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Consciousness, Higher-Order Theories of

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-V051-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 2019
Retrieved July 24, 2024, from

Article Summary

Higher-order theories are theories of phenomenal consciousness. Phenomenal consciousness is the property of there being something that it is like for one to have an experience. Something that it is like from the point of view of the organism. According to the higher-order approach, an organism is phenomenally conscious just in case it has an appropriate kind of inner awareness of itself as being in some mental state or other. So, when one consciously believes that Kentucky is south New York one is aware of oneself as believing that Kentucky is south of New York. Similarly, when one consciously sees red, or experiences fear, one is aware of oneself as seeing red or being afraid.

The relevant kind of inner awareness is what distinguishes the various kinds of higher-order theories. One might think that the right kind of inner awareness would be a kind of inner perception. Yet contemporary psychology and neuroscience do not seem to support the idea of a kind of inner sense. We do, in addition, become aware of things by thinking about them as being present. This has inspired the higher-order thought theory of consciousness, which was first explicitly developed in the 1990s.

There are many different kinds of higher-order thought theories. One version, the Relational Model, claims that the first-order state is transformed into a phenomenally conscious state when one becomes aware of that very state via having a higher-order thought. In addition, there are Joint-Determination Models which hold that the higher-order content and first-order content are part of the same mental state. These come in at least two varieties: the Same-Order Model and the Split-Level Model. These are distinguished by how they respond to worries about misrepresentation. In addition, there are Non-relational models which hold that the relevant higher-order state determines what it is like for one to have a conscious experience. Finally, there are non-standard higher-order theories that appeal to acquaintance or mental quotation.

Citing this article:
Brown, Richard. Consciousness, Higher-Order Theories of, 2019, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-V051-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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