The easy and hard problems of consciousness: A cartesian perspective

Journal of Mind and Behavior 19 (2):119-40 (1998)
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This paper contrasts David Chalmers’s formulation of the easy and hard problems of consciousness with a Cartesian formulation. For Chalmers, the easy problem is making progress in explaining cognitive functions and discovering how they arise from physical processes in the brain. The hard problem is accounting for why these functions are accompanied by conscious experience. For Descartes, the easy problem is knowing the essential features of conscious experience. The hard problem is verifying our knowledge of the mathematical—physical world. While Chalmers admits that consciousness as subjective experience has something irreducible about it, he also presupposes that conscious experience arises from physical processes. These physical processes are posited as objectively real entities given prior to human experience. The knowledge of such entities is assumed without theoretical justification. This assumption arguably invites a reductive materialist theory of mind. I suggest that employing the Cartesian method to articulate the representational theory of knowledge provides an antidote to reductive materialism and illuminates the conceptual gap between physical processes and conscious experience. To illustrate this I contrast Dennett’s heterophenomenology with the Cartesian method of crossing the conceptual gap. I suggest that the hard problem is attaining a knowledge of the extra-mental physical objects, not of conscious experience



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