he does say in the quoted material “…I’ll call the property mental states have of being conscious state conscious.”

    2. Re DR and Causal Theory. I appreciate the attempt to not rehash old squabbles and I’ll try to avoid rehashing as well. I do find it a bit puzzling that you are bringing up causal theories in a context concerning DR. Some theories of reference worth calling casual aren’t DR and some theories worth calling DR aren’t causal. I’m trying to follow the usage of DR as in, e.g. the Hawthorne article that I cite.

    3. If I actually have an argument concerning whether HOT can be modified without sacrificing Transitivity implementation, it occurs in section 4. The internal references and numbering are all screwed up. My bad.

    4. I don’t get your beef with the analogy concerning trees and conscious states. Certainly just because someone draws an anaolgy between X and Y one isn’t thereby comitted to X and Y instantiating all and only the same properties. The point the analogy is supposed to help support is the claim that just because all Ps are Qs it doesn’t follow that all Ps are necessarily Qs.

    5. I don’t see what a survey of the folk would further establish about Transitivity. A sufficient number of people have denied the obviousness of Transitivity (to name a few: Ned Block, Fred Dretske, Paul Churchland, Michael Tye, Eric Thompson) that it seems pointless to continue insisting to the contrary that it is obvious.

    6. I do not assume that something is analytic only if its denial is obviously false. As you point out, conclusions of complex logical proofs are arguably analytic without their denials being obviously wrong. I do, however, assume that Transitivity is analytic only if its denial is obviously false. Note that no one has ever claimed that Transitivity is the conclusion of a complex proof. It’s supposed to be a common sense platitude like “all historical events happened in the past”. As such, if analytic then its denial would be obviously false.

  4. R Brown says:

    Re 1: Ah… ishould learn how toread :)

    Re 2: In that case maybe you might want to mention the distinct strategy of wedding HOT to the causal theoryof reference, since that is a much better response

    Re 4: I don’t think anyone would dispute what you say about trees, but why should anyone think that it shows anything about consious mental states? In what respect are trees and mental states similar that the analogy is supposed to be helpful?

    Re 5: I think your’re wrong about that, mostly due to what I was talking about. Let me rephrase it…sure, lots of people deny transitivity when it is described a certain way, but who would deny it when it is phrased this way

    can one say without verging on nonsense that first there was something that it was like FOR me to see the dot and only (a brief moment) afterward did one become conscious of what it was like FOR me to see the dot?

    Inother words, most people who deny transitivity are really having a verbal dispute about what to call ‘conscious’…

    Re 6: Oh OK, good…but see 5 above…

  5. Pete Mandik says:


    re 4: Arguments by analogy aren’t the most powerful arguments in the universe, but here’s how I envision this one going.

    Premise 1. both trees and conscious states are such that every one of which I’ve been aware is one of which I’ve been aware.
    Premise 2. Trees are not necessarily objects of my awareness.
    Conclusion. conscious states are not necessarily objects of my awareness.

    Not the greatest argument in the universe, but it doesn’t strike me as worse than any other argument by analogy.

    re 5: I think there are plenty Transitivity deniers who aren’t going to flinch even when you italicize the “for” in “what it’s like for me”. tye and Block come to mind of insisting that unattended pains are still states that there’s something it’s like for me to have them. What it’s like is painful, they claim, and it’s painful to me (it’s my pain after all) even when my mind has wandered and I’m thinking about set theoretic paradoxes or porn or whatever.

    You and I might agree, however, that a lot of this is in danger of devolving into verbal dispute. I hope to get beyond that by treating the various descriptions bandied about as contingent reference fixers, not analyses, of “conscious”.

  6. Pete,

    Re 4. please to tell me why the following argument from analogy is any worse than yours

    Premise 1. both trees and conscious states are such that every one that exists is one that exists.
    Premise 2. Trees exist mind independently.
    Conclusion. conscious states exist mind independently.

