Consciousness, perception, attention, introspection, thought, emotion—these and kindred concepts seem basic to understanding what we are, how we can know, and what we value. But they generate obscurities and disputes that should make us wonder whether we really know what we’re talking about when we use them. We need to interpret them--carefully, persistently--if we're to reach a satisfactory self-understanding and rightly assess theories in which they figure. This effort at interpretation and assessment--philosophy of mind--should draw on evidence from a variety of sources. But earnestly pursued, it inevitably leads us back to critical self-examination.
In my work, the central task is to develop a conception of consciousness. For the last sixty years or so, philosophy of mind has often treated consciousness mainly as a threat—a troublemaker we must either quarantine from other aspects of mind and abandon as a mystery, or try to subdue by impoverishing its content, or discrediting introspective awareness of it--as a prelude to its elimination or reduction.
I want to explore and promote an alternative. Happily realist about consciousness, and inclusive about what it embraces, I welcome it as worthy of appreciation in its own right, and urge that, to this end, our first-person awareness of experience be cultivated, not belittled. Reasoned self-reflection can indeed reveal the shortcomings of certain ways of trying to explain consciousness. But it can also be a positive force—leading us to understand ourselves better through better understanding what consciousness is, how it makes knowledge possible, and why we care about it.