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Phenomenology and Reflexivity
Getting clear(er) about “self-representational” theories of consciousness
One of the oldest phenomenological ideas about consciousness is that it has areflexiveorself-presentationalaspect. (precedents: Aristotle, Brentano, Kant, Husserl, Sartre, Heidegger)This aspect might help in explaining the “for-me”-ness(subjective character) of consciousness, or its phenomenal content (qualitative character), or bothSelf-representational theories plausibly solve many objections to HOT and HOM theories.Self-representational theories(first approximation) hold that: A (representational) state is consciousiffit represents itself, or some aspect of itself.
Self-representational theories (e.g.Kriegel2009,KriegelandWilliford2006, Smith 1986, 2005)
Types of self-representational theories
Structural(proper part):A conscious state has, as a separable proper part of its structure, an element that represents all or part of that stateIndexical-involving:A conscious state has a part that makes indexical (or quasi-indexical) reference to that very state.Structural (improper part):A conscious state has anessentialorinseparablepart or aspect that represents all or part of that state
Things to get clearer on
What sense of “representation”? (many linguistic expressions, e.g., are self-representing, but this doesn’t make them conscious)What isself-representation? How is this reflexive relation achieved?Infinite regress worriesToken-type problems
Self-representational theories and the justification of phenomenal beliefs
It’s reasonable to think that any good reflexive theory of consciousness must explain the justification of phenomenal beliefs: for instance, my belief that I am now having a state with a certain phenomenal character R.Also it seems plausible that the self-representation of the state should play a role in this justification.But on any of these views, all that is available to play a role in the justification of such a belief is a phenomenal-statetoken: it is not clear how we get from the self-representation of atokenstate to general beliefs (about types and what falls under them).
Self-representation and the phenomenal concept strategy
On the phenomenal concept strategy (PCS),occurrentphenomenal states “figure in” or are parts of (occurrent) judgments about them, either as components of concepts used or directly as parts of the judgments themselves.At least some PCS theories are reasonably construed as self-representational theories: in figuring in judgments about it a phenomenal state represents (or presents) itself.
Using self-representation to explain phenomenal judgments
“Thefirst-order phenomenal state, being self-presenting in the way that only phenomenal states can be, figures directly in the belief, as a mode of presentation ofitself….That is,[the]first-order mental state-token is deployed, qua predicative constituent of the belief, to refer to a phenomenal type that the token presents itself as belonging to” –Horgan,Tienson, and Graham 2006If this is correct, then we can explain the justification of phenomenal judgments in terms of the occurrence (or being-presented) of phenomenal states: the mere occurrence of the phenomenal state is sufficient to present it under a “mode of presentation” which can then be used to make a judgment about itHowever, if “mode of presentation” is anything like aFregeansense (i.e. something ideal, with content-conferring properties), this won’t quite do, since we have no account of HOW something like a (token) phenomenal state can work as a “mode of presentation” of itself.
Improving the theory: some phenomenological suggestions
There are some terminological and conceptual improvements we can make to the basic self-representational theory by switching to the terminology of Husserl’s phenomenologyThere are substantive reasons for these changes, but they can also be taken just as terminological suggestions, if preferred
First suggestion:Presentation, not representation
What we are interested in with reflexive theories of consciousness is how states canpresent themselvesto subjects (along with, perhaps, also presenting external objects). This might be embedded within a general theory of cognitive “representation,” but if we do not presupposephysicalismthere is no obvious reason it must be.Additionally, talking about presentation rather then representation avoids the need to posit re-presentational features of the relevant states and avoids begging questions, e.g. against the possibility of perceptual direct realism.
Second suggestion: Acts, not states
In Husserl’s special sense of the term, an “act” is any experience with intentional (presentational) content for a subject.However, because presentational acts present somethingassomething, they are inherently (in one sense) “concept-involving”.It might be thought that this begs questions by assuming a prior “theory of intentionality”. However, it is reasonable to suppose that an account of the reflexive structure of consciousness doesn’t have to solvethisproblem.
