Discussion of D.Ivanov's "On the Way to Explaining Consciousness"

Publication Type:


Igor Gasparov
Voronezh Medical State Academy
Igor F. Mikhailov
Insitute of Philosophy, Russian Academy of Sciences
Sergei Levin
National Research University - Higher School of Economics
Max Belyaev
Voronezh State University
Dmitry Ivanov
Insitute of Philosophy, Russian Academy of Sciences
Issue number: 
No. 2 (Vol. 44)

In the panel discussion four authors–Igor Gasparov, Igor Michailov, Sergei Levin and Max Belyaev–deals with Ivanov's paper “On the Way Towards Explanation of Consciousness”. The main idea of his paper is that to move forward towards explanation of consciousness we should answer the question whether qualia are intrinsic properties of conscious states instead of discussing whether they are reducible to physical or functional characteristics. If qualia are intrinsic properties then the inverted spectrum scenario must be conceivable. In the paper it is demonstrated that this scenario is inconceivable. We can demonstrate this inconceivability appealing to Wittgenstein’s critics of the theory of private language and using his arguments such as, for example, “beetle in the box” argument. If qualia are not intrinsic proper? ties of conscious states then we must try to explain the phenomenal aspects of conscious experience using the concept of intentionality (or mental representation). Following Gilbert Harman, it is proposed to consider qualia as relational properties of represented objects and treat conscious states as representational states. This approach allows us to provide naturalistic explanation of consciousness. In conclusion it is argued that these representational states belong not to the brain alone but to the whole body that involved in complex relationship with environment.

In his comment I. Gasparov claims that both premisses of the target argument faces some considerable difficulties which don't permit to draw the conclusion the author is like to achieve. First, contrary to the author's assumption, the concept of conceivability used by L. Wittgenstein is different from this used in the contemporary metaphysics so that it is not plausible to conclude that the inverted spectrum is inconceivable simpliciter even if it would be unconceivable according to Wittgenstein's standards of conceivability. Second, the author didn't pay enough attention to the possibility of the “inverted spectrum” Wittgenstein granted in his late work on sense–data and private language. The commentary claims that since Wittgenstein himself admitted the possibility of the intrasubjective “inverted spectrum” it would be not perfectly safe to use his thoughts on the impossibility of the intersubjective “inverted spectrum” to conclude that the “inverted spectrum” is inconceivable simpliciter.

Igor Michailov undertakes to show that each of the logical steps in the reasoning of the author lacks sufficient logical justification. Thus, I don't see any necessity for phenomenal properties being intentional, once they are relational. If we suggest the existence of intentional objects with phenomenal properties, then we must either identify the intentional objects with the correspondent physical ones and deduce thereby that the latter possess phenomenal properties too, or admit that they are different objects and we are, therefore, into the business of doubling the reality instead of our initial endeavor of reduction. I also argue that the author's general conclusion contradicts his original concept, as some phenomenal states of consciousness (e.g., bodily pain), being ontologically tied to the integrity of the body, become internal attributive properties, contrary to being previously conceived as the relational ones.

Max Belyaev points that it is impossible to find the objective explanation of consciousness since it is impossible to describe phenomenal attributes of objects as physical. The general conclusion is that if (A) to take a naturalistic and scientific explanation of consciousness as identical, and (B) to define the scientific explanation as the study the relationships between different kinds of objectively existing things, and (C) to agree that phenomenal states are relational properties of the body, there is no way to justify the physical nature of phenomenal states themselves, and therefore their objectivity. Impossibility of explaining in this case due to the fact that (1) the consciousness is not conceived at the same time objectively and subjectively existing, and (2) body do not possess intentionality.

Sergei Levin claims that quale is a misleading notion. Immediate subjective experiences of some sense data are usually called phenomenal qualities or qualia. Traditionally phenomenal qualities are considered as one of the most difficult aspect of mind for naturalistic explanation. Many philosophers are assume that full physical or functional description of human state does not give us univocal indication of her actual feelings at any particular moment. Qualia appear to be non-reductive to the system physical architecture or its functional abilities. Philosophers tend to declare that qualia are special non-physical property. Then what kind of properties? From metaphysical point of view, we can distinguish two kinds of properties: intrinsic and relational. An intrinsic property is a property that an object or a thing has of itself, independently of the world of other things. A relational property on the other hand exist only as one thing relate to something in the rest of the world. There are compelling arguments proving that qualia as intrinsic property of organism or brain are unimaginable. Levin examines the issue of conceptual possibility of meaningful accounting of qualia as relational property of organism and the object it represents.

In the end of his comment, Levin argues that description of phenomenal qualities, as relational properties are reducible to the description of intrinsic properties of organism, the object represented plus their natural relational properties. Since qualia tend to be seen as property and they are unimaginable as intrinsic property and their description to as relational properties meaningfully rephrased as the description of intrinsic property Levin concluded that the whole notion of qualia is misleading.

By way of reply to his critics D. Ivanov claims that there is no simple solution to the problem of consciousness. To move forward towards naturalistic explanation of consciousness we should examine many complicated arguments and thought experiments, carefully analyze a set of counter-intuitive approaches to this problem. In his reply Ivanov addresses the following questions raised by commentators: necessity and the conceivability arguments; conceivability of inverted spectrum scenario; ineffability of qualitative properties of conscious states; elimination of qualia; causal efficacy of qualia; possibility of naturalistic explanation of consciousness; the nature of in- tentionality; the prospects of representationalism. He defends the main thesis of On the Way Towards Explanation of Consciousness that to move forward towards explanation of consciousness we should answer the question whether qualia are intrinsic properties of conscious states instead of discussing whether they are reducible to physical or functional characteristics. It demonstrates that qualia are not intrinsic properties of conscious states. They are relational properties of represented objects. He also argued that phenomenal aspects of conscious states should be explained with the concept of intentionality. The whole approach to the problem of qualia proposed in the article could be characterized as a mixture of representationalism and eliminativism.

Philosophy of mind, the inverted spectrum, conceivability, quality, Wittgenstein, mind, dualism, reductionism, qualia, phenomenal properties, intentionality, embodied cognition,

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