Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Robert Stainton


This dissertation consists of three independent papers, each defending the Higher-Order Thought (HOT) Theory of Consciousness against a different objection. First the HOT theory is defended against the Theory of Mind (TOM) Objection. Since the HOT theory requires that a subject be able to represent mental states in thought in order to have mental states that are conscious, objectors argue from empirical evidence that few creatures pass TOM tests to the conclusion that few creatures must be capable of having conscious mental states according to the HOT theory. The counter-intuitiveness of this claim is then taken as reason for rejecting the HOT theory. I argue that this objection is based on a false assumption - that the requirements of successful TOM test performance parallel the requirements outlined by the HOT theory. Since this assumption is false, we can reject the objection. In the second paper, I defend the HOT theory against the Phenomenal Character Argument. Objectors argue that the HOT theory must be rejected because it incorrectly characterizes the phenomenal character affiliated with basic state consciousness as necessarily involving a consciousness of the fact that one has a particular mental state. I argue that the theory cannot provide this characterization of phenomenal character because the theory cannot say that someone becomes conscious of what her unconscious HOTs represent. Since the objection rests on an incorrect interpretation of the theory, we can reject the objection. In the final paper, I defend the HOT theory against the Misrepresentation Objection. Here objectors accuse the HOT theory of presenting necessary and sufficient conditions for conscious states that turn out to be incompatible in empty HOT cases (cases wherein one’s HOT misrepresents the states one is instantiating). I argue that the conditions are actually each part of separate explanations of separate sorts of consciousness, that neither of the separate explanations has internally incompatible conditions, and hence that the objection is based on an equivocation on two senses of the phrase ‘conscious state’. Since the objection is based on this error, we can reject the objection.