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February 22, 2014

A Lunch BIT from The Consciousness Paradox by Rocco Gennaro

Posted by: Susan Mai

To answer your first question: No, the HOT Thesis has nothing do with the (formerly?) popular website Hot or Not. It refers instead to Rocco Gennaro’s “higher-order thought” theory of consciousness. The “Consciousness Paradox” in his book’s title refers to a number of competing theories of consciousness, all of which seem plausible even though some are in obvious tension, if not contradiction, with others. One of them is the HOT Thesis: what makes a mental state conscious is that a suitable higher-order thought is directed at that mental state. To simplify somewhat, consciousness consists in a mental state that necessarily involves awareness of that mental state. In In Defense of the HOT Thesis: A BIT of The Consciousness Paradox, Gennaro defends the veracity of this thesis – later chapters argue that other theories of consciousness are, in fact, consistent with it.

It’s philosophy of mind of a high order, for certain. But then, consciousness is a hard problem to solve. In fact, a favorite review of Gennaro’s book (from the Australasian Journal of Philosophy) did the welcome job of stepping back and putting the book into some intellectual context vis a vis those efforts:

“Rocco Gennaro’s book gives us one of the best recent defences of the ‘higher-order’ approach to explaining phenomenal consciousness. This approach, championed in different forms by David Armstrong, David Rosenthal, and William Lycan, holds that a mental state is conscious when one is appropriately aware of being in that state. Gennaro offers a single state or ‘self-representational’ version, where the awareness and its target are part of a single complex mental state, a state tracking both the world and that very state itself…The Consciousness Paradox is part of a new wave of philosophical focus on the higher-order view. The book is an excellent introduction to the overall approach, as well as an intriguing in-depth defence of Gennaro’s particular variation…Gennaro may not have fully dispelled the air of paradox, but he has made clear that the approach is a viable and important contender in the effort to crack the hard problem of consciousness.”

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