Robert Lurzâ€™s challenge to the standard view of transitive consciousness is constituted by the following claim from his paper, â€œNeither HOT nor COLD: An Alternative Account of Consciousnessâ€:
[A] creature can be conscious of its thoughts and experiences simply by being conscious of what it thinks or experiences in having those thoughts or experiences
Here is what the Lurz challenge is supposed to be a challenge to. What lots of people seem to agree on, and this would include Tye, Dretske, Rosenthal, Churchland, Prinz, and me, is that transitive consciousness - consciousness of - is implemented by (certain kinds of) representation in the following way: what one is conscious of is what (certain kinds of) representations are representations of. (What further criteria the representations need to meet is what separates the various authors listed, and thus the use of the parenthetical “certain kinds of”.) Call this the Standard View. On the Standard View, one is conscious of such-and-such only if one mentally represents such-and-such. And if one has a (certain kind of) mental representation of a leafy tree, one is thereby conscious of a leafy tree. Or, in other words, what one is conscious of is the content of a certain representation, in this case the content is a leafy tree.
Now, when one has a state of the sort described in the previous paragraph, what sense could it possibly make to say that one is conscious of the state itself? This I try to spell out on pp. 60-61 of The Subjective Brain in terms of the content/vehicle distinction. Being conscious of a leafy tree involves representing a leafy tree. Being conscious of a representation of a leafy tree must involve representing something more than just the leafy tree, that is, something more than just the content of the representation. And the only candidate for the something more is the vehicle of the representation. Thus one is conscious of the representation itself only if one represents vehicular properties of the representation.
So on what basis can adherents of the Standard View resist Lurzâ€™s position that consciousness of what a state represents suffices for consciousness of the state itself? One kind of response would be to point out that itâ€™s not particularly clear what Lurzâ€™s position even means. Another kind of response would be to point out that it isnâ€™t particularly clear that any arguments have been given for Lurzâ€™s position (or even that he takes himself to have supplied any arguments).
Regarding the first kind of response, regarding the meaning of Lurzâ€™s position, is he asserting that being conscious of what a state represents suffices for being conscious of vehicular properties of the representation? Or is he stipulating that being conscious of the content is another way, distinct from the vehicular way, of being conscious of the representation? Iâ€™ll come back to this in a moment.
Regarding whether an actual argument is supplied, Lurz does offer â€œsome intuitive support for this claimâ€ in terms of an analogy concerning paintings. He writes:
It seems plain that in order to see what a particular painting represents, one must see the painting itself. If one does not see the painting itself — say, if one is looking in the wrong direction, or is seeing a different painting, or is blind — then one cannot be said to see what that particular painting represents.
Note that while Lurz says this â€œseems plain,â€ it seems plain to me that it doesnâ€™t seem plain at all. If what a particular painting represents is the flight of Icarus and I am looking at some other particular painting which also represents the flight of Icarus, then I can see what the first painting represents without seeing the first painting. I do it by seeing the second painting, which is a representation of the same thing as the first painting. So it looks like I can be aware of what a particular painting represents without being aware of that particular painting. (And if paintings and non-paintings can share contents, then I can be aware of what a particular painting represents without being aware of any particular painting at all.)
To make matters worse, it looks like Lurz agrees with this sort of point. He writes:
Three identical-looking paintings by different artists, for example, may each depict a woman seated before an open windowâ€¦. [I]n one sense of the phrase “what the painting represents,” the intentional-content sense, what these three paintings represent is the same: a woman seated by an open window.
If what they represent is the same, then I can be aware of what the first represents without ever having had any exposure to the first; I just see the second or the third. Imagine further, that while looking at the second, when I blink it is, unbeknownst to me, replaced by the third. And when I blink again, it is once again replaced. I would continue to be aware of what the painting represents without being aware of which particular painting it is â€“the second or the third â€“I am looking at. Being aware of what a particular painting represented would suffice for being aware of that particular painting only if different particular paintings necessarily represented different particular things. But, as Lurz admits, paintings can share contents. So which particular painting does being aware of a content suffice to make you aware of?
To return to question of what Lurzâ€™s claim is supposed to mean, specifically whether it is a claim about awareness of vehicles, I note that thinking about typical cases of looking at paintings suggests awareness of vehicles. When I look at paintings I typically notice whether theyâ€™re oil or water color, how fat the paint strokes are, etc., and these are vehicular properties of the painting, the properties with which Icarus is represented, not properties that the painting represents.
However, there are atypical cases in which one notices none of the vehicular properties of a painting, and Lurz discusses such cases: trompe l’oeil cases in which, as Lurz points out, we see neither that a painting is present nor the painting as a painting. I might take myself to be looking out a window at a leafy tree when in actuality Iâ€™ve been fooled by an incredibly realistic painting. It seems natural to say in such cases that we would not be aware of any vehicular properties of the painting. However, it seems strained to say, as Lurz wants to, that in such cases we are aware of the painting or that we see the painting. Lurz presents his claims about paintings as â€œintuitiveâ€ and I donâ€™t feel the intuitive pull.
So, in summary, the only support offered for Lurzâ€™s challenge to the standard view are some remarks about paintings that are themselves easily resisted.