Consciousness Ambiguous

Consciousness Ambiguous

Is ?Consciousness? Ambiguous

(appears in Journal of Consciousness Studies 8(2), 2001, 19-44)

Abstract: It is widely assumed that ?consciousness? (and its cognates) is multiply ambiguous within the consciousness literature. Some alleged senses of the term are access consciousness, phenomenal consciousness, state consciousness, creature consciousness, introspective consciousness, self consciousness, to name a few. In the paper I argue for two points. First, there are few if any good reasons for thinking that such alleged senses are genuine: ?consciousness? is best viewed as univocal within the literature. The second point is that researchers would do best to avoid the semantics of ?consciousness?, since resorting to ?semantic ascent? typically serves no clear purpose in the case of consciousness, and confuses matters more than anything else.

?if we always insisted on precise definitions we all would be speechless almost all the time. Definitions and precise theoretical constructs are the final product, not the starting point of inquiry.

?Lawrence Weiskrantz (1988, p. 183)


As anyone acquainted with the consciousness literature well knows, it is common for works on consciousness to contain?usually somewhere near the start?a discussion of the semantics of the word ?consciousness? (and its cognates: ?conscious?, ?consciously?,

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