The modified theory
With these modifications, we have the following: An act is conscious if and only if it is an act that (in addition to whatever else it presents also) presents itself.For Husserl, it is definitional that all acts are conscious. So it might be better to build reflexiveness into the definition of an act:A (self-conscious) act is a presentation (of something) thatalsopresents itself.
Disclaimers
The point of a theory of this kind isn’t to give an account of sufficient conditions for astate(conceived, say, in functional orneurophysiologicalterms) to be conscious.It also isn’t to give an account of how something that is conceived already as representational becomes aconsciousrepresentation.The point is just, given thephenomenologicallyplausible datum that conscious acts present themselves to us in some way, to model this self-presentation.
Act Self-presentation
How can we modelphenomenologicallythis self-presentational structure of the act?It is helpful to consider the structure of the “transcendentalepoche”, the means by which we gain insight into the phenomenological structure of acts, according to HusserlAlthough the is epoche is used in deliberate, explicit reflection,we can also gain insight into the “pre-reflective” but neverthelessreflexivestructure of the acts themselves.
The transcendentalepoche
In the transcendentalepoche, insight into the structure of the act itself is achieved by “bracketing” – or putting out of commission -- the “positing” of the ordinary intentional object.According to Husserl, this converts the structure of the act from a “pre-objective” to an “object” status.We achieve explicit access to bothnoetic(really immanent) andnoematic(ideal) aspects of the act.The transcendental epoche yields access to the whole domain of experience, which survives even the “bracketing” of the whole (spatiotemporal) world
Transcendentalepocheand reflexivity
Theexplicitreflection that occurs in the performance of the transcendentalepocheis itself only possible because of an “implicit” reflexivity (or self-presenting aspect) already there in ordinary conscious acts.It is plausible that, if my current act is one of presenting some content, it is possible (given that I also have a general concept of experience) for me to know that this act is one that presents this content.Thus, even if theexplicitconsideration of the (first-order) act in theepocheis (in some sense) a new act, it is possible only because this first-order act already (in some way) presents itself (even if only implicitly and non-objectively)Cf. Husserl: “In the very essence of an experience lies determined not onlythat, but alsowhereofit is a consciousness, and in what determinate or indeterminate sense it is this.”
“In the case of an experience directed to something immanent …(so-called ‘internal’ perception), perception and perceived form essentially an unmediated unity, that of a single concretecogitatio. Here the perceiving includes its Object in itself in such a manner that it only can be separatedabstractively, only as an essentially non-selfsufficientmoment, from its Object.” (Husserl 1913, pp. 68-69).“…there is a certain, extraordinarily important two-sidedness in the essence of the sphere of mental processes, of which we can also say that in mental processes there is to be distinguished a subjectively oriented side and an objectively oriented side…” (Husserl 1913 p. 161)
Conclusion: Husserl’s theory is a self-presentational act theory that holds that acts have aninseparablepart -- or essential aspect-- that presents the act itselfThis part or aspect presents the act’snoematic(ideal and content-determining) as well as itsnoetic(real) features.It is probably best to construe the self-presentationalpartitself as an ideal (noematic) rather than a real part.
Noemaand Sense
In 1969,DagfinnFøllesdaldrew an analogy between Husserl’snoemata(ornoematicsenses) andFregeansenses:Noema(ornoematicsense) is a generalization of the notion of meaning (Sinn)The intentional actpresentsits object by means of itsnoema(thus the notion ofnoemaalso generalizes the notion of amode of presentation)Noemadetermines object but not converselyOne and the samenoemamay be shared by different token acts: thus thenoemais not a real component of the token act. It’s, rather, an ideal (or abstract) part.
