Archives for category: physical states


There are a variety of notions as to what consciousness is. Some people denote consciousness simply as the difference between being awake/aware and asleep/unaware. Neuroscience posits consciousness as being various neural oscillations (Block 2002), but is still unclear as to how meaning is generated in the brain (Crick and Koch 1998). One of the most important features of consciousness, its subjectivity, is reported by Searle to be a neurobiological process (Searle 1980), or the notion of ‘what it is like to be’ by Thomas Nagel (Nagel 2002). According to Ned Block (2002), various notions of consciousness cause confusion and Block’s paper, Concepts of Consciousness, wishes to clarify and define consciousness through separating it into two distinct categories- phenomenal consciousness and access consciousness. This essay will argue that Block fails to establish such a separation which does not help his cause of clarification.

Block (2002, p.206) describes the concept of consciousness as a ‘mongrel concept’ which is used in describing a variety of concepts to identify different phenomena. Block (2002) disputes these different phenomena being treated as a single concept, and he wishes to divide consciousness into recognizable states in order to provide clarity and certainty for people when they discuss consciousness. By categorising consciousness into two main types: phenomenal consciousness (P-consciousness) and access consciousness (A-consciousness), Block (2002) contends that one type of consciousness is based upon non-physical phenomena and the other is based upon the physical functioning of the brain.

Block (2002) theorises that P-consciousness is based upon perceptual experience, not simply the state of awareness that one is in when one is awake. P-conscious properties can be referred to as ‘what it is like’ to have states such as pain, sight, hearing, smell, taste, and experiential properties of sensations such as thoughts, desires and emotions (2002, p. 206). Block (2002) also contends that such conscious states can make an intentional difference and can be representational. However, Block also holds that P-conscious states can be held distinct from any cognitive, intentional, or functional property, namely A-consciousness. A-consciousness is non-phenomenal consciousness and it is based upon its functionality. Block (2002) maintains that it is used for reasoning, reporting, and the direct control of rational action. One of the relationships between P and A consciousness is that A consciousness reports on the information gathered from P-consciousness.

Another relationship between the Block’s two concepts of consciousness is that although each type is distinct it also interacts with the other (2002, p.210). For example, when perceptual information is accessed it can change the intentional direction of thought, or as Block puts it, it ‘can change figure to ground and conversely, and a figure-ground switch can effect one’s phenomenal state’ (2002, p.209). In Block’s (2002) view an experience’s content can be in both conscious states at once because of the phenomenal properties of one and the representational properties of the other. However, there are three main differences between these two types of consciousness. Firstly, P-consciousness is phenomenalwhile A-consciousness is representational.  Block (2002) remarks that the content of P-consciousness is the ‘what is like’ component and this allows the content of an experience to be both P-conscious and A-conscious. Secondly, A-consciousness is functional, or as Block (2002, p.209) declares: ‘…what makes a state A-conscious is what a representation of its content does in a system’. Thirdly, P-consciousness can be a type of ‘kind of’ state. For example, if pain is a P-conscious type then every pain must have that feel, whereas A-consciousness could sometimes fail to be accessible. Block sums up these differences by maintaining that P-conscious states are sensations, whereas A-conscious states involve ‘propositional attitudes’ such as thoughts, beliefs and desires, representational states expressed by ‘that’ clauses. (2002, p. 209).

As Block’s intention is to define these states of consciousness so that they can be properly identified and not confused, he needs to show that the relationship between both P and A consciousness can be separated. To do this Block (2002) gives particular examples of A-consciousness without P-consciousness, such as a computational robot that is identical to a person but that does not experience phenomenal or perceptual states. To act, the robot needs to receive information. Even the simplest computer needs information and it does not seem plausible that the robot would be able to do any computing at all if there was not data entered into it. That would appear to make it an inanimate object. Therefore, with data or information taking the place of perceptual states and phenomenal experience needing these states to provide information, this example of A-consciousness without P-consciousness does not seem credible.

Another example that Block (2002) gives of A-conscious states without P-consciousness, is the blindsight patient, who can guess that there is an ‘X’ rather than an ‘O’ in his blind field. For someone to have knowledge of this ‘X’ so that they could guess it was there, they must have some previously gathered experience or knowledge of that ‘X’. An analogy to this example could be my guess as I am driving that there is a motorcyclist in my car’s blindspot from my previous perception in my rearview mirror of her travelling in the same direction as me but in a different lane. I would only think about the motorcyclist, or the ‘X’ in the case of the blindsight patient, if I had previous knowledge or experience of it. Unless we are talking about assumed innate thoughts, I cannot have thoughts about something of which I have no previous knowledge or experience. Therefore, Block’s analogy seems not to succeed on this account.

