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  • Print publication year: 1998
  • Online publication date: May 2010

Consciousness as Existence


Leaving Consciousness Out, or Trying to

The difference for present purposes between ourselves and stones, chairs and our computers is that we are conscious. The difference is fundamental. Being conscious is sufficient for having a mind in one sense of the word ‘mind’, and being conscious is necessary and fundamental to having a mind in any decent sense. What is this difference between ourselves and stones, chairs and our computers? The question is not meant to imply that there is a conceptual or a nomic barrier in the way of non-biological things being conscious. It may happen one decade that the other minds problem will shoot up the philosophical agenda and get a lot of attention as a result of a wonderful computer attached to perceptual and behavioural mechanisms, and that the thing will in the end be taken as conscious, rightly. Our question is not what things can be conscious, but what the property or nature of consciousness is.

Conscious or mental events, as we know them now, are in some kind of necessary connection with neural events. This fact of psychoneural intimacy, which is consistent with what has just been said of the possibility of non-biological things being conscious, provides the best argument for strict or true identity theories of consciousness. These take the property of consciousness to be a neural property, or, as we can say instead, take conscious events to have only neural properties.