Consciousness and Cognition

Consciousness and Cognition

Consciousness and Cognition

Consciousness and Cognition

Synopsis

Our thinking about consciousness and cognition is dominated by a certain very natural conception. This conception dictates what we take the fundamental questions about consciousness and cognition to be as well as the form that their answers must take. In this book, Michael Thau shows that, despite its naturalness, this conception begins with and depends upon a few fundamental errors. Exorcising these errors requires that we completely reconceive the nature of both consciousness and cognition as well as the fundamental problems each poses. Thau proceeds by discussing three famous and important philosophical puzzles - Spectrum Inversion, Frege's Puzzle, and Black-and-White Mary - each of which concerns some aspect of either consciousness or cognition. It has gone unnoticed that at a certain important level of generality, each of these puzzles presents the very same problem and, in bringing out this common problem, the errors in our natural conception of consciousness and cognition are also brought out. Thau's book will appeal to the casual reader interested in the proper solution of these puzzles and the nature of consciousness and cognition. The discussion of Frege's puzzle also contains important insights about the nature of linguistic communication and, hence, anyone interested in the fundamental questions in philosophy of language will also want to read the book.

Excerpt

If we look at what philosophers of mind have been saying over the last twenty or thirty years, underneath many of the arguments and counterexamples—indeed, I think it' fair to say underlying most of the contention—we'll find a detailed and (at least on the surface) remarkably coherent account of the structure of mental phenomena; we'll find what has become the precise object of philosophical desire: namely, a theory. That is, of course, not to say that any one philosopher explicitly accepts the whole theory—though everyone wants a theory no one wants anyone else'—but it is to say that most of the major controversies in late twentieth-century philosophy of mind are intelligible only with one or another part of the theory as background. Hence, it' also to say that, if we're going to understand the debates about the mind that we've been bequeathed, it' worthwhile to bring the parts of the theory and their relations to one another completely out into the open: to, as my colleague Gavin Lawrence likes to say, “out the picture. ”

There are, of course, many different kinds of mental phenomena, but one important kind falls under the rubric of cognition; cognition involves thinking and the point of cognition is, at least in part, to yield truths, to give us true beliefs about the world. So, to the extent that we understand what' involved in believing, we'll have at least the foundation of an understanding of cognition. The theory of mental phenomena mentioned above has much to say about what believing involves and, like many philosophical theories, it can profitably be understood as arising from two obviously compelling but apparently contradictory intuitions.

Suppose two people—say, you and I—both believe something—say, that Aristotle is the most important philosopher. On the one hand, one would obviously want to say that our beliefs are the same; after all, both of us believe that Aristotle is the most important philosopher. But, on the other hand, it seems equally obvious that our beliefs are different; after all, yours is yours and mine is mine. But how . . .

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