Block (2002) keeps on with his blindsight analogy with a person who has superblindsight. He states that this superblindsighted person can guess that there is a horizontal field in his blind field purely though introspection, in the way that Block (2002 p.211) says we can solve problems simply through thoughts popping into our minds, or the way that one might just innately know the time, or which way North is without experiencing it. This superblindsight example is contentious because resolutions to problems need to be based upon some experience or knowledge. Even our knowledge of North, without having some perceptual experience such as it being pointed out, is debatable. The concept of North would not have any meaning. It seems that the only way A-consciousness could be a state without P-consciousness would be to conclude, as Descartes did, that ‘even bodies are not strictly perceived by the senses or the faculty of imagination but by the intellect alone, and that this perception derives not from being touched or seen but from their being understood’ (Descartes, 2002, p. 13). Such an assumption of innate knowledge makes this analogy appeal to belief, rather than prove a truth.

Block (2002) also claims that P-consciousness without A-consciousness is possible. To be P-conscious without being A-conscious, one would be perceptually aware without being able to transmit that information into useful data. An objection arose to this claim which states that we would never be in the position to know whether P-consciousness without A-consciousness is possible. Block (2002) responds to this objection in his paper by arguing that introspection would allow us to be aware of our consciousness and to see it as being distinct from A-consciousness. This is a contradictory response, as to be introspectively aware would be putting A-consciousness to use thereby one would be P-conscious as well as A-conscious. The truth of the claim of P-conscious states without A-conscious states also appears unconvincing.

Block’s intention to differentiate various concepts of consciousness in order to counteract confusion seems to end up being confused itself. Intuitively, there does not seem to be any problem thinking about consciousness as being perceptual on the one hand and functional on the other. These two types seem to work together to underpin a functioning mind. However, there is confusion between the two types, with A-consciousness being found by Block (2002) to be indeterminate and P-consciousness sometimes straying into the realm of A-consciousness through having properties such as thoughts, wants and emotions ( 2002, pp.207-08). Although we can assume Block does not see such states as thoughts and desires being functional, these could be categorised as functional activities of the brain.

Computational approaches to the mind see access consciousness being identical to phenomenal consciousness because of its function of information gathering and processing (2002, p.208).  So is the categorical statement that Block puts forward true: If P = A then the computational model of the mind is correct? Phenomenality and accessibility consciousness are considered features of consciousness, as are intentionality, subjectivity, qualia, self-consciousness, unity and dynamic flow etc. (Gulick 2004).  However, this does not mean that being identical features of a single concept or that being part of many features of consciousness allows the computational model to be correct. There were other models of the mind that were not necessarily computational before Block made his claims. Furthermore, computational models of the mind are not necessarily correct for other reasons, such as the binding problem (Crick and Koch 1998). From the number of features of consciousness, it appears that it has a multidimensional rather than a singular or dichotomic quality.

Block argues that his claim needs his two consciousness types to be able to be conceptually separated. For me, he fails to establish this. Without empirical or conceptual evidence, it is like stating that a single or multiple thing/s are necessarily two separate categories simply because they have been put into two separate ‘files’. Therefore, I do not think that Block’s model of consciousness as a single theoretical perspective is plausible.


Block, N 2002 ‘Concepts of Consciousness’, in D Chalmers (ed), Philosophy of Mind: Classical and Contemporary Readings, Oxford University Press, New York

Crick, F, Koch, C 1998, ‘Consciousness and Neuroscience’, Cerebral Cortex, no.8, pp. 97-107, viewed 3rd  May 2012

Descartes, R 2002, ‘Meditations on First Philosophy’ in D Chalmers (ed) Philosophy of Mind: Classical and Contemporary Readings, Oxford University Press, New York

Nagel, T 2002, ‘What it is like to be a bat’ in D Chalmers (ed) Philosophy of Mind: Classical and Contemporary Readings, Oxford University Press, New York

Searle, JR 1980, ‘Minds, Brains, and Programs,’ Behavioral and Brain Sciences, no. 3, pp.417-457, viewed 3rd May 2012

Van Gulick, R 2004, “Consciousness”, in Edward N. Zalta (ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2011 Edition), viewed 5th May 2012

In philosophy intentional states mean the directing of one’s thoughts towards some object or idea. The philosopher Fred Dretske investigated the claims of the late philosopher Roderick Chisholm who argued that intentional states could only be mental states. This claim was derived from the thesis of the nineteenth century philosopher Franz Brentano in his 1874 book Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint. This essay will explore the claims made by Chisholm and Dretske and ascertain the validity of their arguments as to whether the all the contents of the mind are physical or mental states.

