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Do the Folk Have a Concept of Consciousness?

Suppose that you encounter a little robot named Jimmy: 

Now suppose that you observe Jimmy performing certain behaviors and are then asked two questions about its mental states:

1. Did Jimmy feel pain?
2. Did Jimmy see red?

The usual view within philosophy would be that these two questions serve primarily as two different ways of getting at the same basic issue, namely, whether robots are capable of phenomenal consciousness. If robots have phenomenal consciousness, they can both feel pain and see red. If not, they cannot have either of these two mental states. 
As we discussed in an earlier post, there has been a great deal of work within experimental philosophy on the question as to whether people's ordinary folk psychology makes the very same distinction — with a lot of interesting experimental evidence on each side. 

In an impressive new paper (forthcoming in Philosophical Studies), Justin Sytsma and Edouard Machery offer some powerful evidence for the view that ordinary folks do not, in fact, share the philosophical concept. Specifically, they show that people do not think that Jimmy can feel pain but do think that Jimmy can see red. 

This result, they argue, calls into question the claim that people's reluctance to ascribe pain to a robot has anything to do with phenomenal consciousness per se. Indeed, they argue that it provides strong reason to reject many of the claims that seemed to fall naturally out of earlier experimental work on the topic. Definitely a strong and provocative claim, but one for which Sytsma and Machery provide a characteristically vigorous defense… 

Posted in General.