Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Faculty of Arts
Despite advances in neuroscience some sceptics, e.g., David Chalmers, Colin McGinn and Thomas Nagel, contend that we are no nearer to achieving a scientific understanding of phenomenal consciousness. These sceptics claim that naturalising consciousness, i.e., subsuming it under our scientific theories, is either impossible, at least without radically reforming our current scientific practices, or perhaps beyond our cognitive grasp. Their scepticism is based on what is called the ‘problem of consciousness’ or the ‘hard problem’. I argue that their pessimism is unwarranted. Their conclusion is based on adopting a nonnaturalistic attitude, according to which our scientific theories must accommodate our intuitive understanding of phenomena. Adopting this attitude, I argue, is a bad policy quite generally as it is liable to lead to unconstrainable metaphysical claims. Our best policy is to adopt a naturalistic attitude instead, characterised by thinking of philosophy as continuous with science, as W.V. Quine urged. And from this naturalistic perspective explaining consciousness in scientific terms is possible. Our phenomenological, i.e., first-personal, understanding of consciousness is based on qualia which, I argue, are unnaturalisable. However, there are two ways in which we understand consciousness, namely, naturalistically in terms of behaviour and physiology and phenomenologically, and I argue that although it may seem contradictory these ways of understanding consciousness are mutually dependent. Consequently, consciousness as it is understood naturalistically is bound up with our phenomenological understanding of it. Therefore, inasmuch as consciousness understood naturalistically is subsumable under our scientific theories so consciousness simpliciter is naturalisable.
Alcock, Hugh R., "Consciousness From A Naturalistic Perspective" (2009). Theses and Dissertations (Comprehensive). 1065.