A feature of mental states is their content. For example, when I see a cat, I am perceptually aware of that cat, or when I believe that it is going to rain, my belief represents a state of the weather. David Chalmers (ed. 2002, p. 473) states that a feature of mental states is defined as its intentionality and essentially it can be assessed for its accuracy. My perception of the cat may be precise or imprecise, my belief that it is going to rain may be accurate or inaccurate and my desire to be loved may be satisfied or unsatisfied. Brentano argued that intentional states were solely mental states and distinguished mental states from physical states because they are non-spatial and are objects of awareness but, Chalmers writes (2002) also claimed that they reveal intentional inexistence which means that ‘they contain an intentional object themselves, an object at which they are directed’. For example, the statement I am thinking about fire-breathing dragons simply means that my thoughts are directed toward such dragons, even though they do not physically exist. Brentano contends that this ‘intentional inexistence’ is exclusive to psychical phenomena and that no physical phenomena can be said to have it (Feldman & Feldman 2008).

Chisholm focused on the concept of this inexistence of the object of the mind, the figment of one’s imagination (Chalmers 2002, p.473). He also contended that it is possible for two different states to be directed towards the same object and only psychological phenomena had this object directedness (Chalmers 2002, p.473). Chisholm accounts for the intentionality of thoughts through language, semantics, and mental expectation. He asserts that all of these demonstrate psychological intentionality and cannot be explained in non-psychological, nonintentional terms (Chalmers 2002, p.474). For Chisholm intentionality cannot be naturalized because no such psychological fact can be identified with a physical fact. The use of intentional sentences for Chisholm means that all of our beliefs about psychological phenomena can be expressed through them whereas physical phenomena cannot (Feldman & Feldman 2008). For example, the sentence ‘Diogenes looked for an honest man’ is an intentional statement because it does not rely upon the veracity of there being an honest man or not, whereas ‘Diogenes lived in a tub’ is not an intentional sentence because it relies upon the existence of a tub. Chisholm also recognises that we sometimes use intentional sentences to express physical facts and that also statements of probability sentences that describe comparisons are problematic (Feldman &Feldman 2008). However, Chisholm states (1957, p.484) that intentional statements that are the most relevant are the ones that are based upon psychological attitudes such as wishing, desiring, hoping, believing, assuming, and also perceiving.


Dretske (1994, p.492) contends that to fully understand that mind, one must know how it works and that this must entail a naturalistic or physical understanding of the mind. Contrary to Chisholm’s assertion that intentionality cannot be naturalized or that psychological phenomena cannot be expressed through physical phenomena, Dretske argues (1994, p.492)  that intentional ‘ingredients’ are necessary for any understanding of an ‘intentional product’, just as copper wire is needed for building an amplifier because it conducts electricity. To establish his theory that intentionality is already naturalized, Dretsky (1994, p.493) uses the example of a compass, a physical artefact which he states has an intentional purpose that is not intrinsic to it but to its user.Talk of the use of a compass gives it an intensional context. Therefore, we have intentional phenomena (the compass) with an intensional context (its use or purpose) and that this intensionality is as much a part of the intentional phenomena as its original intentionality. For Dretske (1994, p.493), naturalized intentionality exists all throughout the natural or physical world in phenomena that expresses something else about natural conditions that indicate how the rest of the world works. Examples that he gives are dark clouds, tree rings, or smoke.


Dretske (1994, p.493) also contends that the construction of a thought also requires a property of misrepresentation otherwise we would not have a naturalistic understanding of what we think, or its content and meaning. However, intentional phenomena like the compass, although able to misrepresent the information it was designed to deliver, is reliant on us to be able to do it. We are the ones whose purposes and attitudes determine the success or failure of such physical phenomena. It is the derived power of such objects to misrepresent that Dretske (1994, p. 495) suggests is essential for his recipe of the mind because it acquires the ability to detach meaning from cause. Through his recipe for thought, Dretske is asserting a purely physicalist ontology of the mind. Unlike Chisholm, physicalist philosophers, such as Dretske, see that there is no ‘unbridgeable gulf between the mental and the physical’ (Jacob 2010) and that reality can be described in both physicalist and intentionalist terms.  Brentano’s thesis that ‘no physical phenomenon manifests intentionality’ is objectionable to the physicalist (Jacob 2010). When Dretsky naturalizes intentionality by ascribing it to non-mental things, he is trying to authorize physicalism’s assertion that nothing is purely mental. For Dretske (Jacob 2010), information exhibits some degree of intentionality and is able to show both the intentionality of beliefs as well as its derived intentionality of an utterance that can misrepresent such information.


