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Justin Sytsma

Hey Wes,

Interesting paper! Not surprisingly, though, I disagree that “recent work suggests that ordinary people also appreciate this distinction [between mental states that involve phenomenal consciousness and those that do not]” (19). What the work cited shows is that people treat *some of* the mental states that philosophers typically take to be phenomenally conscious differently than *some of* the mental states that philosophers typically take to lack phenomenal consciousness. But, that is not the same thing as showing that they appreciate the distinction at issue, since their behavior can be explained without calling on the concept of phenomenal consciousness. Further, there is evidence to suggest that people do not appreciate the philosophers’ distinction. In fact, some of that evidence is in Sytsma & Machery (2010), which you cite as evidence in favor of the opposite conclusion! With regard to the further hypothesis that the main cue that people use to determine whether an entity has phenomenally conscious mental states is that they have the right sorts of bodies, you write:

“However, additional evidence for the same hypothesis has been found in studies of mental-state attributions to artifacts, such as robots (Huebner 2010, Sytsma & Machery 2010). Like corporations, robots lack a biological body, so by hypothesis they should elicit a similar pattern of attribution. And this does indeed appear to be the case.” (21)

But, of course, our studies do not support that hypothesis: We found that people were willing to attribute some states that philosophers typically classify as being phenomenally conscious to a simple robot, but not others. And, based on that evidence we argued that people do not appreciate the distinction at issue.

Philip Robbins

Right, what your and Edouard's studies suggest is that the folk don't attribute *valenced* phenomenal states to artifacts — not that they don't attribute phenomenal states simpliciter. That said, arguably the most paradigmatic phenomenal states, like pain and other bodily sensations, are valenced. So it's a distinction with a difference, but how big a difference, isn't so clear.

Justin Sytsma


That isn’t quite right: What the study at issue shows is that people attribute one paradigmatic case of a phenomenal state to a simple robot displaying the appropriate behavior cues (seeing red), but not another (feeling pain); based on this we argue that the folk do not draw the distinction between phenomenal states and non-phenomenal states that philosophers do. But, if they don’t draw that distinction, then they do not attribute phenomenal states simpliciter. (That is, we argue that while they do attribute some states that philosophers call phenomenal, they do not attribute those states as being phenomenal states.)

Of course, you are free to argue against our claim in the literature. You don’t do so in this article, however, rendering the citation rather misleading: On the face of it, our study simply isn’t evidence for the hypothesis that the main cue that people use to determine whether an entity has phenomenally conscious mental states is that they have the right sorts of bodies. First, it is evidence against the claim that they determine whether an entity has phenomenally conscious mental states in the first place; second, we find that people are willing to attribute a paradigmatic phenomenally conscious mental state (by the philosophers’ light) to a simple robot that lacks the right sort of body (seeing colors being as least as paradigmatic of an example as feeling pain, judging by the literature). You say that “by hypothesis they should elicit the same pattern of attributions” (21), but they don’t—the actual pattern of attributions is quite different than the hypothesis would have predicted!

Philip Robbins

Fair enough, Justin. But an important issue here is what counts as a paradigmatic phenomenal state. In the psychological literature on mind perception, for example, states like "seeing red" are never mentioned. Perhaps this is partly due to the fact that phrases like "seeing red" have both a phenomenal (/experiential) and a non-phenomenal reading. The class of paradigmatic phenomenal states in the mind perception literature includes bodily perceptions and felt emotions, i.e. valenced states.

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3QD Prize 2012: Wesley Buckwalter