In Defense of the What-It-Is-Likeness of Experience

Southern Journal of Philosophy 49 (3):271-293 (2011)
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It is common parlance among philosophers who inquire into the nature of consciousness to speak of there being something it is like for the subject of a mental state to be in it. The popularity of the ‘what-it-is-like’ phrase stems, in part, from the assumption that it enables us to distinguish, in an intuitive and illuminating way, between conscious and unconscious mental states: conscious mental states, unlike unconscious mental states, are such that there is something it is like for their subjects to be in them. The ‘what-it-is-like’ phrase, however, has not gone unopposed; some very clever philosophers have vigorously disputed it. Peter Hacker, for example, has argued that the phrase should be abandoned because it is ungrammatical, and Paul Snowdon has argued that it should be abandoned because the propositions expressed by its usage are either trivial or false. This paper mounts a case for the claim that neither of these conclusions is warranted. Against Hacker, it is argued that the arguments he produces for the ungrammaticality of the phrase are unpersuasive, and against Snowdon it is argued that he fails to consider a plausible and independently motivated interpretation of the phrase, and that, on this interpretation, the propositions expressed by its usage are non-trivially true



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Greg Janzen
University of Calgary

References found in this work

Naming and Necessity: Lectures Given to the Princeton University Philosophy Colloquium.Saul A. Kripke - 1980 - Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Edited by Darragh Byrne & Max Kölbel.
The Principles of Psychology.William James - 1890 - London, England: Dover Publications.
What is it like to be a bat?Thomas Nagel - 1974 - Philosophical Review 83 (October):435-50.
The meaning of 'meaning'.Hilary Putnam - 1975 - Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science 7:131-193.

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