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  • Cited by 6
  • Print publication year: 1998
  • Online publication date: May 2010

Perceptual Intentionality. Attention and Consciousness


A representative expression of current thinking on the ‘problem of consciousness’ runs as follows. There is one, impenetrably hard problem; and a host of soluble, and in this sense easy problems. The hard problem is: how could a physical system yield subjective states? How could there be something it is like to be a physical system? This problem corresponds to a concept of consciousness invariably labelled ‘phenomenal consciousness’. It is here, with respect to phenomenal consciousness, that we encounter an ‘explanatory gap’, where it is this gap that makes the problem so hard. Nothing we can say about the workings of a physical system could begin to explain the existence and nature of subjective, phenomenal feel.

But, the story goes, we also have another cluster of concepts of consciousness, the explanation of which give rise to easy, that is, soluble problems. One such easily explicable concept is that of ‘consciousness of’, an account of which is exhausted by a theory of mental representation, or intentionality. The other easy concepts all bring in the idea that conscious states are accessible, in some sense, to the subject. Accounting for ‘access-consciousness’ is a matter of distinguishing in functionalist terms among different kinds of access-conferring relations among mental representations. These problems are all easy in the sense that we have a relatively clear picture of what it would be for a physical system to have states that represent the world and stand in such functional relations to each other.