Notes on John Searle, The Rediscovery of the Mind
Chapter 4

Searle explains how he sees consciousness in relation to the scientific view of the world.

1. Consciousness and the scientific world view

What is consciousness? Awareness, more or less. Not self-awareness, though.

Scientific world view: atomic theory + evolutionary theory. Consciousness as a feature of certain complex biological organisms, hence a biological property.

Is this a little fast? Being neurotically self-absorbed is a feature of certain complex biological organisms, as is preferring Gauguin to Van Gogh. Are they biological properties also?

2. Subjectivity

ontological, not epistemic


95: subjectivity as a "rock-bottom element"

Can anything biological be "rock-bottom"?

we can't observe consciousness, either in other people or in ourselves (others: observe their behavior etc., not their consciousness; ourselves: (97) no distinction between the observation and the thing observed)

Does this make awareness self-referential? Cf. Harman on intentions: I intend to bring it about by means of this very intention that . . .

3. Consciousness and the mind-body problem

Can we conceive of a solution to the mind-body problem? Nagel, McGinn argue maybe no.

Nagel: difference between m-b case and other cases. We can explain e.g. why H2O has to be liquid at certain temperatures, but we can't explain why it's necessary that someone in brain state X must be in pain. Searle: not so clear there's a difference here. The necessity of certain scientific explanations may be psychological rather than metaphysical (shades of Hume!). Moreover, not all scientific explanation confers necessity (law of gravity).

S thinks we may be able to discover the neurological basis of consciousness, the biological features that cause consciousness.

But he wouldn't regard this as a reduction: the neurological features are to be thought of as causing consciousness, not constituting it. (Thus they will provide a horizontal, not a vertical explanation.) Why? And if so, doesn't this make consciousness different from other biological phenomena? In general if we find the basis of a biological phenomenon, we regard ourselves as having learned what constitutes that phenomenon: e.g. DNA is strings of amino acids. If we shouldn't say this about consciousness, then why doesn't this make Searle's view a form of dualism? -- to see S's answer to this, and whether it works, we'll need to read chapter 5 on reductionism.

4. Consciousness and selectional advantage

why would evolution select for consciousness? B/c confers greater powers of discrimination and flexibility.

But is there anything necessary about this? Surely it's conceivable that an organism should have such greater powers without consciousness?

Last update: April 16, 2008. 
Curtis Brown  |  Philosophy of Mind   |  Philosophy Department  |   Trinity University