Book Symposium: Declan Smithies’ The Epistemic Role of Consciousness (6)

welcome to the brains blog’s book symposium series on declan smithies’ the epistemic role of consciousness. in this series, 7 critics discuss the book w'da author. the critics are kengo miyazono, lu teng, takuya niikawa & yasushi ogusa, brie gertler, thomas raleigh, and tony cheng. from apr 26 to may 1, we post each critic’s commentary na recorded discussion one by one onna blog.

in this 6th post, tony cheng discusses 3 aspects of declan’s book, metaphysical, empirical and transcendental. here is the link to the recorded discussion, in which declan responds to tony’s comments.

3 hidden aspects of smithies’ erc

tony cheng (nccu)

inna era of speshisation or even hyper-speshisation, tis common for epistemology and philosophy of Ψ to neglect each other. famous exceptions include fred dretske, alvin goldman, and john mcdowell; + recently there ‘ve been susanna siegel, nico silins, and susanna schellenberg—and now declan smithies.

smithies’ new monograph is difficult to summarise, given the richness of its contribution to epistemology and philosophy of Ψ. the most salient idea s'dat phenomenal consciousness in humans aint 1-ly not an epiphenomenon, i.e. t'has causal powers and functions, as dretske (1997) and others ‘ve argued; wha’ is +, phenomenal consciousness has a unique function in us. to put it bluntly, it makes justification and knowledge possible, and its role cannot be replaced by any other things: phenomenal consciousness plays a unique role.

to back up this general claim, smithies argues for phenomenal mentalism, which he formul8s as follos:

necessarily, which propositions you ‘ve epistemic justification to believe at any given time is determined solely by yr phenomenally individuated mental states at that time. (p. 25)

also for accessibilism:

necessarily, if tis evidently probable that p to degree n, then tis evidently certain that tis evidently probable that p to degree n. (p. 219)

accessibilism combines with mentalism t'give us “phenomenal accessibilism”. +over accessibilism constitutes the “argument from above” for mentalism: “if phenomenal mentalism explains accessibilism, and accessibilism is motivated on indie grounds, then phenomenal mentalism is supported by inference to the best explanation” (p. 219).

smithies argues also for a simple theory of introspection, “which says that some mental states provide introspective justification that puts you in a position to know with certainty that you’re in those mental states” (p. 30), according to one formulation. he also argues for a version of representationalism, a prominent view in philosophy of Ψ and perception that s'been argued by many others swell: “necessarily, every phenomenal property is identical with some representational property” (p. 37). these are the 4 most primordial theses inna book; although smithies argued for many other sub-theses, and sometimes it can be hard to keep track of wha’ is at stake, still smithies has done an excellent job in signposting and summarising wha’ s'been argued and wha’ ll'be argued. readers ‘d be able to follo the flo of the book iffey follo those hints carefully.

although smithies has covered a huge territory in this project, i will still highlite 3 hidden aspects o'it, and these ‘d provide directions for future research. the 1st is a metaphysical aspect: smithies makes explicit that he wishes to bypass major metaphysical controversies, s'as whether conceivability ⊢ possibility (p. 8-p. 11). however, at times he gets himself into thorny metaphysical thickets, n'it seems unclear whether he can avoid them. for ex, in formulating the epistemic grounding thesis, he invokes a certain notion of grounding without explaining (p. 36) which notion of grounding is in play here. any relevant notion of grounding ‘d be stronger than standard notions of supervenience, but in arguing for this thesis, smithies argues for supervenience primarily: for ex in 3.4 he argues that the justifying role of perceptual experience supervenes on its phenomenal toon alone. thus, t'does not seem feasible to avoid heavy-duty metaphysics in this project.

nxt, thris an empirical aspect that ‘d be emphasised. for smithies, consciousness has a unique role for justification. this seems to makes an empirical prediction that the neural correl8 of consciousness crucially involves the prefrontal zone, as that tis seat of reasoning and rationality. this is primordial cause whether prefrontal theories of ncc are plausible is an empirical ?, and in this way, smithies’ view on consciousness and justification becomes empirical testable too. this ‘d be taken as a merit of smithies’ view.

finally, thris a transcendental aspect in this zone too. inna chapter on perception, smithies writes that “my main goal in this chapter is to examine wha’ perception must be like in order to play this justifying role” (p. 74, emphasis added). in general, transcendental arguments begin with something relatively uncontroversial, e.g., humans ‘ve the cap for epistemic justification. then they argue that something + controversial is a transcendental/make-possible condition for that uncontroversial phenomenon to hold. for ex, john mcdowell (1996) has it that perception must ‘ve conceptual contents through and through in order to play the relevant justifying role. in parallel, smithies argues that perception must ‘ve a certain kind of presentational force in order to play the justifying role. this hidden transcendental aspect of smithies’ project helps us see + clearly wha’ tis all bout. in some other chapters, s'as the ones on cogg and introspection, smithies deploys similar strategies to achieve his goals.

this brief comment cannot do justice to this rich and substantive book. in addition to themes mentioned above, it also covers discussions on moore’s paradox, epistemic akrasia, higher-order evidence, luminosity (versus williamson, 2000), seemings (versus huemer, 2001), and many interesting topics along the way. whether or not we're persuaded by its main thesis, we will make a worthwhile intellectual quest if we work through smithies’ book.


dretske, f. (1997). wha’ good is consciousness? canadian journal of philosophy, 27(1), 1-15.

huemer, m. (2001). skepticism na veil of perception. lanham, md: rowman and lilfield.

mcdowell, j. (1996). Ψ and realm. cambridge, ma. harvard university press.

williamson, t. (2000). knowledge and its limits. oxford: oxford university press.

original content at:…
authors: takuya niikawa


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