Another analogy: Epoche and quotation (Thomasson2006)
The kind of explicit reflective access that we get in performing the epoche might be compared to quotation or “semantic ascent”We “quote” the content in order to get access to the content-conferring properties of the act, the properties in virtue of which it has and presents its contentEven if most conscious states aren’t explicitly “quoted” in this way, they must, structurally, be quotable
Taking both analogies seriously: A (conscious) act which presents an (ordinary) content also presents, inexplicitly, theideal(noematic) features of itself in virtue of which it presents that contentOn this kind of view, a conscious act which presents a content is also implicitly self-presented as thekind of actthat hasthat kindof content. Thus, the act, which involves a mode of presentation of the object, also presents the mode of presentation itselfThis allows us to make an explicit phenomenal judgment: “I am having an experience ofthattype” (i.e. an experience that presents its (ordinary) content inthatway).
This accounts for the subjective (for-me-ness) aspect of consciousness but it might also help to account for the qualitative aspect as well.In particular, if we accept transparency, it is reasonable to suppose that the self-presenting state, in presenting itself, presents itself as the kind of state that presents an object having certain propertiesThus, the judgmentthat I am having an experience of phenomenal type Rmight simply result from a reflective modification of the act in which I present an object with a related or identical property
Qualitative Aspect and Transparency
Self-(re)presentational theories and the hard problem
Do self-(re)presentational theories help us understand the hard problem, in the sense that they help to explain why there should be at least an explanatory gap between functional/structural features and consciousness?Ans: Possibly, but only if the self-(re)presentational aspect of a state (in virtue of which it is conscious) doesn’t make a functional/causal/structural differenceThis will be the caseiffa state’s presenting itself isn’t a further functional/structural relationship (not even one borne to itself)
On structural (proper part) theories, the part of the token state that presents the whole state is a real and separable part, so it seems that if we remove it we make a structural/functional difference.On indexical-involving theories, the indexical presentation of a state also seems to make a structural/functional differenceHowever, a structural (improper part) theory might work better. On such a theory, since the self-presentational part of the state is not a real part, it plausibly doesn’t make a structural/functional difference.
How can a state present itself without this self-presentation making a structural/functional difference?
We’ll get the right kind of theory if the features of the state in virtue of which it presents itself aren’t further structural/functional parts, but rather formal featuresBut how do we model this self-presentation in virtue of formal features?
One possibility: set self-membership
On this approach, we model a state, A, with the (first-order) content B as : A= {A, B}, using (non-well-founded) set membership to model presentationWe might then hold that extensionally we just have A and B and the functional relations between them, but there is an additional formal relation of presentationBut it’s hard to see how this formal relation could be realizedAnd it’s not clear that we avoid the infinite-regress problem
A Gödelian analogy?(cf. Hofstadter 2006)
Consider the Gödel sentence G:G~Prov(“G”)This sentence is essentially “self-quoting” where the device of quotation is Gödel numberingThe availability of thequotationaldevice allows it to present – in addition to the straightforward number-theoretical claim it makes – itself. We might call this “implicit” self-quotationRoughly speaking, thequotationaldevice yields access to the (syntactic) properties in virtue of which the sentence has the (first-order) content it does
For the Gödel sentence, there is a sense in which even a complete description of its intra-systematic (i.e. syntactic) properties leaves open the question of its truthAnalogously, if conscious states areimplicitlyself-quotational(in something like the Gödel sense) theneven a complete descriptionof their real, intra-systematic (i.e. functional/structural) properties might leave open the question of whether they’re conscious
Further questions
In the Gödel case, (implicit) self-quotation is achieved by the device of using Gödel numbers to encode syntactic properties. What’s the analogous device in the consciousness case?In the Gödel case, we only achieve an insight into its truth by “jumping out” of the system and considering systematic properties of the whole. How do we achieve (the analogue to) this “jumping out” in the consciousness case?
Conclusions
Taking up insights of phenomenology, it’s reasonable to construe conscious states as acts that (implicitly) present their ownidealcontent-determining properties.This kind of self-presentational theory solves problems that arise for (other) self-representational theoriesIf we can make sense of such self-presentation in virtue of ideal content-determining properties, we might be able to account for the existence of an explanatory gap

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Phenomenology and Reflexivity - unm.edu