    Re 5: I don’t agree that Block (I am not sure about Tye, as I have not heard him speak/read as much of his stuff as I have of Block’s) wouldn’t flinch. Notice that even when you go on you say “it is painful TO me” not “it is painful FOR me”…so yeah, i do think that this dispute between Block-heads and HOT-heads is purely verbal….and why not just say that these things are reference fixe4rs? Why do you have to beg the same question that the other side does and call it ‘contingent’? Why not just say it fixes the reference and then it is an open questionwhether or not it is a contingent thing, or a necessary thing?

    hmmm…set theoretic porn paradoxes, eh? The porn star who screws all and only those who do not screw themselves? I ask you, does she, or does she not, screw herself? :)

  7. Pete Mandik says:

    Re 4. Because it is uncontroversial that the conclusion is false.

    Re 5. What question is begged by calling the reference fixer “contingent”? Are there non-contingent reference fixers? I’m not getting what the point is you are trying to make.

  8. Re 4: Oh reallllllyyyyyy??????? That’s exactly what I thought about the conclusion of your argument from analogy…so which one of us is begging the question? Oh! Both of us?!? In other words that argument seems good to you because you already accept the conslusion, and it looks quite silly to me because I already reject the conclusion…so what good is such a poor argument?

    Re 5: well, I guess I don’t know what you mean by ‘contingent reference fixer’…I thought what you menat was that we fix the reference of the term via some contingent feature of the state in question and I was pointing out that that is question begging in the same way that Rosenthal does when he says that it is a necessary feature of the state. That’s not what you meant?

  9. Pete Mandik says:

    re 4: in the argument about mind-independence the point isn’t that it’s false. The point is that it is uncontroversial that it is false. While you may think that the conclusion of the other argument is false, you must surely admit that it’s a subject of some controversy. Thus, however bad the argument about transitivity is, it isn’t as bad as the one about mind-independence.

    Anyway, I’m not inclined to put much weight on this. Arguments by analogy are non-deductive and are therefore, as I’ve already said, not the strongest arguments in the universe. In the text of the chapter the argument in question is presented as more of a rhetorical question and that’s how I plan to keep it.

    re 5: Ah, right. It must have been a brain fart on my part that I didn’t get it the first time around, but yes, that’s what I meant by ‘contingent reference fixer’. Now, if I didn’t already have independent reasons for thinking that Transitivity is false, the fair thing for me to do would be, as you say, just call it a reference fixer and leave open whether it is contingent. But I do have reasons for my disbelief in Transitivity and I’ve spelled them out in the book chapters posted so far. Maybe you think I have bad arguments, but it’s not like I’m saying the reference fixer is merely contingent without having supplied any arguments whatsoever.

  10. I do not know that the conclusionof my argument is as controvesial as you think…there are panpsycists out there who affirm it (e.g. Galen Strawson)…how many of them does there have to be in order to get some controversy? So, no, I don’t really see any difference between these two (extremely bad) arguments.

    Also, I don’t think you are being entirely forthcommingwhen you say that it is presented merely as a rhetorical question…y9ou present the analogy as a way to ’see’ how we can explain away the intuitive appeal of Transitivity, but that is not what the analogy does…it begs the question by comparing mental states to non-mental thngs like trees and so draws a bad, misleading analogy.

    I haven’t seen any arguments that transitivity is false. I have seen bad analogies which beg the question, and straw men. You have not anywhere in the three chapters posted so far given any argument against transitivity as David Rosenthal, its creator, construes it.

  11. Pete Mandik says:

    I don’t see how it could possibly be disputed that the stuff about analyticity constitutes an argument. Certainly the soundness of the argument is something that may deserve further discussion but your denial that I’ve supplied an argument at all is either a pointlessly hyperbolic insult or a brain-fart of titanic proportions.

  12. Or it’s neither.

    The stuff about analyticity is question begging as well. No one disagrees about anything that isn’t merely verbal (see above comments)

    What I said was that you did not have any arguments that weren’t either a straw man or that didn’t beg the question at hand…or in other words that you did not have sufficient justification to say ‘contingent reference fixer’ and so to be fair you should drop the ‘contingent’ bit…that is not an insult and it is not a brain-fart, it is the truth.

  13. [...] ’nuff said? This is the real reason that Rosenthal’s view is not targeted by objections like Pete Mandik’s Unicorn argument, or the common objection from the possibility of the HOT occuring in the absence of the first-order state, or as I argued, from Uriah’s charge that higher-order theories, like Rosenthals’s, that claim that the first-order state does not acquire a new property (i.e. of being a conscious state) are committed to the claim that consciousness is epiphenomenal. [...]