Modest Conceptual Functionalism, Distilled

As I work on cleaning up and finishing my dissertation, I’m creating ‘distilled’, snack-sized versions of each chapter. I hope this helps me: a) see the ‘big picture’, b) get high-level feedback from more people, and c) entice people to read the real thing.

This post distills “Making Room for Modest Conceptual Functionalism”.

When we talk about ‘what it feels like’ to be in some mental state, we use phenomenal concepts. When we talk about causal architecture, we use functional concepts.

The main question I want to look at: How are phenomenal concepts related to functional concepts?

I find it useful to think about this question in the following way: Imagine we have two lists. On one list, we have every possible phenomenal description. On the other list, we have every possible functional description. We can answer our original question by answering: which functional descriptions can be read off which phenomenal descriptions, and vice versa?

Different answers, then, will map onto different ways of mapping out the entailments linking these two lists:

With that model in mind, I want to give a high-level sketch of the space of possible views.

At one extreme end of possible views, we find:

This view has two big problems: absent qualia and inverted qualia. Such cases seem to show that, as a conceptual matter, phenomenal descriptions ‘say more’ than mere functional descriptions. (In particular, absent qualia cases show that functional descriptions can’t settle whether some system is phenomenally conscious, and inverted qualia cases show that functional descriptions can’t settle the precise character of consciousness when a system is phenomenally conscious.)

And so we might be attracted to the other extreme end of possible views:

In my estimation, too many philosophers have embraced conceptual dualism—whether or not they fully realize it. You’ll regularly encounter claims like these, from Brain Loar’s “Phenomenal States”:

That is, they elide the conceptual irreducibility of the phenomenal to the functional with a sort of conceptual independence. A much better option is:

Modest conceptual functionalism, as a category, covers any view that eschews functional-to-phenomenal entailments but embraces some form of phenomenal-to-functional entailment. But which sorts of functional constraints on phenomenology are plausible? Where should we look?

I see two promising sources:

Why does this all this matter? Why care about conceptual dualism vs. modest conceptual functionalism? Two big reasons:

Other Dissertation Posts:

For discussion…