With his assessment of intentional inexistence, Brentano (Byrne n.d.) was simply stating that there are things that exist solely within the mind, such as unicorns or fire-breathing dragons or even our concepts of nothing or infinity. Intentionality must also be plainly distinguished from intensionality because mental states are not intensional, only sentences are (Byrne n.d.). A sentence can be intentional yet be completely separate from intentionality and also sentences that report mental states need not be intensional (Byrne n.d.). For Dretske to maintain that intentionality can be physically or naturalistically reduced he distinguishes between original or intrinsic intentionality and derived intensionality.  Dretske also maintains a causal theory of intentionality such that mental states represent something, like tree rings represent something, and argues that the intentionality of mental states can be reduced to their evolutionary biological function. It is Chisholm who has allowed this alteration to Brentano’s thesis that intentional inexistence can be defined by language and signs, and it is this alternative explanation that allows the reducibility argument of Dretske to be applied to mental states. When Brentano claims that intentionality is sufficient and necessary for mental states, the sufficiency claim can be found false, especially in Chisholm’s broad redefinement, which includes non-mental entities such as sentences or signs. This claim can be amended to original intentionality is sufficient for mentality, thereby making the claim have some chance of validity (Byrne n.d.). With the claim that intentionality is necessary for mentality it can be countered with the claim that sensations are mental states that are non-intentional (Byrne n.d.). However, even Dretske asserts that bodily sensations are mental perceptions and therefore are intentional (Byrne n.d.).

Brentano’s thesis is simply that thoughts about thoughts are intentional mental states. They have no physical determining factor. If they had a physical determining factor they would not be a mental state because they would be derived from physical perceptions. When I am thinking about something that does not exist, it has no place in the physical world. Like shadows on the wall that make one believe that there is a monster, they are a particular feature of our imagination. One cannot ascribe the misrepresentation of the shadow to the shadow but to the subject’s mind. The thoughts about that monster are further intentional states, however the language that the subject speaks about the monster or the painting that the subject does of the monster are not. Like Dretske, we could redefine those extra states as intensional states with further potential for intentionality but we have may have missed the point of Brentano’s original thesis that Chisholm supported. Mental states can be differentiated and separated from physical states because of their ability to misrepresent and also to change the information given to them through bodily sensations. Mental states have the significant causal role of being able to significantly disrupt an organism’s ability to survive through irrational fears or desires. Anorexia nervosa (U.K. National Health Service) and other mental illnesses that have dire physical effects are examples of such intentional mental states.

Chisholm’s account of mental states is based upon linguistics and semantics. Dretske’s response to Chisholm’s account that intentionality is naturalized throughout the world by its intensional context is valid. However, Brentano’s thesis, especially his second claim that intrinsic intentionality is sufficient for mentality, is also valid through such examples of the physical effects of a purely mental cause in such diseases as anorexia nervosa. Therefore, Dretske’s response to Chisholm that all intentional states have a purely physical cause is invalid because it does not take into account such mental states that can be classified as intentional which have causal roles.




Brentano, F 1874, Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint, D. Terrell, A. Rancurello, and L. McAlister, trans.; L McAlister, ed. (Routledge, 1995)


Byrne, A, (n.d.) ‘Intentionality,’ in Philosophy of Science: An Encyclopedia, ed. J. Pfeifer and S. Sarkar (Routledge n.d.), viewed 5 April 2012


Chalmers, D J (ed.) 2002, Philosophy of Mind: Classical and Contemporary Readings, Oxford University Press, New York, pp.474-474


Chisholm, R, 1957, “Intentional Inexistence” in Philosophy of Mind: Classical and Contemporary Readings, D.J. Chalmers (ed.), Oxford University Press, New York, pp. 484-91, 2002


Dretske, F, 1994, “A Recipe for Thought” in Philosophy of Mind: Classical and Contemporary Reading, D.J. Chalmers (ed.), Oxford University Press, New York, pp. 491-99, 2002


Feldman, R & Feldman, F, 2008, ‘Roderick Chisholm’, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, viewed 3 April 2012,


Jacob, P, 2010, ‘Intentionality’, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,viewed 4 April 2012,


U.K. National Health Service, Anorexia Nervosa, viewed 8 April 2012,