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Philosophical Topics

Volume 48, Issue 1, Spring 2020

Ascriptions of Consciousness

Jonathan Birch
Pages 21-37

Global Workspace Theory and Animal Consciousness

Peter Carruthers has recently argued for a surprising conditional: if a global workspace theory of phenomenal consciousness is both correct and fully reductive, then there are no substantive facts to discover about phenomenal consciousness in nonhuman animals. I present two problems for this conditional. First, it rests on an odd double-standard about the ordinary concept of phenomenal consciousness: its intuitive non-gradability is taken to be unchallengeable by future scientific developments, whereas its intuitive determinacy is predicted to fall by the wayside. Second, it relies on dismissing, prematurely, the live empirical possibility that phenomenal consciousness may be linked to a core global broadcast mechanism that is (determinately) shared by a wide range of animals. Future developments in the science of consciousness may lead us to reconsider the non-gradability of phenomenal consciousness, but they are unlikely to lead us to accept that there are no facts to discover outside the paradigm case of a healthy adult human.